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The version of Leon that many of us saw in the cinemas wasn't as long as it was supposed to have been.  In fact it was so heavily cut, the running time of the theatrical release ended up being reduced by an astounding twenty four minutes!  I have only seen the original cut a couple of times, but from what I can remember, it appears that the distributors changed the emphasis of the story line into that of an exclusively action orientated film; chopping off the relationship between Mathilda and Léon, and much of the character development.

Léon sure does like his plant!
Léon (played by Jean Reno) is a cleaner or a hit man if you prefer; he lives a fairly quiet and secretive existence in a small apartment located in the city of New York.  Much of his time is spent training and to a lesser extent, looking after his beloved potted plant.  Nevertheless, for as little as five thousand dollars per head, he can be hired as a professional assassin – that is, provided no women or children are involved.

Next door to Léon lives a young twelve-year-old girl by the name of Mathilda (Natalie Portman).  She lives with her abusive father, not-so-nice stepsister, prostitute stepmother and gentle four-year-old brother.  Her father unfortunately got involved with a group of corrupt police officers, led by Gary Oldman who plays a drug addicted lunatic, who entrusted him with their immense stash of cocaine.

One morning, while Mathilda is carrying out an errand for Léon at the local shop, the gang of police officers return.  They have discovered that Mathilda’s father held back on a small amount of the cocaine, and as a result, they have decided to kill him, and the rest of his family.  Shortly afterwards Mathilda returns to discover gun wielding heavies standing outside the door of her family’s apartment.  So rather than enter her own apartment and face a certain death, she walks over to Léon’s door and knocks.

Given Léon’s simplistic existence, he doesn’t exactly fancy opening the door as this could endanger his way of life, but since he does not want to be responsible for harming women and children, he opens the door and Mathilda enters.  From then on in, Mathilda and Léon develop a strange sort of relationship, each with very different motives.  She manages to persuade Léon to train her as a cleaner in return for aiding in his education, and plans to wreak her revenge against those that killed her family – especially her brother.

This movie is as close to perfect as it could be; a huge amount of effort must have been spent writing the script.  Luc Besson has certainly done some great work here and the choice of cast unquestionably assisted, from the excellent Jean Reno as Léon, to the amazing Natalie Portman as Mathilda – she later went on to appear in Star Wars Episode I as Queen Amidala.  As always, Gary Oldman plays the perfect nutter/bad guy and Danny Aiello does a great job fitting into his role as an old-time Italian restaurant owner who likes to help acquaintances get things done.

The visuals are essentially spectacular in Léon, thanks to some excellent work by Thierry Arbogast – the Cinematographer.  The quality of the video in this transfer was very high, as you would expect from a DVD movie that implements the anamorphic widescreen method.  There was the odd artefact present as a result (in part) of the enhancement processes that were carried out, such as ring-like scratches that flashed up in the opening sequence.  With that said, the artefacts did not appear for a long enough time to be considered distracting in my mind.

The colour and contrast of the video was about right, with strong vibrant representations of colour while at the same time, still retaining a sturdy natural appearance.  The only real problem was the subtle –almost unnoticeable pixelation that occurred during the darker fast moving scenes, which is almost unavoidable given the current MPEG standard and compression rate used.  

Just been kicked out of the hotel
Léon’s Dolby 2.0 track tends to be skewed towards the front speakers, with only the slightest use of the rears, while the 5.1 remix is much more intense and principally springs to life during the action scenes.  The dialogue is unusually perfect, these days – especially in relation to action movies, placing too much emphasis on the score and effects often drowns the dialogue out.  This is not the case with this film, hence there would be no need to enable any of those vocal audio filters that most modern DVD players accommodate.

It is definitely worth mentioning that this version of Léon contains an isolated music score created by Eric Serra.  It is amazing how unwittingly easy it can be to view a movie without noticing its astute music score; suffice to say, you can listen to the music score alone while the movie progresses.  The use of Sting’s "Shape of My Heart" particularly helped to communicate the feeling of the film just as the credits rolled at the end.

There are not that many extra features provided on this disc, which was quite surprising to me.  On further investigation it became apparent that Luc Besson was the reason for this, as he did not wish to provide the extra features that were requested by Columbia Tristar and therefore, they had to look elsewhere for extra material to be placed on the disc.

That explains the unusual nature of the material that has been chosen.  For example, this is the first DVD that I have discovered with a section containing images of the posters used in the film’s international advert campaign.  Furthermore, it was somewhat interesting to witness the idiosyncrasy in approaches from country to country at promoting the movie.  For example, Italy’s poster featured both Mathilda and Léon walking towards the camera with Mathilda taking an admirable glance at Léon, while Russia, Sweden, Germany, Spain, Poland and Israel, all saw the close up of Léon that you now see on the cover of this DVD, although with slight variance in the shading and colours.

The menu system isn’t animated but as you progress from the main menu to the innards, the entire screen explodes with a very realistic effect.  On the other hand, it does got a bit annoying – certainly no where near as annoying as the Hollow Man menu system though!  As you would expect, there is the usual "talent files" section, containing selective information about: Luc Besson, Jean Reno, Natalie Portman and Gary Oldman.

Finally, there is a selection of trailers, one for "The Professional" and the rest from other Luc Besson Films, like "The Big Blue" and "The Messenger" – that Joan of Arc movie.  Notably absent was "The Fifth Element" trailer; I guess this must have been from a different distributor, or they simply couldn’t source the material.  

Training to be a cleaner
It has got to be said that Léon is an astounding movie; it is probably the best thriller you’ll ever see.  It is of course one of Luc Besson’s most famous and most popular movies, and is a better example of his style of movie making.  Together with the excellent visuals provided by Cinematographer Thierry Arbogast and Eric Serra’s subtle music score, I for one would highly recommend that everyone see this movie.

Even if you own the heavily cut original release, you should consider purchasing this version; a huge amount of fundamental constituents in the story are missing from the old version, and as a result, they dilapidate the movie.  Before this DVD came out, the only realistic way of viewing this version in the USA was with a highly prized Japanese Lazer disc import or using some specialised and possibly expensive equipment designed to play European PAL based media.

Granted, there aren’t that many special features, but you shouldn’t really expect much in that department from a movie that was conceived in the early to mid nineties.  The whole point of this release was to provide the full uncut international version of the movie to the USA audience, so if that is what you are after, then it is well worth the purchase.