Release Date(s)1997 (July 11, 2017)
Studio(s)Gaumont/Columbia TriStar (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B+
Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) is a down-on-his-luck New York City cabbie. Retired from military service as a space fighter pilot, he’s been having a hard time adjusting to civilian life. Things begin to change however, when a mysterious and beautiful girl named Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) literally falls out of the sky and lands in the back seat of his cab. Before long, it seems as if everyone on Earth (and off it too) is after either Leeloo or Dallas himself, including a priest (Ian Holm), a crime lord (Gary Oldman), the military, the police, a strange group of alien thugs, and even a bizarre radio show host (Chris Tucker). Little does Dallas know, Leeloo may be the key to solving a thousand year old mystery... and possibly the only thing standing between the Earth and the threat of destruction by an unthinkable Evil.
The Fifth Element is an incredibly hard film to categorize. It’s science fiction certainly, but it’s also infused with elements of fantasy, action, and even comedy. This is arguably the most visually captivating and stylish vision of the future to be seen onscreen since Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. It would exceptional for that reason alone, if for nothing else. This vision was almost completely inspired, and ultimately realized, by the legendary French comic book artists Jean-Claude Mézières and Jean Giraud, the latter known as Moebius to his fans (the creator of Heavy Metal magazine, which began in France as Metal Hurlant).
Fortunately, beyond its simple visual design achievement, The Fifth Element works on other levels too. The story is fascinating and engaging, and surprising performances by Willis, Holm, Tucker, Oldman, and Jovovich really bring it to life. That’s a truly unusual bunch of actors to bring together onscreen, but the ensemble gels against all expectations. Jovovich’s Leeloo is not just authentically alien in the way she speaks, but also in the very way she looks at the world – indeed at everything around her. You believe that this is a being that’s fresh off the turnip truck, so to speak. Earth isn’t just new to her, she’s new to life itself. Jovovich fully sells her character, and thus manages to tie this film together convincingly.
In honor of the film’s 20th anniversary, Sony has released The Fifth Element on the Ultra HD Blu-ray format mastered from a 2015 4K scan of the original negative – the same master used for the previous Cinema Series Blu-ray release (see our review of that edition here). The film is presented on this disc in its proper 2.39:1 theatrical aspect ratio and in full native 4K (2160p), with a new but restrained HDR color grade. The film was already vibrant, so the dynamic range here has been opened up just a little bit more for UHD, allowing for truly dark blacks and highlights that gleam brightly but fall just short of causing your eye to react. The jump to 4K also brings with it a distinct improvement in fine detail and texturing – it’s not visible in visual effects shots so much as it is in the live action footage. You can see it in little things; the texture of metal and stone, the fabric of clothing, hair and facial features. The grain structure is a little more apparent now (the film was originally shot in Super 35) and the colors are a bit richer too. The image is pleasantly film-like, though the visual effects do have a slight digitally-processed appearance, with a bit of haloing visible on high contrast edges (not seen in the live action footage). This is actually inherent in the film master, an artifact of what was then state-of-the-art in digital post production and visual effects capability at the time The Fifth Element was originally completed back in 1997. Nevertheless, this is a pleasing presentation and certainly represents this film in its best possible light.
In terms of audio, the 4K disc includes the same English Dolby Atmos mix (compatible with 7.1 Dolby TrueHD systems) that was available on the previous Cinema Series Blu-ray. It’s smooth, with highly immersive staging, livelier panning, and slightly deeper bass. The height channels are used to fine effect, especially during the “street” sequence, when Leeloo leaps off the side of a building and crashes into Dallas’ cab. It’s a great mix. Additional audio options on the 4K disc include French 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, while optional subtitles include English, English SDH, French, and Spanish.
Sony’s 4K Ultra HD disc includes the film with one new extra (and it appears to have been produced in full 4K), a featurette called The Director’s Notes: Luc Besson Looks Back. It’s a 10-minute retrospective, shot and produced recently (as Besson mentions Valerian), in which the director offers his thoughts on the film and its production. The package also includes the 2015 Cinema Series Blu-ray, which offers the film in HD, carries over the “Fact Track” viewing option (from the 2007 Blu-ray edition), and adds all the legacy featurettes and clips including The Visual Element (plus extras including Pyramid Test, Cornelius’ Apartment Test, Zorg’s Office Test, Airport Tests, Fhloston Lobby Test, Fhloston Corridor Test, and Fhloston Bedroom Test), The Star Element: Bruce Willis, The Star Element: Milla Jovovich (plus extras including Screen Tests 1-4), The Star Element: Chris Tucker, The Alien Element: Mondoshawans (plus extras including Screen Tests 1-3 and Battle Outtakes 1-2), The Alien Element: Mangalores (plus extras including Head Test and Battle Outtake), The Alien Element: Picasso, The Alien Element: Strikers (plus extras including Striker Tests 1-4), The Fashion Element (plus extras including Korben Dallas Test and Leeloo Tests 1-3), The Diva (plus extras including Make-up Test, Opera House Outtake, and Studio Outtakes 1-2), The Digital Element, Imagining The Fifth Element, and The Elements of Style. All of these are in the original SD, but have been upconverted to fill your screen properly. The only thing missing here from the original DVD release is the poster artwork gallery (not a big deal) and, as before, there’s no trailer for the film available. Of course, you also get the usual Digital HD Copy code on a paper insert.
The Fifth Element is far from the best science fiction film you’ll ever see, but it’s certainly among the more unique and intriguing. Even at its most outrageous, the film remains fully entertaining and engaging, with a strange but functionally believable futuristic world that grows more enjoyable with each viewing. Meanwhile, Sony’s 4K Ultra HD release is a welcome addition to this format. While it isn’t quite at the visual quality level of other, more modern film releases in full 4K, this is certainly the best this film has ever looked at home (and is quite possibly best it can look). The disc is also a nice appetizer while we wait for Besson’s Valerian to arrive in theaters in a few weeks. If you’re a fan of The Fifth Element, don’t hesitate to pick this disc up.
- Bill Hunt