Judge Michael Rubino yelled, hiked up his kilt, and then charged at this double-dip of the epic classic.
"Every man dies. Not every man really lives."
Mel Gibson has taken the "quality over quantity" approach when it comes to directing movies, having only four films in his repertoire. With Braveheart, his second film, Gibson not only made a name for himself as a director, but also revitalized traditional epic filmmaking. This double-dip of the film on DVD finally gives the Scottish some special features they can be proud of.
Facts of the Case
The story of Braveheart exists in the happy medium between history and legend. Scotland is stuck under the tyrannical rule of the English King Edward the Longshanks (and boy, were his shanks long). For fear having their love tarnished by the English, the worldly William Wallace (Gibson) and his first love Murron (Catherine McCormack, 28 Weeks Later) secretly elope. When Murron gets murdered by a gang of English soldiers, Wallace takes matters in to his own hands.
William Wallace decides to spring in to action and free Scotland from English rule. His legend as a warrior spreads through the countryside as Scotsmen flock to his side. Wallace's need for revenge and his desire for freedom begin to fill his mind as he sets his sights set squarely on King Longshanks. Cue lots of angry men with swords running in to each other.
Braveheart charged in to the box office back in 1995 and revitalized the classic epic genre, inspiring countless other movies involving large groups of warriors charging at each other. I find traces of Braveheart's influence in the major battle scenes of Kingdom of Heaven, Lord of the Rings, and even 300. On top of all that, this Scottish tale also helped launch Mel Gibson's career as a serious director.
Although the movie is just about three hours long, the events of Wallace's life move rather quickly (especially once his wife gets murdered). Screenwriter Randall Wallace allows the story to grow naturally: once William Wallace begins his crusade against the English, he gathers more followers, experiences second-hand tales of his actions, and succeeds in driving the English out of Scotland. At times it's hard to distinguish whether William Wallace is doing all of this for his country, or out of blind revenge for the murder of his true love—Gibson plays the character as a conflicted yet determined madman, and he's very convincing! Randall Wallace's inclusion of the Princess of Wales having an affair with William Wallace muddies the water a little bit, making Will seem a little disingenuous (not to mention the fact that historically it never happened). It's a minor quibble in an otherwise powerful and inspiring screenplay.
Even more incredible is Gibson's direction alongside Oscar-winning cinematographer John Toll. Nowadays, when you see a large-scale battle in a film, more often than not, it's mostly CGI. Mel Gibson instead opted for an all-real cast of extras, giving the movie an even more epic feel to it. The battle scenes are gritty and realistic; although there is a lot going on, Gibson still captures that touch of personal events in the field (without cutting to slow-motion). The long shots of the battle formations, as well as the horseback maneuvering, is reminiscent of Akira Kurosawa's Ran or Kubrick's Spartacus. For Mel's second directorial effort, which he's also starring in, I'd say he pulls it all off with astounding professionalism.
Technically this new collector's edition is a double-dip from an original release of the film on DVD back in 2000, however this new version is a big improvement. The video quality appears to have been cleaned up quite a bit, and the panoramic, often muddy, shots of Scotland look great in 2.35:1 widescreen. There are no noticeable digital faults in the transfer, and Toll's lighting choices and color schemes look great. The Dolby Digital Surround is also top-notch, although, through no fault of the transfer, it's still pretty hard to decipher some of that Scottish gibberish. The first disc in the set also features Mel Gibson's excellent and insightful commentary from the first release.
The second disc has some pretty extensive special features. I was glad to see this wasn't just more promotional fluff from the movie studios, but actually informative featurettes with some meat to them. The best of the bunch is "Tales of William Wallace," which is a historical look at the actual William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. The featurette has the production values of a History Channel special, and provides some historical footing for Randall Wallace's more exaggerated script (after all, the movie wouldn't be nearly as interesting if it stuck to the facts).
The biggest featurette on the disc is "Alba gu Brath: The Making of Braveheart." Clocking in at an hour, this documentary provides a detailed look at the various aspects of Braveheart's production. There is a mix between some archival interviews, possibly from an earlier documentary, and newer content. The featurette does a great job of introducing you to all of the major behind-the-scenes players and showing you some of the techniques used in the battle sequences. It covers just about everything, in case you don't want to watch the entire three-hour film with Gibson's commentary.
The other featurettes are a little less interesting, but welcomed nonetheless. "A Writer's Journey" is a brief featurette about Randall Wallace's process in writing the script. He comes off a little too conceited at times, but after writing this beast I guess he's allowed to (Wallace also wrote Pearl Harbor and We Were Soldiers). The collection of archival interviews from the film's theatrical release is brief and a little too promotional. There is also a photo montage and theatrical trailers on the disc. Overall it's not a bad set of extras, and certainly makes up for the earlier release's lack of content.
Unlike some films that win the coveted Best Picture award, Braveheart has aged with grace. It's still a very powerful and moving epic with wonderfully choreographed battle sequences. There are kinds of movies that set trends and inspire imitations in Hollywood, and this is certainly one of them; the Harry Potter franchise reinvigorated the children's genre, Blade renewed interest in the comic book adaptation market, and Braveheart reminded everyone how awesome epic filmmaking can be.
This new release will likely be the last time it appears on DVD, and it's definitely worth picking up if you don't already own it. The video and audio transfers are excellent, and the added disc of special features covers just about every aspect of the film—and William Wallace's legacy. It's a double-dip that's welcomed.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Mel Gibson
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