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Blu-ray Review: Brokeback Mountain

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The Film

Based on the short story by Pulitzer Prize winner E. Annie Proulx, Brokeback Mountain is a complex, emotional film that carries an added layer of tragedy with star Heath Ledger’s death since its release. Ledger may have won his sole Oscar for his haunting Joker in The Dark Knight, but no less memorable will be his turn as cowboy Ennis Del Mar.

Brokeback Mountain quickly gained a reputation as the “gay cowboy” film, but its themes run much deeper than that flippant summation. The gorgeous direction by Ang Lee and beautiful score by Gustavo Santaolalla were well deserving of their Oscars, but it’s still hard to believe that the vastly overrated Crash beat this out for 2005’s Best Picture.

Isolation runs deep in the American West of the ‘60s, where Ennis meets Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) on a shepherding job at the top of Brokeback Mountain in Wyoming. The love affair ignited between them will define their lives over the ensuing decades.

Ennis stays in Wyoming, while Jack moves to Texas, ensuring that the two only see each other every few years, under the guise of fishing trips in the mountains. Ennis ends up marrying Alma (Michelle Williams), while Jack marries Lureen (Anne Hathaway).

Their relationship takes its toll on their families, and the men themselves over the years. Both Ennis and Jack are well-drawn characters, irrevocably linked to tragedy, and both Ledger’s and Gyllenhaal’s performances are strong.

Even more captivating, though, is Lee’s sumptuous and detailed direction. He squeezes every possible ounce of beauty out of the countryside and coaxes a world of emotions out of the various interiors. This is impeccable craftsmanship from a consummate director.

The Blu-ray Disc

Brokeback Mountain is presented in 1080p high definition with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. A visually astonishing film, the presentation is top notch throughout. Mountain scenes are bursting with natural looking color, from the green of the trees to the blue of the lakes to the dirty white of the sheep. The soaring shots of mountain vistas are some of the best nature visuals I’ve seen on high def yet.

The film excels everywhere else as well, with perfectly consistent skin tones and deep blacks throughout. Picture clarity and sharpness never waver, and flashes of color often pop out of nowhere, such as the red of Lureen’s rodeo costume when Jack meets her for the first time. The entirely white house of Jack’s parents in the final scene is also a visual standout, despite the fact that it looks like nearly all color has been drained from the scene.

The high def presentation makes obvious how incredible the lighting design on this film is – a warm, natural looking light bathes a number of scenes that contrast with the harsh dim light of others. A technical aspect that’s often overlooked in film, the lighting is almost impossible to miss here.

The audio is presented in Dolby DTS-HD, which handles the dialogue-heavy film just fine. Santaolalla’s score sounds wonderfully crisp and clean.

Special Features

Extras are carried over from the previous DVD and HD DVD versions of the film, and all remain in standard definition here. The bonus material is broken down into a number of featurettes, each focusing on a different aspect of the film, from the music to the direction to the script to the unexpected success of the film. An overall making-of featurette is also included. Fairly extensive and informative, these features are a nice bonus for fans of the film if they haven’t yet come across them.

The Bottom Line

While there’s nothing new here content-wise, the sheer beauty of this film demands that it be seen in high definition. I can’t imagine watching it any other way.

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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.
  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    I haven’t seen this in Blu-Ray, but I have watched it a couple of times on HBO in HD. It looks stunning, especially the first half hour, so much so that I can’t even stand to look at my standard-definition DVD copy now.

    This is probably true of a lot of movies, but the distinction between high and standard def seems especially dramatic in Brokeback.