Leon (1994/Sony Superbit Edition DVD)
B Sound: B+ Extras:
D Film: A-
Note: This has since been issued on
Blu-ray and you can read more about that version at this link:
world of cinema there are films that make me laugh and films that make me
cry. There are those that touch me dearly and those that I take great
guilty pleasures in. Some have made me think, some have made me wonder,
and above all some have inspired me in ways unimaginable. One film in
particular has always been a favorite of mine over the years ever since my
first encounter with it. That film being Luc Bessonís 1994 film Leon
(a.k.a. Leon: The Professional, or
in its American release, The
Professional), which I have revisited many times since my initial viewing.
say that I was unable to see the film in its intended Ďdirectors cutí or
international version until the DVD came out, which meant that my first or
second viewing of the film was the American release, which changed the
relationship of the main characters and took away from the overall story.
I shall quickly recap the two versions for those less familiar.
Leon (played brilliantly by Jean Reno)
is a hitman and a professional one at that. He ends up taking care of a
little girl (Natalie Portman before anyone knew who she was) after her family
is killed during a drug raid. Her family wasnít exactly a good family,
but she has nowhere to go. Down the hall lives Leon, so her only hope is that he
will take her in. Those darn hitmen get all the chicks! Just
kidding. Anyway, he is left with no choice but to help her out.
has some problems of his own. Not only is he a professional hitman, but
also his entire life is like that of a robot. He has a little plant that
he takes care of and he drinks about a gallon of milk every day. He is
trained to kill and works for money that he never ends up with.
Leon, in many ways, is a child locked
inside a manís body with his only mission being to kill those who he is hired
to kill. To repay Leon
for his hospitality he trains Matilda (Portman) how to be a hitman/hitwoman and
she washes his clothes, cleans, etc. The relationship turns friendlier,
but the International version takes that a tad further. Matilda has never
really had much of a father figure in her life and so it is only natural being
a girl around the age of 13 or 14 to draw close to a strong male figure, which
happens to be Leon.
She proclaims her love for her and he loves her back in a similar fashion.
While the American censors felt this material was too much, it only makes sense
that they share a bond like this because it is more realistic. The
American release undermines this and makes their relationship seem more like a
father-daughter, rather than a torn lover type scenario.
several reasons why this film works quite well even as a guilty pleasure.
For one, how often do we see a hitman and a young girl connect in this sort of
way? Also, the fact that there are certain themes that lie deep within
this story and it never goes for just being a no brains action film.
There are moments where the film is more passionate and intimate about its
characters, which have all been carefully crafted in this film. Leon
particularly presents a coolness that very few recent action heroes have been
able to muster. Jean Reno gives such an excellent portrayal working with
Besson on some earlier French films. This is his introduction into
American film, which would lead him onto other projects like Brian De Palmaís Mission: Impossible (1996) as well as John
Frankenheimerís overlooked Ronin
(1998, see Blu-ray review elsewhere on this site).
the third release of this film onto DVD and this time itís an upgraded Superbit
edition of the International version. The other DVD version is simply
called The Professional, which runs about 20 minutes shorter. Indeed the
International version is the best way to go and the Superbit Edition makes it
all the better, but not as much as I had hoped.
reputation of previous Superbit releases I was anxiously awaiting the release
as a Superbit title. My expectations however were quite high and when I
finally got my copy I must say the results were not what I had expected.
The 2.35 X 1 scope transfer is much below par for being a high bit rate
transfer. When compared to other Superbit titles there are definite
problems with this transfer. While colors and detail seem much smoother
than the previous DVD of Leon, the darker scenes do not hold up well at
all. There is pixelization occurring frequently as well as some smearing
of colors. Softness is the biggest problem overall, which once again is a
surprise since previous Superbit upgrades managed enhance the picture when
compared to its previous edition. Even the latest Superbit Edition of
Lawrence of Arabia surpassed the amazing transfer from its debut DVD with much
more vibrant colors, more controlled blacks, deeper focus, sharper edges, and a
overall look that comes closer to the 70mm film presentation. For Leon
though, we are reduced to an average print that has a lot of the problems that
Luc Bessonís film La Femme Nikita
had even as a newer edition from M-G-M (reviewed elsewhere on this site) that
shows how popular Bessonís films can be.
the picture tends to be a disappointment the plus side to this DVD though is
the inclusion of a second audio option of DTS 5.1. There is also an
identical Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that was on the previous edition, but is
no match for the improvements with this new DTS 5.1 mix. Finally
gunshots, bombs, grenades, and other toys sound as realistic as they should.
The music also reaches further into the surrounds creating a more enclosed feel
to draw the viewer into Leonís
world even more. While the sound is nowhere near what some of the other
Superbits offer, this is still and upgrade worth investing in, despite the poor
basic Superbit Editions there are no supplements within. While this film
certainly begs for extras of some sort it is not necessarily all that
important. For those who are current owners of the International version
of this film, you may want to reconsider upgrading if you are not interested in
sound as much as you are picture. However, for those who prefer DTS to
Dolby, which should be anyone who wants better, fuller, more accurate, more
refined, more articulate and certainly more realistic sound than you may want
to dump that old DVD and add this to your collection.