Updated: May 21, 2018
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 1995; R for brutal medieval warfare, disturbing themes and sexual content; streaming via Amazon Video, Google Play (4K), iTunes (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube
Best extra: “Braveheart: The Journey Home”
THE TIMING is just right.
Paramount has released Mel Gibson’s “Braveheart,” winner of five Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director for Gibson, into the 4K Ultra HD battlefield of favorites.
It’s a two-front war because of the film’s historical inaccuracies and its actor/director. Gibson has been considered toxic after his shocking, self-inflicted career blow-up in 2006 with an arrest and conviction for drunk driving, and a crazed outburst of hate and racism. A nasty divorce from his wife of nearly 30 years and the mother of their seven children, plus domestic violence claims in 2010 from his ex-girlfriend also didn’t help his image.
Gibson’s best move was staying out of the spotlight, not that he had much choice. It’s been 12 years, and the one-time megastar of the “Mad Max” films and “Lethal Weapon” franchise, the director of “The Passion of Christ,” is making a comeback.
Many will never forgive him, but the latest generation of movie-goers wasn’t around when Gibson hit the skids and is now rediscovering his films. There's no doubt he's a good actor and director, one of the best. Gibson and the studios are hoping the public will forget … or forgive. “Signs” (2002), the film by M. Night Shyamalan co-starring Joaquin Phoenix, with its message of faith, has remained popular. Gibson is now getting work within the indie film scene with the likes of “Blood Father” (2016) and the B-comedy with Mark Wahlberg in “Daddy’s Home 2.”
Gibson also returned to the director’s chair. His film “Hacksaw Ridge” (2016) was highly praised. Unlike “Braveheart” and “The Patriot” (2000), with Heath Ledger, the extraordinary story of conscientious objector Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), who joined the Army in World War II, became a medic and saved 75 U.S. soldiers on the Okinawa battlefield, is mostly true. Gibson received an Oscar nomination for Best Director and Best Picture. It won Oscars for Best Film Editing and Sound Mixing.
“Braveheart’s” popularity has also wavered, but recently seen an upswing on IMDB.com with a position at No. 75 on the all-time favorite movie list. The American Film Institute has it positioned No. 91 on the 100 Most Thrilling Films list.
Gibson’s epic uses thousands of extras in scenes of sweeping, hand-to-hand combat and bloody battlefields. There are clear tributes to “Spartacus” (1960), starring Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis.
Gibson admits “Braveheart” is a historical fantasy; it’s loaded with anachronisms and heavily fictionalized. But the actor/director shines as freedom fighter William Wallace, leading 13th-century Scots against the tyrannical English King Edward I/Longshanks played by Patrick McGoohan in his last major role. Wallace secretly marries his childhood sweetheart Murron (Catherine McCormack) to keep English nobles from bedding her on their wedding night, a barbaric right. She is later sexually assaulted, then killed by English soldiers, launching Wallace into war.
This 4K disc is another impressive remastering job from the folks at Paramount, who earned major accolades this month with “Saving Private Ryan” and “Gladiator.” “Braveheart” is sourced from its original camera negative (2.35:1 aspect ratio) and mastered in 4K.
Film grain dances across the screen as it should, while added resolution gives distant Scottish highlands an extra punch of clarity. Close-ups show an added level of costume texture and facial markings. HDR/Dolby Vision contrast levels also produce deeper blacks within the shadowy interiors of castles, barns and huts, while the brighter highlights more readily accentuate gloomy cloud- and landscapes. “Braveheart’s” earthy-color palette is well-toned and balanced, including Wallace’s trademark blue war paint contrasted against his natural complexion.
The new Dolby Atmos soundtrack provides an expanded and well-balanced audio experience from the Oscar-winning sound effects of clanging swords to environmental effects to composer James Horner’s Oscar-nominated score recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra, featuring Celtic/Scottish themes from bagpipes, flutes and bodhrán drums. It clearly elevates the cinematic experience.
The bonus third disc includes two-plus hours of extras ported from 2006 and 2014 Blu-ray releases. Gibson’s commentary is included on the 4K. In “Braveheart: A Look Back,” he says nothing like Randall Wallace’s script had been filmed since the early 1960s when “El Cid” starring Charlton Heston hit the cinema.
“I loved those movies, big battle epics,” says Gibson. Scriptwriter Wallace, no relation to the film’s hero, admits he never wrote the film with Gibson in mind. “But, once it was done there was only one guy I could imagine playing the Scot and it was Mel.”
At first, Gibson was only to direct, but it soon became apparent, “he was to be the star,” producer Bruce Davey says.
At that time, Gibson was a proven commodity as an actor, but the studios were nervous, worried over his capability as a director. Previously, he had only directed a small drama, “A Man Without a Face” (1993). But Gibson was able to convince executive producer Stephen McEveety he was the right guy.
“It needed to be done. It needed to brutal, heartfelt, spiritual and hit home.” – Mel Gibson
Gibson and the production company only spent 10 weeks prepping to film in the lush countryside of Glen Nevis, Scotland. Once the cameras started rolling, the rains almost never let up. Gibson and Oscar-winning cinematographer John Toll were determined to film rain or shine. After six weeks, the Irish Film Board approached the production about moving to Ireland. After a short scouting trip, it was decided to relocate outside of Dublin, which had better weather and offered less travel time between hotels and the varying movie sets.
The Scots were thrilled about the prospect of Wallace’s story making it to the silver screen. “We were conscious of Wallace growing up in Scotland,” says Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture & External Affairs for the Scottish Government. “He was a furious and loyal champion for Scotland. He believed in its independence and freedom. Fortunately, he was of the people and for the people.”
When writer Randall Wallace researched the Wallace story, he found it within the writings of “The Acts and Deeds of the Illustrious and Valiant Champion Sir William Wallace, Knight of Elderslie” from author Harry the Minstrel (Blind Harry) in a manuscript dated 1488. The early writing clearly romanticized Wallace to superhero status; much credited to him actually took place after his capture and execution in 1305.
The disc also includes an interactive battlefield of four key Scottish battles beginning September 11, 1297, when Wallace and Andrew Murray led the Scots to victory at Stirling Bridge against the English – even if there is no bridge in the battle sequence, a creative choice from Gibson. Still, like directors Ridley Scott and John Milius, cast actors and extras who looked like authentic warriors and soldiers, and could use swords, battle axes and longbows. A year later, King Edward I would command English troops, defeating the Scottish in the Battle of Falkirk. English longbow men greatly outnumbered the Scottish archers.
On August 3, 1305, Wallace was captured near Glasgow and sent to London for a quick, mock trial. He was subjected to a torture and gruesome execution, strengthening his place as a martyr for Scottish independence. In reality, his death was even more horrific.
The final scene in “Braveheart” is one of cinema’s greatest onscreen moments with superb film editing, music and Wallace’s final cry of, “FREEDOM!”
― Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer