Brokeback Mountain: 2-Disc Collector's Edition – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

Director:

Ang Lee

Cast:

Heath Ledger .Ennis Del Mar
Jake Gyllenhaal .Jack Twist
Michelle Williams .Alma Del Mar
Anne Hathaway .Lureen Newsome Twist

Focus Features presents Brokeback Mountain. Written by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana. Based on Annie Proulx’s short story. Rated R (for sexuality, nudity, language and some violence). Running time: 134 minutes. Available on DVD: January 23, 2007. MSRP: $26.98.


The Movie

“Is this a kissing movie?” Sure, this lead-in may be a novel attempt for me to reference The Princess Bride, but let’s be serious: the film Brokeback Mountain is constantly pigeonholed as that “gay cowboy movie.” While detractors are blunt in their reasons for not wanting to see a romance involving two men, their misconceived notions barely fill the soapboxes they stand on.

The publicity that had arisen prior to the film’s release rivaled any summer blockbuster ad campaign. It got people talking, whether they liked the subject matter or not. And the jokes. The string of punch lines was endless. To the point where it became the butt of many gags, ultimately culminating in a montage of clips taken from classic heterosexual Westerns, in which the actions transpiring are taken out of context, at last year’s Oscars. Nevertheless, the film’s creators had the last laugh walking away with three golden statuettes later that evening.

Now that the publicity surge has died down, Focus Features has delivered a two-disc collector’s edition of Brokeback Mountain, and afforded us the opportunity to revisit a heartbreaking piece of filmmaking.

Unless you have been living under a rock, or my first few paragraphs didn’t clue you in, here’s the gist. The year is 1963, and two men make their way to a rinky-dink town by the name of Signal, Wyoming. Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) is reserved, keeping his words brief. Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the ostentatious one, an aspiring rodeo star that’s just trying to make ends meet. The two get hired to watch a flock of sheep on an isolated ridge of Brokeback Mountain for the summer.

Their qualities are the human equivalent to oil and water, and it takes quite a few days, maybe weeks, for a friendship to develop. But what starts as a friendship slowly becomes something more. Something physical. Jack tries hard to suppress his attraction. One night, when the temperature dips to wintry proportions, Jack offers space to Ennis in the makeshift tent. The attraction reaches a fever pitch, as Ennis is quick to fight the temptation, but soon gives in to Jack’s advances. Reciprocating.

Both are quick to say they aren’t queer, and Ennis goes as far as to say that it’ll never happen again. Though he may have meant what he said, his heart would disagree. As their time on Brokeback comes to an end, Jack and Ennis go their separate ways. Back in society they do what is to be expected: marry a good woman and raise a family. The two must conform to traditional values, as homosexuality is as much a sin as being a person of color in the 1960’s.

Under Ang Lee’s steady direction, we see a love affair that endures for twenty-plus years. The emotions run deep, and trying to keep them bottled up is devastating for both. Neither is happy in marriage, each going through the motions while trying to keep up appearances. Their lives are hollow albeit for those fishing trips they take, where they can be alone, where nobody can judge them.

Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove, Terms of Endearment) and his writing partner Diana Ossana take Annie Proulx’s original short story and broaden it a great deal; the story is less than seventy pages. Condensing a 500-page work into a two- to three-hour film is daunting in itself, but so is trying to elaborate on situations that get a cursory mention. Working in tandem, McMurtry and Ossana are steadfast, maintaining Proulx’s original story while emphasizing the emotional issues the cowboys face.

Brokeback Mountain is a film in which the characters draw you in, making us more attentive to their struggle. Ang Lee is complementary to McMurtry and Ossana, as his films (Sense and Sensibility, The Ice Storm and, to a lesser degree, The Hulk) have characters that can’t easily address their feelings. The love Jack and Ennis share is full of raw emotion. The hurt and anguish they experience is universal and transcends any sexual tendencies.

The main players bring the goods and make the film that much better. Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway are so good that you’ll almost forget their previous works. Bubble Boy, The Princess Diaries, Dawson’s Creek, stuff geared for a younger audience. But it is Heath Ledger who is the biggest surprise. His poise, the introverted qualities he exudes — speaking out the side of his mouth; the tip of his hat and how it shields his eyes away from others — it’s like he becomes a different person. While Gyllenhaal is more vocal about their requited love, wanting to be together no matter what anyone else thinks, it is Ledger’s battles within himself that is the most devastating. Through him we grieve.


The DVD

THE VIDEO
(Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen)

Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto must have been an expert painter in a former life, as he captures the wilds of Alberta, Canada (the shooting location for Brokeback Mountain), with skillful photography. From sheep grazing on a plateau to trickling streams, there isn’t a wasted shot. The same can also be said of Ang Lee. Switching between medium and close angles, his direction reflects the changing moods. For the most part, the video transfer is exactly like it was when the film was first released on DVD, a month after the Oscars.

THE AUDIO
(English — Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1; French — Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish — Dolby Digital 2.0)

Unlike the video transfer the sound has been improved quite a bit. With this release we get two new tracks: a Spanish 2.0 dub and English DTS 5.1. Together they join the preexisting English and French Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes. Obviously DTS is the way to go, but the Dolby Digital track is a good substitute. Gustavo Santaolalla’s Oscar-winning score is pitch perfect, and there are no inconsistencies when it comes to the dialogue. Subtitles in English, French and Spanish have also been included.

SPECIAL FEATURES

With no changes to the actual film, and the video and audio remaining pretty much the same, the only reason to upgrade is for the extras. Comparing the bonus features for both the one-disc and two-disc releases, all three featurettes have been ported over to this spanking new collector’s edition. The problem is that those features aren’t very good to begin with, more like fluff features to promote Brokeback Mountain. Directing from the Heart: Ang Lee (7:27) is a short piece on the director. Lee, along we the cast, talks about his projects and how he prefers making dramas with conflict. From Script to Screen: Interviews with Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana (10:53) is a little meaty with both screenwriters explaining their process on framing the story. Basically, how it resembles a Western, but it is in fact a Drama. How Jack and Ennis are rural folk driven by survival — being a provider and making a decent wage. The longest extra is a making-of movie special. Titled Sharing the Story: The Making of Brokeback Mountain (20:47), the feature skims over much of the film, making the point that it is more than a “gay cowboy movie.” The characters Jack and Ennis are examined as the cast and crew pinpoint their differences. A paint-by-numbers doc, overall.

Of the new features included only one can be found on the first disc. A Groundbreaking Success is 17 minutes, and it emphasizes the film’s relevance on a social and political level. Among the sound bite contributors are Peter Bart, Variety Editor-in-Chief, film critic B. Ruby Rich, and the two leads, Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger. Most of the interviews conducted were done so for the sole purpose of the two-disc release. Some of the topics discussed include how the movie was perceived around Hollywood, how it went from mainstream to avant-garde just because it was a love story between two men. Marketing the film for audiences became a challenge. But when spoofs and parodies were created (which are also elaborated on in the featurette), it was just another way for Brokeback Mountain to enter the public’s conscious. The film became part of our vernacular.

It would have been interesting if dissenting opinions were also included, if only to get both sides of the story.

On the second disc we get Impressions from the Film, which is a short montage of still production photos set to one of Santaolalla’s instrumental pieces. Music from the Mountain is an 11-minute look at how Santaolalla composed his score, trying to invoke certain emotions. He incorporated silence in his instrumentals to give his music a sense of longing. Not only is his music featured, so is the music of Mary McBride, Rufus Wainwright, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle. Musicians who did cover ballads that fit the film’s time and place.

The last extra is On Being a Cowboy (5:44). This piece has Jake, Heath, and Anne and their involvement with horse riding and the like. Ledger, having been raised in Australia, knew how to ride a horse. It was the other two cowpokes that got themselves a rude awakening. Behind-the-scenes footage of how they shot Jake riding a bucking bronco is included, as is his three-day “Cowboy Camp.”

Aside from new features, the packaging for Brokeback Mountain: 2-Disc Collector’s Edition is almost an extra in itself. A dark indigo cardboard slipcase houses a folding holder. Flipping the cover you will find a plastic tray holding both DVDs and a sleeve with eight postcards. The postcards are exclusive, and only add to the overall package. Each one contains an image from the film and a quote written on the back. Some of the quotes are critical praise by the likes of Peter Travers and Owen Gliberman. Writer Diana Ossana, Ang Lee and producer James Schamus also have reflections. But the best postcard is a reproduction of the first card Jack sent Ennis.

THE INSIDE PULSE

Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger grow as actors in a film that is misunderstood by those who refuse to see it. Brokeback Mountain is a classic. It is portrait of love and longing in an age where homosexuality was as frowned upon — it still is in many circles. It is tough to find fault. The direction, acting, story, cinematography, and music are impeccable. But as far as the release goes, it is still a double-dip. If you have had Brokeback Mountain on your wish list, now is the time to add it to your collection. This is definitely the version to buy. Those who currently own the one-disc version and are thinking about double-dipping here is something to consider. Doing the math, there’s close to an hour and sixteen minutes of extras. Thirty-nine of those minutes are old material. Thirty-seven minutes is new. Unless you are a die-hard fan, I see no reason to upgrade.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for Brokeback Mountain
CATEGORY
RATING
(OUT OF 10)
THE MOVIE

10
THE VIDEO

8.5
THE AUDIO

9
THE EXTRAS

6.5
REPLAY VALUE

9
OVERALL
7
(NOT AN AVERAGE)