"On a purely cinematic level, 'Brokeback Mountain' never seems to take a wrong step. Here is an example of a filmmaking team firing on all cylinders. Every aspect of the production excels, yet does not overpower the whole -- the writing, the direction, the cinematography, the performances, the score and on down the line. And that's really saying something, when you consider that 'Brokeback' could be the career best for all involved. Director Ang Lee, who took home an Oscar for 'Brokeback,' was the perfect choice to portray a story about characters who can't address their feelings. 'Sense & Sensibility,' 'The Ice Storm,' 'The Wedding Banquet,' even 'Hulk' -- they are all strands of the same thematic thread, but never has Lee evoked the tortures of repressed passions as beautifully as in 'Brokeback.' The actors are also, dare I say, revelations. Yes, that is an overused critical phrase, but few could have ever expected such a level of subtlety, perception and restraint from Ledger and Gyllenhaal".Not to mention fellow Oscar nominee Michelle Williams (forever erasing any memory of 'Dawson's Creek'), and Anne Hathaway, who with one immensely powerful last scene, facilitates a whole new understanding of the film with just a flitter of the eye and a few simple pauses between words. Finally, we can't forget screenwriters Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, who will likely never be able to write another such perfectly modulated, perceptive script as this.Long after the endless parade of lame "gay cowboy" jokes and pointless bickering about awards tallies are over, I think the film will easily stand on its own as a landmark cinematic achievement. 'Brokeback Mountain' will last because it is about not about issues, but the human condition itself. It leaves us both haunted by the prejudices that doomed the lovers of Brokeback Mountain, and emboldened into believing that our society can, at last, rise above them.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
'Brokeback Mountain' on Blu-ray trails the HD DVD release by a couple of years, but packs no new surprises. The film is again presented in 1.85:1 widescreen and 1080p/VC-1 video, and I could not detect any difference in the transfers. In general, this is lovely and occasionally even gorgeous presentation that suitably captures the movie's earthy, film-like texture
No, this is not a pristine presentation. There is grain throughout, but I didn't find it intrusive; rather, it adds to the experience by giving the movie a touch more grit. Colors are quite good, from the lush greens of the mountain countryside to the vivid blues and reds of the oft-cited fireworks shot used in much of the promotion for the film. Yes, hues are a bit more subtle and natural than most modern films, but colors remain stable and clean, and fleshtones lovely. Depth and detail are also excellent, particularly compared to the previous standard DVD edition. The early scenes as Jack and Ennis first meet up on the mountain are more textured and three-dimensional. Close-ups are also improved, and I could see every strand of Anne Hathaway's ever-more-hilarious hairstyles as the movie progresses.
For example, in the key scene near the end of the film as Ennis visits the Jack's parents, there is a low, almost whispery sound of the outside wind that fills the rear channels. Moments like this are eerie, haunting and highly effective. Also more active is the "fireworks" scene with Ennis, and a couple of rodeo and bar scenes. Ultimately, 'Brokeback Mountain' on Blu-ray still doesn't really overwhelm or pummel, but faithfully replicates the subtle style of the soundtrack.
The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff
* Featurette: "A Groundbreaking Success" (HD, 14 minutes) - The most relevant of the new featurettes. The usual assortment of film critics and historians are trotted out to proclaim 'Brokeback' a classic, as well as what looks to be comments new and old from cast and crew (the Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal chats seem fresher, while Ang Lee's interview in particular appears dated). Unfortunately, at only 14 minutes, this barely scratches the surface. I read interviews with Ledger and Gyllenhaal, both of whom said they got letters from fans whose lives were changed by the film. Where is this kind of emotional material? How about some genuinely insightful perspective on how 'Brokeback' has influenced the political landscape for gays and lesbians in America? Or the backlash against the film? 'Brokeback Mountain' is the kind of hot-button movie tailor-made for a substantial documentary, but sadly, this isn't it.
* Featurette: "Music from the Mountain" (HD, 11 minutes) - Next we have this nice look at the making of the film's score, although I only really liked it because of the vibrant personality of composer Gustavo Santaolalla. He's passionate and enthusiastic, and having won an Oscar for his efforts, certainly deserves his own featurette.
* Still Montage (HD, 3 minutes) - "Impressions from the Film" is total fluff -- a nearly 3-minute montage of movie stills over excerpts from Santaolalla's score. How about a real still gallery, with never-before-seen production and publicity photos? Maybe Universal is saving that for the next special edition?
* Original Featurettes (SD, 25 minutes) - The remaining extras are all from the first 'Brokeback' release and will already be familiar (i.e., boring) to fans. "Directing from the Heart: Ang Lee" (8 minutes), "From Script to Screen: Interviews with Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana" (10 minutes) and "On Being a Cowboy" (6 minutes) are pretty good, but were clearly produced before the film was released and offer no perspective on the film's impact. A bonus is that even supporting cast are interviewed, including Randy Quaid, Linda Cardellini and Anne Hathaway. This fluff might be fairly interesting if you'd never heard anything about 'Brokeback Mountain,' but it's just a yawner otherwise.
* TV Special (SD, 22 minutes) - Finally, there is the Logo television special "Sharing the Story: The Making of 'Brokeback Mountain,'" which runs 22 minutes. This, too, has been played so incessantly on cable that it's now yawn-inducing. More interviews with all the cast & crew and plenty of on-set footage make it a good little TV doc on its own terms, but this is old news if you've already seen it on TV, or on the original DVD release.