Legionnaire (1998)

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Released 18-Mar-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1998
Running Time 94:32
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Peter MacDonald
Studio
Distributor
Edward R. Pressman
Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
Steven Berkoff
Nicholas Farrell
Jim Carter
Ana Sofrenovic
Daniel Caltagirone
Joseph Long
Mario Kalli
Joe Montana
Kim Romer
Anders Peter Bro
Paul Kynman
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $19.95 Music John Altman


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Auto Pan & Scan Encoded English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    To say that Jean-Claude Van Damme needs a hit movie is the understatement of the year. During the early to mid-nineties, the `Muscles from Brussels' was a rising box office star, he had several hit movies under his belt, and believe it or not was a one time presenter at the Academy Awards. I was unashamedly a fan of his mid-nineties work. I have no hesitation in pronouncing Timecop, Sudden Death, Maximum Risk, and Nowhere to Run to be thoroughly entertaining action films. Sure the acting in some of these films is second rate, and the screenplays can be formulaic, but they had enough violence, humour and testosterone to part me from my hard earned cash. These films, like it or not, catapulted Van Damme to action icon status. (I notably left Hard Target out of this list. I consider that film to be one of the better action films of the nineties. It is also Director John Woo's second best film since opening up shop in the United States, the first obviously being Face/Off.) Unfortunately, for every one of those hit films, Van Damme released an abysmal one at the same time, which eventually killed his career. Films like Streetfigher, The Quest, Knock Off and Universal Soldier: The Return were dreadful and the fans left in droves. Sensing his impending demise, Jean-Claude gambled on an old fashioned epic, devoid of martial arts and senseless one-liners to re-establish his career. Thus was born Legionnaire. The gamble failed and the film went direct to video. The demise of the film is unfortunate however, as it is definitely one of the better films produced by the action star during the latter part of the last decade.

    Legionnaire is a throwback to the epics made in the 1950's and 60's. The film uses past French Foreign Legion adventures like Beau Geste, Khartoum and March Or Die as inspiration and to some degree manages to successfully capture enough of their spirit to entertain. Van Damme plays two bit boxer and hustler Alain Lefevre, who joins the French Foreign Legion to escape the Mob, whom he double crossed. In the Legion, Alain learns the true value of friendship and loyalty as he struggles for survival amidst brutal combat. Director Peter MacDonald (Rambo 3), no stranger to the action genre, has enough visual flair to stage a number of terrific battle scenes and his director of photography, Doug Milsome (Full Metal Jacket, Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves), provides some stunning cinematography. The budget for this film was 35 million dollars, and believe me, every cent is up there on the screen.

    The acting on display ranges from good to very mediocre. Jean-Claude Van Damme, much maligned over the years for his thespian skills, gives an absolutely solid performance in the lead role. I am the first to admit that the man is capable of performances that range from poor to mediocre at best, but here he gives the character of Alaine Lefevre an emotional range not seen in most of his work. I have always found that Van Damme's best work depends on the strength of the director he is working with at the time. For example, John Woo, Peter Hyams, Ringo Lam and Robert Harmon have all proven over the years that they are talented directors that can get the most out of their cast and crew. Therefore, it is not surprising that Van Damme's most well received films are from these directors. The same applies here. The other main cast members, Daniel Caltagirone, Nicholas Farrell and the ever-reliable Steven Berkoff (Rambo II, Outland, and Octopussy), turn in well-rounded, professional performances. Unfortunately, several minor cast members turn in some truly ordinary work that hurts the overall production.

    The screenplay by Sheldon Lettich and Rebecca Morrison is another mis-step that should have been fixed in the pre-production phase. The film is full of clichés that 30 years ago would have worked. Here, they just bring to mind better films. What saves the film is a screenplay that is unusually earnest in its storytelling. Sure the clichés mount up by the dozens, but the filmmakers respect the material and never once exploit the genre. I found this approach mostly worked and as a result I became somewhat invested in the characters.

    As a whole, Legionnaire is an admittedly corny adventure wallowing in mediocrity, but one that has a fabulous look, a decent cast, and several expertly mounted action scenes. If only Jean-Claude Van Damme had continued to take chances on this sort of material he still might have had a career at the turn of the century.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Columbia Tristar have provided an almost flawless transfer for this film. The only problem is that the framing is completely wrong. The original aspect ratio of Legionnaire was 2:35:1. Here, we are given an anamorphic 16x9 enhanced transfer at 1:78:1.

    As previously mentioned, the picture is basically flawless. The transfer is razor sharp with no haloing or aliasing. Shadow detail matches the impeccable image to a tee. There is no low level noise interference or grain.

    Colours are rich and textured, highlighting the wonderful work done by cinematographer Doug Milsome.

    I barely noticed any artefacting or dirt during the film.

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

Audio

    Legionnaire has been given a first rate audio track in English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround.

    Dialogue is always clear and never loses clarity amongst the on-screen carnage. There were no audio sync problems, other than lines of dialogue that were intentionally altered in post production.

    The film's score by John Altman fits the material well and is reminiscent of bygone epics.

    Surround channel usage is first rate. The rear channels get a solid workout during the many battle scenes and the directional field is clearly defined.

    The subwoofer adds a potent reverberation to the sound effects throughout the film.

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

Extras

Theatrical Trailer

    A solitary Legionnaire trailer, 16x9 enhanced for your enjoyment.

R4 vs R1

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

    The R4 version of this DVD misses out on:

    The R1 version of this DVD misses out on:

    Now here is the dilemma. The R1 version of this film is framed at 2:35:1, but has a pretty ordinary transfer with lots of aliasing and halation problems, plus instances of noise interference. Importantly, it is also not anamorphic. The R4 has a superb transfer framed incorrectly. I did a direct comparison and came to the conclusion that our version is better simply because the print was outstanding and the missing information captured at 2:35:1 did not add that much to the overall film.

    The clear choice on paper would be the R1 version for the abundance of extras and for being in the correct aspect ratio, however I prefer our transfer. To each their own.

Summary

    Legionnaire is a very average adventure film that looks and sounds great. The acting from Jean-Claude Van Damme is remarkably solid and the action scenes as directed by Peter MacDonald leap off the screen. The film's downfall is a screenplay that is so full of clichés and uninspired plot twists that it distracts the viewer. However, I found that despite these problems it was still quite enjoyable and deserving of a wider audience. The disc has excellent sound and picture quality with no extras.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Greg Morfoot (if interested here is my bio)
Saturday, December 27, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-535, using S-Video output
DisplayLG 76cm Widescreen Flatron Television. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderSony HT-K215. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationSony HT-K215
Speakers fronts-paradigm titans, centre &rear Sony - radio parts subbie

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