Braveheart (1995)
Paramount Home Video
Cast: Mel Gibson, Sophie Marceau, Patrick McGoohan, Catherine McCormack
Extras: Commentary Track, Documentary, Trailers

A long wait finally comes to an end. I have long lost count of the number of emails I have received, inquiring about the status of a potential DVD release of Mel Gibson’s epic "Braveheart," making it easily one of the most anticipated releases of the format ever. This spectacular movie seems to be tailor-made for DVD with its intricate production design, the colorful cinematography and the sweeping music. Combined with the long wait, understandably, expectations are very high for this release from Paramount Home Video, so let’s dive right in and see how the DVD turned out.

More or less based on real historic events and characters, "Braveheart" tells the story of William Wallace, a simple Scotsman in the 13th century. While Wallace is still a boy, his father is died in his fight against oppressive England, and the boy adopted by his uncle. There he is educated and even learns various languages, among the art of fighting, which was essential in those days. After years, he returns to the place where he grew up to settle down and live a peaceful life. He falls in love with one of the local women of his clan and marries her secretly. One day some of the English soldiers lay their hands on Wallace’s wife and he kills one of them. In order to get to Wallace, who escapes the village, the English governor cuts his wife’s throat.

Enraged, William Wallace declares war on England and begins to fight for the freedom of his homeland. First starting out with a small following of his immediate clan members, Wallace gradually calls all of Scotland to arms and fights his oppressors. When they manage to drive back the English to their own homeland, Wallace is even so bold as to attack the English on their own turf. War cries and the smell of blood fill the air as the opposing armies meet in the battlefield, again, and again.

Sweeping, ferocious and epic are the words that immediately come to mind in conjunction with "Braveheart." It is Mel Gibson’s masterpiece that won 5 Academy Awards in 1995, and rightfully so. The film is touching, emotional, honest and adventurous. Above all its also extremely violent and brutal however, purposely depicting the hardship and the pain these men had to go through to fight for their freedom. "Braveheart" is a monument to William Wallace, and even though it may not be entirely historically accurate, the film brings to life the memories of one of Scotland’s greatest freedom fighters who would otherwise be forgotten by time.
With a great cast and stunning photography, "Braveheart" goes hand in hand with the scope of films like "Spartacus" and has the same emotional impact. Although the Scottish accents come across very stilted and improper at times, nothing can distract from the sheer power that emanates from this masterful picture.

Paramount Home Video is presenting "Braveheart" in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> presentation on this DVD in the movie’s 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Being a rather new movie, the transfer is as expected clean and very clear, although occasional signs of dust are evident in the print. To maintain the highest possible level of detail, no noise reduction has been applied to the transfer. As a nice side effect, a bit of grain is evident in selected scenes, which adds quite a bit to the movie’s authenticity. The level of detail found in the transfer is very high, finely rendering the elaborate images of the film that make it so breathtaking. Colors are very strong and without over-saturation. Especially the lush greens of the highlands, the earthen tones of the armies, and the stark red blood of the battle scenes stand out extremely well. The transfer has some minor color consistency problems, though, of which mostly fleshtones are affected. Upon close examination, it is noticeable that compression artifacts create that particular discoloration. While it is certainly not distracting, it is noticeably on occasion. The transfer also shows some signs of edge-enhancement with ringing artifacts, but once again they are never overly obtrusive and only evident in very selected scenes. Blacks in the transfer are beautifully deep and solid without breaking up and the film’s lush hues are well reproduced as well.

"Braveheart" features a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> mix and you will immediately notice how rich and deep the music is reproduced. The orchestral score features some fantastic low ends, especially in the drum sections, while the horns and strings are beautifully clear with very natural timbres. The music has a very wide spatial integration as well, creating a score that is soaring and entirely enveloping. The sound effects do not quite measure up in their frequency response though. Although the LFE channel is engaged for sound effects, the effects appear to be lacking a bit in their bass extension, giving them an unnaturally harsh quality sometimes. Effects are very dimensional making very good use of the discrete surround channels for an engaging and enveloping experience that perfectly matches the images on the screen. Dialogues are well integrated and have a good natural quality. Slight distortion is evident in the dialogue material, especially when the going gets rowdy and loud, which seems to be most likely a problem inherent in the original recordings.

The disc features a <$commentary,commentary track> by director/actor Mel Gibson – his first ever audio <$commentary,commentary track> if I’m correctly informed. To put it very simple, the track is a gem and the undisputed highlight of the disc. Gibson manages to strike the perfect balance between information and entertainment. Wisecracking and very funny at times, very authoritative at others, the <$commentary,commentary track> spans a wealth of great information. Given the length of the movie there is plenty of room to talk and Gibson makes good use of his time. There are occasional moments of silence during which he seems to excitedly watch the film, but as soon as something interesting appears on the screen, he is full of enthusiasm and energy, pointing out little things and discussing his approach to those scenes. It shows that Gibson put a lot of thought and effort into the film and that he is very proud of it – rightfully so. At the same time he is making it clear that "Braveheart" is not supposed to be a real history lesson but an entertaining movie with its roots in history. If you like the movie – which most of you certainly do – you have to listen to Gibson’s commentary!

"A Filmmaker’s Passion: The Making of Braveheart" is a 30-minute documentary that offers a lot of insight into the practical difficulties that arose creating "Braveheart." From the preparation, to the weather conditions, Mel Gibson’s strain, being the star and director of the movie, all the way to the monumental battle scenes, the documentary covers an immense lot of ground. It is always entertaining and full of interview segments of cast and crew members who share their thoughts on the movie and the characters. Apart from all the information it conveys, it is also exciting to see Mel Gibson on the set of the movie, making his sly comments, or simply setting up a shot in full wardrobe and make-up. Just like the <$commentary,commentary track>, the documentary helps enormously to paint a more complete picture of the scope of the movie in terms of its production, and just like the <$commentary,commentary track>, you have to watch it!

"Braveheart" is a remarkable movie experience and I am glad to see that Paramount Home Video has given it a solid release. It is also a great relief that the wait for this movie is finally over and we all get to enjoy Mel Gibson’s masterpiece at home. Although there are some minuscle flaws in the movie’s presentation, the fantastic <$commentary,commentary track> and documentary easily make up for it.
You have been waiting for this movie for the longest time, and now it is time to go into war with William Wallace in one of the most spectacular films of recent years. Long live William Wallace!