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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 8/3/99



Van Damage!

reviews by Todd Doogan, special to The Digital Bits

Jean-Claude Van Damme on DVD




Legionnaire: Millennium Series

Legionnaire: Millennium Series
1999 (1999) - Sterling Home Entertainment

Film Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C/B/A-

Specs and Features:

99 mins, R, widescreen (2.35:1), single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:05:53, at the start of chapter 15), Amaray keep case packaging, 2 theatrical trailers, audio commentary with Douglas Porch (historian & author of The French Foreign Legion), cast & crew bios, behind-the-scenes featurette, production photo gallery, video clips on the history of the French Foreign Legion, information on the weapons of the French Foreign Legion, trivia game, DVD-ROM features (including the complete screenplay and weblinks), animated film-themed menus with music, scene access (24 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: Spanish




The Quest
The Quest
1996 (1998) - Universal

Film Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B+/C+

Specs and Features:

95 mins, PG-13, widescreen (2.35:1), single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, cast and crew bios, production notes, film-themed menu screens, scene access (16 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1) & French (DD 3.0), subtitles: English & Spanish, Close Captioned




Sudden Death

Sudden Death
1995 (1997) - Universal

Film Rating: B

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): D/B+/C+

Specs and Features:

110 mins, R, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, cast and crew bios, production notes, film-themed menu screens, scene access (16 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1) and Spanish & French (DD 3.0), subtitles: English & Spanish, Close Captioned


Legionnaire: Millennium Series

This is Bill here, stepping in on Todd's Van Damage! fest to give you my quick two cents on Legionnaire. You know, every now and again, there comes a film that you enjoy in spite of yourself. Legionnaire is one of those. This big-budget, straight-to-DVD period picture, was produced by Edward R. Pressman (Wall Street, The Crow), and of course, stars the Muscles from Brussles himself. I mention that, because on the DVD's case, director Peter MacDonald gets little attention. You know you're in for an interesting ride, when a film's producer gets top billing. But it's the work of the director (who also did Rambo III), and cinematographer Douglas Milsome (Full Metal Jacket), that make this film worth a watch.

Here's the story: Van Damme plays a French boxer (Alain Lefevre) in 1920's Marseilles, who is forced by a local crime boss (named Galgani) to take a dive in a fight. Turns out Galgani's girl friend is also Alain's ex-fiancée, whom he left standing at the alter. But the girl forgives Alain (naturally - he IS the Muscles after all), and the two hatch a plan to run off to America together. Alain doesn't take a dive in the fight ('cause, again he IS the Muscles, and God forbid the Muscles ever look bad in a fight on-screen), but just as the escape plan is about to succeed, Alain's friend gets killed, and his girl gets captured by Galgani's men. Unfortunately, Alain has also shot and killed Galgani's brother (and you know that blood stuff is serious to these crime-boss types).

Desperately needing a new escape plan, Alain signs up for the French Foreign Legion, and is shipped to Africa, to help defend French territory against a native Arab rebellion. Along the way, Alain meets some new friends, including an African American who's fled injustice in the States, a former British Army Major with a gambling problem, and a naive Italian boy, who wishes to impress his girl back home by returning a hero. But things will not be easy. The only real way to escape the Legion is to survive your term of service, and the rebels have them outnumbered. And Galgani's sent his hired thugs into the Legion as well, to find Alain and extract revenge. Are you sitting on pins and needles yet?

Think Kickboxer meets Lawrence of Arabia, and you get the idea here. The script is filled with corny moments, and some of the acting (well, okay... mostly Van Damme's acting) leaves a lot to be desired. But the script also has a few really good moments too, and stiffer-than-cardboard that he is, you can't help but like Van Damme -- you can tell that he's really trying hard to be good here. The action is also good, and tons of money has been lavished on the production. The locations are great, the visuals are very nice, and there's lots of big, set-piece action. So it's best to just turn off the brain and enjoy it, because I suspect that you'll probably enjoy it anyway, and you'll have a much better time without that little voice in your head giving you crap for it.

The DVD is not anamorphic, and the video quality is a bit lacking -- not actually horrible, but there's lots of digital artifacting, edge-enhancement, and other analog problems. The color is good, but the contrast is off, with the brightest areas of the picture a tad too hot, while the blacks aren't as deep as they should be. The audio is adequate Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. But the extras here are impressive. You get audio commentary by an expert on the real French Foreign Legion, and lots of background info on them too. There are trailers (crappy quality but they're there), trivia, cast & crew information, and production photographs. The complete screenplay is also available via PC DVD-ROM. Heck even the menus are over the top -- almost every one is fully animated with sound.

Think of this as a really high-budget B-movie. There's some definite cheese here, but don't be surprised to find yourself having a good time. And you can't deny that the disc is packed. How's that for a recommendation? Okay, back to Todd....

The Quest

Jean-Claude Van Damme stars and directs (whoo-hoo!) this ode to championship fighting. Here he plays Chris Dubois, the leader of a child gang (a sort of 20-something Fagin from Oliver Twist) in 1920s New York. The Italian Mafia has him on the run, and Chris finds himself a stowaway on a cargo ship taken over by "pirates". He makes an impression with this rowdy group of buccaneers, led by Roger Moore (who's actually pretty good here) and they take to him... and eventually sell him, to a Siamese Island colony. Chris trains under a new martial arts discipline, and enters into a legendary fighting challenge known as Ghan-gheng. Pitted against the world's greatest fighters, does Chris have what it takes to become the greatest fighter ever? What do you think?

The story was co-written by Van Damme, and the man he portrayed in his first starring film Bloodsport, Frank Dux, which is kind of ironic when you think about it. The story is essentially the same, just with bigger sets and more comic book characters. It's a remake, really -- but one that delivers. I found The Quest to be fun, flashy, and a nice way to spend an hour and a half, when you don't have something better to do. Of all the JCVD movies I hadn't seen before now, I liked this one the best. It has a charm that you can't escape from. I didn't like the abrupt ending -- and I have to think that there was supposed to be more -- but overall it was a fine film, and a surprising one from Van Damme the director.

I found the DVD to be less enjoyable. The transfer is digitally noisy and grainy at first -- it does gets better as you watch it (or maybe you just get used to it). The bright day shots look great, but it's the dark scenes that end up looking tired and dirty. Universal could have done a better job, I think. Maybe by starting with a 16x9 transfer? The special edition material isn't here, and I for one missed it. JCVD should have done a commentary track. If there were one film in his whole collection of DVDs, this (and Hard Target) would have benefited most from audio commentary. The set design and costumes are pretty cool, but it would have been cool to have some text explanation of the different styles used in the film. Mostly, I would have liked to hear what JCVD thought of his own work, as the master of his own world on this film. I won't throw this away because of what it lacks, but maybe Universal could put out a better edition someday. Check this one out if you have a hankering' for Van Damme one day.

Sudden Death

Here's JCVD's one true chance at "breaking out" as it were. From this film on, you could see his grasp at the top of the action food chain slowly slipping. If Sudden Death were as successful as it was supposed to be (or could have been), JCVD would be taken more serious than he has been. With Hard Target and Time Cop, you could see the sheer potential of the guy. When this didn't do the business it should have, Van Damme started a downward spiral into straight-to-video land, that there is very little hope of escaping from.

Sudden Death follows a shamed fireman turned fire marshal, who is working a hockey game that ends up getting taken hostage by a mad man (a guy with a taste for killing the Vice President). It's up to JCVD to stop the man from destroying half the city of Pittsburgh, an arena full of innocent spectators, and his own family. Can he do it? Hhmm... I wonder....

Half the fun of this film is watching Powers Boothe pass the torch to Van Damme, as a potential superstar turned laughable video heavy. Both could have used this film, but failed to bring it up to Die Hard's standards. The fault lies not totally on their hands -- director Peter Hyams is equally to blame. Hyams has turned what could have been A-list talent into B-level talent. Hyams still holds loads of respect in the industry, as illustrated by Cameron "suggesting" to friend Arnold Schwartzenegger that Hyams be hired to direct Arnie's new film End Of Days. This came after the first-time music video director, who was initially hired, lost his frickin' mind, and started being a jerk on set (someone will have to explain to me how this happens in Hollywood -- a first timer becoming power mad without even one film under his belt). Okay, so -- of the three principles in this film: Van Damme, Boothe and Hyams, only Hyams shows any real chance of pulling out and becoming bankable again. We'll see after End Of Days comes out.

Sudden Death is full of unachieved potential, and at times it gets so repetitive of other films in this genre, that it becomes forgettable. I'm not a big fan of this film, but that's because I like Die Hard so much better. I think the whole "mad man terrorist versus lone wolf spoiler" is a joke that just doesn't need to be told anymore. Sudden Death could have been better, but it's not. So there.

This DVD pissed me off. Why the hell is it full screen, and not anamorphic widescreen? What was Universal thinking with that? As it stands, blown up to full frame, the print is watchable (though it still sucks). The sound is good, but I'm so irked by the video transfer, that I hardly noticed the nice bass booms, and the directional use of my speakers. There's a trailer, cast & crew stuff ,and some production notes for those who care.

Universal needs to redo some of their Van Damme DVDs. Give Timecop and Sudden Death widescreen, 16x9 transfers, and clean them up. And maybe they could even give The Quest and Hard Target some special edition stuff. Van Damme deserves that much at least. Don't you think?

Todd Doogan
todddoogan@thedigitalbits.com


Jean-Claude Van Damme on DVD

Legionnaire: Millennium Series


The Quest


Sudden Death


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