The Last Battle Review
Luc Besson’s debut film may seem on paper like just another post-Mad Max pretender from the early 80s, but the approach is much more internal and playful than a typical post-apocalyptic action drama. What’s more the fact it plays out across ninety minutes without any real dialogue meant it was destined to be considered as yet another self-consciously arty French film. This is a bit of a shame, as The Last Battle is both a very humanistic film and extremely accessible if you have patience. Set in a desolate wasteland, Pierre Jolivet plays a character credited simply as “The Man” who escapes a ruthless local gang by building a motorised air glider from junk left behind in the remnants of civilisation. He eventually crashes near another ruined city where a scarred “Brute” is locked in a battle to break into a compound inhabited by “The Doctor”. After being brutally assaulted by The Brute, The Man escapes underground and eventually wanders through a secret entrance into the compound, where he strikes up a friendship with The Doctor that brings companionship into their lives.
The Last Battle establishes Besson firstly as a talented visualist, the whole visual style and cinematography of film belies its low budget origins and in particular Besson uses the depth of field and screen composition to excellent effect in the infrequent action sequences. The approach to narrative is extremely minimalistic, the fact that man has lost the ability to speak means there is no explanation for why the world is in ruins nor is there a tremendous amount of insight into the motivation of the characters. The Man’s primary goal in life is female companionship and the opening scene effectively establishes the desperation and futility of life in a barren world as we first meet The Man as he’s going at it with a blow-up doll which subsequently bursts. Besson presents the surviving human race as having become primal and savage– even The Man will kill to achieve his goals – but he also expresses the Joie de vivre of The Man when his environment conjures up some pleasant surprises. What redeems the protagonist and gives the film a heartfelt core is the friendship formed between The Man and The Doctor and devotion to amenities, which is genuinely poignant when placed in the context of such a hostile world. At 90 minutes long The Last Battle may be a touch overlong, but it’s far from boring.
The Disc: Optimum don’t have the best track record when it comes to Blu-ray, but I can’t see too many people having any serious issues with this 1080p AVC transfer. You’d be hard pressed to tell the film’s over 25yrs old now as the image is reasonably detailed for its age and has a rather moderate, soft layer of grain with no signs of noise reduction in play. The black and white cinematography looks gorgeous but contrast does seem a touch too high, with whites appearing hot and blacks a little crushed, so shadow detail isn’t the greatest around. At first I thought the blooming whites could’ve been deliberate to give a sense of intense sunlight (and it may be for many of the exterior sequences) but dark interior scenes are also affected.
The film is spread across a BD-25 disc with an average bit rate of 25.02Mbps and the AVC encode is solid enough, there is minor blocking and banding issues but they don’t really make their presence felt much in standard viewing. Edge Enhancement does make its presence felt on a couple of occasions, but it’s pretty minor. Print damage is very minimal and the image is impressively clean, but there are times when brightness flickering can be seen and other times when a slight colour tinge appears in intermitting frames. There are also sporadic appearances of a thin, light grey vertical line down the left hand edge of the frame and a thin reddish horizontal line across the bottom; both are too slight to distract.
Audio is a French LPCM 2.0 track that sounds pretty good indeed for an early 80s recording, it’s impressively clean and while bass may be a touch loose and hollow there’s still a satisfying depth to the sound - Treble isn’t bad either. The soundstage isn’t particularly expressive, mostly because the stereo track is encoded for surround with the rears reproducing the same sound as the fronts, but each element of the audio is well defined and Eric Serra’s score sounds quite good. Dialogue is also reasonably crisp and audible. The only extra on the disc is a trailer that is presented in non-anamorphic standard definition. Optional English subtitles are provided, but you don’t need them.