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

Arriving as one of Paramount Home Entertainment's "Sapphire Series" releases, "Braveheart" has been eagerly awaited by many, no doubt, as it is not only one of Mel Gibson's most successful and beloved films, but also one that is destined to look spectacular in high definition.

More or less based on real historic events and characters, "Braveheart" tells the story of William Wallace, a simple Scotsman during the 13th century. While Wallace is still a boy, his father is killed in his fight against oppressive England, and the boy is adopted and by his uncle. There he is educated and even learns various languages, which was highly unusual at the time, among the art of fighting, which on the other hand was essential in those days. After years, he returns to the place where he grew up in an attempt to settle down and live a peaceful life. He falls in love with one of the local girls of his clan and marries her secretly. One day some of the omnipresent 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 swiftly 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 as stilted and improper at times, nothing can distract from the sheer power that emanates from this masterful picture.

Paramount Home Entertainment is presenting "Braveheart" in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio in this 1080p high definition transfer. As I mentioned in my opening, "Braveheart" is a movie destined to high definition glory with its rich imagery, the captivating vistas and the lush landscapes. I was very glad to see that despite its age – yes, "Braveheart is already 14 years old – the movie lived up to all my expectations. With colors that are magnificently vibrant and bold, the Scottish highlands have never looked wilder and untamable, and neither did its inhabitants with their blue warpaint. With its incredible level of definition, the transfer manages to bring out every bit of detail in the image whether it's in an extreme close-up shot or a panoramic landscape with thousands of extras filling every pixel. As blood and gore wash over the viewer in powerful hues, the battles of "Braveheart" come to life in a fashion that is so realistic that it actually becomes painful to just watch the men being hacked to pieces. Add to it the beautiful costumes and production design and you have a true gem on your hands.

To match the superior quality of the imagery, Paramount has provided a lossless Dolby Digital TrueHD audio track and you will immediately notice how rich and deep the track 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 Blu-Ray release offers a solid mix of new and old bonus materials, making it exciting to revisit not only the film but the behind-the-scenes information also. The release starts out with a commentary track by director/actor Mel Gibson – which, at the time, was his first ever audio 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 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!

You will also find a "Timeline" among the bonus features, giving you a bit a look at the progression of history surrounding the events, leading up to the rebellion as well as what happened afterwards.

Culled from the previous Special Edition DVD is "A Writer's Journey", a featurette in which writer Randall Wallace describes how the project came about originally and how he researched all the material, trying to separate myth and legend from actual history – which reportedly was much harder than he had expected.

"Tales Of William Wallace" is also a featurette brought across from the DVD version taking a closer look at William Wallace in particular.

Among the new bonus materials, produced and presented in high definition on this release, is the three-part documentary "A Look Back." Featuring new interviews with most of the principal cast members and many of the crew members, the individual featurettes that make up the documentary are insightful and entertaining. Whether it's actors reminiscing about Mel Gibson's handling of the movie as a director and giving him the highest marks across the board for being one of the most determined, yet also most open-minded and easy going directors in Hollywood. The other featurettes follow suit with great anecdotes about the production, giving you a nice look back at what became one of the milestones in Mel Gibson's career. Filled with interviews and on-set footage, it is simply wonderful to witness this epic coming to life, come rain or high water.

An interactive map is also included on the release, allowing you to take a closer look at the locations of these momentous battles depicted n the movie and to see for yourself the strategic importance some of the locations had.

"Braveheart" is a remarkable movie experience and I am glad to see that Paramount Home Entertainment has turned it into the top notch Blu-Ray release that everyone had hoped for. Never has this film looked better – not even in movie theaters, I can guarantee you. If you're a fan of the film, this release alone should be reason enough to buy into Blu-Ray if you haven't done so already. For everyone else, this is simply a must-buy!