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Category:    Home > Reviews > Action > Crime > Drama > Comedy > Leon (2004/Sony Superbit DVD)

Leon (1994/Sony Superbit Edition DVD)

 

Picture: 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:

 

http://www.fulvuedrive-in.com/review/9397/Leon:+The+Professional+(aka+L%E9o

 

 

 

In the 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.

 

I must 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.  However, Leon 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.

 

There are 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).

 

This is 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.

Given the reputation of previous Superbit releases I was anxiously awaiting the release of Leon 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.

 

Although 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 picture.

 

Like all 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.

 

 

-   Nate Goss


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