The Messenger

The Messenger (1999)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Milla Jovovich, John Malkovich, Faye Dunaway, Dustin Hoffman
Extras: Documentary, Isolated Score, Trailers, Talent Files

To follow the rule of multiples, we have recently seen a few films that recount the events surrounding the French heroine Jeanne D’Arc. One of the most prolific versions of the film comes from native Frenchman Luc Besson, the director who also brought us such exciting films as "The Fifth Element." Unlike the previous futuristic action film, "The Messenger" is a majestic epic however that is recounting the story of the Virgin of Orleans in a way that is very faithful to the real historic events. But even in the real historic light, the story of Jeanne D’Arc is a stunning tale of bravery and faith that is just as exciting as the myth – if not more. Columbia TriStar Home Video has tied up a DVD package for this film that does justice to this ambitious movie and makes it a splendid entry in the market.

As child already, Jeanne is a true believer in God. Continuously seeking to find redemption and absolutism by the church, she almost becomes a constant visitor of the local church. When her family is killed in front of her eyes, she is adopted by her uncle and aunt and taken to a new home. But Jeanne retreats into her own world. A world of spirits where she can hear God talking to her. One day then she gets a message in one of her hallucinating dreams, the duty to save France from the English who fare war with France at the time. She is chosen to bring freedom back to her fellow people and she grows up with only that one goal in mind.

Some time later, Jeanne (Milla Jovovich) has already build a reputation for herself as a saint who can move mountains, she faces the ultimate challenge. France is about to snap under the pressure of the English army and it would take a miracle to free the nation. Jeanne is determined to save her home country and asks the King (John Malkovich) for an army. At first ridiculed, the King and his people soon learn that Jeanne has indeed powers they were not prepared for. Her faith, steadfast belief and determination helps her build a loyal following wherever she goes. Reluctantly the King eventually agrees to give Jeanne his support and with an army of men she challenges the English army that easily exceeds them by numbers. Soon she goes from victory to victory and nothing or no one can stop her. But soon she becomes such a force that she poses a threat to the King himself, and instigated by the King’s mother (Faye Dunaway) a witch hunt ensues with the sole purpose to break the myth of Jeanne D’Arc.

"The Messenger" is an epic motion picture with sweeping images that capture the viewer’s imagination as well as giving an impression of the time. The production design, the costumes and the landscapes are beautifully crafted and presented in the movie and create lasting images in the viewer’s mind.
Milla Jovovich is a revelation as Jeanne D’Arc and shows an incredible acting talent, carrying the entire movie. Considering that she is in almost every scene of this 158-minute film, this is no easy feat. She can be ferocious, vulnerable, agonized and saint-like, all at the same time. Although I had my doubts about her ability to pull off such a demanding role at first, I was soon mesmerized by her powerful performance. I could not even think of any other actress that could fit the bill as perfectly as she did, always maintaining an inner beauty, yet daring to go to such utter extreme portrayals of weariness and open fanaticism. The courage and determination in Jovovich’s portrayal of this historic figure is simply stunning and gives the film much more weight that it is given due. But even smaller parts are perfectly cast and once again prove Besson’s taste and skill in selecting the right people for the right part as he did numerous times before.

Columbia TriStar Home Video is presenting "The Messenger" is a beautiful <$16x9,16x9 enhanced> <$PS,widescreen> presentation that brings out every bit of detail in the film’s transfer. The are no blemishes, speckles or dust in the transfer, giving the film a very clean and solid look. With very good definition, the transfer maintains every bit of detail of the elaborate production design, details that give the film a very natural look. The colors are very natural throughout the presentation with bold and deep blacks that create solid shadows yet never lose detail, and highlights that create naturally looking counterpoints. Fleshtones are absolutely faithfully rendered, as are all the subtle hues and gradients inherent in the many warm and earth-tone dominated scenes. Some signs of edge-enhancement are evident however, creating a slightly sharpened look for the picture, and introducing some ringing artifacts. The compression is without flaws and does not exhibit compression artifacts of any sort. It ensures that every bit of detail is maintained to give this film the best presentation possible.

"The Messenger" contains a 5.1 <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio track and a <$DS,Dolby Surround> track. The <$5.1,5.1 mix> is rather aggressive and active. Creating an expansive sound field, the track uses the surrounds effectively throughout the film. Sometimes to create a subtle and breathing ambient atmosphere, at other times plunging the viewer right into the battlefield filled with war cries, screams and clinging weapons, the audio track is always carefully balanced to create the right atmosphere for each individual scene. Eric Serra has once again created a riveting score for this movie that is also perfectly presented as part of the film’s mix. Using simple traditional themes and instruments sometimes, Serra also builds tension using a full-size orchestra, with majestic motifs and scores at others. The track is perfectly blending with the images on screen, always embellishing what we see, and always emphasizing and enhancing the emotions created by the stylish photography. With a good bass extension the track also has the necessary punch without ever becoming overly obtrusive. While still rather good, The Dolby Surround track lacks some of the lively dynamics of the <$5.1,5.1 mix> and the lack of discrete surrounds and a real bass extension makes the track somewhat less impactful. Eric Serra’s full music score for the film is also part of the release as a separate audio track, presented in its full 5.1 Dolby Digital surround glory. Listening it while watching the movie shows just how powerful a well spotted and orchestrated score can be to emphasize the images we see.

"The Search For The Real Joan Of Arc" is a HBO documentary that can also be found on this DVD. Hosted by Milla Jovovich, the documentary takes a look at history in direct comparison to the events in the movie. It is a great featurette that helps understand some of the events in the movie a little better by putting them into their bigger historical context. With cast and crew interviews as well as interviews with descendants of the real Jeanne D’Arc, it is a great addition to the release. Theatrical trailers and talent files are also part of this release from Columbia TriStar Home Video.

After watching "The Messenger" I found that the real events surrounding Jeanne D’Arc are in actuality even more compelling than the myths surrounding her. Finally able to associate a real person with motivations and palpable ideals with the historic character gives her renewed weight. Forget what you have heard about the film before. Besson brings us a masterfully told story with incredibly lavish pictures. Columbia TriStar’s DVD gives you the chance to fully enjoy the movie in all its glory with some interesting added content. For every fan of historic epics, "The Messenger" is a must-see movie!