Directed by Mel Gibson
Starring Mel Gibson, Patrick McGoohan, Catherine McCormack, Peter Hanly, Sophie Marceau
Paramount; widescreen (2.35:1 aspect ratio)
Extras: Director commentary, trailers, "A Filmmaker's Passion" documentary
The only reason to watch Mel Gibson's self-consciously epic battle picture "Braveheart" is the self-consciously epic battle at its center. With a cast of thousands brutalizing each other in the muck, like some sort of gory Goya sprung to life, the 13th-century face-off between the English army and a bawdy band of Scottish rebels led by insurgent William Wallace (Gibson) never turns into a sprawling mess. The action is clear: First the arrows, then the horses, then the pikes, then the Irish infantry, then the rout; you can tell when the bad guys are losing -- and when a good guy catches an arrow in the gut.
The rest of the film, which won five Oscars, is a disaster. The worst part is that it tries to be a hero movie, lionizing the courage and bravery and selflessness of its martyred saint. Instead, the film turns Wallace's would-be crusade into a personal vendetta. He attacks the occupying English army of King Edward I not because they're unjust, but because one of them brutally murdered his lovely wife. Wallace goes on and on about freedom, but the film tells us that inside at least, he's shouting "Revenge!"
The quality of the DVD, which took years to be released after the film came out in 1995, is a bit disappointing. Some of the details pixelize, and there's a bit of a flicker in some of the scenes. The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, however, is excellent.
Gibson's commentary track is a joke. Actually, it's worse than a joke -- it's horribly boring. Over the nearly three-hour film, he doesn't manage to find one moderately interesting thing to say about the production, the battles, the history or the story. Worse, he seems to not even know the names of the people he worked with, referring to most of them as "this guy" or "this kid" or "she." It's actually embarrassing to hear. His filmmaking technique consists of slow and fast: The slow shots are to make "her" (his co-star, Catherine McCormack) look more beautiful; the fast shots make the action look more brutal.
The other thing Gibson likes to do in the commentary is champion his historic accuracies, like the livestock, bred to look like they did long before mad cow disease. But he also boasts of several deliberate inaccuracies, like the face paint worn by his army and the Celtic, not Scottish, bagpipes used in the overblown James Horner score.
Fortunately, the half-hour behind-the-scenes documentary, "A Filmmaker's Passion," fills in some of Gibson's holes. The battle extras were brought in from the Irish army reserve, the charging horses were giant mechanical puppets and the arrows were rubber-tipped and shot with air cannons. After you're finished, you can cue up the battle scene with the handy chapter index and watch that big fight over and over again -- those air cannons are a lot more impressive than Gibson's.