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Mel Gibson: Ultimate Man, Ultimate Collection

Sean Sweany | Thursday, April 19, 2007

Love him or hate him for his personal antics, there is no doubt that Mel Gibson has been associated with some of the most spectacular and talked-about movies of the past several decades. His recent scandal has perhaps marred his popularity in regards to his latest film, “Apocalypto,” as well as his future movies, but his older films are still a testament to his talent as both an actor and director.

The new DVD release of “Mel Gibson: Ultimate Collection” takes three of these classic films – “Braveheart.” “Payback” and “We Were Soldiers” – and groups them in a three-disc collection for fans of the Australian actor to enjoy.

Braveheart (1995)

This picture, which won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director (it was also directed by Gibson), is by far the best film in the collection. Gibson stars as William Wallace, a Scottish king who rallies his people to overthrow the oppressive English rule under which they live.

“Braveheart” is at once a historical epic and a moving romance. Superb acting combines with stunning cinematography and well-choreographed fight scenes to make this Gibson’s best film and also one of the top films of all time.

While this DVD itself is no different from the previously released standalone version, it contains good extras such as a commentary from Gibson and a lengthy documentary that details the difficulties in shooting on location in Scotland.

Payback: Straight Up the Director’s Cut (1999)

The second DVD in the pack is the gem of the three, as it contains the newly released director’s cut of “Payback.” Here, Gibson plays Porter, the bad guy – albeit a likable one – for once, a career criminal who is double crossed by his accomplices and left for dead. When Porter does not die, he exacts vengeance on his former compatriots in an unforgettable fashion.

Director Brian Helgeland’s original film, while suspenseful and entertaining, became overly simplified and cheery at the mandate of studio executives who feared the original cut was too sophisticated and dark for audiences. While the result was good, it felt empty and trite in finished form.

The director’s cut is substantially better than the original release and features much more engaging dialogue along with a darker tone that shows a different side of Gibson. Special features include an interesting new documentary about the making of the director’s cut. This disc alone makes the entire set worth purchasing.

We Were Soldiers (2002)

Although certainly not a bad film, “We Were Soldiers” is the weakest of the three in this set. Gibson stars as Lt. Col. Hal Moore, a general who must lead his troops into a place called “The Valley of Death” during the Vietnam War. This true story focuses on Moore’s heroism and courage in what was one of the most violent battles in U.S. history.

While this film is epic on the level of “Braveheart” – and well shot at that – it comes off as cold and lacking the heart so aptly included in Gibson’s earlier film. Many critics often term this “Braveheart 3” for its similarities to the predecessor (“The Patriot” is considered “Braveheart 2”) and comparisons to any such great film will usually fall short.

As with “Braveheart,” the special features are the same as on the regular standalone DVD, the best of which is a behind-the-scenes documentary that shows how many of the film’s complex helicopter scenes were actually filmed. While perhaps not as worthy of inclusion in this three-pack as “The Patriot,” “We Were Soldiers” is an adequate war film that showcases Mel Gibson’s talent in acting in epic movies.

It is within this epic genre that Mel Gibson has proven himself one of the most talented actors in recent years, continually churning out thrilling, exciting films. The “Ultimate Collection DVD” showcases these three in all their bloody, gory glory.