I want to make something really clear up front. My very first article for Blogcritics was an enthusiastic and loving tribute to Brokeback Mountain. I’ve written a few more on the subject that were just as positive afterward, so it’s a fair assessment that I’m a fan. I make this statement because I found this new edition a disappointment, not because of the storyline or the production values, but because I was expecting—no I was hoping for what I and other fans didn’t get.
With the addition of the unused amount of space afforded on a second disc, I expected DVD extras such as outtakes and flubbed lines. After reading reports of how the original film had to be edited from nearly three hours down to two hours and fourteen minutes, I wanted to see what was edited out. Any true fan of the film would welcome—no downright relish the chance to enjoy a two and a half hour or even longer version, just to see what was missed and to satisfy a hunger for more of the story.
Perhaps more than all the other unanswered questions, I’d hoped to discover the solution to the mysterious missing scenes from the movie that have been taunting me for over a year now.
I’ll get to that in a moment and present evidence of them.
When it all comes down to it, if you don’t own a DVD of Brokeback Mountain yet or have a brand-new HD/DVD player, then you should definitely buy this edition now. This is a glorious and beautiful presentation of an incredible film that’s not to be missed. The HD in HD/DVD is obvious and magnificent
However, if you already own the original DVD released in 2006 don’t bother with this one. Instead try holding out for a director’s cut version further down the road and hope it’s not until a tenth anniversary edition is released.
Having seen the movie repeatedly. Having for all intents and purposes memorized this DVD. Having written an entire tribute web page to it, I can say without doubt that this is the exact same transfer to disc of the original DVD. Complete with soundtrack foibles and all. In chapter five there's a scene where Ennis is setting up the camp tent and Jack is laying on his back playing his harmonica. Over the dialogue there's an annoying reverb that I expected would have been repaired or replaced on this version, but disappointingly wasn't.
Of the seven DVD extras, four of them already came with the previously presented original 2006 release.
· Directing from the Heart: Ang Lee. A great tribute to an equally great director.
· From Script to Screen: Interviews with Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana. The screenwriters explain how they discovered the short story and subsequently brought it to life.
· Sharing the Story: The Making of Brokeback Mountain. The best produced extra on the disc and well worth watching.
· On Being a Cowboy. On how the cast learned to convincingly portray life in the saddle and the culture that goes with it.
Of the above, the most work seems to have gone into Sharing the Story, which was actually a TV special produced by the LOGO cable network. It appears to have been tacked onto the original disc in place of Focus Features/Universal Studios going to the expense of producing a better one of their own and is resubmitted here.
In my opinion the three new featurettes for this collection are not worth rationalizing the use of an additional disc. In fact one of the new extras is included on the main movie disc. Had it been conveniently grouped with all the others on the second disc, it would have allowed room for an extended version of the movie. This is what people hope for when a movie expands to two discs—but not here.
Make sure you check the packaging before you whip out your charge card and make sure you're getting the more expensive HD/DVD - DVD combo. If not, basically your second DVD purchase would essentially buy the same original 2006 release that you already own with only the following features tacked on:
· A Groundbreaking Success: How do you combat a beautiful heart-touching love story being instantly labeled “The Gay Cowboy Movie?” This subject deserved at least half an hour or more; it absolutely deserved more than a mere seventeen minutes. It consists of mostly interviews with gay film critics who cannot stop referring to “queer filmmakers”, political and social analysts, and is sprinkled with very few old and new brief snippets of interviews with the cast and director. A fleeting glimpse is given of how the movie trailer for the film gained a life of its own with spoofs of other film’s trailers, such as “Brokeback to the Future” and “Top Gun.” The producers noted that these parodies were good natured and accepting, which they were.
What isn’t included but should have been, was an examination of the real world controversy and opposition that this movie generated, if for no other reason than to add contrast to an otherwise self-praising featurette. I wanted to see and hear about the theaters that had agreed to show the film and then pulled out at the last moment because of the religious right’s opposition. Missing also was how most of us felt cheated that the early advertising concerned itself with the heterosexual relationships involved in the storyline instead of the one between Jack and Ennis. I’m sure many early straight theatergoers thought they’d been “bait and switched” an hour into the film. Also blatantly missing was Heath and Jake winning the MTV best kiss award. I also would have liked to have seen and laughed at Lance Armstrong again while kidding his good friend Jake at the ESPY awards "preferring it in the rear........ of the theater!"
What is infuriatingly, inexplicably and inexcusably missing is an interview with Annie Proulx the creator of the story.
· Impressions From The Film, is a very scant two and a half minute slide show set to music from the film. This is similar to a feature that could be found on Brokeback Mountain’s website. The difference being that the images here literally blink by at breakneck speed, are grouped together by scene but then are presented inexplicably out of order, so skip this one.
· Music From The Mountain, is the one saving grace and is more or less a tribute to Academy Award® winning composer Gustavo Santaolalla’s wonderful work on the film. It astonishingly reveals that the magnificent musical score was written before the movie was even shot. Ang Lee had the score playing on CD or running through his head during the filming and scenes were shot to fit Gustavo's beautiful music! It also covers the quest to find just the right vocal performers like Willie Nelson and others to showcase this movie’s score. To actually watch Willie sing, “He was a friend of mine” in the studio brought me to tears.
This featurette is very enjoyable to watch, however it is over just as you are getting into and enjoying it. At only a little over eleven minutes long, it seems disappointingly short.
· The package also comes with eight postcards. These are beautifully printed and big. Any collector would cherish them, particularly the facsimile of Jack’s note to Ennis. The problem is that that note was on a general delivery card and was only half as big as the one that’s presented. No matter. Just don’t tack them up on the wall if you're thinking of keeping them as collectibles.
· The film has more enhanced soundtrack options, and is also now dubbed in Spanish.
Having said that…
I’ll repeat from another review I’ve done that if you’ve already seen the film or DVD, watch the extras first. They’ll give you a clearer understanding of the story and the work that went into presenting it. If you’ve never seen the film or DVD, watch the movie first then check out the DVD extras.
As for the movie itself, watching it again only confirms my original assessment of what a great work it is, which has already been covered in another article of mine. It also reinforces my firm conviction that both Brokeback Mountain and Heath Ledger were blatantly robbed out of political correctness, or just plain homophobic internal politics at the Academy Awards®.
I hadn’t seen any of Heath Ledger’s films before Brokeback Mountain so I had nothing to compare his performance to. Now that I have, I can appreciate what a master performance he gave in this film. To observe a previously mere serviceable actor so completely become his character was a joy to watch. Nor is his work here truly appreciated unless you take the time first to compare it to what came before.
I think Annie Proulx should be compelled to write a sequel detailing what happened to Ennis after that cabinet door closed. It was unfair to leave us wondering. I was so frustrated, I even wrote my own imagined ending to his story on my fan page. There aren’t many movies that leave a viewer feeling that way, but this is one of them. The only others worth trusting with such a project would be screenwriters Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry.
To sum things up:
My imagined and hoped for DVD release would have/should have contained the following:
· A two and a half hour or longer version with the missing footage edited back into the feature maintaining the film’s continuity.
· The early outtakes of Heath Ledger nearly breaking Jake Gyllenhaal’s nose while attempting that award winning and passionate kiss at the foot of the stairs. I wanted to laugh at their frustration at not being able to get the damned bear to roar on cue. I wanted to see both Jake and Ang Lee on the mechanical bull trying to learn how to ride a real one.
· I wanted to see what was missing from the second love scene in the tent that was obviously and drastically edited down and way too short. As in straight movies the heterosexual lovers get undressed and nearly nothing is left to the imagination. I’m not talking about showing porn here, I’m talking realism, which I’m sure was experimented with, but discarded because of threats of how the film might be rated.
· At least a minimum of thirty minutes of flubbed lined outtakes as a DVD extra showing how much the cast enjoyed the filming.
· Missing scene: In the movie trailer there’s a shot of Jack standing on the log bridge shirtless looking down into the stream that was cut from the film.
· Missing scene: At the campfire when Jack and Ennis get away to the mountain for the first time in four years, there’s a shot of them (see above) sitting next to each other laughing, which isn’t included in the film. At the opening of the "If you can't fix it Jack; you gotta stand it" scene Ennis is still joking about Jack forgetting his harmonica. When Ennis joins him on the log he doesn't smile. I believe this missing piece is a prelude to the gut wrenching dialogue that followed and deserves to be edited back in.
· I’d include an interview of Annie Proulx about how she wrote the story, her reaction to the movie and how she wasn’t included in the production of it.
· Missing scene: In the movie trailer there’s a mysterious man with a concerned look on his face and a teenaged boy standing behind him in front of a cluttered garage, neither of which are seen nor mentioned in the movie.
· Missing scene: In the movie trailer there’s the line, “Well, since we’re going to be working together, I reckon it’s time we started drinking together.” It must have been filmed and should be cut back into the movie.
If that’s what you—no, what we were all hoping for, you won’t find it here. I can only hope that the powers that be at Focus Features read this and create a “director’s cut” just for us based on the above wish list.
And that’s why I’m disappointed.
Not in the film, which is one of the greatest I’ve ever seen, but at the bean counters at Universal that figured we’d buy anything they offered disregarding our hopes.
But of course this is only my opinion.