With a scarcity of new releases on the horizon, it’s a great time to mine your collection for some classic content you might not have watched for some time—especially when that title has received a 4K HDR makeover with a Dolby Atmos soundtrack. Braveheart certainly qualifies as one of those films, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and available for download from Kaleidescape in a whopping 102.4 GB file.
Released in 1995, Braveheart was the darling of the 1996 Academy Awards, grabbing a total of 10 nominations, and winning five statues, including Picture, Director, Cinematography, Sound Effects, and Makeup. (It was also nominated for Screenplay,
Costume Design, Sound, Editing, and Music.)
While Mel Gibson has gone on to direct several films since, it is hard to believe Braveheart was only his second time in the director’s chair, following up on 1993’s The Man Without a Face. When you see the massive scale of the film, it’s beyond impressive that Gibson was able to pull this off as such a relative neophyte director, not to mention while simultaneously handling producing chores and portraying William Wallace, the film’s leading role.
I’m not a history buff, but Braveheart apparently plays a bit fast-and-loose with historical accuracy for the sake of entertainment. So if you’re a student of 13th-century English and Scottish lore (the film opens in 1280 AD) and looking for a movie that ticks off all the factual boxes, it will likely raise your ire. Instead, maybe consider Braveheart as “historical fiction,” depicting people who actually existed—William Wallace, Princess Isabella (Sophie Marceau), Robert the
BRAVEHEART AT A GLANCE
A love story and some history provide the springboard for a series of increasingly bigger and more brutal battle scenes in this Mel Gibson Oscars fest.
The 4K transfer brings out the intricate detail in the Oscar-winning cinematography while HDR helps deliver a better range of black & shadow detail.
The new Atmos mix isn’t particularly active, but it is atmospheric and does a great job of presenting the James Horner score.
Bruce (Angus Macfadyen), King Edward I (Patrick McGoohan), Prince Edward (Peter Hanly)—doing the kinds of things they more-or-less did.
Rated R for “brutal medieval warfare,” Common Sense Media says, “Expect torture, hackings, stabbings, throat-slitting, and arrows and spears dealing horrible death and injuries,” and it doesn’t lie. The battle scenes are brutal, with body counts that would likely be in the hundreds. However, in my mind, I recall it being much more graphic—especially the ending—so maybe 25 years of movie watching things like John Wick and shows like Game of Thrones has just desensitized me a bit. Also, whereas many films today prefer to linger on the blood, viscera, and gore of combat, Gibson instead chooses to quick-cut away from much of it. (Possibly to reverse the MPAA’s initial NC-17 rating.)
With its epic, just minutes shy of three hours running time, nothing about Braveheart feels rushed—except possibly the reunion and relationship of Wallace and Murron MacClannough (Catherine McCormack)—giving you plenty of time to know and care about the characters. The film opens with a bit of narration telling you all the backstory required, with “The king of Scotland had died without a son, and the king of England, a cruel pagan known as Edward the Longshanks, claimed the throne of Scotland for himself. Scotland’s nobles fought him, and fought each other, over the crown. So, Longshanks invited them to talks of truce—no weapons, one page only.”
Young William sees the hanged bodies of those Longshanks betrayed, and, shortly, after his father and brother are also killed by Longshanks’ soldiers. William is then raised by his uncle, who educates him and teaches him to use his wits before he uses a sword, and takes him on a tour of Europe. Years later, William returns to his village, wanting to have a simple life as a farmer, where he hopes to marry lifelong love Murron, and raise many sons.
In order to keep the Scottish population in check, Longshanks institutes an old tradition known as Primae noctis—First Night—giving nobles the right to take a maiden on her wedding night to have sex with her with the goal of getting her pregnant with English blood.
As you can imagine, this doesn’t go over well, and Wallace and Murron marry in secret, telling no one so the local lord won’t discover. Of course, a blossoming love can’t be kept hidden, and after Murron hits a soldier who attempts to rape her, she is killed, inciting Wallace to start a rebellion to just kill as many English as possible, but leading him to ultimately take up the cause of freeing Scotland.
Along the way, more and more clans hear of Wallace’s exploits and successes in battle, causing his legend to grow to mythic proportions and having many join his cause until he is leading an actual army, fighting larger and larger battles, including the battle of Stirling, Falkird, and attacking the English city of York, where they start inflicting actual damage against Longshanks.
At its heart, Braveheart can be boiled down to love—what starts wars, and what is ultimately worth fighting and dying for. Beyond the initial love—and later outrage—Wallace feels for Murron, you see the love he has for his men, and ultimately his love of the idea of a free Scotland. This is contrasted with the ruthlessness and heartlessness of Longshanks, who only cares about positioning things for future rule, along with the lack of love between Princess Isabella—daughter of the King of France, forced to marry for an alliance—and Prince Edward—who is played as overly effeminate and having no interest in women.
As I didn’t remember much of the film, I was curious how it would hold up after so long. Not only are the acting and dialogue solid throughout and the scenery and cinematography beautiful (shot entirely abroad in Scotland and Ireland)–what you really appreciate is the massive scope of the large battles, which were filmed with practical effects. There are no CGI armies or digital doubles, or computer-enhanced backdrops—these are literally hundreds, nay thousands, of actual people pitched in battle in real environs. In many ways, you can see how the large battle scenes here could have served as a blueprint for The Game of Thrones “Battle of the Bastards.”
Originally filmed in 35mm, this 4K transfer retains an incredible amount of sharpness and detail, but keeps its film-like look rather than having the tack-sharp razor detail of modern productions. There is a bit of grain in some of the grey-colored sky shots, but I never found it distracting or objectionable.
The best images are scenes shot in close and mid focus, with longer-range shots not having as much detail and being a bit soft. Closeups bristle with detail, showing every line, pore, and beard growth, as well as the dirt and grime that seems to cover every non-noble. Edges are sharp, detailed, and well-defined, letting you clearly see every rock that went into building a structure or wall. You can also appreciate the craftsmanship and attention to detail that went into the costuming, seeing threads and weaves and wear in the battle uniforms, as well as the set design. There were some shots—usually conversations between two people—that were slightly out of focus, which appears to be more a product of the original production.
This isn’t a film that pushes the bounds of UHD’s wider color gamut, with much of it having a muted, earthy, dirt and ground-colored palette. Even the tartans of the Scots are mainly muted mossy greens and browns. This contrasts with the vibrant
reds and golds worn by Longshanks, or the colors of his soldiers. We are given many opportunities to appreciate the lush countryside, and you can definitely appreciate the rich greens and beauty of Scotland.
HDR is used less here to deliver eye-searing highlights—though there are a few fires that burn brightly—and more to deliver a better range of black and shadow detail throughout. Much of Braveheart’s action takes place outdoors in wide-open fields or in low-lit night or indoor scenes, and the enhanced contrast lets you better appreciate dark-level detail, resulting in a more lifelike image.
As mentioned, Braveheart also received a new Dolby TrueHD Atmos soundtrack, and what benefits most is James Horner’s Oscar-nominated score, which is given plenty space to open up across the front channels as well as being mixed up into the front height speakers for a truly large presentation.
I wouldn’t describe this as an overly active Atmos mix, and they definitely don’t look for every opportunity to push sounds up overhead unnecessarily. Instead, we get a much better sense of being in a large, open outdoor space, with swirling winds, birds chirping, leaves rustling, and other ambient sounds putting you outdoors. Other interior scenes have ropes swaying and rafters creaking
overhead, with battles filling the room with the sounds of shouts, arrows whistling, swords clanging, fires raging, and smoke billowing up overhead.
Your subwoofer will have long moments of rest, but it is called into play when needed, either during big emotional moments of the score or from the pounding of horse hooves charging into battle that are powerful enough to rattle your seats.
Braveheart ranks high on many movie fans’ Best Movies’ list, though it sits at #78 on IMDB’s Top Rated Movies, and doesn’t manage to crack AFI’s Top 100. (It does place #62 on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Cheer: America’s Most Inspiring Movies list.) Prior to this viewing, I actually only saw the film once before, and that was on LaserDisc more than 20 years ago! (With a running time just minutes shy of three hours, I can only imagine how many side flips and disc changes it would have required back then!) The film definitely looks and sounds its best here, making it a perfect movie-night selection if you haven’t screened it recently.
Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at
@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.