Though this may not be the masterpiece of cinema that Leon was, its merits – or lack thereof – have been debated over the past few years. From the miscasting of Milla Jovovich in the lead role (see what being the director’s wife can do for your career) to the juggling of historical events, when it originally hit the screens nearly ten years ago The Messenger was the subject of a critical mauling.
However, Jovovich’s splinter-giving performance is compensated for by the contributions of heavyweights like John Malkovich and a great outing by Faye Dunaway. The historical inaccuracies of the film have proved a bone of contention over the years, but who cares? It’s a work of fiction ‘adapted’ from six hundred year-old accounts, and the fact that the film at least looks gorgeous should take away any critiques French historians might have.
While I saw this movie on DVD a fair few years ago, it was great to see all the ambition and detail of Besson’s movie in high definition. Every ruffle, jaunty hat and decorative piece of architecture is pixel-perfect and even the bloody – and quite frankly scary – battle scenes are pin sharp in detail. From every hair on Ms. Jovovich’s bowl-like haircut, every glint of armour and raft of smoke looks silky smooth and superbly detailed.
After some research, I found that Sony had applied some ‘Edge Enhancement’ technology to the film which supposedly sharpens the edges of objects (this was applied to the DVD version too); however, I must admit I didn’t really see any issues with the transfer; the majority of the film looks clean, clear and visually stunning.
While Messenger‘s story is a little on the complex side, the premise for the movie is to try and tell the epic tale of the entire life of the Maid of Orléans in just over two hours, a grand task that Besson largely pulls off, focusing mainly on the battles and machinations of the French court rather than the latter end of the main character’s life, in which she was finally burnt at the stake.
Focused more on the military campaign, Besson really pulls out all the stops; horses, swords and shields are abundant, and the director uses his great eye for detail in well-choreographed fight scenes and epic battles. While the deeper and more character-driven moments are pushed to the back, there is still some time to address the religious aspects of Joan of Arc’s life for which she is most famous. Besson plays on the strength and striking appearance of his leading lady rather than over-worrying how much conviction Jovovich is able to put across in the part. This focus is for the best as even Malkovich’s turn as Charles VII, although fun and slightly over the top, is not the most convincing of roles he has played.
The discPicture-wise, as mentioned above, the conversion to HD is superb. Clear, clean and well produced. However, for an HD release, that’s your lot. Containing only the ‘international’ version of the film, the disc itself has very few extras or enticements, especially if you already own a copy on DVD. With this serious lack of special features and no real ‘extras’ (unless you count languages and menus as extras), exclusives or new material, this is another lazy release. However, you do get a little more attention to the soundtrack, with a very nice Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix of the film; but does a film really justify re-purchasing just for a nicely remixed score?
Although flawed, Messenger is highly watchable and, criticism aside, is a quasi-historical epic that will sit quite nicely next to your copy of Gladiator and Braveheart, demonstrating more heart and passion than brains and focusing firmly on the clashing of swords and epic speeches rather than historical accuracies. And really that’s all just fine. However, what isn’t fine is that once again studios are disregarding the format of Blu-ray with another lazy release of a film that could seriously have done with a lot more behind-the-scenes for your buck.
22 December 2008