Braveheart doesn’t open with a battle, impressive because that is what many will remember it for. It opens with a young William Wallace, working in the gorgeous Scottish countryside with his father. The lush greens of the mountains are beautifully photographed by cinematographer John Toll, setting a light, warm mood.
Braveheart moves quickly, in addition to turning tragic. Within 30 minutes, a family is destroyed, the oppression of the Scottish people is felt, a romance blooms, and none of this feels rushed. James Horner’s light score perfectly complements many of these scenes, providing a backdrop that prepares the audience for what is to follow.
Mel Gibson stars and directs as the older William Wallace, leading the charge against England, a country ruling the Scottish forcefully. Violent clashes are incredibly harsh, bloody, and disgusting. Heads pop, legs are ripped off, bodies are stabbed, and throats are slit. The war between these two countries is brutal, and the camera is always in place to capture the violence.
There is a softer side to Braveheart, one with slight humor. Wallace’s opening encounter with his Scottish brethren is a rock-throwing contest at a wedding, a funny test of strength between two men looking to prove themselves.
The film offers other contrasts too. As Wallace leads the charge to brutally slaughter English towns, the film cuts to English royalty, an heir to throne concerned that his clothing is ruffled. The two nations are radically different, and while the English initially appear civilized, they become as savage as the Scottish to achieve their needs.
Randall Wallace’s script is fantastic, if not always historically accurate. Braveheart is filled with characters, yet never confusing even in the midst of the impressively staged battles. Scale is immense, the type that is conveyed when no expense is spared to bring a vision to the screen. It is pure Hollywood excess, but in a way that is necessary, not overbearing.
The finale of Braveheart is emotional, expertly acted and filmed. Wallace looks onto a crowd before his fate, staring at a small child who does not understand what is about to happen. There is innocence to that moment, something makes you forget the immense death that preceded it. It is calm, even if only for a few seconds.
After the debacle that was Gladiator, Paramount’s new line of Blu-rays called Sapphire shows what is to come with Braveheart. This is a stunning AVC transfer, bursting with color. The Scottish hills are presented flawlessly, with lush greens and countless scenes of foliage maintained by this crisp transfer. There are no instances of artifacting, and the image retains a wonderful purity. Flesh tones are accurate.
Sharpness does waver due to focus, not because of the transfer itself. If there are any issues, it is the source. White specks and some brief scratches are evident regularly, becoming mildly distracting.
That does not take away from the detail evident in this presentation. Faces are wonderfully textured, complete with blood and dirt. The iconic blue face paint Gibson dons during his famous speech does not appear solid as with previous editions, but slightly cracked and frail. Chain mail is shown without aliasing or shimmering. Few scenes show any drop in quality. Black levels are rich, creating enormous depth.
Fine film grain sits over the image intact, without causing any problems. It has not been manipulated, a nice change of pace from Gladiator.
Likewise, this is a booming TrueHD mix. The front soundfield is quite expansive. Horses track from side to side, and armies begin their runs towards each other from the appropriate speaker. Swords clash with stunning clarity, and in all channels.
The surrounds are used for action scenes (of course), but also offer a layer of subtlety. Downtime delivers bird chirps and wind rustling to pull the viewer into the film even during general dialogue. When the fights pick up, the room fills with audio, including James Horner’s score that perfectly bleeds into the rears. Horse hooves and raging fires work the subwoofer satisfactorily, with deep shots of bass accurately keeping pace with the brawls.
Braveheart is a two-disc set, beginning on the first with a Mel Gibson commentary. This is followed by a text-based but quite informative series of three timelines.
The second disc puts the interactive Battles of the Scottish Rebellion first, a piece combining video interviews and graphics to showcase how the real life battles played out. Braveheart: A Look Back is the main documentary, an hour long exhaustive piece split into three parts if you don’t have the time to digest it at once.
Smithfield: Medieval Killing Fields tells the story of the former battlegrounds, now a small town. Tales of William Wallace, like the latter, runs near a half hour detailing the life of the real Wallace. A Writer’s Journey lets Randall Wallace discuss his inspiration for the story and writing process. Trailers finish the disc off.