Our reviews of La Femme Nikita: Special Edition (published July 15th, 2003), La Femme Nikita: The Complete Second Season (published July 20th, 2005), La Femme Nikita: The Complete Third Season (published August 3rd, 2005), La Femme Nikita: The Complete Fourth Season (published September 20th, 2006), La Femme Nikita: The Complete Fifth Season (published January 24th, 2007), and La Femme Nikita (Blu-Ray) (published December 2nd, 2008) are also available.
Set against the improbable backdrop of high-stakes terrorism and covert operations, La Femme Nikita is the story of one woman's eternal struggle to stay alive and sane, as well as look impossibly beautiful while doing it. The 22 episode first season of La Femme Nikita bows on DVD in fine form with a dash of extra content.
Facts of the Case
Cribbing from the very helpful booklet:
Leading ladies who kick ass are not a recent invention by any means, but even a casual observer might notice their increased popularity in recent years. Not only are their numbers on the rise, but the modern action heroine is far stronger in mental toughness, physical capability, and forthright sexuality. In other words, they wreak havoc equally well with their male counterparts but without sublimating their distinctively feminine qualities or sacrificing their physical credibility.
Indeed, that seems to be part of their popular charm—women get strong, capable role models, and men get to enjoy the same mayhem as in traditional "guy flicks" but with an additional erotic touch. The Bionic Woman, Wonder Woman, and Charlie's Angels of the 1970s have given way to Xena, Lara Croft, Sarah Pezzini, and Sydney Bristow, among others. As the Virginia Slims ads used to say, you've come a long way, baby! Leading the charge near the front of this trend was a modestly budgeted syndicated show from Canada, La Femme Nikita.
La Femme Nikita first came to life on the small screen in 1997, closely following in the wake of the debut of Xena: Warrior Princess in 1995. Though drawing upon the source material of Luc Besson's acclaimed film Nikita in 1990 and the poorly received remake Point of No Return in 1993, the television show had the ability to strike off on its own and develop its own unique style in picture, sound, and storytelling.
On the surface, the look and style of La Femme Nikita is as deliberate as it is coolly aesthetic. The creators describe the artistic style of La Femme Nikita as "ten minutes into the future," where production designer Rocco Matteo gives the sets an advanced, technological air of sophistication but with a cold style that mirrors the remorseless nature of Section One. I had not quite noticed until the commentary for Nikita that Section is a true paperless office. Memos, policies, briefings, tactical plans, every last little administrative trivia is created, viewed, and transferred electronically with nary a murdered tree in sight. A small, but consistently applied point, this is the sort of deliberate touch that makes La Femme Nikita stand out.
In keeping with the cool style of Section One aesthetic (and in light of the production limitations), the locations are predominantly North American or European, and frequently urban or industrial. (After all, Toronto, Canada can hardly stand in for a sleepy siesta town in a sweltering tropical climate, now can it?)
Perhaps even faster than the look, the sound of La Femme Nikita slips into your mind. Avoiding mainstream music in favor of an alternative, edgy, and just plain what the hell is that? sound, this is the sort of music that fits in well in the clubs, raves, and other suitably unusual locations that are La Femme Nikita's forte. The main theme by Mark Snow (The X-Files) and a few well-known groups (including Depeche Mode and Enigma) are recognizable, but you should appreciate them all, including the original contributions from composer Sean Callery (24). Outside of La Femme Nikita, I would not listen to much of it, but inside La Femme Nikita, it rocks.
The backdrop of La Femme Nikita is a serious, far from mundane amalgam of terrorism and espionage stories from history and fiction. At the time, as executive consultant Joel Surnow (24 co-creator) mentions in his "Mercy" commentary, the stories of threatened terrorism by all sorts of vastly destructive means (explosive, biological, chemical, and nuclear) seemed far more like distant fantasy than they do in our post-9/11 era. Indeed, the idea of cold-hearted, ruthless pragmatists and utilitarians running an ultra-covert anti-terrorist agency with expendable, retrained criminals as agents seems somewhat less fantastic than it seemed just a few years ago. (Then again, hard-left certified nutjobs like Michael Moore might think we arrived there some years ago.)
However, the heart of La Femme Nikita is the struggle of Nikita (code name "Josephine") to retain her humanity against the remorseless omnipresent control of Section One. Though the series broadened as it went on to flesh out the supporting characters with dual-plot episodes, in the first season La Femme Nikita focused almost entirely upon Nikita's daily struggle, placing great demands upon Peta Wilson (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). An unknown then and only slightly more familiar now, Peta Wilson is plainly blessed with athletic blond beauty, credible physical ability, and emotional range. One moment coldly mowing down terrorists, and the next wracked with painful conscience at her deeds, Peta Wilson handles the extremes in her character with acting aplomb.
Though the first season does not give them much of an opportunity to flesh out their roles, the supporting cast shows signs of the appeal that later flourished. Eugene Robert Glazier (24, New Blood) and Alberta Watson (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Hackers) spark well with each other and stand in cold, logical opposition to the subversive/lover duo of Nikita and Michael. I might even venture to say they are a more credible couple than their younger counterparts!
Matthew Ferguson has the necessary look and techno-poise down pat, but only gets one chance to really strut his stuff ("Noise"). Don Francks (Finian's Rainbow, Inspector Gadget) is not so lucky. Originally written as a leering, dirty old man sort for the first few episodes, the writers veered his character off into a more wise uncle territory, but never gave Francks more than a moment to let loose his charm. Still, we can be doubly thankful, as later seasons finally let Francks give Walter a full life and the role was steered away from Woody Allen territory before it got too creepy. On the guest star front, top-notch character actor Maury Chaykin (Nero Wolfe, Dances With Wolves, WarGames) turns in a compelling, touching performance in "Innocent." Of all the episodes in the first season, that just may be my favorite thanks to Mr. Chaykin. On second thought, Harris Yulin's (Clear and Present Danger) nicely sinister turn in "Gambit" is worthy of consideration as well.
The full-frame video transfer is fairly good. The picture is medium-soft and slightly fuzzy/grainy, though quite clean and free of defects. A scattering of scenes are strongly grainy and in some night scenes, the details tend to get lost in the darkness. Flesh tones are accurate and the colors, as one would hope from such a stylish show, are consistently solid and well saturated.
What a pity that La Femme Nikita did not have the budget for a rock 'em sock 'em 5.1 sound mix! Between the kick-ass soundtrack and action, this show would take full advantage. However, we must settle for a competent Dolby Surround track. The front soundstage is clear and wide, though not terribly active, with good subwoofer support and even some fill from the rear surrounds. The deep resonance of the opening logo in each episode always brings a smile!
The extras are a modest package. The 12-minute making-of featurette is an appetizer, setting up the basics of La Femme Nikita but only whetting your appetite for details. The commentaries for "Nikita" (executive consultant Joel Surnow, creative consultant Robert Cochran, and director Jon Cassar) and "Mercy" (Joel Surnow) are informative and candid in evaluating the genesis and early development of La Femme Nikita. One gem from Surnow was admitting that most of the audience didn't pay attention to the heavy expository briefings that Operations (Eugene Robert Glazer) was forced to give—they just wanted to see Niktia get a gun and go to town. Indeed! The "cancelled" scenes (totaling about 12 minutes) have optional commentary (again by Joel Surnow) and are interesting more for the context from the commentaries than the substance of the scenes themselves. The name is a nice touch—whoever thought that up should get a cookie.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I like La Femme Nikita. I like La Femme Nikita a whole lot. With that in mind, I have to admit that Roy Dupuis seems to owe his prowess as Michael to Botox injections. To be fair, his role does call for an enigmatically impassive man, but all the time? Whether the moment calls for Michael to be a cold killer, romantic man, or emotionally torn, his typical flat affect varies by only a few degrees. I have not seen him in any other roles, so I cannot say whether this is typical of his acting abilities, but I hope not. On the positive side, Roy plays Michael with such mystery that he always keeps the audience (and Nikita) guessing. He may let his guard slip for a brief moment, but even Nikita (and the audience) can't be sure he's not fooling.
The stories are deadly serious, but this is one television show that knows when not to take itself too seriously. La Femme Nikita looks good and sounds fine, with sober writing balancing action, sensuality, and drama. If La Femme Nikita is your bag, baby, then just wait for the Alias box sets coming soon to a DVD retailer near you!
The court orders that Warner proceed to release the remaining seasons of La Femme Nikita forthwith! It is so ordered.
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