Release Date(s)1995 (May 15, 2018)
Studio(s)Icon Productions/Ladd Co. (Paramount)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: B+
“I shall tell you of William Wallace. Historians from England will say I am a liar, but history is written by those who have hanged heroes...”
With these words begins Mel Gibson’s epic Braveheart, a story of love, tragedy, revenge, and bravery, as the sons of 13th Century Scotland rally against English tyranny.
William Wallace (Gibson) was born a common highlander, the son of a lowly farmer, but he soon finds himself in the very eye of the storm. For Scotland suffers under the rule of the ruthless English king, Edward the Longshanks, and any attempt to resist his cruelty is met with the harshest punishment. When young Wallace’s father and older brother are killed in a failed bid for freedom, Wallace is taken away by his uncle Argyle, who raises and educates him. Years later, Wallace returns home seeking a peaceful life as a farmer. There he finds his childhood sweetheart, Murron (Catherine McCormack), and secretly marries her, hoping to start a family. But in so doing, he’s already broken the law. Longshanks, in a bid to strengthen his control of Scotland, has given his lords the right of “Prima Nocta” – the right to sleep with any Scottish bride on her wedding night. Wallace’s defiance leads the local English lord to last out. In a rage, Wallace responds by leading a revolt that wipes out the English presence in his village entirely. When Longshanks attempts to crush this uprising, the situation quickly escalates. Soon, Wallace finds himself the leader of a massive rebellion determined to free Scotland from the English forever or die trying.
Braveheart become the Best Picture of 1995, sweeping the Academy Awards that year with a total of ten nominations and five Oscar wins. The film’s epic story has drawn comparisons to David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, though it lacks the latter film’s visual mastery and polish. But what Braveheart does right, it does very well indeed. The storytelling is emotionally honest, exciting, and even funny at times. It draws you in – every loss of these characters becomes your own, every victory a personal one. The film is unquestionably violent, but you never actually see as much violence as you think you do. Most of the carnage is suggested by quick cuts and skillful editing. The supporting cast simply shines, including Patrick McGoohan as the deliciously evil Longshanks, Brendan Gleeson as Wallace’s childhood friend, Hamish, and Sophie Marceau as the Princess of Wales. Tie it all together with a stirring score by composer James Horner – one of his finest – and you’ve got a great film experience.
Braveheart was shot photochemically in 35mm using Panavision cameras and anamorphic lenses. It’s been scanned in full native 4K, graded for HDR10 and Dolby Vision, and the result is presented here on 4K Ultra HD at the correct 2.39:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The image is so gorgeous it brings a tear to the eye. Every tiny bit of the detail available in the original camera negative is apparent on screen, from subtle textures of dirt on faces and skin to wood, grass, straw, and stone. Detail is highly refined without being too edgy. The High Dynamic Range gives the gloomy overcast skies, flickering torch flames, and gleaming metal a bright but completely life-like intensity, and brings out extraordinary subtleties of color in the costumes and landscapes – seemingly every shade of green, brown, and blue-gray is there to dazzle the eye. Shadows are deep, nighttime scenes are dark but not so much that detail is lost. A light-moderate wash of grain remains to ensure a properly cinematic look. The whole image is just breathtaking. No matter how great a fan of this film you may be, you’ll see things here you’ve never noticed before. It’s a revelation.
You’ll be glad to know that the new Dolby Atmos lossless mix that’s included on the 4K disc is every bit as good as the image presentation. The soundstage feels big, wide, and spacious, with fine extension into the vertical in the height channels, both for action and atmospheric effects. Bass is robust and effortless; it’s not quite bombastic but when the English cavalry charges the field at Stirling the sound will hit you like a wall. Dialogue is clear and clean, surround panning and object-based movement is smooth yet always natural. There’s a full quality to the sound here that’s very pleasing. Perhaps best of all, Horner’s score washes over the viewing space sounding better than ever. Braveheart has always delivered a great sound experience on disc, but Atmos experiences manages to notch things up a hair with an absolutely thrilling mix. Additional audio choices include French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital and English Descriptive Audio, with optional subtitles available in English, English SDH, French, and Spanish.
The package is a 3-disc set that includes the film in 4K Ultra HD, along with the previous 2-disc Sapphire Series Blu-ray (reviewed here). The 4K disc itself offers only one extra:
- Audio commentary by director Mel Gibson
Note that there are subtitles for the commentary in English, French, and Spanish. The first of the Blu-rays then includes the film in 1080p HD with the same commentary and also adds:
- Braveheart Timelines interactive feature (HD)
Of course, the second Blu-ray in the package is a special features disc that carries over the lion’s share of the bonus material (from the previous release) as follows:
- Battlefields of the Scottish Rebellion interactive feature (HD – 45:26 in all)
- Braveheart: A Look Back (HD – 3 parts – 60:23 in all)
- Smithfield: Medieval Killing Fields (HD – 25:19)
- Tales of William Wallace (SD – 29:59)
- A Writer’s Journey (SD – 21:30)
- Theatrical Trailer 1 (HD – 1:41)
- Theatrical Trailer 2 (HD – 2:54)
It’s a very good batch of content, on the whole, though still missing from the original DVD release are the Alba gu Brath! The Making of Braveheart documentary, the Mel Gibson’s Braveheart: A Filmmaker’s Passion featurette, a photo montage, and archival interviews. The content above replaces it nicely, but if you have that original DVD, you may wish to keep it too. As you’d expect, the 4K package also includes a Digital Copy code on a paper insert.
Braveheart is a magnificent film, full of intrigue, humor... and yes, brutal violence. But few films of its type have been mounted with such heart and passion. This is Mel Gibson’s finest work and it’s never looked or sounded better than it does here on this reference-quality 4K Ultra HD release from Paramount. This is just a damn great upgrade; if you’re a fan, you’d be foolish to pass up on it. Don’t hesitate to buy this disc even for a moment. Very highly recommended.
- Bill Hunt