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Compared to all the other movies in Jean-Claude Van Damme’s filmography, LEGIONNAIRE ($30) is like a breath of fresh air. Unlike the majority of Van Damme’s films, LEGIONNAIRE actually requires the action star to act and give a real performance. Maybe that is why LEGIONNAIRE failed to find a distributor for theatrical release, I guess the studios felt that no one would pay to see Van Damme act. This is a shame since the 35 million-dollar LEGIONNAIRE turns out to be quite entertaining, plus Van Damme proves himself up to the thespian challenge.

Set in 1925, LEGIONNAIRE stars Jean-Claude Van Damme as Alain Lefevre, a boxer who runs afoul a crime lord in Marseilles. Lefevre is supposed to take a dive during a fight, but doesn’t. On the run from the crime lord’s men, Lefevre joins the French Foreign Legion to get out of the country and go where no one will find him. Posted to Morocco, Lefevre goes through brutal training to prepare for an upcoming battle against Arab forces. Although running only 99 minutes, LEGIONNAIRE has an epic sweep, a good story and solid performances. Director Peter MacDonald captures the feeling of old-style Hollywood movie- when the central focus was on storytelling and entertainment. The cast of LEGIONNAIRE features Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Daniel Caltagirone, Steven Berkoff, Nicholas Farrell and Ana Sofrenovic.

LEGIONNAIRE comes direct to video as the debut title in Sterling Home Entertainment’s Millenium Series of DVDs. From what I’ve seen, I have to say I am impressed with Sterling’s first effort. However, had Sterling opted to support the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 wide screen televisions, they would have proved their complete commitment to the DVD format. Despite this omission, LEGIONNAIRE is presented with its 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio in tact. The Letterboxed transfer faithfully serves Douglas Milsome’s beautiful cinematography with a crisp and very well defined image. Warm, richly saturated colors effortlessly reproduce on this DVD, without a hint of color noise or distortion. Digital compression artifacts were almost non-existent thanks to superb DVD authoring.

The Dolby Digital soundtrack is of the two-channel variety, decoding to standard Dolby Surround. The mix is very pleasing, with strong channel separation across the front soundstage and solid bass. Dialogue reproduction is quite clean, however the surrounds suffer from the frequency limitations of Dolby Surround and could have been far more effectively deployed in a 5.1 channel mix. This is, of course, a minor quibble. Spanish subtitles have been encoded into the DVD.

The interactive menus are beautifully designed, fully animated and contain music. Through the menus one can access the scene selection feature (with full motion preview), theatrical trailers and the DVD’s supplemental features. Supplements include an audio commentary featuring writer Sheldon Lettich, behind-the-scenes interviews with cast and crew, plus an extensive look at the French Foreign Legion. LEGIONNAIRE also has a couple of DVD-ROM features that allow one access to the complete screenplay, plus Internet links.

All in all, Sterling Home Entertainment’s first entry in their Millenium Series is quite good. LEGIONNAIRE is an entertaining film that will appeal to more than Jean-Claude Van Damme’s usual audience, plus the DVD looks and sounds terrific. Once Sterling stars supporting the anamorphic enhancement, their Millenium Series DVDs will be a force to be reckoned with.




DVD reviews are Copyright 1999 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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