PictureLeon comes to Region Free US Blu-ray with a stellar 1080p High Definition video rendition, presented in a widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio. From the opening trademark shot, panning over the lake and into New York, to the close-ups and the explosions, this visually stylish production has certainly been given a makeover, but does it do justice to the Blu-ray label? I would argue, yes, it does, since this is clearly the best that they could do with the material on offer. Leon isn't a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster made after the turn of the millennium, it is some fifteen years' old and it is understandable that there are going to be issues that can never be rectified - here at least they have tried to present it in the best possible way.
“Don't you ever do that again or I break your head!”
And we do get a solid transfer: objects in focus are reasonably detailed and well represented for the most part, with negligible edge enhancement on some of the wider shots and minimal digital defects. Up close, you can see the sweat, or tears cascading down the skin of the characters, sometimes even the very pores on their faces. Colours are bright and realistic, even with the yellowy hue that the director chose to tint the picture with. The shadows, particularly necessary during scenes like the opening mission, are not perfect, but sufficiently deep - easily solid enough to hide what Léon in the darkness. Yes, there is some grain running throughout the movie, but it never impinges upon your enjoyment of the film. Similarly there are some minor blemishes on the transfer but again they are so minimal and infrequent, and the story is so compelling, that you would be hard pushed to be distracted by them. This presentation may not have the 3D pop or benchmark quality of high profile blockbuster releases like Iron Man or Transformers, and it may look little better than most modern blockbusters look on upscaled SD-DVD, but nonetheless it looks better than it ever has done before.
Sound“Tell him I'm coming up. Tell him I'm serious.”
Leon comes to Blu-ray with a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio Lossless soundtrack that is reasonably befitting of its stature as a classic. Whilst the film may not quite have the thunder of a Hollywood blockbuster with a vastly oversized budget, the track still gives it some depth both in terms of bass and sheer power. The track also really puts you into the thick of things in terms of surround action and score, making the most of the directionality that can be afforded. There is a keen attention to detail, picking up on all of the background sounds - from subway screeching, car horns and police sirens to clocks ticking and heavy breathing. The dialogue is also well represented: whether whispering or shouting. The bullets thump around your living room - every single 9mm from Leon's compensated Beretta 92Fs blasts into your living room - and the explosions provide the necessary ammunition to really shake things up. Of course, the highlight is the score, which is perfectly set to every image and every action, and possibly the best bass comes from the growling build-up during key points in the movie, or from the surprise 'bangs' from shock instances - like doors slamming shut and the old 80s Transformers cartoon suddenly being turned on on the TV. Again, as with the video, there is nothing of benchmark quality here that you can show your equipment off with, but it is nevertheless a solid effort that supersedes all previous SD-DVD aural incarnations.
Extras“I've decided what to do with my life. I wanna' be a cleaner.”
In terms of Extras, this Blu-ray releases ports over everything that the 2-disc US SD-DVD Deluxe Edition sported, with still no sign of an Audio Commentary or any significant input from the Director (yeah, yeah, I know Besson's a bit weird in his abhorrence of extras participation, but it would have been nice if he had made an exception - even if only for this film). Alas thankfully the extras we do get are of a high quality nature.
The Fact Track plays over the course of the movie. Here we learn everything from in which order the scenes were filmed to the locations used and how they were shot. Every cast member is given a good history and bio - notably Jean Reno was in the best physical condition of his life for this movie, his fifth collaboration with Besson. Some of the material pertaining to the movie is duplicated - or rather expanded on - in the documentaries below, but as well as these interesting facts we do get some slightly irrelevant but nevertheless nice trivia mainly about New York: how many 911 calls are made daily, when elevators first came to New York City, and when the subway was first opened etc. The facts seem to come fast and furious for the first few minutes and then slow down to a snail-like pace of one every 15-20 seconds: often freezing the fact on screen for much longer than you would need to read it (although this is clearly better than going too fast to read!).
10-Year Retrospective: Cast and Crew Look Back
Arguably the most substantial extra is a 25-minute documentary looking back at the movie. Split into sections on casting, locations, specific scenes, the relationship between the two lead characters, alternate takes, directing the film, cutting scenes and explosions, it features contributions from most of the cast and crew, regaling their tales of the production. The producer, Patrick Ledoux talks about how Léon came about - i.e while Luc Besson was waiting to do Fifth Element - and how there was a much longer cut that once existed. The casting director, Todd Thaler, discusses the difficulty in finding a young actress to play the role of Mathilda and the costume designer, Magalie Guidasci, talks about finding the right look for Mathilda. The Director of Photography, Thierry Arbogast - who has worked on most of Besson's projects - is the only participant to speak in French and is poorly dubbed-over by an over-enthusiastic translator, but does offer some nice insights into how they did some of the more unusual sequences. Then we have cast members Frank Senger ('The Fat Man'), Ellen Greene (Mathilda's Mother) and Michael Badalucco (Mathilda's Father) talking about their respective scenes. The aforementioned, talented Natalie Portman, Besson favourite Maiwenn ('Blond Babe') and Jean Reno all give a bit more insight into the production - Reno, upon being surprised by the script as a gift from Besson, merely said 'I'm already ready'. And, in fact, the most interesting information comes from Maiwenn - Besson's once fiancée - she met him when she was 12 and he was 30 and she explains, somewhat emotionally but possibly immaturely, how Léon was their story about their 'perfectly natural' love. Hmmm, I'm not sure whether Besson was quite as honourable as Léon however - by 16 he had her pregnant and giving birth to a baby girl. It's a great documentary and it features some behind-the-scenes shots, footage of on-set gags, publicity stills and even alternate takes of a couple of different scenes. If you are interested in Léon, this is well worth your time.
Jean Reno: The Road to Léon
Running at a little less than a quarter-of-an-hour, this interesting documentary focuses on the actor, Reno, taking us on a journey from his childhood in Casablanca and his time in the military, to the acting schools in Paris and his desire to gain experience by actually doing films. He met 22 year-old Besson and was cast in every film Besson made up until Léon. He explained how, for his role in Nikita, he was only given his lines and his outfit on the morning of shooting and goes on to talk about playing the part of the assassin in both movies and how he did not want to reprise the role in any further films (not that the story catered for this) for fear of being typecast. It's an excellent companion piece to the main documentary, containing plenty of stills and even some footage from the premiere of Léon, and it is really nice to see so much input from Reno himself.
Natalie Portman: Starting Young
Another 15-minute featurette explores the character of Mathilda and the now world-famous actress who portrayed her, Natalie Portman. Simply radiating on interview, she talks about how she read the script when she was only 11 and had to convince her parents to relent and let her audition for the role. After getting it, apparently her parents required a contract to be formed, explicitly stating what could and could not go into the film: a limit to Mathilda's smoking and the cutting of some of the more risqué scenes - including a shower scene that clearly would have been going too far! She talks about working closely with Reno and Gary Oldman, the latter of whom would merely need to be observed during her scenes - he was so captivating and terrifying that she had to do little 'acting' in their scenes together. She also mentions the paranoia over guns on set - so soon after the Crow 'accident' where Brandon Lee was killed - and how she learned a great deal about the weapons. It's really nice to hear from her in person, and to hear that she not only credits this film with having launched her career in a unique and brilliant way, but she would love to reprise this role, or take any other role Besson had to offer her in future. I'm not sure about a spin-off Mathilda film, but it would be a lot better than the current state of limbo Besson is in - not directing anything!
It is a bit of a shame that we are missing the Isolated Music Score that was previously available on releases as, frankly, the score to Leon is one of the best modern scores. We are also missing the International Ad Campaign, which showcased some of the different posters available around the globe. Aside from the Theatrical Trailer, that's it for this release.
VerdictWell, Léon is my favourite film of all time, and I have tried to explain why. It marks a high point in the careers of all those involved and has clearly stood the test of time (over the last fifteen years). Finally hitting Blu-ray, fans should not be disappointed as this is clearly the definitive edition to own - technically improving on all previous versions in terms of video and audio. Whilst there are some items that appear to be missing - participation from the director and Gary Oldman, and a reported commentary track recorded by Natalie Portman would have been nice inclusions, and extra footage from a hinted-at even longer version would have been spectacular - this is still a decent effort. The documentaries are remarkably informative and well worth your time. I highly recommend that you buy a copy of this film (no question that it should be the director's cut) and this is clearly the edition to own.
“It's when you start to become really afraid of death that you learn to appreciate life.”
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