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Rescued from death row by a top-secret agency, Nikita (Anne Parillaud) is slowly transformed from cop-killing junkie into bombshell with a license to kill. But when she begins the deadliest mission of her career-only to fall for a man who knows nothing of her true identity-Nikita discovers that in the dark and ruthless world of espionage, the greatest casualty of all...is true love.

Luc Besson
Anne Parillaud, Marc Duret, Patrick Fontana, Alain Lathiere
Writing Credits:
Luc Besson

Rated R.

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
French Dolby TrueHD 5.1
English Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Chinese Traditional
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 117 min.
Price: $26.98
Release Date: 12/2/2008

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Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


La Femme Nikita: Special Edition (1990)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 19, 2003)

Perhaps I'm overstating the case, but I believe that La Femme Nikita offered most Americans their first chance to witness the work of French filmmaker Luc Besson. While earlier efforts such as 1985's Subway and 1988's The Big Blue had reached an audience, I think Nikita marked the initial occasion on which a more general crowd learned of one of Besson's films.

I know this was the case for me, though I never actually took in a showing of Nikita until now, a decade after its initial release. Frankly, I probably would have continued to skip it were it not for the affection I've developed for many of Besson's other films such as 1994's Leon, 1997's The Fifth Element, and 1999's The Messenger. With those movies as a background, I decided to give Nikita a look.

Actually, I'd seen the American remake of Nikita, 1994's Point of No Return. I remember little of it other than the basic premise and the fact it didn't impress me. While I wasn't bowled over by Nikita, it definitely provides a better film experience that its American cousin.

Nikita tells the story of Nikita (Anne Parillaud), a junkie who kills a cop during an ill-fated robbery. Sentenced to a long jail term, a mysterious government agency takes her instead and makes her an offer she can't refuse: receive the necessary training and work for them or die. Sensibly, Nikita chooses the former option and ultimately becomes a deadly agent.

The movie covers a lot of ground and skips around a little too quickly at times; some basic elements - such as parts of Nikita's training or a love affair - pass by with very little attention. Actually, I can't say that the omitted shots were really necessary, but the quick jumps in time sometimes felt rather disconcerting.

One element that holds the film together is Parillaud's terrific performance as Nikita. You know those movies that take an allegedly unattractive woman and gradually turn her into a babe? Most of the time the transformation seems unconvincing since we can tell all along that the woman in question is beautiful. However, in the case of Nikita, we really buy Nikita's growth and development, largely through the portrayal given by Parillaud. She plays all sides of the character effectively, from the scungy, desperate junkie to the stubborn wild-child to the elegant, refined killer to the simple, happy woman in love. It's quite a remarkable piece of acting and it helps the film immeasurably.

Besson always has been a wonderfully visceral and visual director, but I must say his style seems oddly restrained here. Perhaps this impression more reflects my expectations that the actual content; I figured I'd see some explosive action set-pieces ala Leon but the scenes included don't rival that film's theatrics.

Even without those segments, La Femme Nikita remains a pretty compelling piece. The characters are a little sketchy but fairly well realized, and the acting - including a terrific cameo from Besson favorite Jean Reno - seems top-notch. Although not among the best Besson has to offer, it fits in well with the rest of his oeuvre and deserves a look.

One footnote: I have to believe that James Cameron was a fan of Nikita, because a couple of parts of Terminator 2 directly copy bits of Besson's film. For one, when Nikita's supervisor Bob (Tcheky Karyo) comes to visit her and her boyfriend Marco (Jean-Hugues Anglade), she refers to him as "Uncle Bob"; that name was used for the T-800 when John Connor introduces him to acquaintances. Also, a scene in which Nikita tries to smile closely resembles one in which the T-800 attempts to do the same. (The latter piece comes from the special edition cut and wasn't in the theatrical version of T2.) Coincidence? Kinda doubt it!

The DVD Grades: Picture B / Audio B / Bonus C-

La Femme Nikita appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This new release seemed to present a different transfer than the original DVD from 2000, but it didn’t appear to improve on that one.

Sharpness mostly looked good but could be a little loose at times. Most of the movie came across as tight and distinct, but occasional exceptions occurred. Wide shots tended to look a bit soft, mostly because the DVD suffered from some moderate edge enhancement. It also presented various examples of shimmering and jagged edges, and it sometimes seemed a little blocky and pixelated.

Those areas appeared worse than what I recalled from the old DVD, but at least the new one improved in another realm: print flaws. Both looked fairly grainy at times, but I believe those issues stemmed from the original photography. The new Nikita lacked the mild speckles and grit I saw during the original one, as this DVD looked surprisingly free from defects.

Colors looked largely solid, with clear and accurate hues on display. Red lettering during the credits came across as somewhat runny, but hues in the body of the film were acceptably tight. Black levels seemed deep and dense with good contrast, and shadow detail was appropriately dark without any excessive heaviness. The transfer of the Nikita special edition presented more flaws than I’d like, but it mostly looked very good.

One definite improvement between the two La Femme Nikita DVDs stemmed from the new one’s Dolby Digital 5.1. The original disc offered 5.1 only for the dubbed English mix; the original French track used Dolby Surround 2.0, and it lacked the same punch I heard from the 5.1 version. Happily, the special edition finally presented the French audio in 5.1, and it seemed noticeably stronger.

The soundfield didn’t appear terribly broad, but it opened up fairly well. The front speakers played the most significant part as they offered pretty positive stereo imaging for music. They also tossed in good effects as appropriate. The various elements sounded accurately located and they meshed together reasonably well. As for the surrounds, they weren’t terribly active, as they mostly reinforced music and effects. Nonetheless, they added a decent sense of dimensionality to the piece.

Because I don’t speak French, I couldn’t judge the intelligibility of Nikita. However, the lines seemed natural and they fit into the action neatly, unlike the still-poorly-looped English version. Effects came across as accurate and concise, while music appeared fairly full and distinctive. Bass response lacked much heft, but the track’s dynamics remained fine for a movie of this one’s era. I still can’t claim that I really liked the audio for La Femme Nikita, but I definitely felt this pretty good 5.1 mix seemed noticeably better than the old disc’s 2.0 track.

From what I know, director Luc Besson doesn’t care for DVD supplements, so he doesn’t participate in them. Perhaps that’s why this “Special Edition” release of La Femme Nikita comes with so few extras. We open with The Sound of Nikita, a four-minute and 49-second featurette. It combines movie clips, a few photos, and new interviews with composer Eric Serra as well as actors Tcheky Karyo and Anne Parillaud. Not surprisingly, Serra dominates the program as he relates some information about the way he scored Nikita. Too short to be really useful, “Sound” nonetheless includes some generally interesting comments.

After this we get Revealed: The Making of La Femme Nikita. Another new piece, the 20-minute and 37-second documentary uses the same format as “Sound”. We hear from actors Jean Reno, Anne Parillaud, Jean-Hugues Anglade, and Tcheky Karyo plus director of photography Thierry Arbogast. We learn a little about the project’s start as well as Parillaud’s casting and training, character insights, the original ending, and a few other tidbits. Unfortunately, “Revealed” includes way too many movie snippets, and the discussions of the roles fail to become very revealing. There’s maybe three minutes of quality material in this mediocre program.

At least it beats the bizarre Programming Nikita. This section splits into three smaller areas, each of which runs about 30 seconds. “Training Room”, “Vanity Room”, and “Bedroom”. Some remarks from Karyo pop up in the first, while Parillaud appears in the last two. These connect to places important to Nikita, but the clips seem almost totally useless. The actors’ comments pass very briefly and they say nothing helpful; heck, Parillaud’s statement for “Vanity Room” just repeats a bit from “Revealed”! After that, we simply watch some movie clips set in the various rooms. Who thought up this inane extra? It’s a total waste of time.

After this we find some publicity materials. We get a woefully brief Poster Gallery that features only two images. Next we locate the US theatrical trailer and more promos under the heading Other Great MGM Releases. This includes ads for Die Another Day, The Terminator, and Platoon.

Finally, the DVD includes an Easter egg. Actually, the packaging relates its existence, though not its location. Go to the special features menu and highlight “The Sound of Nikita”. Click to the left and this will activate a red light. Hit “enter” and you can watch a 23-second clip of Tcheky Karyo as he briefly discusses an element of the film. They should have just stuck this tidbit in the documentary; it’s a waste of time to “hide” such an inconsequential piece as an Easter egg.

I didn't like La Femme Nikita as much as I enjoyed some of Luc Besson's later works like Leon or The Fifth Element, but it's still a solid action film boosted by solid acting. Picture and sound quality both seem generally positive, but the collection of supplements offers very little of real interest.

For folks who own no copy of Nikita, I’d steer them toward this new special edition. It offers the best audio, while picture quality seems about as good as what I saw on the old disc and it also tosses in at least a few extras; they may not be very compelling, but they’re better than nothing. Fans who might consider the SE as a replacement for the “movie-only” release probably should stick with the latter. While I preferred the new disc’s audio and extras, the improvements didn’t seem to be remarkable, and I just don’t think the special edition merits a “double-dip”.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.3684 Stars Number of Votes: 19
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