Movie: Television series that are derived from a movie are often pretty weak. Anybody ever watching My Big Fat Greek Life can attest to that. Some of the time though, thoughtful writing, good direction, and a talented cast can combine to effectively explore the themes of a movie in areas that a movie, by the time constraints imposed of a single movie if nothing else, in better ways. such is the case with a now finished cable television series known as La Femme Nikita also known as Nikita.
The French movie centered on a woman who was part of a burglary/murder of a pharmacy. Hoping to score some great drugs and maybe cash, she joined a few other losers and tried to knock the place off. After a grisly shoot out, she is caught and sentenced to die. In a twisted form of reprieve, she is recruited by a secret organization that does all the things that governments do, such as assassinations, with the proviso that she will be killed if she doesn't do everything she's told. Not exactly a great career choice, huh?
The television series glosses over the origin a bit and makes the lead character, Nikita (Peta Wilson), a street person who scrapes by to make a living. Caught up in circumstances beyond her control, this time innocent of murder, she is trained and put to work for an anti-terrorist unit known only as Section One. Her boss, Michael (Roy Dupuis), ruthless and cold, puts her in situations where if she really can't kill, as she has told him, she'll simply die and be done with. Sounds a bit like working in a major corporation to me (except for the death part).
The six disc set has the entire first season of 22 episodes which slowly expand upon the movie in a number of ways. One of the best being that Nikita's office romance is always understated but grows (with each season-sorry for the spoiler) in subtle ways. The characters are all pretty distinct too-the computer nerd isn't just a loser, Michael isn't just a cold control freak, and a host of others, all of whom develop over the course of the series. Some die off, some move on, but they generally aren't stagnating like too many shows that are produced by "suits" who don't want to mess with a profitable franchise.
Now, if the characters grow, that's a sign of usually good writing but what about the direction of the show? All too often, even in the best series, a hodge podge of directors will come in and often enough, screw things up by not having the knowledge of where the characters have been if not have a somewhat limited grasp on the technical aspects of a show. Of the nearly dozen directors from the first season, I don't think any were really bad just as the ensemble of writers seemed to do pretty well too (both groups having some rough edges in terms of how certain shows were handled).
If the technical and writing were solid, on average at least, what about the chemistry of the actors and their abilities? Thankfully, the two main characters, Peta (not related to the activist group, People Eating Tasty Animals) and Roy, were great together. That said, many of the supporting cast were actually even more talented, or better written in some episodes, the first who comes to mind is Alberta Watson as Madeline, which made this a lot of fun to watch. In all, I think the team effort here showed a lot more than in similar series and that the producers spent a lot of time listening to fans (on internet websites), adjusting the content and direction when it made sense, speaks volumes as to why the show lasted five seasons.
I liked the original movie a lot. It had a gritty edge to it that most domestically made movies typically lack. That said, I was a snob about the series while it was in production. How could it possibly match the intensity of the movie, I thought. Well, it was definitely a show of it's own with it's own strengths and weaknesses, and a different personality to match. After watching this one over the last couple of days, I can't wait to see the following seasons on dvd since a few friends have indicated that they liked the first season but later seasons were even better. If they are presented like this boxed set, they too will have earned a Highly Recommended rating.
Picture: The picture was presented in the original 1.33:1 ratio full frame color. While there were some compression artifacts once in awhile, this was so much better than my cable television version, I'd be lying to you if I said I noticed any major problems. From the flesh tones to the dark scenes (which were sometimes lit poorly/too low on purpose per the commentary track to add to the feel), a lot of work went into this one.
Sound: The sound was presented in Dolby Digital Surround stereo English with optional English, French or Spanish subtitles. The audio did have some separation that added to the suspenseful moments and was always clear and crisp.
Extras: Unlike some older shows, this one had some good extras to check out. There were two commentary tracks, one on the first episode by Joel Surnow, writer Robert Cochran, and Director Jon Cassar and on the season finale by Joel. Both tracks added some background to the story and the series in general-it's only a shame that there weren't more of them for the legions of fans. The next extra was a bunch of deleted scenes, most of which were good enough that they could've been kept in-and all of them had an optional commentary track to explain why they were cut. There was also a Making Of... documentary that showed the cast and crew making the show and explaining it a bit. Lastly, there was a great paper insert booklet that provided details for the episodes and some nice pictures of the cast. On a related note, the box itself was kind of flimsy but the dvd holder, which was one of those ones where all the dvd holders are made of hard, clear plastic, seemed quite durable.
Final Thoughts: Lots of bang for your buck here made this one a lot of fun to watch and enjoy. Heck, it converted me into something of a fan-not an easy task considering how long some friends have been working on me over it. Cast, crew, value, and decent extras combine to make this a winner. In the future, maybe the producers can get cast members to provide audio commentaries or at least some of the directors and technical crew. Good job!
PS: For a more detailed view of this show, go visit La Femme Nikita's Best Fan site where hordes of fans gather to provide lots of great information.