Wednesday, September 2, 2009

BRAVEHEART - Blu-Ray (Paramount 1995) Paramount Home Video

Braveheart (1995) is the historical/mythological cinematic hybrid of the life and times of William Wallace (Mel Gibson); a Scottish commoner turned vigilant crusader for his people’s freedom. The movie opens large with the brutal slaughter of Scottish noblemen at the hands of tyrannical English monarch, King Edward Longshanks I (Patrick McGoohan).

The battle that ensues to avenge these deaths leaves young Will’ without a father in the small town of Elderslie. Raised by his uncle, Argyle (Brian Cox), Will returns to find love amongst the craggy mores with winsome Murron MacClannough (Catherine McCormack). Their pastoral bliss, however, is short-lived.

Meanwhile, Longshanks is determined to divide and conquer the Scots and leave their country as a trophy to his son and heir, Edward (Peter Hanly). To ensure the continuation of his monarchy, Longshanks arranges the reluctant Edward’s marriage to Princess Isabelle (Sophie Marceau) even though Edward prefers the company of his royal consort, Philip (Steven Billington) instead. Their badinage is playful and frequent. Though the queen knows of her husband’s homosexual philandering she is silent until Philip is murdered by Longshanks after the truth about his homosexuality is brought to light.

The last act of this sprawling epic is a struggle of wills. William is betrayed, drawn and quartered, his head placed on London Bridge as a warning against future rebellion. But in murdering a patriot, England resurrects a martyr whose legend far outweighs the importance of the man.

Braveheart is both epic and satisfying. Despite its historic discrepancies and the rather obtrusive inclusion of director Randall Wallace’s scripted humor that occasionally translates as more James Bond pithy comeback – the narrative holds together due in large part to its’director/star’s overriding vision embodied in the total sum of Will’s earthly heroism.

Reportedly, director Wallace knew nothing of William Wallace until he took a vacation to Scotland – after which he became engrossed with legends told by historians and common folk alike. The curiosity for the film – as well as the historical record - is that the real William Wallace remains largely a myth. Following his bloody end at Longshank’s hand, all textual evidence to Wallace’s existence was expunged from the historical record, leaving word of mouth as the only surviving narrative.

Much has been made of the ‘inconsistent’ handling of Wallace’s charge across the open field to fight the English. He begins in full stride with pickaxe firmly in hand, then seen reaching for the sword behind his back, then pictured in full marathon sprint with hands pumping in slow-mo by his side and finally with sword fully raised overhead. Are these continuity errors, or director Wallace’s way of depicting how the gallantry of this myth or a man is viewed by the English as an unstoppable weapon of destruction?

Paramount’s Sapphire Edition Blu-Ray easily bests all previously issued DVD incarnations. While overall fidelity on the previously released DVD was solid, the Blu-Ray’s superior bit rate reveals clarity and texture to the overall image that was previously unseen. In short, the Blu-Ray is a revelation. Colors are bold. Contrast levels are superior, particularly during dark scenes. This is a reference quality image. The audio is Tru-HD lossless Dolby, rich and full bodies with an aggressive bass.

Extras include the previously recorded audio commentary by Mel Gibson, as well as several interactive features that provide an in-depth timeline of the Scottish rebellion. There are also featurettes on medieval battle and the process of writing this film. But perhaps the most satisfying extra included this time around is the hour long ‘look back’ with insightful reflections from much of the principle cast and crew. There are also two theatrical trailers in HD to view.
Once again, this reviewer’s admiration for Paramount’s efforts on Blu-Ray in general continues to grow. The studio has raised the bar considerably on what it means to call any disc a ‘special edition’. This one is very special indeed! Highly recommended!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
5+

VIDEO/AUDIO
5+

EXTRAS
5

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