Joan of Arc (The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc) (1999)

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Released 5-Sep-2000

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Dolby Digital Trailer-City
Featurette-HBO First Look: Making Of The Messenger
Theatrical Trailer-2
Isolated Musical Score
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 1999
Running Time 151:28
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (79:47) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Luc Besson
Studio
Distributor

Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring Milla Jovovich
John Malkovich
Faye Dunaway
Dustin Hoffman
Pascal Greggory
Vincent Cassel
Tcheky Karyo
Richard Ridings
Desmond Harrington
Timothy West
Case Brackley-Trans-No Lip
RPI $39.95 Music Eric Serra


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Isolated Music Score Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
German
Dutch
Arabic
Bulgarian
Croatian
Czech
Danish
Finnish
Greek
Hebrew
Hindi
Icelandic
Norwegian
Polish
Swedish
Turkish
Smoking Yes, when Joan is burnt at the stake (!)
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Joan of Arc is a lavish production mounted by Columbia Pictures and Gaumont, the muscle behind Luc Besson's earlier hits The Fifth Element and The Professional. Shot on location in France and the Czech Republic, every cent of the $US60 million budget is captured by Thierry Arbogast's 35mm cameras. The filmmakers practically go all-out to realize this enduring story of a young peasant girl who came to lead a nation. Towering battlements, countless suits of armour, medieval war machines, reconstructed villages, hand-sewn costumes, and realistic set decoration all conspire to bring 15th Century France to life.

    Already a devout Christian at the age of 13, 'Jeanne' (Milla Jovovich) witnesses the brutal death of her sister at the hands of English soldiers during the 100 Years War. Four years later, driven by the voice of her divine conscience, she determines to meet with Charles VII (John Malkovich), the default ruler of France. Jeanne "the messenger" convinces him to let her join the campaigns against the English invaders, with a view to leading her people to eventual victory. A series of decisive wins is followed by a lull during the winter of 1429-30, prompting the newly crowned King Charles to victimize Jeanne for political ends. Captured and sold to the enemy by the Burgundians, Jeanne is convicted of heresy and burned at the stake in Rouen, May 30th 1431.

    This ambitious retelling of the legend, with its blend of the documentary and the surreal, treads a fine line between success and complete disaster. Russian actor Milla Jovovich was okay as a blabbering, high-kicking alien in The Fifth Element, but here she lacks the ability to portray a far more complex and pivotal character. Instead of heart and soul, she projects noise and faux tears. The remaining cast do what they can with the dialogue, which reads well despite the tangle of accents and occasional anachronisms. Faye Dunaway, John Malkovich and Tcheky Karyo all pull their weight, as do the other supporting players. The time needed to flesh out these incidental characters is otherwise wasted on Jeanne's hallucinations, which include tedious exchanges with her Conscience, played by Dustin Hoffman on tranquilizers.

    Joan of Arc's numerous flaws are partly offset by its European sensibility: that priceless, indefinable quality shared by all Continental movies. While this may be enough to sustain multiple viewings, I doubt the film will outlive Joan's 500-year legacy.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Being a Columbia Tristar release, there were high hopes for this DVD, and it did not disappoint. Framed at its original 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio and 16x9 enhanced, Joan of Arc looks absolutely stunning.

    Sharpness and detail are apparent from the first frame to the last. Giddy shots of young Joan bounding through hillside flower beds are keenly rendered and beautifully photorealistic. During the amazing siege at the fort of Tourelles, every sliver of action along the perimeter is visible. Stone textures, wood finishes, costume adornments, hair styles, and spurting arterial blood are all sharply defined.

    With so much simulated period lighting indoors, and overcast conditions on the battlefields outside, poor shadow detail could have crippled the transfer. Thankfully this was not the case. Blacks could have been darker, although tweaking the brightness settings on my TV and DVD player dropped them adequately without sacrificing too much detail. At the standard setting, chalky blacks were visible only in the gloomiest shots.

    Needless to say, colours were saturated to the appropriate level without any bleed. The pageantry of Shakespeare in Love demanded bright, gaudy colours. Joan of Arc, depicting a demoralized country awaiting the killing stroke at the hands of marauders, required the more muted, earthen approach captured perfectly by the monotone poster art. Skin tones are uniformly excellent and costumes, when tailored with colourful fabric, glowed in a distinct yet understated manner. Top marks.

    As if that wasn't enough, the transfer has no film artefacts, no compression artefacts, and not one instance of aliasing or shimmer. Some ghosting, or what may be called edge enhancement, was visible at 96:43, as a monk carries a huge cross past the French army after their victory at Tourelles. But besides that fault and the slightly grey blacks, Joan of Arc boasts one of the best transfers of an epic-length movie I have ever seen.

    The layer change at 79:47 is unobtrusive.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    Matching the video quality blow for blow is a superb English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, accompanied by a German language Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and an Isolated Music Track, also in Dolby Digital 5.1.

    The centre dialogue channel presents the awkward smattering of accents clearly, without distortion, and in perfect sync. ADR work was more obvious in some scenes than others.

    Eric Serra contributes another energetic score, which is more orchestral than his work on The Fifth Element. His music seems to fill every corner of the soundstage when the mood calls for it. Like everything else in this movie, it usually comes across bold and strong, with good separation across the front soundstage and depth lent by the rears. At other times it stays in the background, underscoring the drama with grace and subtlety.

    The surrounds are put to best use when handling 360 degree pans, the clamour and chaos of battle, hard rain and thunder, random birdsong, and a whole host of medieval sound effects. While this 5.1 track is never dull, it avoids the eclectic bombast of The Fifth Element. The sound design here is far more natural, although Joan of Arc retains the sometimes excessive subwoofer punctuations used liberally in its futuristic cousin.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Menus

    The 16x9 enhanced menus are well laid out and generally easy to navigate.

Dolby Digital City Trailer

Teaser Trailer (1:19)

    Letterboxed to approximately 1.85:1 in Dolby Digital 2.0, the picture quality is lower than in the main feature. I thought this trailer was more evocative than the main trailer, which revealed too much of Joan's histrionics.

Theatrical Trailer (2:27)

    Letterboxed to approximately 1.85:1 in Dolby Digital 5.1, the picture quality is lower than the main feature. The sound is more strident, owing to the 5.1 treatment.

Featurette-HBO First Looks: The Making of the The Messenger (23:52)

    This making-of documentary, presented Full Frame in Dolby Digital 2.0, concentrates both on the movie and on the history behind Joan of Arc, perhaps to compensate for the paucity of behind-the-scenes footage. Like most promotional vehicles of this nature, the more interesting facts are either glossed over or ignored entirely, with the obligatory footage from the movie burning up valuable minutes.

    Nevertheless, the inclusion of any behind-the-scenes bonus is welcome as something always catches your attention. For instance, it was good to see Eric Serra at work, not to mention hearing direct descendants of Saint Joan speak reverently about their heritage.

Isolated Music Track

    Without sound effects or dialogue, Eric Serra's music takes on an even greater presence in the Dolby Digital 5.1 isolated score. This is a great way to examine all the cues and nuances as the action unfolds on-screen.

Talent Profiles (5)

    Single page bios and filmographies are included for Luc Besson, Milla Jovovich, John Malkovich (who now lives in France), Faye Dunaway, and Dustin Hoffman.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 DVD misses out on:     Except to avoid the 4% PAL speed-up, which affects the film pacing and music pitch, there is no other reason to buy the NTSC Region 1 DVD, unless your system copes with 2.0 better than 5.1. Like the US DVD, our version of the film is the longer international version that contains, among other fun scenes, Joan's virginity test. Note that a French DVD must exist because there are no French subtitles on this disc. One wonders what treasures it holds.

Summary

    Joan of Arc has everything the 'epic' label demands: an olde worlde map and scrolling text that introduces the plot, the life story of an unlikely hero, bloodthirsty battle sequences, stuffy religious bureaucrats, political machinations, and scowling enemy leaders. Assisted by Andrew Birkin, Luc Besson has engaged his comic book intellect once again to create what is essentially a graphic novel on celluloid, starring his ex-lover (wife?) Milla Jovovich, and a few thousand of his countrymen. For me, the one moment of true frission occurs the first time she rouses her army into battle.

    The DVD presentation of this elegant failure is quite breathtaking, however. The fabulous video transfer suffers faults that, quite honestly, only a geek with his head craned forward and a clipboard on his lap would notice, while the audio is a fine example of what Dolby Digital 5.1 can accomplish. The extras round out a thoroughly entertaining DVD package. Viva Columbia Tristar!

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Rod Williams (Suss out my biography if you dare)
Thursday, August 24, 2000
Review Equipment
DVDMarantz DV-7000 (European model), using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Ergo (81cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderDenon AVD-2000 Dolby Digital decoder.
AmplificationArcam AV50 5 x 50W amplifier
SpeakersFront: ALR/Jordan Entry 5M, Centre: ALR/Jordan 4M, Rear: ALR/Jordan Entry 2M, Subwoofer: B&W ASW-1000 (active)

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