Bruce Beresfordís Breaker Morant returns to The Criterion Collection (it was previously released on LaserDisc) and is presented on a dual-layer Blu-ray disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The new high-definition 1080p/24hz presentation is based on a new 4K scan of the original 35mm negative.
Though maybe a smidge weaker in comparison to Criterionís companion release of Beresfordís Mister Johnson, the image for Breaker Morant looks terrific. The early moments maybe lack detail and definition, possibly a side effect from the actual shoot, but once we get past this the film retains a very sharp, crisp image. Exterior shots easily offer the filmís more spectacular moments, delivering great details and depth in the long shots, and wonderful fine object detail in the close-ups. This may also be the cleanest Iíve ever seen the film, the restoration work being particularly thorough here. Film grain is present and looks mostly natural throughout, but is never heavy or distracting.
Black levels are very strong and I found colour saturation to particularly brilliant, a few nice landscape shots and the sequence at the end taking place at sunrise all look spectacularly good. The digital transfer is mostly stable, but there are a couple of darker close-up shots during the various courthouse scenes where the image looks a bit noisy, as though the image may have been sharpened a bit. Itís an odd effect that happens a couple of times but still fairly easy to overlook.
Overall itís very nice, a sharp film-like presentation on the whole, and the best Iíve yet seen the film. 8/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Though it reuses material found on previous DVD editions Criterion has put together a rather impressive, fairly definitive special edition for the film. It starts off with an audio commentary by Beresford, which was recorded in 2004 for the Wellspring DVD edition. The track disappointingly has a lot of dead space scattered throughout but Beresford covers a number of subjects, particularly the amount of research he put into the film, whether from other written sources, like George Wittonís book (which Beresford calls terrible, though loaded with great information) or his own digging. He also goes into detail about his rewrite of the script and addresses comparisons to Paths of Glory. I found some aspects of the production fascinating, like the fact no one wanted the role of Witton (a pre-stardom Mel Gibson was one of the actors that turned it down) so amusingly Lewis Fitz-Gerald basically got the role by default. Mixed in with some other random facts (the moustaches are all real according to the director) itís an informative track, it just seems to get more spare as the track goes on.
Criterion then includes a number of interviews, most of which were recorded by Criterion for this edition, which together offer a tremendous overview of the filmís production. Bruce Beresford provides a new 12-minute interview that does somewhat summarize the commentaryís points on the script and research, but expands on a few subjects, like how the courtroom sequences helped with his budget since most of the film takes place in them and could be shot cheaply, and how he needed Jack Thompson in the film to help get financing. The interview runs about 12-minutes.
Cinematographer Donald McAlpine next talks for a little over 8-minutes about shooting the film and finding areas in Australia that resembled the locations in South Africa, covering some of the more memorable moments of the shoot. Bryan Brown then talks about his casting, originally trying out for Thompsonís role. Interestingly he wasnít completely happy with his performance (also hating his moustache), finding the character to come off boring, so heís surprised when people mention how much they loved him in it. His interview runs about 10-minutes.
Criterion then includes the same 2004 interview with Edward Woodward (who passed away in 2009) from the Wellspring DVD. Woodward, who was completely unfamiliar with Morant and the court-martial the film centers around, became fascinated by the man and the subject after he researched it more, and was then happy to do the film, though admits Morant was ďprobably a bastard.Ē Woodward then recounts the more difficult aspects of the shoot (learning to ride a horse), and the more emotional moments (the ending), making it the film he appears to be most proud of, and the one that he credits for keeping him working. Itís a wonderful conversation that nicely caps off the cast and crew interviews and itís great that Criterion was able to carry it over. It runs about 16-minutes.
Criterion next adds a scholarly supplement to give some context with The South African War, an interview with historian Stephen Miller. Here Miller gives a quick history lesson about the development of Dutch colonies in South Africa, the arrival of the British, and how the discovery of gold and diamonds led to the eventual start of what would become the ďBoer War.Ē He also gets into the details of what made the Boer a difficult adversary and confirms the authenticity of the film. Though yes, Iím sure one can easily look up (Google) this information I always appreciate it when Criterion includes material like this.
Another nice inclusion is the 1973, 54-minute documentary The Breaker, directed by Frank Shields. Itís a fairly thorough examination of the trial and the events that led up to it, with the first 15-minutes or so going over the early life of Morant, or what could be pieced together from it. In comparison to the film the documentary covers a lot of the same material, which basically confirms the accuracy of the film (as long as Shields did his due-diligence as well of course, though there is a feature following this that sort of addresses that), but even if it does cover the same material as the film, it does expand on some things and covers some elements not in the film. Itís also a well put together documentary and quite entertaining. A great inclusion on Criterionís part.
Interestingly Criterion then includes a 2011 interview with Breaker director Frank Shields under The Myth Exploded. His documentary, and the film for that matter, doesnít definitively answer whether Morant and Handcock were actually responsible for the death of the German missionary (and of which they were both acquitted) and left it up in the air. Here Shields admits he withheld some information from his documentary on that very subject, a letter that addresses the murder, and Shields explains why he excluded it. Itís only 6-minutes but a valuable addition.
The filmís theatrical trailer closes off the disc, and the insert features an excellent essay on the film by Neil Sinyard, who examines the structure and pacing of the film, as well as how the filmmakers were able to get around their limited budget. 9/10