Braveheart’s lasting appeal lies in its universality. A commoner rises against the political elite for the sake of freedom. It’s historical Scotland, with the POV of an American ideal. Freedom above all is the policy of William Wallace, as portrayed here by a fiery Mel Gibson.
No question: Even at three hours, Braveheart maintains energy and pacing. In a pre-CG era, Braveheart marches extras onto the screen, clashing in battles with choreographed chaos, helped with clever in-camera tricks. Smart filmmaking hides any flubs; it’s seamless warfare. It’s a final gasp of old Hollywood before digital visuals rendered such technique obsolete and outmoded.
Gibson too, although too old for the role, turns a Scottish idol into a likable hero, an old Hollywood leading man. He’s fierce when needed and affable when not. He’s a joy to watch, and a famous movie speech halfway through rivals anything from the Rocky series in terms of inspiring words. This fictionalized account idolizes Wallace the warrior, turning him into a landmark historical figure.
… a universal story, verging on a masculine fairy tale
… a universal story, verging on a masculine fairy tale
It’s quite manly. Muscular and sweaty, boisterous and loud, vividly violent and macho. Wallace the commoner finds a romantic audience with the queen. Men punch each out of respect. They lift their kilts in a show of, well, scale. Rarely is Braveheart conscious of fear. Anyone with emotion is a broad archetype of cowardice. Empowering as Wallace is as a protagonist, along with his warring cohorts, the colorful villain king is a menial menace. He’s there to deliver cliche spitefulness, to the degree of a cartoon villain wondering why his plans keep failing.
Women too become relegated as story props. Wallace’s first love is senselessly slaughtered after a brief, flat screen romance. That’s Braveheart’s impetus. As much as characters puff their chests around a rally for freedom, Wallace’s charge comes entirely from a place of revenge.
The outpouring of violence becomes romanticized. Audiences are meant to cheer at the sight of English soldiers receiving a mace to their skull; they killed Wallace’s wife and deserve to die. Sliced limbs and stabbed chests earn close-ups in the camera’s lens. Arrows pierce chests, horses fall from stab wounds. Ferocious and raw offer apt descriptions of these melees. The ideal is empathy for the Scottish poor, class warfare where the well-equipped troops of a king fall to the shabby-dressed rebels. Again, a universal story, verging on a masculine fairy tale. Violence works. It has value and purpose. That’s Wallace’s legacy as a Scottish martyr to Braveheart.
Paramount’s Braveheart Blu-ray shined despite minor concerns where chainmail and piles of straw were concerned. At 1080p, those elements had a tendency to bunch up, leading to aliasing. Not so here. At full 4K, chainmail on-screen is sightly. Tall grass and other fine textures delight.
It seems hyperbolic, but Braveheart in 4K makes this a better movie. Watching massive battles, as the cinematography widens to show the hundreds of soldiers waiting for war, each is defined and resolved. The visible resolution benefits scale. Witnessing all of them, even into the furthest areas of the frame, is dazzling.
Of course this translates in close. Facial definition soars. War paint on Gibson’s face during his freedom speech is marvelous. Wardrobe shows premium texture, particularly on royalty. Fidelity brings out texture on rocks or castle walls, along with the intricate woodwork that makes up tables and such.
The HDR pass (Dolby Vision) adds power to those scenes with sun glinting down. Reflections shimmer in this presentation. Black levels perform better still. Darkened interiors reach pure black from the first instance inside of a home housing hanging bodies. Again, it adds to the film, helping with the mood and sense of dread.
What doesn’t work is color. Braveheart clearly underwent a digital color grading that sapped much of the saturation. While the pinpoint grain evokes a feeling of projected film, the dour blues and teals that dominate the screen pull Braveheart from its 1995 origins and into the modern era, but with a whimper. Greenery lacks zest and flesh tones appear pale. There’s loss here, and that’s a shame considering the rest.
Refreshed with a Dolby Atmos mix, Braveheart lands every sword clash and scream. Being in the middle of a fight visually is matched sonically. The surrounding effect is grand home theater material. Great balance adds a spark, rising to meet the necessity of scale.
Outside of battle, superb rain effects fall into each channel. First entering the house of hanged Scots, birds scurry, passing around the rear soundstage. General ambiance is always high.
There’s aging evident though. Highest treble peaks lose their clarity. The same for the low-end. When horses first charge into battle, LFE turns loose, lacking tightness. It’s strong and delivers a rattle, if without the density of better audio mixes.
Mel Gibson’s commentary is shared by the UHD and Blu-ray. Inside the package is Paramount’s original two-disc Blu-ray release, with an extras disc identical to that release.
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.
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Braveheart turns William Wallace into a national idol in a fairy tale-like story with universal appeal.
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