Léon Blu-ray impressions
Remember Léon (known as The Professional in the US)? Great film, looked absolutely terrible in every single incarnation on home video. Seemingly no-one could get it right, with even the so-called Superbit release being nothing more than a harsh, ringy mess with absolutely no detail whatsoever. (See here for evidence of just how appalling it looks.) When I first heard that the film had been released on Blu-ray by German distributor Kinowelt, my initial reaction was to assume that it would simply be more of the same. After all, the most recent US release, the 2005 version laughably referred to as a “Deluxe Edition”, was claimed to have come from a high definition master, and I made the not unreasonable assumption that the same master would simply be regurgitated for Blu-ray. Then, however, I was linked to screen captures of the new release by regular Land of Whimsy reader FoxyMulder, which, despite exhibiting a severe amount of contrast boosting, looked infinitely better than I’d expected.
I ordered a copy, which turned up on Friday. First, I’m sorry to have to report that this disc has been locked to Region B only, denying those of us with Region A players the right to watch this great film. As such, I’ve only been able to watch it on my 20” PC monitor and examine the encode at its native resolution in VirtualDubMod, so my impressions don’t necessarily correlate with the experience of viewing it on a decent-sized setup. (No doubt I’ll eventually have some means of watching Region B titles properly, but until then, I won’t be assigning a concrete rating to this disc or giving it a place in the HD Image Quality Rankings checklist.)
The disc itself comes in a very nice metal case, just like the one used for Warner’s UK Blu-ray release of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. It looks very slick, albeit in a minimalist sort of way. The disc is dual layer and features both the shorter theatrical cut and longer integral version of the film, achieved through seamless branching (the file size listed below covers only the integral version). Separate English and German DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 tracks are included, as well as optional German subtitles. Finally, all of the bonus content from the aforementioned Deluxe Edition DVD has been ported over, barring the pop-up trivia track. This release also gains a DTS 2.0 (1.5 Mbps) isolated score, which I believe was previously featured on the old American single-disc and German 2-disc DVD releases. All in all, if you don’t mind the loss of the trivia track (and I can’t imagine many people mourning it), this is by far the most comprehensive package to have been released for the film so far.
As for the transfer, how is it? Well, like I said, much better than I expected. It’s an AVC encode, and it appears to have been taken from a completely different master, given that it carries the 2007 100th anniversary Gaumont logo at the start rather than the 1990s “map” version used for all previous releases. (Incidentally, I really hate it when studios do this, replacing their old studio logos when they re-release films. The French companies appear to be particularly fond doing of this.) As previously mentioned, contrast boosting has been applied, and in places it becomes excessive, blowing out the highlights completely and mangling shadow detail. This is particularly pronounced in shots 1 and 2 below, and is in my estimation similar to the utter travesty that was last year’s remastered version of Suspiria. Luckily, Léon features a far more muted palette than Argento’s masterpiece, so the effect is considerably less distracting overall. Still, it’s very disappointing that someone (Gaumont, I’m presuming) decided to do this, as it’s an odious practice and one that is every bit as destructive as noise reduction or edge enhancement.
That aside, it’s a rather nice-looking disc. Not stunningly perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but a solid presentation and a significant step up from the dreadful DVDs. Detail is good if not great, and while there is some ringing, I’m guessing it’s optically induced rather than the result of deliberate edge sharpening or filtering. Some noise reduction appears to have been applied, but it’s not overly destructive. Overall, despite the flaws, it’s well worth picking up, provided you can play the disc.
Léon: The Professional
(Kinowelt, Germany, AVC, 25.9 GB)