Léon The Professional (4K Remaster with Dolby Atmos)
- Street Date:
- October 27th, 2015
- Reviewed by:
- Michael S. Palmer
- Review Date: 1
- November 2nd, 2015
- Movie Release Year:
- 133 Minutes
- MPAA Rating:
- Release Country
- United States
For this re-release of 'Léon The Professional' on Blu-ray, I elected to keep Tom Landy's The Movie Itself portion (and Special Features) from his original review because he wrote so passionately about one of his all-time favorite films and I loved his enthusiasm. Vital Disc Stats, Video, Audio, and Final Thoughts are new to this release.
The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
French auteur Luc Besson may have gained international acclaim for 'La Femme Nikita,' cleaned house at the box office with his sci-fi smash 'The Fifth Element,' and had a hand in making Jason Statham into an action leading man with 'The Transporter,' but for me his pièce de résistance will always be 'Léon: The Professional.' Brutal, beautiful, and controversial, the film isn't just Besson at his best--it's cinema at its finest.
In New York City's underworld, Léon (Jean Reno) is a "cleaner," a professional hit-man for a mobster named Tony (Danny Aiello). Léon is the best assassin in the city, and routine, order, and simplicity have molded his way of living. Of course, being an efficient killing machine does come with one major drawback -- he's not much of a "people person." Aside from Tony and his short-lived clients, Léon is someone who has very little human contact. When his best friend is his houseplant, it goes without saying that social skills just aren't his forte.
Léon's simplistic lifestyle unexpectedly takes a complicated turn when a drug deal in the next door apartment goes sour. After the family is massacred by a psychotic lunatic (played by a devilish Gary Oldman), the only one left is twelve-year-old Mathilda (Natalie Portman). In a moment of kindness, Léon offers sanctuary to the young girl, and unwittingly invites in a whole heap of trouble in the process. Not only does Mathilda uncover what Léon really does for a living, she wants to become his student so she can have her revenge. As Mathilda's pain and persistence begins to wear down Léon's defenses, it isn't long before she's welcomed under his wing and into his heart.
Although 'Léon: The Professional' does share a few similarities with 'Nikita' ('Léon' was even inspired by Reno's "cleaner" character in that film), Besson crafts a tale that is entirely in a class by itself. The cinematography is simply brilliant, as the violent opening sequence locks in the electrifying tone for the picture. From then on, every action-packed hit is dripping with intensity, and the quieter moments in between are dreamlike and surreal. Virtually every scene is staged with such elegance and grace that it's hard to not be completely transfixed by this film.
Besson doesn't just captivate his audiences with soothing visuals, he also stirs the pot to make them restless in their seats. The backbone of the plot already pushes the morality envelope, as a pre-teen is being trained to kill in cold blood. But Besson goes one step further, placing the relationship between Léon and Mathilda in an area completely clouded in gray -- essentially creating one of the most unconventional love stories ever told. There are times where their screen time together is delightfully charming, and other instances where it starts going down a more disturbing path. While this may have crossed the line for some viewers, the intent was to create tension and ruffle a few feathers, and in that regard Besson hits a home run.
There is also a great deal of depth provided by its three unforgettable performances. Reno really is at the top of his game here, juggling the two very distinct personalities of his character with dexterous precision. In "serious" mode Léon is experienced and confident, but when he's outside of his comfort zone he morphs into a shy and timid creature. Then there's Gary Oldman as the nut job villain Stansfield. While he doesn't totally steal the show (which is good since this is supposed to be Léon and Mathilda's story anyways), he fully embraces his despicable role, and his portrayal is so unnerving that the rattled expressions on the actors playing his own goon squad just had to be genuine. Last and certainly not least is Natalie Portman, who gives such an endearing performance in her feature film debut that it's utterly mind-blowing.
If you haven't already guessed, 'Léon: The Professional' is one of my all-time favorite movies. Between Luc Besson's unique vision and the impeccable performances of the cast, this is a powerful film where style meets substance in perfect harmony.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Léon The Professional' returns to Blu-ray for the second time as a part of Sony's new Supreme Cinema Series. It boasts a new 4K master and an all new Dolby Atmos sound mix. This one-disc edition is housed in a standard Blu-ray case, is Region A locked, includes a Digital HD Ultraviolet copy (redemption code expires 12/31/18), and offers no forced trailers before the main menu. This release includes both the Theatrical and Extended Versions of the film.
A Limited Collector's Edition, with special clear packaging and a making-of booklet, is also available.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
'Léon The Professional' has been remastered in 4K for Blu-ray, and is presented here in its original 2.40:1 aspect ratio via an AVC MPEG-4 encode.
Without a copy on hand, I was unable to make any direct comparisons between this 4K remaster and the 2009 Blu-ray release. What I can do is judge this 21-year-old catalog title with fresh eyes and say, wow, Sony did a great job. No signs of digital tampering (EE, DNR). No obvious blemishes (scratches, debris). Instead we get highly detailed imagery (just look hands, clothes, and locations), warm-but-even skin tones, and accurately drab colors. This is about as close to watching celluloid running through a projector as you can get.
Just shy of perfect, there is some occasional softness in the outer edges of the frame, much of it likely due to the production's use of anamorphic camera lenses, and black levels that crush from time to time. But overall 'Léon The Professional' looks so good it served, along with 'The Fifth Element', as a reminder as to what we as an audience are losing in the transition to a mostly-digital production environment. I can't wait to see what this, and other Sony catalog titles, look like on Ultra HD Blu-ray.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
[NOTE: for this Blu-ray review, I used a Denon AVR-X6200W and Marantz MM7025 to power a full 7.2.4 KEF Q-series system consisting of one Q600C center channel, two Q900 floorstanders on front right and left, four Q300 bookshelf loudspeakers for side and back surrounds, dual 10' Q400 subwoofers, and four Ci200RR THX in-ceiling speakers handling front and rear height channels.]
'Léon The Professional' cleans its way onto Blu-ray with a spiffy new Dolby Atmos track (Dolby TrueHD 7.1 compatible) that elevates an already-admired sound mix, but is ultimately not quite as immersive as the new format has shown itself to be.
'Léon The Professional' has always been one of Sony's go-to titles for home video because it is popular as well as technically proficient. Everything you love about this mix remains the same. Clear dialog, even in chaos. A sweeping, immersive score from Eric Serra. Action sequences that offer plenty of gunfire-infused panning. In terms of flaws, I think one could wish for a little more LFE oomph from explosions, or perhaps a little more world building in the New York exteriors. But it's a very fun track, even if most of the film is more intimate than one might expect from a genre piece.
The Atmos elements improve upon a very solid foundation, but are somewhat limited when compared to modern (native) Atmos mixes. For the most part height channels are reserved for orchestral elements, which does pull the audience forward. There's also a great explosion where a grenade fireball rolls up and over the audience, as well as a sequence where ceiling sprinklers are raining down on us. Yet, when comparing 'Léon' other catalog remixes like 'Bram Stoker's Dracula' or 'The Fifth Element', both of which benefit from more intentional aggression, 'Léon' is much more reserved and less Atmos-engaged.
Given that the original Blu-ray was rated 4.5 stars for audio, and that a non-Atmos AVR will produces a nearly-identical 7.1 TrueHD version of that mix, I see no reason to drop the numerical score. However, if one were to grade the Atmos portion of the mix alone, I would likely give it a very strong 4.0 Stars.
The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff
'Léon The Professional' is pretty light on bonus materials, but does include one new feature -- the film's Theatrical Trailer (2:25), which takes the place of several Sony Blu-ray Previews. Other than that, the bonus materials are the same as the 2009 release, aka direct ports from the Deluxe Edition DVD. Here's what Tom Landy had to say then:
10 Year Retrospective: Cast and Crew Look Back (SD, 25:10) – A decade after the film was released, the cast and crew took a virtual trip down memory lane to share secrets and other stories from the production. The feature also includes some alternate takes of certain scenes and footage of a prank the crew played on Natalie Portman during her final day of shooting.
Jean Reno: The Road to 'Léon' (SD, 12:25) – A brief interview with actor Jean Reno who talks about growing up in Casablanca, becoming an actor, and his experiences from 'Léon.'
Natalie Portman: Starting Young (SD, 13:50) – Like the feature mentioned above, except this one puts the young actress in the spotlight. It covers how she landed the part of Mathilda, how her parents influenced a few significant changes to the original script, and more. Some of her early screen tests are also included here.
Fact Track – A fact track (Extended version only) overlay can be activated to display periodic details about the production and other trivia during the film. The track is entirely text-based and projector owners should take note that it does overlap the black bar at the bottom of the screen.
'Léon The Professional' is a stirring character drama with action thriller genre elements, terrific performances from all involved, and some very dynamic filmmaking. It remains as fun to watch today as it did twenty-plus years ago.
As a Blu-ray double-dip, Sony has provided an excellent new video transfer (it's great to see actual film on Blu-ray) and a potent new Dolby Atmos sound mix that is able to (literally) elevate a few of the film's key action sequences, while carrying over all of the previous Special Features. The only thing holding me back from giving this release a Highly Recommended score is whether or not we are too close to the release of Ultra HD Blu-ray and what would, presumably, be a triple dip.
If you're considering that upgrade early next year, you might want to wait (and you might want to speak to friends who know whether or not this video transfer is enough of an upgrade for you), but regardless, with scores like these, it's impossible not to call this Recommended.
If you're a fan of this film and/or an Atmos-adopter and are NOT rushing into Ultra HD Blu-ray as soon as it arrives, this new 'Leon The Professional' is Highly Recommended.
- 4K Restoration
- Theatrical & Extended Versions
- 1080p/AVC MPEG-4
- English Dolby Atmos (Dolby TrueHD 7.1 compatible)
- French Dolby TrueHD 5.1
- Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1
- English SDH
- Cast and Crew Look Back
- Jean Reno: The Road to Léon
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