Braveheart: Sapphire Series Blu-ray Review

Paramount’s new Sapphire Series Blu-ray Disc line is designed to give the best of the best high definition treatment to the most requested and cherished films in the studio’s catalog. Titles fans have been clamoring for since the format first launched several years ago that carry lengthy petitions for release.

When it comes to the best of the best in film, there is no arguing Mel Gibson’s 1995 Best Picture winner Braveheart deserved and was rightfully given a spot in the first Sapphire Series wave of titles to hit store shelves. Approaching 15 years since it burst onto the scene, Braveheart’s mix of commitment, sacrifice for freedom, and the savagery of war continues to influence sweeping dramas with epic battle sequences to this day. Any creative historical liberties taken with William Wallace’s struggle to keep Scotland from being assimilated into England are swallowed up by Gibson’s vulnerable yet cunning portrayal of the hero and direction and cinematography that screams to be viewed in high definition.

Gibson and cinematographer John Toll filmed Braveheart to reflect the gritty, grimy and, as Gibson puts it, “shitty” conditions of the times. There is no embellishment of structures or outfits to simply look better or grander on film; instead the Scottish lands are gorgeous in their natural state or spotted with unremarkable dwellings barely fit for animals much less people. What Gibson accomplished visually in Braveheart is considered a huge step forward in his filmmaking career influencing all his subsequent work.

The extensive attention to detail and bringing out the hardship of the times has never looked better than it does in this 2.35:1 framed AVC-encoded high definition transfer. Caked on war paint used by Wallace and his people, different textures of countless unique outfits, the deep redness of freshly spilled blood, and course the sprawling natural landscapes are a far cry than what we have seen before in the previously released DVD. Where Gladiator (the other Sapphire Series release) was slightly marred by unnatural digital enhancement to “clean” the image, Braveheart retains a film-like presentation that is probably not far from what played in theaters back in 1995.

Braveheart’s audio also receives an upgrade with Blu-ray: from lossy Dolby Digital to lossless 5.1 Dolby TrueHD. This mix is impacting during combat, sensitive and clean during dialogue, and generally well-balanced, especially important considering James Horner’s powerfully booming score. Braveheat is meant to be felt aurally as much as impress visually and his new high definition audio presentation does not disappoint.

The Sapphire Series has been given its own sleek branding and packaging that includes an o-sleeve to shield the inner case. Any uniqueness ends there as the two discs themselves – standard for all Sapphire Series releases – are printed with generic gray labels you might expect to see on a bargain bin title and not a Best Picture winner.

Several of the bonus features found on the 2007 collector’s edition DVD release have been ported to Blu-ray and supplemented with even more new offerings in high definition. Most of the features are found on disc two but unfortunately the lone features on disc one cannot be accessed unless returning to the main menu.

Disc One

Feature-Length Commentary – Actor and director Mel Gibson undertakes a solo commentary and does not even bother introducing himself. Few could get away with that move. What Mel brings to the microphone are more footnotes than commentary, his recollections and side stories about various people and places seen on-screen buffered by moments of silence. Mel’s wit is intact and musings sincere but his voice subdued and monotone as if he’s going through the paces, though he is not.

NEW: Braveheart Timelines – This interactive feature lets you scroll through a trio of timelines with small thumbnail images and descriptions: production, historical and fiction. Any of the one sentence descriptions can be clicked for more in-depth information and related timeline occurrences. It is a neat feature for those interested in the history behind the events in the film.

Disc Two

NEW: Battlefields of the Scottish Rebellion (45:26) – The second interactive feature lets you explore the various battlefields and follow along with detailed timelines of the events that transpired at each while a CGI representation of the landscape plays. This would have made more sense to be alongside the “Timelines” feature but space concerns make its inclusion on disc two understandable.

NEW: Braveheart: A Look Back (1:00:23, HD) – This new three-part documentary explores putting together the cast, crew, locations and production design in “A Company of Equals;” how good a time making Braveheart was in “The Sound of Laughter;” and “The Measure of a Film” that goes through the immense amount of material gathered to put Braveheart behind the lens. This hour-long look back at Braveheart is the highlight of the bonus materials and worth a double dip by itself.

NEW: Smithfield: Medieval Killing Fields (25:19, HD) – A look back at the historical Smithfield location seen in the film and its evolution into the meat market and other structures it has become today. This talky featurette is aimed at the true history buff who wants to travel beyond the larger themes in the film.

Tales of William Wallace (29:59) – Interview snippets with a younger Mel Gibson show this featurette’s age, but it is still a intriguing look into the real history behind William Wallace.

A Writer’s Journey (21:30) – Author Randall Wallace is given an opportunity to discuss his influences and process for writing Braveheart, and his meeting with Mel Gibson that led to the famed actor and director coming on board. His now antique computer that Braveheart was written on is a sight to behold.

Also included are a pair of Theatrical Trailers in high definition.

Braveheart is the strongest Sapphire Series release thus far but still comes up a little short compared to more robust offers from other studios who poured more resources into next-generation features and functionality. Imperfection aside, the improved audio, video and handful of new HD and interactive bonus features make Braveheart on Blu-ray worth a double dip for owners of the DVD and a no-brainer purchase for anyone else.

– Dan Bradley

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