Writer-director Neil Jordan’s breakthrough film is a brilliant, noir-infused love story. Bob Hoskins (who snagged an Oscar nomination for his performance) plays George, a small-time loser employed as a chauffeur to an enigmatic, high-class call girl. His fascination with her leads him on a dangerous quest through the sordid underbelly of London, where love is a weakness to be exploited and betrayed. Criterion is proud to present Mona Lisa in a director-approved special edition.
The Criterion Collection's original, long out-of-print DVD for Neil Jordan's Mona Lisa presents the film on a single-layer disc in the aspect ratio of about 1.77:1. The standard-definition presentation was transferred from a 35mm interpositive. The image has not been enhanced for widescreen televisions.
For what it is it's not a terrible presentation: the image is sharp for the format and definition is decent if unspectacular, though the fact the picture is non-anamorphic dampens things quite a bit. Colours are also muted, reds and blues looking especially dull (blues are closer to black at times) and black levels are fairly murky. The source print has been cleaned up well enough, though there are still noticeable bits of damage scattered about, from marks to scratches. Despite the "restoration" work being half-decent (or the fact the print is in good condition) the encode is pretty weak, even for an early non-anamorphic DVD presentation. Grain, while present, has been managed and scrubbed away a bit, which isn't a surprise, but the picture still has a noisy, digital look.
On an old 4:3 CRT back in the day the presentation was fine enough though nothing special, but by today's standards it's incredibly weak.
The film is presented with its original mono track (presented in Dolby Digital 1.0) and its intelligible but nothing special. There is a bit of noise and it shows its age, but it has a bit of range to it.
Despite the disc have the at-the-time premium price tag of $39.95, the disc only comes with one significant feature and that's an audio commentary featuring director Neil Jordan and actor Bob Hoskins, originally recorded in 1997 for their Criterion's LaserDisc edition The two have been recorded separately and then edited together, typical of Criterion’s LaserDisc tracks, though Jordan probably has more airtime. Jordan of course talks about the project and its development, sharing details about the script's many drafts, addressing some of the head-scratching elements that appear in the film, like the reasons for the inclusion of the rabbit. On top of production stories (like George Harrison insisting there be no full-frontal male nudity or Jordan being forced to insert that Genesis song) he also talks about the film’s imagery, the characters, and the themes he wanted to touch on with the film. Hoskins talks about his performance and working with his co-star, Cathy Tyson, and shares his thoughts on some of Jordan’s additions to the story. We also get to hear about a scene where the two characters become more intimate with one another, which Hoskins recalls, along with Tyson, objecting to; thankfully the scene was cut. It’s packed with great material, delving deeply into the material and not just the technical aspects. What's more, like a lot of Criterion’s edited commentaries of the time, it moves rather briskly.
It's a good track but doesn't really make for the lack of anything else, the only other features being the film's theatrical trailer (missing from Criterion's Blu-ray upgrade) and an insert. The insert doesn't feature the usual essay, though, and instead only features a short one-page note written by Jordan, the director briefly outlining why he made Mona Lisa. This is sort of disappointing when you consider Criterion's record of excellent booklets, at least at the time.
And that's it. If it was priced lower it would have been a less frustrating edition, but for the premium price one would expect a lot more.
Not worth tracking down as there are other editions out there more worthwhile, including Criterion's own Blu-ray upgrade.