When most people think of the classic big budget epic films they usually go back to the golden age of film; the late fifties to early sixties. With films like ‘Ben-Hur’, ‘Spartacus’ and ‘the Ten Commandments’ there were sweeping stories, bigger than life sets and a cast of thousands. It had seemed that almost no one was making such epics anymore. That is until 1995 when actor Mel Gibson set about on his sophomore effort as on both sides of the camera, ‘Braveheart’. This was a film that not only harkened back to the great films of our youth; it reinvented the genre for a whole new generation of film lovers. This movie has it all, action, romance, wit and massive battles. My daughter would add, much to my chagrin, bare butts. The choice of the viewpoint here is imaginative. It does not pretend to be a historical account of the times. Instead this is more of documentation of the myth about the main character William Wallace. This is only appropriate since the myths are far better known than the facts when it comes to this historical figure. There is an account of the real man on the History Channel so if you need a greater degree of accuracy check that out. If you watch a movie to be entertained, thrilled and brought to the edge of your seat than this is the film for you.
Paramount first released this film to DVD in 2000. It was very well done and even included a commentary track and a behind the scenes featurette. This edition has been discontinued and in its stead we have what they are calling the ‘Special Collector’s Edition. Many studios apply these terms to just about any re-release they have but Paramount makes sure their DVDs live up to the name. This is a completely new mastering of the audio and video that makes this release betting looking and sounding than ever before. There are also so many extras that a second disc has been added. A lot of studios would push the price way up for a collector’s edition like this but Paramount respects their loyal customers and has given a suggested price of only $19.99 which translates to an actual street cost under $15. This is a no lose situation. You get one of the great films of recent years and you are not over charged for it. Even if you have the old edition this is still worth it.
Like all truly stunning epic films the plot has to relate to grand and glorious issues that define the human condition. This one has one of the most sweeping themes possible; freedom. Even though this was not the same concept back in the early 1300’s as it is today it makes for a great movie back drop. Scotland was under the harsh rule of King Edward the First (Patrick McGoohan) better known as Longshanks. Raiding parties under the authority of the crown slash and burn their way through the countryside. Among the many victims of this rampage were the older brother and father of William Wallace (James Robinson/youth; Mel Gibson/adult). Like many young Scotsmen the hatred of the English grows as he becomes a man. The pivotal even is when Wallace wants to wed the love of his life, Murron MacClannough (Catherine McCormack). This must be done in secret because of the doctrine of primae noctis which requires the lord of the land the right to deflower a bride on her wedding night. When a group of English soldiers rape his secret bride Wallace is forced to watch the sheriff bind her to a stake and slit her throat. Wallace loses control and leads the town folk to rise up and slaughter the soldiers. This was just the spark that was needed to ignite the powder keg of resentment and hatred. A guerilla style war begins to spread across Scotland. When the English attempt to use Irish troops to put down the rebellion the bounds of Celtic brotherhood just add more men to the rebellion. The English lose in a major way at the Battle of Stirling which precedes a brutal sacking of the English city of York. Things take a bad turn for Wallace and his men when they are routed at the battle of Falkirk. After this Wallace goes back underground fighting smaller battles of opportunity. Longshanks is desperate to put an end to Wallace. Even though the Scots are being defeated the spirit that Wallace has fostered is dangerous to the reign of the crown. The closing moments of the film are brutal and not for the faint of heart. It is also one of the most dramatic scenes Gibson has ever given his audience.
A quick glance at a few history books will demonstrate just how far from the truth this film is. This is not based on historical accounts in the least. This is based on how many people would have wanted history to have played out. As Wallace states in the film the perception of the man is more important than the facts. Perhaps it would be more accurate to place this film in the action genre. No matter how you type this film it is exceptional. It received five Oscars including two of the main ones, Best Picture and Best Director. It is difficult to believe that this is only the second time for Gibson to take on the job of director. He moved from a smaller flick like ‘The Man Without a Face’ to this in only two years. As a director Gibson has vision beyond many of his contemporaries. He is now famous for going out on a major limb by producing and directing films in ancient dead languages. Some might argue that his Scottish accent here would qualify for inclusion in this group of films. There is incredible power to the direction here. The pacing of the film moves the story along without the usual dead spots for exposition. Not only is one of the best examples of Gibson as a director he gives a performance of a lifetime as an actor.
Paramount has gone the extra mile with this collector’s edition. There is still a commentary track featuring Gibson on the main disc. The second disc has a lot that the fan can enjoy.
A Writer’s Journey
The script writer, Randall Wallace talks about how his involvement in this project helped him to understand and better appreciate his own Scots-Irish ancestry.
Alba gu Brath! The Making of Braveheart
This making of feature is broken down into three sub sections. The first is ‘Reviving a Genre’. Here the focus is on bringing back the great action epics. Next there is ‘The Heat of Battle’ which looks at how complicated it was to shot the famous battle scenes. Last there is ‘Worth the Fight’ a featurette that details what it took to actually get this film presented to the public and the reaction the audiences had.
Archival Interviews with the Cast of Braveheart
There are also a production photo montage and two theatrical trailers.
It would have been nice to have more of Gibson’s point of view other than his commentary track but this does stand as the best presentation of the film to date. This is a must have for your collection, no questions about it.