La Femme Nikita
Picture: B- Sound: B- Extras: B- Film: A-
The year 1990 does not
seem that long ago, but upon revisiting La Femme Nikita there are
certainly many things that have changed in the realm of action adventure. Assassins and hit men are no strangers to
the world of cinema. Often times there
are gaps between American cinema and the rest of the world, but some directors
have managed to make successful films in both outlets. Luc Besson has certainly been one of them,
despite having only a handful of films over the past few years La Femme
Nikita was his first true hit.
A few years after La
Femme Nikita, Besson would take Jean Reno (who plays a hit man in La
Femme Nikita) and use that single character for his lead part in Leon
the Professional (1994). These two
films have similar trademarks, which is mostly comprised of their stylish look
and fierce action scenes.
The storyline is pretty
simple on top in that we have a female delinquent mixed up in a world of being
a junkie and vandal. Upon being
arrested and sentenced to a life prison term, she is rescued by an agency that
wishes to train her to be a killer and work for them. In return she will be released and her life sentence will be
rejected. Right away there is an
interesting paradox that is incorporated as we have a ‘terrorist’ who in the
so-called right hands can be used for good.
As studied in Stanley Kubrick’s ingenious film A Clockwork Orange (1971),
there is a unique relationship between authority and violence. Violence is only bad when it is in the hands
of evil people, yet evil people can be ‘reformed’? Reformed and be used for more practical uses such as
…killing? A strange world we live in
Just a few years prior to La
Femme Nikita, Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop (1987) would also take a look
at using violence to control violence.
More importantly that film addressed the issues of what happens when bad
people have control over good things.
There is a certain gray area when it comes to right and wrong, which La
Femme Nikita never explores that issue fully, but the fact that it is on
the fringes of this makes it all the more noteworthy. Notice for example the fact that Nikita tries to live a straight
life after being released. She
understands that she might be called into duty to serve her country at any
time, yet she attempts to make a life.
She falls in love and becomes a regular person. In her mind she has let go, but her body is
still that of a killer, a trained killer.
series (especially the latest T-3) explored with good direction the idea of
someone/something being trained to kill, but still having more humanistic
qualities such as love or caring. The
Terminator is trained to kill, but is programmed to kill only certain
targets. Nikita is a human though,
despite being trained as if she were a robot.
Since she has these qualities she can moral or amoral sometimes without
even flinching. As a female she is
emotional, which is why in comparison to Leon the Professional, she
becomes more attached to things such as love.
Leon on the other hand knew only the absence of love and things like
emotion were foreign to him.
There have been three
region 1 releases of La Femme Nikita onto DVD over the past few
years. First there was the basic
Pioneer edition, which presented the film with a poor non-anamorphic transfer
and a 4.0 Dolby Digital soundtrack.
Then M-G-M took over the rights and released a much better anamorphic
widescreen DVD with a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, but they forgot the
supplements. If two times are not
enough, then you must try again, so finally M-G-M revisits La Femme Nikita
giving the same transfer as the previous DVD and releasing the film with both
the English and French audio tracks in 5.1 Dolby Digital. Not only that, but this time around we have
supplements therefore deeming this a ‘special edition’.
Although the 2.35 scope
image does not look bad for this film, there are certain limitations that show
off the films age at times. Darker
scenes certainly seem to suffer the most.
Although the picture does not have a digital look, it does have a drab
analog look that is really evident during the credits, which are done in red.
Video red is extremely hard to pull off and when it looks bad…it really looks
bad! This is exactly the case here as
the reds are bleeding, so do not think that your vision is suddenly allowing
you to see double, it’s the transfer!
One would wonder why M-G-M would not have cleaned up this picture in
order to compete with some of the other better looking DVD’s on the market, but
instead they opted to go for recycling the older dated transfer.
The two 5.1 Dolby Digital
mixes are good, but not great. There
are definite limitations with the range from the mix. They are identical with exception of the actual dialogue. The film certainly makes more sense in its
original French language though, but more Americans have become accustomed to
seeing this film with the dub track, which has caused for a larger more
concrete fan base with this film and would allow for Besson to emerge as a more
successful director in the states with films such as Leon the Professional
and The Fifth Element (1997).
Thierry Arbogast created
an interesting look for this film, which would become a trademark as the
relationship between him and director Besson went on for a few more films after
this. Together they would deliver a
very stylized look for La Femme Nikita that would carry over in their
film Leon the Professional, which would once again use Jean Reno as a
‘cleaner’ AKA hit man. Reno would be
the lead man in that film as a professional assassin who ends up babysitting a
young girl caught in the crossfire of a dysfunctional family and a world of
drugs and corruption.
Also adding to the feel of
a film like La Femme Nikita would be Eric Serra’s interesting programmed
score, which sounds very studio produced.
Unlike using a symphony or live musicians, the score consists of many
rhythmic synth driven pieces, that certainly give the film a pulse very in touch
with the late 80’s, which would mark this film as a transition piece of that
era of music ending and a new one beginning.
As the 1990’s came along musical scores became more involved with
‘soundtracks’ that focused more on particular pop songs rather than actual
music arrangements, especially in the action/thriller genre. Serra’s score holds up well even over a
decade later. Besson and Serra have a
strong working relationship that has lasted now over 20 years.
The supplement section is
good, but very misleading as well.
There is a small section on the music used, which is a basic interview
with Eric Serra who comments on why he chose to do the score this way and why
it worked. This portion is good to
scroll through at least once. The other
section is a 20-minute reflection piece on La Femme Nikita, including
most of the cast in brief interviews, which outlines the film rather well
including how each member became associated and how they feel now looking back
at the film. Once again this is quite
brief, but still adequate. Besson adds
nothing to this section. There is also
a photo gallery, which is more like two stills from the previous cover art for
the film, which is very disappointing!
The other section that is bizarre is this so-called interactive map,
which takes you to a menu screen that allows you to choose three scenes. One would expect these to be a thorough
examination of these scenes, but rather it cuts back to footage that was used
from the reflection piece that has little to do with those scenes anyway. Not only is this confusion, but also
La Femme Nikita has become a close attachment to many American
viewers; enough to even start up a TV series in 1997, which lasted until
2001. Who would have thought that a
female assassin would have worked out so well for a TV show? Then there would be the truly terrible
attempt to remake this film entitled Point of No Return (1993, John
Badham), starring Bridget Fonda. Less
so of a remake would also be Renny Harlin’s The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996),
which demonstrated the toughness of one really cool Geena Davis, despite some
of the films cliché’s. M-G-M has
brought forth a third and yet still mediocre presentation of this film, but
what matters most is that the film is available with some supplements that most
fans will enjoy, despite their briefness or confusing nature. Perhaps one day we shall see this film
released yet again with an upgraded picture and even DTS 5.1 audio, which will
certainly be good considering Leon the Profession is now part of
Columbia TriStar’s Superbit editions giving that film all the graces of a pure
audio/video transfer with a DTS 5.1 mix that film will finally shine.
- Nate Goss