With over a decade past since Braveheart, Paramount finally saw fit to release a new two-disc edition for this now classic film, originally released on DVD in 1999. While not a box office smash, the film did pick up steam on VHS and DVD after winning five academy awards in 1995. Once the film found its audience, word about the film spread fast; while it was near three hours, it was a movie that was deserving of its run time, introducing us to characters, worlds and writing we hadn’t before seen in such a film on screen for years.
Braveheart tells the tale of William Wallace, a Scotsman who brings his fellow countrymen together to fight against English and their occupation of Scotland. Through the way Wallace is met with countless conflicts, both from his supposed allies, his fellow brothers and even the woman he loves. Through every mission that he leads his men on, they become more rallied against the cause, even if their numbers are dwindling. Despite Wallace’s fatal end, his fire to free Scotland wasn’t lost on those around him. His death only proved to strengthen the resolve of those who fought alongside him.
What can you really say about Braveheart that hasn’t already been said at this point? I came up against a similar challenge with the recent two-disc release of Titanic: these films are so popular that no matter what I say here is going to convince anyone otherwise. The film is a remarkable piece of work that is as moving today as it was years ago. Helping with the timelessness is the films lack of reliance upon special effects, with everything feeling real at all times; on top of that is Gibson’s ability to direct some of the most breathtaking battle sequences that are still being mimicked in today’s cinema.
Having only seen the film for the first time earlier this year, I was simply blown away by this film, if only because I never thought such a powerful film was made in the same year when my eight year old self was fawning over Batman Forever. Braveheart is a true masterpiece that has surpassed its tenth anniversary with extreme finesse; in no way will it ever become anything other than timeless. Highly Recommended.
While Braveheart has been on DVD before in an adequate release, it’s not quite up to the quality of today’s standards. This edition of Braveheart arrives in a standard amaray two-disc case with a high-gloss black interior with discs on either side of the DVD case. There are no inserts and a cardboard slipcover accompanies the package, giving the same art and information as the set itself. Disc art is the standard Paramount affair, with the gray color washed over both discs and the disc details etched into each.
The main menu for each disc in the set has an animated intro with music over the main menu only; subsequent menus are static and without audio. As with the last release, the menus are simple and straight to the point and don’t bother the viewer with unnecessary frills. The new digital transfer of the film is wonderful; I honestly didn’t think the old transfer was anything to scoff at but having just recently viewed it before reviewing this disc I was able to see that the original transfer was, in fact, incredibly grainy and not pleasant to look at. The new transfer is a bit softer, but it does remove a large amount of the grain and gives a better picture overall. The 5.1 audio transfer is as strong as the past release and a 5.1 French and a 2.0 Spanish track are also provided, along with English, French and Spanish subtitles. For videophiles who aren’t quite ready for the HD-DVD/Blu-Ray generation yet (or wanting to skip it altogether), you may want to look into this release solely for the new transfer—it outshines the last one by miles.
The extras themselves are a mix of old and new for this set. On the first disc are only the film and the commentary with Gibson, which is ported over from the last release. Gibson’s track is laden with dead moments, so many so that I wondered if I was even listening to the right track at first; Gibson speaks up minutes into the film and even then goes silent for a few more after that. When he does have something interesting to add it’s often very interesting, it may have benefited him to have someone accompany him, however. Keeping in mind that this was Gibson’s first commentary track and one of the earliest in the history of the DVD format, however, makes it a bit more forgivable; lucky for us Gibson does record some new material for the second disc of the set, which we’ll dive into next.
First on the second disc is “A Writer’s Journey” (21:28) a newly recorded and lengthy featurette discussing how writer Randall Wallace came about the decision to write this film. The story starts out with Wallace and his wife going overseas to Scotland and learning about their ancestry and more about William Wallace. It was here that Randall Wallace was inspired to begin writing his film, not so much so for himself but for his children and grandchildren, so they knew where they came from and what strong blood they had behind them. It’s a great featurette and with its over twenty-minute run time, is just the right amount, as it’s able to be quickly viewed without any feelings of boredom slip in.
Having said that, you’ll no doubt question why I’m about to call the “Making of Braveheart” (49:58) the best featurette on the disc; sure it’s a lengthy documentary, but it’s the content that keeps each turn fresh. Mixed in with new, anamorphic widescreen interviews with Mel Gibson and Randall Wallace and older 4:3 footage from the previous releases documentary, this new making of clocks in at over twenty-minutes longer; not all of it is new interviews, but rather some new behind-the-scenes footage as well. When paired with the sparse (but interesting) commentary by Gibson on the first disc, we can form a solid idea of what it was like to make this film.
Next up is “Tales of William Wallace” (29:57) which takes a historical look into the character. Through footage shot in Scotland and a voice over we are told the life story of William Wallace and his impact on Scotland, both at the time of his life and the centuries after his death. While we spent three hours with Wallace in the film itself, this featurette is a nice little tale, as it points out things the film skipped over or didn’t expound upon. After this we have fourteen minutes of archival interviews with select cast members (James Robinson, Catherine McCormack, Brendan Gleeson and James Cosmo, David O’Hara, Angus Macfadyen, Patrick McGoohan and Peter Hanly and Sophie Marceau), where we get to hear their thoughts on their characters, the film itself and the job that Gibson did as a director.
The final set of extras on this set is a photo montage (6:27) with still photos are zoomed in-out on with music from the film playing over it. Trailers for the film are included and are the only non-anamorphic widescreen element of this release.
Considering this is the only the second release of one of the most popular and powerful films of the 90s, it’s hard to scoff at it as a simple double dip. The cleaned up transfer and a genuine effort to include new extras (of which there are over and hour and a half of) is much appreciated. In a rare turn of re-release events, if you own the previous release and enjoyed the film as much as I did, then this release is Highly Recommended. It’s a superb film that has had an adequate DVD release made even better with today’s quality standards in place.