Leon 20th Anniversary Blu-ray Review
One of the best movies of all time, but is this the release it deserves?
No women, no kids
Leon is a beautifully painted tale of life and death, love and hate, revenge and redemption, played out perfectly – like a symphony – from start to finish.A bona fide classic, the production was a defining moment in the careers of all those involved - a high point for both Reno and Oldman, an auspicious debut for Natalie Portman and, for Besson, it was the pinnacle of his film history. Running the opening credits over his signature rolling landscape and then through the streets of New York, Besson brings more style to the first five minutes than most directors manage over an entire movie. The close-ups, the use of slow-motion, even the way his characters move around the screen – it is one big ballet – albeit a dance of death. His ideas too, are unusual, like something out of a twisted fairytale, both in terms of script and story. He creates a world where a hitman – a man who takes other people's lives for money – is the hero, and where a cop – a man who is supposed to protect and serve the public – is the villain.It's not as if this hasn't been done before or since, but Besson does it so effortlessly and with such panache. Every idea is refined, every shot perfected. The way the villain cracks open his pills before an operation, twisting and contorting his neck and face whilst the drugs kick in, and the way the hero grabs and shields the girl, enveloping her and protecting her from bullets and explosions without a thought for anything but her safety, these are all shots crafted with the express intention of painting a picture of good and evil. And if there was one shot that encapsulates the sentiment of the entire movie, it would be the moment when Mathilda is standing in Léon's doorway, with all the horror in her life right behind her and about to smother her, all the while crying for him to save her – and then, as he opens the doors to her, the darkness cast upon her gives way to the light.
Even 20 years on, this is still a masterpiece.
He moves without traceThere’s no denying that the lack of improvement on the video front comes as a distinct disappointment. It’s not that Leon looked bad on Blu-ray back in 2009 – indeed it was probably fairly favourably regarded that half a decade ago, not least because it was the first time the film had appeared in High Definition, and it undoubtedly looked considerably better than it ever had done before. Now, for its 20th Anniversary, fans expect – and should demand – more. The lack of an upgrade over the same sourced 2009 master is unforgivable. Indeed, as we will come to find with this release, it appears that this is a 20th Anniversary package in name only.
Presented in 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition, in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 widescreen, Leon looks quintessentially Besson in every way, right from the opening shot. Detail is handled very well indeed, both on the close-ups – which are the most impressive by far – to the mid-range setting shots of corridors and parks, to the longer establishing shots of the city. Faces are well represented, with fine observation of skin touches, pores and textures; whilst clothing weaves are also nicely rendered. The trouble is that the picture never looks clean – which is fine, if it were all just layers of authentic grain, but it also seldom looks totally natural and respective of the original source material.
It's a good-looking release, but, for a 20th Anniversary package, it’s frankly shocking that they didn’t actually improve the video.
A rescanned negative, at 4K even, could have yielded stunning results, but we make do with something which, whilst very good, is far from the outstanding, reference quality image that this film deserves. Despite all of the positives, there’s still evidence of a smattering of digital defects which, whilst minor, still simply wouldn’t be acceptable these days on either a premium new release or any anniversary release of an older title. There’s a hint of sharpening around the edges and grain is more variable than you might expect. Still, black levels are strong and deep, allowing for excellent shadow detail seemingly with little evidence of overt banding or blocking, although the colour scheme itself – however vivid and vibrant – will always have a strangely artificial aesthetic, which, as far as I can remember, was part of Besson’s intentional style.
Calm before the stormThe accompanying audio track also appears to be the same as before and, again, whilst the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that adorned the previous release was perfectly acceptable, and frankly pretty damn good, it too didn’t achieve reference standards. Still, it's a very good track indeed, and just shy of demo territory.
It would have been better to maintain the audio but upgrade the video.
Indeed, had the video been respectfully newly-minted, I'd have had no qualms about accepting this package as a noticeably significant upgrade.
Dialogue comes across clearly and coherently throughout, dominating the frontal array wherever appropriate, and remaining strong and distinct above all else. Eric Serra’s fantastic score pervades the piece, sweeping you up and carrying you through every single sequence, every single sentiment, and every set-piece; a wonderful, majestic symphony that drives and engages at every turn. It’s always sounded fantastic, irrespective of the format, and even as a standalone OST, but this HD track does it particular justice. The effects, too, are impressive, promoting a series of boisterous, dynamically-challenging sequences which sear from right to left, front to back, and thunder at you with shotgun blasts and explosions, whilst also being more than prepared to observe the ambient shuffles, creaking floorboards and clinking curtain beads. Even the LFE channel knows precisely when and where to get serious about its enhancement of the rest of the track.
Death is whimsical todayWithout improved video or audio, it falls upon the extras to bring up the big guns. Unfortunately, whilst we do get two nice new interview extras - one with star Jean Reno, and one with regular Besson composer-collaborator Eric Serra, both totalling little over a quarter of an hour - these appear to have come at the expense of all of the previous material included on all of the earlier editions, including the, frankly more impressive 10th Anniversary DVD. Sure, we still get both cuts of the movie, but there's really nothing to jump and shout about here, and losing the old extras is unforgivable, making this package far from the definitive edition, and leaving newcomers and old fans alike compelled to double-dip and own both releases, just for the sake of a couple of interviews and a shiny Steelbook case. Whimsical indeed.
You have to wonder what exactly makes a 20th Anniversary edition, because this doesn't cut it.
Bring me everyone!Leon is a modern masterpiece, and it thoroughly deserves a decent 20th Anniversary release. Unfortunately, this isn’t it, instead merely reusing the same 5-year-old video and audio presentations, and not even porting over the extras that have been around since the 10th Anniversary release, to supplant the insubstantial new interviews. Fans will likely already own the movie, so picking this version up will not come at a loss, but needs to be done at the right price, not at the aggrandised price of a newly-minted steelbook package which is a 20th Anniversary edition in name only.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £29.99
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