If The Last Battle maintains a timeless feel due to its post-apocalyptic setting, then Besson’s next film: Subway is very much a child of the decade it was born in - the problem most people may have is that the decade is the1980s. Most films that exude a distinctly 80s feel are generally scorned as being seriously dated, but as a child of the 80s who formed their cinematic tastes in that era I have a lot of time for Subway. Christopher Lambert plays Fred, an intensely impulsive and irrepressible thief who is on the run from a group of heavies working for a high-powered Frenchman, from whom Fred has stolen an important document. To escape the goons Fred flees into a nearby Subway system and from there blackmails the Frenchman’s wife Helena - who he has fallen in love with - whilst also becoming acquainted with a variety of colourful characters that inhabit the bustling underground labyrinth.
Is Subway style over substance? Probably, it’s certainly self-consciously and aggressively hip and stylish – the sort of film that could only be made by a young director – but it has enough style for that in itself be all the justification you need to seek it out. Despite being set in an over-populated, dingy, cramped, fluorescently lit underground subway system, Subway is a visually arresting film. Besson – teaming up again with cinematographer Carlo Varini – demonstrates his talent for creating striking compositions and using lighting in interesting ways, both of which work beautifully within his signature tracking shots where he has characters walking directly towards or away from the camera. His direction is very energetic and frequently creative, coming up with unconventional ways to present rather conventional scenarios.
There isn’t much in the way of narrative, which does hurt the pacing of the film a little as Besson tries to work a way into the closing act, but its flimsy narrative is awash with wonderfully eccentric and memorable characters, from the spiky blonde, childlike punk that is its protagonist, to the upper class princess who is inspired by Fred’s zeal to rebel from her monotonous lifestyle, to a roller-skating purse snatcher with headlights on his feet, a hulk of a man named Big Bill who uses discarded chunks of machinery to work out, and Jean Reno walking around with drumsticks looking like a very Jewish Fonzarelli. It’s these characters and Fred’s childlike amusement when interacting with them that ensures there’s more to Subway than purely aesthetic charm.
The Disc: Subway is a very 80s film and has a very filmic, 80s look on Blu-ray. This means a softish image that is awash with a rather thick and fuzzy layer of grain. The opening sequences in particular exhibit very heavy grain, but this soon settled down into a consistently rich texture. Despite the grain compression on this BD-25, AVC encoded disc is pretty good, blocking and banding is extremely minor and shouldn’t be too noticeable during regular playback. Image detail isn’t exactly award winning, so the transfer generally looks soft with fine detail lacking, but at least there are no blatant signs of artificial sharpening in play outside of the occasional use of edge enhancements. It’s possible that some noise reduction may be in work, but it’s hard to say with films from this era as they tend to look soft and exhibit wishy-washy focus (as this film does in some scenes). Contrast and brightness levels are perhaps a touch high but they feel pretty naturalistic, black levels are solid and shadow detail is pretty good. Colours similarly have a rather understated, naturalistic feel that becomes a bold palette in the more colourful sequences; colour tone is pretty neutral so skin tones tend to look a little pale.
The only audio option is a French LPCM 2.0 which offers a no thrills presentation of the original stereo soundtrack that is free from any heavy handed surround sound effects. It’s a pretty good track although it generally sounds a touch hollow and a touch harsh on the ears, thanks mostly to treble response being a little rough. Bass is loose and occasionally deep, and while this track certainly lacks the smoothness of a more contemporary audio track, the master seems nicely cleaned up and audio hiss isn’t much of a problem. All you really need to know about the audio on this disc is that dialogue is nice and audible with only a little tearing, audio dynamics are solid, and the soundstage is ok. The only extra feature on this disc is the theatrical trailer presented in standard definition.