'Braveheart' endures in the hearts of filmgoers not because of its relentless and at times remarkable action scenes, or because of Mel Gibson's fine acting and directing. It lives on in our collective hearts because of the message it so boldly embodies. Freedom comes at a cost, at the risk of cliché; freedom isn't free at all. Blood is shed and lives are lost for the cause of something greater. That's why 'Braveheart,' the story of a man who united a nation against tyranny, packs as much punch today as it did the year it was released.
By and large we enjoy stories about the underdog, especially if they're based in truth. Film can transport us to a time when people fought against all odds for something they believed in. William Wallace (Mel Gibson) actually did exist. While the movie takes artistic liberties with the story, the core details are there. Mankind can do great things, even seemingly impossible things, if we just believe and act.
As the film opens, the British empire is in disarray. King Longshanks (Patrick McGoohan) is facing tough times in trying to quell the Scots up North, who do nothing but cause him trouble. He claims the right of "primae noctis," which allows the nobleman of the township to take a bride to his own bed on the her wedding night. Longshanks has decided that if he can't get rid of them, he'll slowly breed them out with English blood.
It is under these circumstance that young William Wallace falls in love with his childhood sweetheart and they are married in secret so she won't be defiled by the local nobleman. Yet after they are found out, and she is killed, Wallace goes on a rampage killing any and every Englishman that comes near him.
In watching 'Braveheart,' it's interesting to note the transition of Wallace's goal. At first his need for revenge consumes him, he's purely killing the English because they killed his wife, but a slow transformation occurs, and his quest for revenge turns into something more broadly meaningful, something that can actually change lives for entire nations.
'Braveheart' is not only a marvelous action film, it's also a tender love story. I'm not just talking about the love story between Wallace and Murron (Catherine McCormac), but the love story between Wallace and his people. Even though most of the times his own people conspire against him because of greed and self-interest, Wallace still fights for them. He still hopes to gain their allegiance, and it's heartbreaking when he is denied this time and time again.
Message and story aside, 'Braveheart' excels on technical merits as well. The direction and cinematography are top-notch. The color palette is blended well to capture the lushness of the English and Scottish countryside. That such bloody battles could take place in such an intrinsically gorgeous place is beyond comprehension. Wars are fought everywhere, but nowadays we picture those wars being fought against dusty, desert-like backdrops. Britain is green and strikingly beautiful. When fighting isn't going on, the countryside seems so serene and peaceful it's hard to believe it was home to such blood-spattered battles.
'Braveheart,' winner of the 1995 Academy Award for Best Picture, still has its detractors, but I'm not one of them. Every time I watch this film I'm still moved by its message and touched by its tenderness.
Filmed in the mid-90s, 'Braveheart' bursts onto Blu-ray with an HD transfer as spectacular as the rolling green hills of Northern England. The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer of 'Braveheart' is as near perfect as you can get for a catalog title. Sure, the transfer suffers from the occasional white specks and dust, but that's to be expected from a film approaching its fifteenth anniversary. The specks seem to become a bit more noticeable during the second hour of the film, but they calm down again toward the end. Some shots do appear a bit soft, like the quick shots of Longshanks lying in his bed towards the end of the film.
Yet other than these few, and minor complaints, this transfer scores top marks in every category. It's as close to reference material as you can get with a catalog title. The color palette is rich. Deep shades of green are in abundance, and the transfer handles every shade perfectly. The scene of Wallace hunting in the forest is one of the most richly detailed and colorful parts of the film. Everything from strands of hair blowing in the wind, to the fine links on chainmail are clear and concise. Technical anomalies like aliasing, macro-blocking, and noticeable edge enhancement weren't detected. This is a clean, beautiful transfer that reflects quite well the beauty of the cinematography and the film itself.
The superiority of this disc doesn't stop with the video. The uncompressed 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack shines in its own way. Truthfully, I could not find one fault with this track. It's engrossing not only in the stirring action sequences, but also in the more subdued instances. The surrounds work magnificently in creating an all encompassing effect during even the quietest moments. Birds chirping, clanging of armor and metal off in the distance, and the rustling of the trees from the wind provide a wonderful ambient atmosphere.
The action sequences do provide the soundtrack with some stellar effects though. The subwoofer shakes the room when hordes of calvary hoof it across the battlefield. It rumbles as fire engulfs straw huts. The surround channels spring to life during the action, making us feel like we're right in the middle of the battle. Swords clang, shields splinter, and warriors moan. James Horner's rousing score blares throughout the room, coming alive, a character unto itself. This high-def soundtrack makes watching 'Braveheart' a truly absorbing experience.
'Braveheart' comes in a 2-disc special set. Disc one contains the film and two special features: an audio commentary and a Timelines feature. Disc two contains the rest of the supplemental material.
One of the most anticipated Blu-ray releases is finally here. Fans have been clamoring for years to see one of their most beloved films finally get the high-def treatment, and what a treatment it is! Everything about this Blu-ray shines. Co-debuting Paramount's “Sapphire Series,” 'Braveheart' lives up to our HD expectations. It's a must own for any collection.
All disc reviews at High-Def DVD Digest are completed using the best consumer HD home theater products currently on the market. More about our gear.