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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
Joan of Arc (TV) (1999)

"Once in a time known as the Dark Ages, there lived a legend whose coming was foretold by the great prophet Merlin. It was said that after nearly a century of war this young maiden would unite her divided people, and lead them to freedom. It did not say how..."
- Opening quote

Review By: Robert Mandel   
Published: May 09, 2000

Stars: Leelee Sobieski, Powers Boothe, Neil Patrick Harris, Robert Loggia, Peter Strauss, Peter O'Toole
Other Stars: Jacqueline Bisset, Olympia Dukakis, Maximillian Shell, Shirley MacLaine
Director: Christian Duguay

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence)
Run Time: 02h:20m:00s
Release Date: September 28, 1999
UPC: 012236102328
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ A-AC+ C-

DVD Review

My expectations for Joan of Arc lay between mistrust for television miniseries and a hope based on a cast that includes Leelee Sobieski, Jacqueline Bisset, Powers Boothe, Olympia Dukakis, Neil Patrick Harris (will he ever live down Doogie?), Robert Loggia, Maximillian Shell, Peter Strauss, Shirley MacLaine (cameo), and the indomitable, scene stealing Peter O'Toole, who is brilliant in his Emmy®-winning performance as Bishop Cauchon. Of course, many a bad movie has been filled with excellent casts (Ishtar and Death on the Nile come to mind), but ignore the accents or lack thereof, and this cast does not disappoint. Amazingly, with the exception of Leelee, most of the cast was hired only days before their scenes were shot! I shouldn't have been worried however; it was no accident the series was nominated for 11 Emmys, (albeit) from best hairstyling and best make-up to best-supporting actor and actresses in a miniseries or made-for-TVmovie.

Following the death of his mother, screenwriter Michael Alexander Miller became engrossed with the story of Joan D'Arc. A lawyer fluent in French, Miller was able to read the original transcripts from D'Arc's trial for heresy. From this he was able to develop a much more human, clever Joan D'Arc, who is brought to life with a thoughtful and measured performance by Leelee Sobieski. Leelee (Deep Impact), fresh off her Lolita-esque work in Eyes Wide Shut, passed on another role she very much wanted, because she wisely decided that she "could play crazy until she was 100, but could only play Joan of Arc," in the proper age range of 16-19 "once in a lifetime." It was hired gun, writer Ronald Parker, who took Miller's script and brought forth the incredibly convoluted political intrigue during the time of the Hundred Years War, known as the Dark Ages, which makes the film far more well-rounded and fascinating.

I am glad I missed this on network television; I think between the commercial interruptions, the two day airing, and the inability to rewind (unless you taped it, of course) I would have been thrown for a loop with all of the political ins and outs. Despite a bit of dumbing down (read: explanation of on-screen events by way of having characters verbalize them), I did not find the story or the language vacuous or over-Americanized, which is a square about-face from the fairly ridiculous Noah's Ark cum Waterworld miniseries.

Instead, Joan of Arc is the extraordinary story of a farm girl from Lorraine, who begins to hear the voices of Saints Catherine, Margaret, and Michael at the age of 16. Estranged from her family by her father (Boothe) for her outrageous but firm beliefs, Joan is taken in by the local church, where she is taught history, geography and piety. As the prophecies these voices foretell come true, the village of Domremy where Joan was born (1422) begins to associate her with the legend of the Maid of Lorraine. As told by Merlin, France will be destroyed by a wicked woman, only to be saved a young maiden. Despite an ever-increasing faith in the voices and visions, and regardless of her own growing faithful, Joan refuses to believe that she is The Maid. Still she begins to drive people together for the greater good, and with every move attract more admirers and followers.

It is in 1429 when she is led by the voices to reunite France and Burgundy under the reign of the childish yet cunning Dauphin Charles (Harris) to fight against the invading English. It is with a combination of faith, will, and determination that Joan turns unbelievers into believers, selfish men into an army, and Charles into a king. From illiterate peasant to French patriot, visionary, living legend, and army commander. At this point she becomes a threat because of her popularity, and Charles betrays her to the Church and to the alliance of Burgundy and England. This becomes the truest test of her faith, since she is forewarned that the betrayal will occur, but only for the betterment of France and its people. Because of her faith in god and loyalty to a united France, Joan submits to capture by the Burgundians to stand trial for heresy in English occupied Rouen (despite ratification of her visions earlier by the church), by former spiritual advisor Bishop Cauchon (O'Toole) and Brother John Le'Maitre (Schell). In an interesting twist, this screenplay proposes that Joan, (despite originally submitting to the church, then recanting her confession) rather than abandon her faith and her people, chose fire and martyrdom over hypocrisy.

To give Joan's surroundings an authentic feel, the film was shot mostly in the Czech Republic, which is generally the movie stand in for medieval France and Europe, as it managed through quick capitulation to escape relatively unscathed during WWII. Owing to the fact that 45 of 52 sets were filmed in actual castles, the background is virtually authentic. That is, with a few exceptions. Many of the castles are in disrepair and it was necessary to digitally clean up structural problems, and there is an entirely bad CGI scene looking down upon the fortress at Orleans. The rest of the CGI enhancements are well done and not noticeable, upon one viewing at least. For instance the scenes where 200 extras at a church were layered into 2,000 people, 4,000 crowd extras were manipulated into 12,000, and a few hundred extras in battle were cloned into thousands in the Battle at Tourelles.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: Artisan presents this film as an anamorphically enhanced 1.66:1 widescreen transfer, rather than the original 1.33:1 shown on television. The print is almost entirely devoid of nicks and scratches, and colors are mostly dark, but sharp and rich throughout. Despite the fact that the overall tone is saturated in red, in order, I believe, to give an authentic feel to the film, the flesh tones are natural in appearance. There is some minor aliasing distortion, and a few other occasional transfer issues to be mentioned as well. There is evidence of some pixelation (i.e., Chapter 2, approx. 5m:30s), a rare case of washed out color and pluming (Chapter 5, approx. 21m:30s), and some graininess (i.e., Chapter 5, 24m:20s). Regardless of a few minor flaws, this is a beautifully rendered transfer, with excellent detail and clarity. Artisan should be applauded for streeting such a wonderful, anamorphic widescreen transfer rather than a full frame or Pan & Scan mess.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: There is an admirable Dolby Surround 2.0 track, which resides mostly on the front stage, and is center channel focused. The surrounds to get a bit of play when the musical score rallies with the on screen heroism, or in fade-outs to the commercials. The dialogue is fairly well understood, withstanding the lack of subtitles (although it would still be nice to have them).

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 36 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Production Notes
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The single-sided picture disc contains minimal extras. Most of the menus are non-animated but interactive, the sole exception being the neat animated scene access (36 cues). There are cast and filmmaker bios and filmographies, and short but interesting production notes, as well. My biggest complaint is the lack of subtitles, which I always find helpful when a film is both thick with words and foreign names.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

All in all, Joan of Arc is an admirable presentation of a very admirable women, especially as strong female role models are hard to come by in the movies. Despite a few flaws and little in the way of extras, this is a wonderful transfer and an interesting telling of a grand story, that is fine entertainment addition for the entire family.


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