Leon: The Professional (Léon) (Directors Suite) (Blu-ray) (1994)

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Released 13-Jul-2010

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Crime Main Menu Audio & Animation
Alternative Version-Theatrical Cut (110:12) (1080p)
Featurette-10 Year Retrospective (25:09) (576p)
Featurette-Natalie Portman: Starting Young (13:49) (576p)
Featurette-Jean Reno: The Road to Leon (12:24) (576p)
Theatrical Trailer-Trailer (1:48) (576p)
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 1994
Running Time 132:52
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Luc Besson
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring Jean Reno
Gary Oldman
Natalie Portman
Danny Aiello
Peter Appel
Willi One Blood
Don Creech
Case Custom Packaging
RPI $39.95 Music Eric Serra


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
English Linear PCM 48/16 2.0
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 2.40:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

With the release of Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass, some film critics were up in arms about the superhero (but not superhuman) character of Hit-Girl – a merciless, pink-haired, eleven year-old vigilante, who is trained in every weapon imaginable (Balisong knives being a favourite), and advanced martial arts by her affectionate father (superhero alias -Big Daddy), a former cop hell-bent on revenge. Roger Ebert famously caused an internet storm with his one-star review of Kick-Ass, in which he declared the film "morally reprehensible," as the bloodshed was not depicted as "comic violence" and the film's "human beings" (as opposed to superhuman superheros), were nothing more then;

“... video-game targets. Kill one, and you score. They're dead, you win. When kids in the age range of this movie's home video audience are shooting one another every day in America, that kind of stops being funny.”

Street-wise, foul-mouthed Hit-Girl, whose real-name is Mindy, happened to remind me of Mathilda (Nathalie Portman) of Léon, a wise, tortured, chain-smoking woman in a frail child’s body, who becomes simultaneously a mother figure and adopted daughter to solitary, childlike Léon (Jean Reno), a hitman. Ebert had the same reaction to Mathilda, as he did with Hit-Girl; he stated in his original review of Léon:

“... at the back of my mind was the troubled thought that there was something wrong about placing a 12-year-old character in the middle of this action ... it seems to exploit the youth of the girl without really dealing with it.”

Léon is composed of shadows from director/writer Luc Besson’s feature films and personal life. The title character of Léon was developed from Reno’s ruthless ‘Victor the Cleaner’ character, who briefly appeared in a memorable sequence in Nikita (1990), a film which detailed the transformation of teenage junkie and criminal, Nikita, who while imprisoned for life, is recruited to work in French Intelligence. Nikita’s transformation into a skilled assassin mirrors that of Mathilda’s; however Nikita was forced into the trade, while Mathilda simply has the hunger for vengeance. Both Nikita’s and Mathilda’s hardened youth is comprised of seedy characters, criminal activity and bloodshed, and conversely they are also depicted as naive, particularly when it comes to matters of the heart; Nikita struggles with her relationship with her Parisian boyfriend, who remains oblivious to her profession, while Mathilda desperately wants to be loved, and consequently teases and dangerously flirts with a bewildered, emotionally-repressed Léon. According to French actress Maïwenn Le Besco, she was the inspiration for the character of Mathilda - she has stated she met Besson as a twelve year-old, and years later would begin a relationship with the director. Le Besco appears in the introduction of Léon and most notably as the Diva in The Fifth Element (1997).

"Leon, what exactly do you do for a living?."

Léon, who had to suddenly leave Italy as a teenager, found refuge in New York City's 'Little Italy'. For many years he has lived a simple, uncomplicated, isolated life and has become a master of his profession as a self-described “cleaner.” Tony (Danny Aiello), a mob boss who took Léon under his wing as a youth, is his only human contact. Despite his extraordinary ability to complete his ‘hits’ with great precision, Léon unusually remains an innocent character for the audience - (that's the sheer beauty of Reno's somber, sad-eyed performance); he consumes only milk, appears to be a great fan of American dancer Gene Kelly and attends to his houseplant with great care and patience. Léon dresses himself simply and efficiently in wool cap, sunglasses and a long wool coat, yet his trousers appear slightly too short for his tall frame.

"I am already grown up, I just get older."

Léon’s systematic and calm life is disturbed by the entrance of young black-eyed, bloody-nosed Mathilda, who tearfully pleads for Léon’s help as she returns home to see the immediate aftermath of her abusive family massacred by DEA agents, a 'hit' led by the drug-addled Norman "Stan" Stansfield (Gary Oldman). This memorable scene was replicated in The Fifth Element (1997), in which Leeloo begs Korben Dallas , with the few English words she has just learned, to help her escape the authorities. Mathilda openly grieves for her toddler brother, the only family member she truly loved (she refers to her parents as half-mother and father), and after learning her quiet neighbour is in-fact a hitman, she convinces him to help her take out Stanfield and his cronies, offering to help Léon as a maid and teach him to read in return. Léon understandably hesitates at first, but succumbs to the charms of his eager student, teaching her how to handle various weapons and complete a mission, yet he remains unaware of her growing confidence and immediate need to enact revenge. Her subsequent actions force both herself and Léon in great danger as Stansfield, a sociopath, begins to lose his grip on reality.

"Death is... whimsical... today."

The sharp-suited chaotic Stansfield, depending on one’s view, is either one of the greatest corrupt cops to grace the cinema screen or is simply over-acted by the great Oldman, who at the time was typecast in a number of antagonist roles in American Cinema – Oliver Stone’s JFK (1991), Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula (1992) and Tony Scott’s True Romance (1993). Oldman's memorable performance as Stansfield, is full of short, detached, staccato-like moments - truly unpredictable, the performance is all about uneven beats and rhythms (Stansfield greatly admires classical music) - a sensibility which can be found in Nicolas Cage's brilliant performance as the similarly drug-addled, corrupt cop Terence McDonagh in The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans . Stansfield through the course of the film descends into into a state of hysteria, as he loses his confidence and judgment, and equally seems amused and baffled by the masterful Léon and his erratic protégé/sidekick – an odd couple, who when together on-screen bear a visual resemblance to The Tramp and The Kid of Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid (1921). The triangle formed by these opposing characters slowly closes in, creating an explosive finale.

The difference between the Version Intégrale (Complete Version) cut of the film which is the default option on this Blu-ray (questionably referred to as an Extended Directors Cut on the cover art) and the Theatrical Cut is a number of scenes, which further developed the complex relationship between Léon and Mathilda, scenes which were originally cut from the film as they made US audiences uncomfortable during test screenings. Said scenes include Mathilda lying about her age, Mathilda threatening to shoot herself, a montage which depicts a series of training and missions accompanied by Bjork’s Venus As A Boy, Mathilda celebrating her first hit by getting drunk, Léon detailing why he had to leave Italy and Mathilda asking Léon to be her first lover.

"Léon, I think I'm kinda falling in love with you."

The relationship between Léon and Mathilda is multifaceted; she becomes his partner in crime, his teacher and most importantly his friend; she is the daughter he never had and he undoubtedly genuinely loves her. While for Mathilda, Léon becomes the loving father she never had and the friend she could confide in; ultimately the brother she could care for, in place of the one who was brutally taken away from her. The instinctive protective nature of Léon's relationship with Mathilda, mirrors that of Travis Bickle and Iris in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976) and reverses the unspoken love between Bob and Nikita in Nikita. Jim Jarmusch referenced the friendship between Léon and Mathilda in Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai (1999), with the depiction of the teacher/student relationship between Ghost Dog, a similarly philosophical and spiritual hitman and Pearline, a curious impressionable young girl, (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) who in the final scenes of the film, looks to follow in Ghost Dog's footsteps - likewise for years there have been internet rumours of a sequel to Léon, in which adult Mathilda would supposedly become a 'cleaner' - a scenario which wouldn't quite work, as within the film Léon wanted Mathilda to enjoy her life and given the ending of Nikita, I'm not sure Besson would be keen on it either. For the record Besson and Portman have both stated there are no plans for a sequel to Léon. Curiously though Besson wrote and produced the upcoming Colombiana (2011), which details the story of Cat (Zoe Saldana), who as a child witnesses the death of her parents and as an adult becomes a professional assassin.

"I want love, or death. That's it."

Mathilda's understanding of love, lust and sex is juvenile, and obviously ripped from the pages of teen magazines, trashy soap operas and Hollywood movies, yet importantly her inappropriate behaviour gradually changes through the course of the film. Compare the introduction of the film, in which Mathilda sits knowingly swinging her legs above the stairwell, her large dreamy eyes intently follow Léon as he nondescriptly makes his way to his apartment and questions him "Is life always this hard, or is it just when you're a kid?". Within this scene it seems as if Mathilda is hopeful someone, anyone for that matter, will whisk her away from her cruel family - yet with the final scenes of Léon, the audience are looking at a changed woman. No longer is Mathilda a child with a violent, unkind past but a lone woman, with harsh eyes who now understands the significance of life and death; her appearance visually recalls the tortured eyes of Jim Graham at the conclusion of Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun (1987), as the audience knows these young characters are never going to be the same again, their childhoods are now a distant past.

"It's always the same thing. It's when you start to become really afraid of death that you learn to appreciate life."

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Transfer Quality

Video

The 1080p transfers of Léon – the Version Intégrale and Theatrical Version - appear in their original 2.35:1 16x9 enhanced aspect ratio, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC on a Dual Layer BD-50. The easiest way to describe this transfer is stark and detailed, as Thierry Arbogast's cinematography captures the grit and grime of the New York locations from the rundown street locales to the blood-splattered apartment walls, while the details of the costumes, weaponry and close-up of actors on the whole remain clear and precise.

The film features natural lighting and an earthy colour palette. Léon for the most part is bright (perhaps overly bright for some) and clear; I’m guessing the brightness and contrast were boosted on this transfer, as the transfers on the previous DVD releases didn’t have the bold, warmer, vibrant colouring of the Blu-ray transfer - it was more of a muted colour palette on the DVD transfers in comparison. The slight negative aspect of this 'enhancement' is the occasional edge enhancement artifacts.

In the minimally-lit scenes the appearance of grain, which I didn’t mind, is more apparent. Mild noise is also apparent on occasion, possibly a result of compression artifacts, as both versions of Léon appear on the BD-50 as separate encodes, unlike the US Sony Blu-ray release of Léon which uses seamless branching. The bitrates for both the Version Intégrale and Theatrical Version remain steadily between 18 -19 Mbps and after comparing both versions they prove to be more or less the same. Optional English subtitles appear in a clear white font on this Blu-ray release, in the lower part of the frame over the lower black widescreen bar.

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

Audio

While primarily a drama, Léon somewhat becomes an action orientated film, particularly during the second act and this is where the rears and bass come to life, as during the action sequences the DTS Master Audio English 5.1 (48 kHz / 3840 kbps) soundtrack exhibits solid and strong dynamic range, and it remains free of any encoding errors. Dialogue is clear and audible throughout the course of the feature film. This soundtrack is overall adequate and efficient. An error-free Linear PCM 2.0 English soundtrack is also included on the Blu-ray.

Eric Serra’s score for Léon is possibly one of his greatest, and certainly one of my personal favourites. With the DTS HD Master Audio English 5.1 option, Serra’s layered and atmospheric score is on full display for both the Version Intégrale and Theatrical Version of Léon. Middle Eastern and Eastern European influenced orchestral rhythms, with synthesizer undertones, highlighted with cymbals, bells, drums, harps, flutes and a striking violin melody, feature throughout the various musical movements. The score remains an overwhelming, expressive score which is intertwined with emotional growth between Léon and Mathilda. Serra released a single in France titled Hey Little Angel which was inspired by Léon but did not feature in the feature film. Sting’s remarkable Shape of my Heart from the 1993 album Ten Summoner's Tales concludes the feature film, with poignant lyrics which can easily be lent to the character of Léon;


"And if I told you that I loved you / You'd maybe think there's something wrong
I'm not a man of too many faces /The mask I wear is one
Those who speak know nothing / And find out to their cost
Like those who curse their luck in too many places / And those who fear are lost
I know that the spades are the swords of a soldier / I know that the clubs are weapons of war
I know that diamonds mean money for this art /But that's not the shape of my heart
"

UPDATE – 10/9/10

With MickJT’s permission I have published the following statement:

MickJT contacted me regarding two issues with Madman's release of ‘Leon.’

1: MickJT noted in Leon: Version Intégrale - ‘Venus as a Boy’ by Bjork is at a lower pitch and a slower tempo

In response to this issue I checked two NTSC DVD’s (R1 Columbia Tristar – SuperBit + R2 JVC / Victor) and the Sony U.S Blu-ray side-by-side and ‘Venus as a Boy’ appears at the same tempo and pitch as the Madman Blu-ray release, which is derived from the French Paramount Blu-ray, as is the Optimum UK Blu-ray.

I agree with MickJT that there are discrepancies in regards to pitch between how ‘Venus as a Boy’ appears on Bjork’s 1993 ‘Debut’ album on Compact Disc and in Leon: Version Intégrale, but as the song appears at this altered tempo/pitch on atleast 4 Blu-ray releases (France, UK, Australia, U.S.A) and 2 NTSC DVD’s, I believe the discrepancy in regards to pitch/tempo is merely a result of how the song appears in the feature film. I do not believe any discrepancy between the original recording on Compact Disc and the Blu-ray/DVD releases are the result of an encoding error – just an issue of how the song appears in the feature film. I treated this issue of altered pitch separately from the following issue MickJT raised -

2: MickJT cited that the LPCM Stereo 2.0 soundtrack on the ‘Version Intégrale’ cut of Leon is at a significantly lower pitch in comparison with the other soundtracks on the Madman release (if this is the case, therefore this issue would also affect the Optimum/Paramount releases).

I’ve listened to the LPCM soundtrack again on the ‘Version Intégrale’ cut of Leon in response to MickJT’s comments on two set-ups – MickJT also checked the LPCM soundtrack again on the ‘Version Intégrale’ cut of Leon on three set-ups and maintained the lowered pitch issue was apparent in all of his tests.

In my honest and humble opinion I could not hear any audible pitch issues - I can say I did find Reno's voice to be deeper (not unusually low though) on this track but I don't think it is a pitch issue, as all the other actor's voices were at the same pitch as the DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 track - I think it's just due to the limitations of the stereo sound format. I found no pitch issue with audio soundtracks on the Theatrical Cut - actually the English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 is at a higher volume with stronger bass, when compared with the Version Intégrale English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 in my opinion. The only issue I found was some mild hiss on the Version Intégrale LPCM soundtrack - but otherwise as stated in my original review, I believe all soundtracks are "error-free".

MickJT also noted that within the Theatrical Trailer of Leon the pitch is different. In regards to discrepancies between the differentiating pitch of the audio between the Feature Film and Theatrical Trailer – I personally believe this is the result of different audio formats and audio sources. It is MickJT’s opinion that if the pitch were similar to how the audio is in the Theatrical Trailer then ‘Venus as a Boy’ would be at its correct pitch – this is an interesting thought and for MickJT raises the question of whether the pitch of the entire soundtrack was lowered in post-production.

Although I do not agree with MickJT’s opinion regarding the lowered pitch of the LPCM soundtrack, I do believe his opinion is valid within the discussion of the Madman Blu-ray release – particularly his insight of Bjork’s ‘Venus as a Boy.’ However I do not believe there is a significant fault with the LPCM audio option on the Version Intégrale’ cut on the Madman release of Leon.

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

Extras

Main Menu Audio & Animation

Main Menu is animated and includes audio. There is access to the audio options, 12 chapter selections which is odd for a 2 hour plus film and various extra feature content. A pop-up menu is also accessible during the feature film.

Alternative Version

As mentioned the Theatrical Version of Léon is included as an Extra Feature in the Main Menu and Pop-up Menu. The user can select the following audio options: DTS HD Master Audio English 5.1 and LPCM English 2.0. The transfer is in 1080p High Definition.

10 Year Retrospective (25:09) (576p)

Producer Patrice Ledoux, Casting Director Todd Thaler, DOP Arbogast, Costume Designer Magali Guidasci, Editor Sylvie Landra, Cast members Frank Senger, Ellen Greene, Michael Badalucco, Le Besco , Reno and Portman recall their fond memories and experiences during the production of Léon. The featurette includes onset footage and alternate takes.

Natalie Portman: Starting Young (13:49) (576p)

Léon was Portman’s first feature film role, and it certainly defined the young actress, who has since woven a respectable career as an actress and academic. This featurette focuses on how Portman was cast as she was initially considered too young by the film’s producers and explores how her parents asked for some changes to the script. The featurette includes some early screen tests.

Jean Reno: The Road to Léon (12:24) (576p)

A featurette which focuses on Reno. and the importance of the role for him, as after the release of Léon, he became an international actor appearing in European Cinema and Hollywood Blockbusters simultaneously.

Trailer (1:48) (576p)

R4 vs R1

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

The US SONY region-free Blu-ray release of Léon includes the same content as the Australian Madman Blu-ray release and additionally -
-Lossless English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (96 kHz / 5829 kbps / 24-bit)
-French: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
-Portuguese: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1.
Optional Spanish, French, Portuguese subtitles
-Seamless branching of Version Intégrale and Theatrical Version
-Fact Track
-BD-Live
-Various Sony Pictures 1080p trailers.

The German Kinowelt Steelbook Region B Locked Blu-ray release of Léon Ultimate Edition - has the Version Intégrale and Theatrical Version of Léon with English: DTS-HD HR 7.1 and German: DTS-HD HR 7.1. This release includes identical extra feature content as the R4 Blu-ray, and additionally an isolated music score, Fact Track in German and photo slideshow.

The UK Optimum Blu ray release of Léon, which is derived from the French Paramount Blu-ray release is (almost) identical to the local release - The audio specs are - English 5.1 DTS-HD High Resolution audio and French 5.0 DTS-HD Master Audio options on the Theatrical Cut and English 5.0 DTS-HD Master Audio on the Version Intégrale and French and French HoH subtitle options.


UPDATE – 10/9/10

In regards to how the local Blu-ray release holds up against international release:

- The transfer of the Madman (AU)/Optimum (UK)/Paramount(FR) releases vs. Sony (US) – I unfortunately do not have the appropriate software to take screen captures but the easiest explanation after doing a side by side comparison is that the transfers on the Madman(AU)/Optimum(UK)/Paramount(FR) releases the contrast is on the ‘hot’ side – ‘white-hot,’ while on the Sony release the colour is subtle with more detail intact. Now here’s the dilemma – Besson reportedly actually approved the Paramount transfer – therefore the same transfer which appears on the Madman(AU)/Optimum(UK) releases. Personally I don’t think one transfer is better than the other - it’s down to personal preference.

Being a feature film almost twenty years old, I did not expect to the soundtrack to be of the quality of a recent feature – that said, in regards to the nature of the film, I believe the English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. soundtrack is suitable – as explained in the audio section – it is mostly located at the front, but the rears are audible on occasion, namely during action sequences – it is a solid affair but the Sony release has a soundtrack with a higher bit-rate (96 kHz / 5829 kbps / 24-bit) and the German Kinowelt release has a 7.1 DTS-HD HR English soundtrack which has excellent reviews but the transfer is reportedly similar to the Paramount (FR) release – therefore it could be similar to the UK and AU Blu-ray releases. I have yet to see this release so I can’t do a definitive comparison.

Overall I have no qualms with the local Madman release – I believe it is a solid release – particularly as this is the first time the film has been released locally since the VHS release. I maintain it is error-free – the transfer and audio options are what they are – it’s up to the buyer to see what they prefer – in terms of transfer and audio.

Summary

Luc Besson’s Léon is one of his most admired films - (it's currently #34 on IMDB's Top 250), featuring an engaging narrative and memorable, iconic performances from Jean Reno, Natalie Portman and Gary Oldman. With stunning cinematography from Thierry Arbogast and an eclectic emotional score from Eric Serra, Léon remains one of Besson’s greatest cinematic achievements.

Léon was surprisingly never previously released as a R4 DVD title - probably due to lack of a distributor, as the film had a theatrical release and was available on VHS in 1995 with no controversy - from memory the Theatrical Version screened on Channel Nine once in the late 90s! Let's hope it does not take too long for Besson's latest film - Les Aventures extraordinaires d'Adèle Blanc-Sec to be released theatrically and on DVD/Blu-ray in Australia.

With this solid but unfortunately not perfect release from Madman on Blu-ray (the US Blu-ray and German Blu-ray have superior sound options and the US Blu-ray has a slightly more natural looking transfer in my opinion), the film will surely receive a new audience – it's hard to believe, in a few years, this great film will be 20 years old.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Vanessa Appassamy (Biography)
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Review Equipment
DVDPanasonic DMP-BD35, using HDMI output
DisplayMitsubishi Electric HC6800 1080P Home Theatre Projector. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR800
Speakers(Front) DB Dynamics Polaris AC688F loudspeakers,(Centre) DB Dynamics Polaris Mk3 Model CC030,(Rear) Polaris Mk3 Model SSD425,(Subwoofer) Jensen JPS12

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Leon review - Bogal REPLY POSTED
Great Review - absamdb REPLY POSTED
LPCM pitch too low - MickJT
DTS-MA pitch also too low - MickJT
Audio query - and some international bluray summaries. - Chris A. REPLY POSTED
RE: Audio query - and some international bluray summaries. - Tom Tuttle REPLY POSTED
Final thought regarding pitch - MickJT