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Details At A Glance

Category Historical Fiction Disc One:
Theatrical Trailer
Audio Commentary - Mel Gibson (Actor/Director)

Disc Two:
Featurette - Mel Gibson's Braveheart: A Filmmaker's Passion (28:08)

Rating ma.gif (1236 bytes)
Year Released 1995
Running Time 170:23 Minutes
RSDL/Flipper Disc One: RSDL (99:31)
Disc Two: No/No
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region 2,4 Director Mel Gibson
Fox.gif (4090 bytes)
Fox Home Video
Starring Mel Gibson
Patrick McGoohan
Brendan Gleeson
Sophie Marceau
Catherine McCormack
Angus MacFadyen
Case Dual Transparent Amaray
RPI $36.95 Music James Horner

Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 384 Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192 Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9Yes.jpg (4536 bytes)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking No
Subtitles Czech
English for the Hearing Impaired
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    Based to an unknown degree upon the novel of the same name by Randall Wallace, Braveheart is an epic of historical fiction about one of Scotland's national idols, William Wallace. One thing that is very important to understand about this film is that it is not an accurate reflection of the thirteenth century war for independence by the people of Scotland. The film makes this abundantly clear from the beginning by describing King Edward the First as "a cruel pagan...", when it is a well-known fact that meeting this description posed a great threat to one's political career, and even to one's life, in those days. As a matter of fact, it is a widely held belief among more reliable historians that the British occupied Scotland in a similarly genocidal manner to how they occupied Tasmania because the Scottish have always been known as a wild, proudly heathen race. Combined with a plethora of factual errors relating to Robert The Bruce's actual involvement in the war, as well as that of Princess Isabelle, the whole film comes off more as an action film than as any serious historical drama. The real William Wallace was executed in 1305, but King Edward the First lived until 1307, with Prince Edward and Princess Isabelle being married in 1309. Additionally, Princess Isabelle is reported to have not had her first child until 1312, an embarassing detail given how this event is woven into the film's version of Wallace's life. Another such embarassing mistake is that there is no evidence to suggest that Prime Nocte, or the right of a lord to sleep with a bride on her wedding night in English terms, ever existed outside fiction. Actually, Mel Gibson saves the picture in his commentary by explaining the more dramatic reason for using this plot device, and it's one that stands up quite well.

    However, when we supress the historical misgivings of the film in spite of the fact that they are sometimes quite grave, what we have left is a stunning epic which offers a flawed alternate perspective on Scotland's war for independence. The film begins with young William Wallace (James Robinson) bidding his father and brother farewell as they go to fight a battle against the British occupying army. Both the father and brother are killed in battle, leaving young William in the care of his uncle, Argyle (Brian Cox), who teaches young William to use his mind as well as the fabled claymore. From there, we fast forward a couple of decades and see William as an adult, now played by Mel Gibson, returning to the village he lived in as a child. We are soon reintroduced to his childhood friends, Hamish (Brendan Gleeson), and Murron (Catherine McCormack). As the film has it, William and Murron are married in secret, with Murron being killed by the village's English sherriff for fighting off an assault from an English soldier. In reality, William's wife, who was actually named Marian (the name change was effected in order to avoid confusion with the Robin Hood heroine of the same name), was killed when English soldiers chased William home. In any case, William comes back to town in a very unhappy mood, proceeding to kill all of the English soldiers in the village, which in turn ignites a rebellion. Meanwhile, the aging King Edward the First (Patrick McGoohan) is continually disappointed with his son, Prince Edward (Peter Hanly), whom he arranges to be married to Princess Isabelle (Sophie Marceau). As the film progresses, we are shown several battles that are depicted inaccurately, and the growing division between the clans of Scotland. It is actually the division between the clans, rather than the technological and numerical superiority of the English forces, that resulted in the eventual stalemate in the Scottish-English conflict.

    What makes this film special is some stunning cinematography by John Toll (which actually survives well in spite of the Pan & Scan butchery of the VHS version, although there is one shot early in the film that fails to make sense outside of its proper aspect ratio), and some of the best-looking battle scenes in the history of sword-swinging epics. Indeed, what separates this film from most others that try to depict the England of the Middle Ages is the fact that there are no poncy men reciting patently bad Shakespearian dialogue while waving fencing foils around. The Scottish claymore was specifically designed to cut through things, leaving a wrecked, bloody mess behind, as opposed to being used to stab one's opponent. Braveheart manages to reflect such facts in its battles accurately enough to have earned a place in the Internet Movie Database's top 250 films, sitting comfortably at number sixty-five at the time of writing. If you don't mind a rather distorted view of history in the context of some amazing battle sequences, then Braveheart is definitely for you.

Transfer Quality


    The first thing to remember with a film of this epic length is that an extra amount of care must be taken when transferring it to a medium which relies upon a lossy compression method. When you throw in some of the most wild-looking battle sequences ever captured on film, set against one of the most beautiful and picturesque countries in the world, what you have is a recipe for MPEG related disasters in the hands of lesser film studios. Thankfully, Fox are Columbia Tristar's most serious rival when it comes to producing stunning examples of the DVD format's capabilities, and after looking at this transfer, I don't wonder why.

    The transfer is presented in the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and it is 16x9 Enhanced. As I have already mentioned, there is one shot early on in the film which simply doesn't make any sense when it is cropped to the television ratio, so this was an essential requirement. The transfer is almost always razor-sharp, with only an occasional noticeable loss of detail in the background at an inopportune moment. For the most part, the compression is completely transparent, with fine details to behold at every moment. The shadow detail of the transfer is somewhat variable, ranging from average to good, depending on the scene in question. During the wedding, a number of details are lost in the darkness, but at the sacking of York, there are all sorts of variable shades in the darkness to behold. There is no low-level noise at any time in the film.

    The colour saturation is where this transfer really excels, leaving other formats I've seen of this film in its wake. All of this film was shot in such a way as to capture two kinds of location: the wilderness of a country that inspires many a great song, and the insides of dank, slimy castles. As a result, many shades of green, blue, and the odd splash of red for good measure, are all captured in this film for the transfer to retain, and the transfer retains every shade of these colours without skipping a beat.

    MPEG artefacts were not a problem with this transfer, in spite of the fact that the film's length and its battle sequences would push the available disc space to its absolute limit. Film-to-video artefacts consisted of some aliasing in one knight's armour at 44:08, but this was the only instance of aliasing that I noticed. Given how many suits of chain mail, or other aliasing-prone objects such as barred windows there are in this film, this was something of a pleasant surprise. Sadly, film artefacts are something of a problem with this transfer, making me question the exact age of the interpositive used to create this DVD. For a good example of this problem, take a look at the top right corner of the frame at 45:45, and many subsequent shots during this sequence. Black film artefacts stain the picture quite badly for a second or two in many sequences such as this, and they were somewhat distracting to look at. If it weren't for this one problem, however, this would be the best transfer of a three-hour film this Region has so far seen.

    This disc is presented in the RSDL format, with the layer change taking place between Chapters 12 and 13, at 99:31. There is a noticeable and somewhat jarring pause at this point, and the placement is off by a few frames, but the layer change is otherwise as good as you could ask for.


    The audio transfer is, to use what is very much an already overused phrase, one of the reasons why it's worth investing that extra money in a Dolby Digital capable receiever. There are two soundtracks on this DVD: the original English dialogue in Dolby Digital 5.1, and a commentary track in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. The second disc in the set only has one English soundtrack in Dolby Digital 2.0 that sounds vaguely like stereo, but more on this later.

    The original English dialogue is clear and easy to understand at all times, but there are some limits placed upon this by how well you understand Scottish, French, and Irish accents. Much of the speech in this film is rendered with one of these accents, and while none of the Scottish accents reach into Billy Connolly territory, they do occasionally pose a challenge. Funnily enough, the most difficult lines to fully understand in this film, at least for me, are the first ones uttered by King Edward (Patrick McGoohan). There are no discernable problems with audio sync, although there was the occasional line when I thought I could see lips moving around different words. However, repeated testing of the suspect passages only found the occasional instance of suspect ADR.

    The score music in this film is credited to James Horner, and an especially inspired effort it is, too. I've never really thought much of Horner's compositions, largely because of his work with James Cameron, but this particular score made me forget that for the duration of this film. The score switches rather frequently between the traditional arrangements of strings, and some rather upbeat motifs using Celtic instruments at the appropriate times. If there is one criticism I can make of the score, it is that it simply isn't brutal enough during the battle sequences, although I am sure very few others will feel the same way.

    The surround channels are used to great effect, supporting the music whenever it appears, and lending a hand to the sounds of running horses and flying arrows when required. A number of directional sound effects are used at all times, with even the quiet dialogue sequences accompanied by the sounds of bagpipes, rustling leaves, and many other ambient effects that seem to live and breathe around the viewer. The surround field is truly immersive, but I feel it is a pity that we don't even get a lower-performance DTS soundtrack with this transfer (DTS was one of the formats the film was exhibited in theatres with). In spite of this, what we have makes excellent demonstration material.

    The subwoofer had a whale of a time supporting the sound effects, especially the march of cavalry, and it did so without becoming overbearing or conspicuous, even if that was really the whole idea. Overall, this is an excellent soundtrack that truly lives and breathes, while helping the film itself to do so.


    One thing you will notice is that, in contrast to the Region 1 version of this title, the making-of featurette has been placed on a separate disc. It would have been nice if a few other extras had been placed on that disc, but what we have here is sufficient.


    The menus on both discs are very static and minimal, but they are 16x9 Enhanced and rather easy to navigate.

Audio Commentary - Mel Gibson (Actor/Director)

    This Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded commentary is quite fascinating when Mel Gibson begins speaking, in spite of his frequent and sometimes long pauses. Gibson quickly opens the commentary with an amusing joke about the beauty and harshness of the Scottish highlands, which helps put the viewer in a relaxed mood for the rest of the track. He also shares some rather interesting facts about the production, such as how the child actors in the prologue were found, and the fact that Brian Cox was the original Hannibal Lecter in Manhunter. Mel is right about one thing: it is very possible to have seen this actor before, and never recognise him in this particular film. I know I didn't when I first viewed this film, in spite of having seen Manhunter more times than I care to admit.

Theatrical Trailer (2:12)

    Exactly why Fox didn't see fit to compress this extra to the second disc, I am not sure, but it is included on disc one for your edification. This two and a quarter minute theatrical trailer is presented in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1, with 16x9 Enhancement and Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

Featurette - Mel Gibson's Braveheart: A Filmmaker's Passion (28:08)

    This is the sole extra on disc two, which makes me wonder what other interesting documentaries or trailers were left gathering dust in the vaults while this one was compressed to a disc of its own. The documentary is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1, with footage from the film in the ratio of 2.35:1, and it is 16x9 Enhanced. The sound is in Dolby Digital 2.0, and tends to reflect the idea that this moderately interesting documentary was produced with television in mind.

R4 vs R1

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;     The Region 1 version of Braveheart has more than two hundred minutes of footage compressed onto the one dual-layer disc, with the featurette Mel Gibson's Braveheart: A Filmmaker's Passion taking up vital bits that really need to be allocated to the film. By comparison, this featurette is compressed onto a second disc on our version, allowing looser compression of the main feature. It is somewhat disappointing that we do not get any deleted scenes or TV spots, but since the Region 1 version of this release also misses out on such extras, the local dual disc set is by far the better choice.


    Braveheart is a film that, in spite of taking too many liberties with history for its own good, stands up quite nicely as a piece of entertainment. The only real disappointment of the DVD transfer is that it appears the source material was in less than optimum shape.

    The video quality is very good, but could have been reference material if not for a noticeable problem with film artefacts.

    The audio quality is excellent, providing a great example of how to take a battle from the screen and make it breathe in the comfort of one's home.

    The extras are sufficient, but like the video quality, a little more effort would have been appreciated.

Ratings (out of 5)

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© Dean McIntosh (my bio sucks... read it anyway)
November 16, 2000.

Review Equipment
DVD Grundig GDV 100 D, using composite output; Toshiba SD-2109, using S-video output
Display Samsung CS-823AMF (80 cm), 16:9 mode, using composite and S-video inputs, calibrated using the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built In (Amplifier)
Amplification Sony STR-DE835, calibrated using the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Yamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Philips PH931SSS Rear Speakers, Philips FB206WC Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer