Universal // 2005 // 135 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // January 29th, 2007
Jack Twist: "Brokeback got us good, don't it?"
When the first Brokeback Mountain DVD was released, many speculated it was too bare bones, and a future collector's edition would be following soon. So here comes Universal with the anticipated Brokeback Mountain: Two-Disc Collector's Edition, and the inevitable has come to pass. Now the fans of the film are asking, "So is it worth an upgrade?" Let me start by saying directly, "No, not really." I'll get further into the differences, but in essence: this new edition has prettier packaging, eight postcards, and two new fluff featurettes which add up to 28 minutes of bonus material we haven't seen before but can live without. It's not the return to Brokeback Mountain we were all rooting for. There's been far too much hype around the movie for us to expect nothing less than well done Criterion level treatment, and this ain't it. Brokeback Mountain is such an intensely emotional journey of a movie it deserves more.
It seems we've discussed Brokeback Mountain to death. I find it hard to believe a quiet mournful movie could inspire a worldwide debate on lifestyles, America, and the Academy Awards. It was such an iconic project even people who never saw the film knew exactly what it was about. Brokeback Mountain became a template for parody because its images were so strong. The unmistakable music and plot were grafted onto other trailers creating "spoof" versions of the ill-fated romance, and "Brokeback" became a verb meaning to make something gay (ex. -- You Brokebacked that!). The idea this was just a movie quickly got lost inside the maelstrom that surrounded it from all sides. Liberals embraced it as a strong argument for gay marriage, the Right claimed it was immoral Hollywood corrupting the culture again, and the gay community embraced it as their own Doctor Zhivago. Many people angrily cried foul at the 2006 Academy Awards as Crash trumped it to walk away with the Best Picture statue, even though Brokeback Mountain director Ang Lee was honored as the Best Director. The movie's Oscar winning theme was remixed to become a disco hit, and the image loomed of Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight) and Jake Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko) as the "gay cowboys." The sensation took over the simple heartfelt story, and Brokeback Mountain grossed over $180 million at the box office worldwide (the number given by producers, while the IMDb claims $80 million domestic take) before all was said and done. The one thing you can't miss is that there remains a quiet slow-paced elegant movie under all the hype, but any re-release of it is sure to bring up the same old arguments.
For anybody who's been living under a rock, here's how I described the plot from a previous DVD Verdict review:
"The Wyoming countryside, 1963. Two young men are hired to herd a large flock of sheep on Brokeback Mountain. Removed from all contact and isolated from everyone but each other, they are severely lonely. One stormy night, in a near violent act of passion, the two men develop an unexpected bond. Neither knows what it means, nor how to talk about it. The men go on with their job, hardly speaking of what's growing between them, simply asserting they're 'not queer.' When the boss catches wind of the situation, he lets both men go.
Back in the real world, over the next four years, the two carry on separate livesÑgetting married, and having children. One day the man in Texas decides to visit his old friend in Wyoming. From that point on, they reunite every couple of years for a fishing trip somewhere that reminds them of Brokeback. The passionate man yearns to take things further, but the realistic man says he's crazy for thinking what they have could ever grow into anything more significant. Yet both men long for each other, their secret slowly festering, and ultimately changing the path of their lives."
The only new additions to Brokeback Mountain: Two-Disc Collector's Edition include two new featurettes. The one that appears on the main disc is the most substantial and it is called "A Groundbreaking Success." It runs 17 minutes, and features talking head interviews with cast, crew, and cultural commentators. Those not involved with the movie are featured in new interviews, while any footage of the actors or Ang Lee comes from promotional material filmed on the set or during the official press tour. On the supplemental disc we get "Music from the Mountain" which examines the Oscar-winning score and soundtrack of the film. It runs just over 11 minutes, and does a nice fluffy job of looking at the musicians and composer behind the movie. Another new feature is a musical montage which has still photographs from the production set to music. It won't be a big deal to anyone, and is really only good for one viewing. All the rest of the extras are ported from the original release, and nothing is missing from that first attempt. There are eight pretty photo postcards, including one that reproduces the missive Jack sends Ennis to reconnect. The rest are usual movie production shots that appear in the montage. The slipcover case looks better than previous plastic packaging, but is completely made of cardboard and will wear worse over time.
The picture is slightly better, and I do emphasize slightly. It seems some colors have been amped up (a blue shirt here, a more flesh colored hand there), but you'd be hard pressed to notice the difference. The visuals look enough the same between the two discs there shouldn't be any basis to upgrade for picture quality. The bit rates are the same even though the collector's edition has less bonus features on the main disc (implying room for a higher level transfer). Menu presentation has been revamped, but scene breakdowns are exactly the same. The new two disc edition does add a DTS audio track, but it doesn't do much new other than make the fireworks scene a touch more dramatic. Truth is this movie isn't a blockbuster action flick, so no need to have a punishing soundtrack or high resolution visuals. I'd say even the HD DVD edition (released simultaneously) is nothing of great interest, since Brokeback Mountain is truly only innovative for the emotional landscape it covers. The HD DVD edition comes without the postcards and pretty package.
If you haven't seen Brokeback Mountain or if it has been a while, the film holds up as a great achievement in cinema. Ang Lee, the cast, the screenwriters, and the production team have fashioned an event that never feels as large as the hype and debate swirling around it. The most surprising aspect of Brokeback Mountain is it feels intimate and low even after all the attention. It's a quiet mournful ache of a story, languidly paced, and sumptuously executed. The cinematography remains haunting, and what Ang Lee achieved as a director surpasses anything he has done before. It's a shocking blend of cowboy swagger married with longing that never goes over the top as do the endless parodies. There's not one beat that feels false or forced, even when the movie reaches the melodramatic climax. You have to admire the film for how well it was made as much as what it has sparked in cultural debates.
The whole Brokeback Mountain: Two-Disc Collector's Edition is pure hype, and a hopeful studio wanting to cash in on a milestone. If you didn't buy the original release this one makes sense if it's on sale. Otherwise, grab the cheaper single disc version (ten dollars less at suggested retail pricing) and rest assured you're not missing out. What this film begs for is a commentary, interviews with people who changed their life because of it, and more reaction from Ang Lee and his cast as they have moved away from the project. None of that is here, and it's a damn shame. The movie itself is worth buying many times over. I called it the bravest movie of 2005 and I stand behind that today. Nothing a year later has touched this film's audacity to take a taboo topic and make it feel real and honest. Yet unfortunately I have to say pass on this studio attempt to cash in one more time on a film that has been more than profitable for them previously. Brokeback Mountain remains a great film, and is destined to be a classic portrait of a hidden love years from now. But this DVD double dip? File it under pointless cash grab and move on. Perhaps in a few years we'll finally get a really robust treatment for the project. But for anyone who held out and didn't buy this movie the first time around? This is probably as good as we'll get for a long while. And it's certainly not a bad package, just not enough to warrant an upgrade if you already own it.
Review content copyright © 2007 Brett Cullum; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 135 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* "Music from the Mountain:" Behind the Score
* "Impressions from the Film:" Musical Photo Montage
* "A Groundbreaking Success:" About the Phenomenon
* "Directing From the Heart: Ang Lee:" Look at the Director
* "From Script to Screen:" Feature on the Authors
* "Sharing the Story:" Logo's Making of Feature
* "On Being a Cowboy:" Preparation for the Actors
* Eight Collectible Postcards