By now, if you haven’t heard of Brokeback Mountain then you have either lived without electricity or simply refused to acknowledge its’ existence for whatever reason. The three-time Oscar winning film further propelled the careers of Jake Gyllenhaal (who has since not really been in a whole lot) and Heath Ledger (who…well…again, lack of electricity if you don’t know that one). Although the film boasted an impressive supporting cast, it was the two leads that carried the weight of the film on their shoulders. It was later rewarded with Oscar nominations for both Gyllenhaal and Ledger, although neither won for their roles.
Directed by Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain is a sweeping epic that explores the lives of two young men, a ranch hand and a rodeo cowboy, who meet in the summer of 1963 and unexpectedly forge a lifelong connection. The complications, joys and heartbreak they experience provide a testament to the endurance and power of love. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal deliver emotionally charged, remarkably moving performances in “a movie that is destined to become one of the great classics of our time” (Clay Smith, The Insider).
I completely bypassed the hype that surrounded Brokeback Mountain for several reasons. For one I had no interest in the film and as a result I never was in a position where I would view the film. Cue the Blu-ray release of the film and I finally have a reason to spin the disc in the player and after watching the three-time Oscar winning film, I have to say…I’m not entirely sure what all the buzz was about. Yes, the performances by Ledger and Gyllenhaal were great but how it received so many other nominations, I’m not entirely sure.
What surprised me most about it was that the film was really not all that original in nature. It’s basically a story about forbidden love and aside from the whole “gay” element (another thing I take issue with) of the film, there’s really nothing truly original about it. That’s not to say it wasn’t a very emotional and moving film, as it really was; but I honestly and truly feel that this film was blown way out of proportion. Perhaps it received so much praise because people went in expecting nothing more than a gay love story and came out instead with a much more fleshed out film, rather than something that hinged upon a minor plot element of it.
And it really was a minor element of the film. While it was what brought together Ledger and Gyllenhaal’s characters, it wasn’t ever really something that made itself too evident in the film aside from when the film took time out to make it an issue. Still, the film does have guts for taking the road it did, but considering the uproar that was caused by this film, I honestly don’t see where it all came from (not that it should be a surprise—the loudest voices are often the minorities).
Having said all of that, I did enjoy the film and I do still recommend it to those who haven’t seen it, but if you’re expecting something incredibly original, then you may be a bit disappointed. If you pick out the gay angle of the film, then it acts just like any other forbidden romance. It’s also a slightly confusing film in that it almost presents itself has a true story; the pacing and rapid progression of its time line is almost distracting at first (it starts out slow enough [by minute nine I was glancing at the clock as I viewed sheep walking for several minutes], which is why when it advances by months and years, it quickly becomes disorienting), but you eventually adjust to it. The film is also hurt by this as the impact of the ending didn’t hit me until I reflected on it more; a single piece of dialogue uttered by Ledger’s character early in the film sets up the end, but it was such a throwaway piece I didn’t even pick up on it.
Still, Brokeback Mountain is worth viewing if you haven’t seen it. It’s a really strong and well-written story, but…well, I guess I was just expecting something a whole lot more “shocking” or something, after hearing so much about the film when it came out. But that’s what hype does to a film—builds it up to an unreachable level. Of course the performances were quite remarkable; especially with Ledger’s role towards the end of the film. Outside of The Dark Knight and I’m Not There I don’t think I ever really saw him in a film where he really got to act the way he did here and I almost wish I didn’t watch this film, as now I really wonder where he’d be if he was still alive.
Overall it’s a Highly Recommended flick to be sure, as even though it’s nothing more than an R-rated romantic comedy, it’s still worth checking out at least once. You may wonder why I gave such a recommendation after lambasting it, but it really has more to do with trying to figure out where my feelings for this film lie; while watching it I knew what I was watching was a wonderfully crafted film, but I couldn’t help but recall all of the TV interviews and magazine articles that covered every angle of this film to exhaustion. As a result I probably wasn’t as emotionally invested in the film as I could have been, but it really is a deeply moving picture.
From the looks of it, Universal has copy and pasted the HD-DVD release for the Blu-ray release. The film arrives in a standard Blu-ray Elite case with the usual Universal insert (showing off an array of movies that are actually all available on Blu-ray—time for an updated insert, I guess!). Menus for the film are the usual “blade” system and are simple and easy to navigate.
Video arrives in the form of a VC-1 encoded transfer and quite honestly it has some of the most gorgeous scenery I’ve seen from a film. The grassy hills and rivers of Brokeback Mountain are absolutely stunning to gaze upon and there is rarely a frame from the Mountain sequences that doesn’t impress visually. There is some grain smattered about the transfer but nothing that is overbearing and for the most part the film looks as good as you’d expect a 2005 film to be. And the audio mix? It arrives in a newly minted DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that delivers the films dialogue clean and clear through the center channel. There honestly isn’t much in this film to cause the surrounds or subwoofer to wake up, although the hail storm especially scared the crap out of me as the thunderclap came out of nowhere and the surrounds immediately began to fill with the sound of falling rain/hail. It was almost like standing outside, it came down so fiercely. The fireworks sequence was forceful as well, but aside from those bits the subwoofer remained quiet for almost the entirety of the film.
Extras here are all presented in standard definition and include the previously released (on HD-DVD and the two-disc DVD release from 2007) extras as follows:
A Groundbreaking Success (17:13)
Music from the Mountain (11:17)
Impressions from the Film (2:33)
On Being a Cowboy (5:43)
Directing from the Heart: Ang Lee (7:27)
From Script to Screen (10:53)
Sharing the Story (20:48)
No commentary is included and the extras here are limited, but what is here is worth watching for the most part (assuming you don’t own the previous releases). In fact, if you do own the previous releases then there’s really no need to pick up this Blu-ray. While the hail storm sounds terrific, this is hardly a film you watch to show off your home theater (maybe if the visuals that accompanied the hailstorm weren’t so pitch black and lacking in detail, then it’d be a solid demo disc), so with the DTS-HD MA track being the only real upgrade here, whether you buy this disc will largely depend on if you’re a previous owner or how much you enjoy this film.
Overall a fine release and one that’s Recommended, but only if you aren’t already an owner.
Brokeback Mountain arrives on Blu-ray on March 10th.