The Fifth Element: Ultimate Edition
US Theatrical Release: May 9, 1997 (Columbia - TriStar)
US DVD Release: January 11, 2005
Running Time: 2:05:45
Rating: PG-13 (Intense Sci-Fi Violence, Some Sexuality and Brief Nudity)
Video: 2.35:1 Anamorphic (Extra Features: some are 1.77:1 anamorphic and some are 1.33:1)
Audio: English DD5.1, English DTS 5.1 (Extra features: English DD2.0)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Thai, Fact Tracks in English, Spanish and Portuguese (Extra Features: Spanish, Portuguese)
TV-Generated Closed Captions: English (Extra Features: None)
Menus: Lightly animated and skippable.
Packaging: Dual-disc keepcase with paper slipcover; single-sheet insert contains cover images from other titles on both sides. The artwork on the slipcover is identical to that on the case. The Superbit logo appears on the back of the case, but not the front.
THE WAY I FEEL ABOUT IT: 4/5
In 2005, comic book movies are standard issue. From classics like Spiderman, to modern heroes like Hellboy, to satires like The Incredibles, Hollywood is churning ‘em out and audiences are eating ‘em up. While it’s not directly based on a comic book, The Fifth Element was inspired by the work of comic book artists and, with its over-the-top action and highly stylized sets and costumes, fits the same mold. As a stylistic predecessor of the current trend, it holds up nicely eight years after its initial release.
As the film opens, strange things are afoot at the Circle Milky Way. A cryptic prologue set in 1914 Egypt introduces the Mondoshawans, creepy yet benign aliens who have come to retrieve a set of stones, representing the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water, plus a mysterious “fifth element” (aha!) that can be used to create a super-weapon. They’re concerned that the stones are no longer safe on Earth, but promise to return when the super-weapon will be needed.
One Luke Perry cameo and 300 years later, Ultimate Evil is returning for its regularly scheduled tri-millennial attack on all that is Good and Light, and there’s only one way to stop it. You guessed it -- it’s those handy stones. Unfortunately, when the Mondoshawans try to return, they are destroyed by the more-nasty-than-creepy and clearly non-benign alien Mangalores. Woe is Good and Light.
But wait! All is not lost. The Mondoshawans had already passed the stones on for safekeeping, and the one piece of the puzzle still in their possession, the fifth element, has miraculously survived the Mangalore attack. The fifth element is the human element, played by Milla Jovovich. In one of history’s most memorable costuming decisions, Milla comes equipped for universe-saving with only a half-dozen or so strategically placed bandages and a small tattoo. Confused and disoriented after the Mangalore attack and a dramatic CGI resurrection effect, the element, whose name is actually Leeloominai Lekatariba Laminatcha Ekbat de Sabat (“Leeloo” for short – very short), escapes from the government compound where she’s been revived.
She next crosses paths with regular-guy cabbie Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis). Of course, if Hollywood has taught us anything, it’s that regular guys who get mixed up in Big Events usually have a background as Special Forces super-warriors, and Dallas is no exception. That kung fu grip will definitely come in handy later in this story.
Leeloo and Korben soon discover that in order to reunite Leeloo with the elemental stones, they will have to travel to Fhloston Paradise, a faraway vacation planet that features a giant luxury airship. This little vacation affords the designers an opportunity to create all sorts of fantastic future-luxury sets and costumes. On Fhloston Paradise, our heroes meet a variety of colorful characters, including alien opera star Diva Plavalaguna (Maïwenn Le Besco, who was engaged to Luc Besson at the time) and indescribably wacky radio DJ Ruby Rhod (Chris Tucker). Toss a gang of Mangalores into the mix, and top it off with an evil industrialist menacingly named Zorg(Gary Oldman, mauling an American southern accent like Andrea Bocelli mauls opera) who happens to be Dallas’ ex-employer, and you have all the ingredients for a chaotic, slam-bang finale.
Despite its save-the-universe-from-ultimate-evil premise, The Fifth Element is a fun romp that never quite goes so far as to take itself completely seriously. It has plenty of action, a strong sense of humor (although some of the humor, namely Chris Tucker, may not be to everyone’s taste), a reasonably coherent storyline, and even a key female character in Leeloo. While it’s not exactly a classic, it’s solid popcorn entertainment.
THE WAY I SEE IT: 4.5/5
The Fifth Element has a very unique and stylized look. It’s full of rich color palettes and fantastical designs, and the image on this DVD certainly does it justice. The picture is nicely detailed and rarely looks soft. Black levels are deep and velvety, and the bright, saturated colors come through spectacularly. The original film grain gives the picture some texture, while compression artifacts are not an issue. The source print does suffer from a bit of damage, unfortunately – small scratches and other marks are occasionally visible throughout the film.
As with most recent Sony product, edge enhancement is present but not terribly obtrusive. It is more noticeable in some scenes than others. For the most part, it’s comparable to other current releases. Moving patterns shimmer on rare occasions, but I didn’t really notice any blocking. The many explosions have been encoded quite respectably.
UPDATED WARNING: Only the first couple of seconds of the film, prior to the Columbia logo, are flagged as interlaced. The rest of the film is properly flagged progressive. You should not have any issues related to the 3:2 pulldown flag.
THE WAY I HEAR IT: 4/5
The audio track is chock-full of effects and incidental music. Dialogue, however, is always clear. The effects, especially the gunfire and explosions, tend to be slightly lower in the mix than one would normally expect in this sort of big action movie, which can sometimes be a bit disconcerting. Eric Serra’s playful score is not quite up to the standard of his brilliant work on Léon The Professional, but it does a nice job of reinforcing the film’s sense of fun. The surround channels are moderately active, and the LFE channel is used to nice effect.
Both DTS and Dolby Digital tracks are included. While they are very comparable, the DTS track has a slight edge. It packs just a bit more punch and clarity in the extreme high and low ends. The Dolby track is a tad boomier and less accurate with the big bang effects. However, the differences are subtle. Both tracks sound fine.
THE SWAG: 4/5 (rating combines quality and quantity)
Subtitle Trivia Fact Track
This sets the standard for trivia subtitle tracks. Lots of facts pop up at a sprightly pace, sometimes so quickly that they’re hard to read. Blink, and you might miss something interesting. Although many of the comments are only tangentially related to this film, they are wittily scripted and generally entertaining. In addition, the Fact Track is available in English, Spanish or Portuguese. The only knock on it is that it’s a bit heavy on the exclamation points.
The features on disc 2 are split into 8 sections. Most, if not all, of the included featurettes were created especially for this new release (not all of them include a copyright date). As always, Luc Besson himself is nowhere to be found, but pretty much everyone else involved with the film took part. Some of the featurettes are anamorphic 1.77:1 widescreen (16:9) and some are 1.33:1 (4:3).
*The Visual Element*
Featurette: (18:24) (aspect ratio: 16:9)
This documentary introduces Jean Giraud (also known as Moebius) and Jean-Claude Mezieres, the French comic book artists whose work inspired Luc Besson to make The Fifth Element. Lots of interview footage and concept artwork are featured. Giraud, Mezieres, and younger artist Patrice Garcia discuss the design work they did on the film and how well the production design team brought their sketches to life.
Set Tests: (aspect ratio: 4:3)
Seven brief test shots of the film’s sets are included. There is no audio. A crew member walks through most of the shots in order to provide a sense of scale.
- Pyramid Test (0:41)
- Cornelius’ Apartment Test (0:30)
- Zorg’s Office Test (0:29)
- Airport Tests (2:19)
- Fhloston Lobby Test (1:20)
- Fhloston Corridor Test (0:18)
- Fhloston Bedroom Test (0:34)
Featurette: (9:47) (aspect ratio: 16:9)
The digital effects crew from Digital Domain, model builders, and other production crew members explain how they pulled off the amazing effects in the film, which combined digital FX, miniatures, animatronics, and green screen work. Lots of behind-the-scenes green screen shots and stuntwork are included in this topflight doc.
*The Star Element*
Three featurettes are included in this section. Each focuses on one of the stars of the film, including interview footage as well as some behind-the-scenes bits and screen tests. These are a step above the standard “I loved working on this film; the director was amazing!” promo pieces. Four of Milla Jovovich’s screen tests, where the filmmakers experimented with a number of different looks and movements for her character, are also included. The screen tests have no audio.
- Bruce Willis (4:18) (aspect ratio: 4:3)
- Milla Jovovich (12:47) (aspect ratio: 16:9)
- Extras (Milla Jovovich Screen Tests) (5:54, 1:10, 1:58, 2:59) (aspect ratio: 16:9)
- Chris Tucker (4:17) (aspect ratio: 4:3)
This section is divided into four sub-sections, one for each of four different types of aliens designed for the film. In the featurettes, the creature design crew talks about the design and construction of the different alien creatures, which combined costumes, animatronics, and puppetry.
Featurette: (8:12) (aspect ratio: 16:9)
Screen Tests (3): (1:00, 0:35, 0:35). (aspect ratio: 4:3)
Battle Outtakes (2): These are extended camera shots that were edited into the spaceship attack scene in the film. (0:21, 0:52) (aspect ratio: 4:3)
Featurette: (9:46) (aspect ratio: 16:9)
Head Test: This screen test features a trio of heads from Mangalore costumes. (0:47) (aspect ratio: 4:3)
Battle Outtake: An extended camera shot that was edited into the spaceship attack scene in the film. (1:24) (aspect ratio: 4:3)
Picasso (Zorg’s tiny, funny-looking pet)
Featurette: (4:16) (aspect ratio: 16:9)
Strikers (Striking airport workers that were cut from the final edit of the film. This explains the enormous pile of refuse at the airport!)
Featurette: (3:04) (aspect ratio: 16:9)
Striker Tests (4): (0:23, 0:25, 0:25, 0:18) (aspect ratio: 4:3)
*The Fashion Element*
Featurette: (7:46) (aspect ratio: 4:3) Costume designer and haute couture superstar Jean-Paul Gaultier, designer of Madonna’s famed cone brassiere, describes how he came up with some of the wacky outfits that appear in the film.
Korben Dallas Test: (1:00) (aspect ratio: 4:3)
Leeloo Tests (3): (1:13, 2:09, 0:54) (aspect ratio: 4:3)
(Why no Ruby Rhod costume tests are included is beyond me!)
*The Diva: Behind The Music*
(OK, I’m kidding about the “Behind The Music” part. )
Featurette: (16:15) (aspect ratio: 16:9) Maïwenn Le Besco, the actress who played The Diva, tells the story of how she came to get the part, how she prepared for the role, and her experience working on the film. She was engaged to Luc Besson at the time, and also had a bit part in Léon The Professional. (Interestingly, her voice was dubbed by someone else in both films.) Green screen footage of the complete Diva opera performance, which was intercut with a fight scene in the final edit, is shown for the first time. It’s awesomely ridiculous (in kind of a fun way).
Makeup Test: (4:34) (aspect ratio: 4:3) This is really a full screen test, with no audio.
Studio Outtakes (2): (1:27, 0:26) (aspect ratio: 4:3) Some green screen footage of the Diva’s opera scene, with audio.
Opera House Outtake: (1:35) (aspect ratio: 4:3) A section of The Diva’s opera performance, as seen from the behind-The-Diva camera angle.
*Poster Gallery:* 25 different promo posters from around the world are included.
Three trailers are included. No trailer is included for The Fifth Element itself. Note that the trailer for The Forgotten is anamorphic and has DD5.1 audio.
- The Forgotten (2:32) (aspect ratio: 16:9)
- Léon The Professional (This is actually a theatrical trailer for The Professional) (2:31) (aspect ratio: 4:3)
- Mirrormask (DVD) (1:09) (Non-anamorphic widescreen)
The Way I Feel About It: 4/5
The Way I See It: 4.5/5
The Way I Hear It: 4/5
The Swag: 4/5
Bright, colorful, action-packed, and (intentionally) ridiculous – The Fifth Element is great fun. And its latest incarnation on DVD, the “Ultimate Edition,” does not disappoint – for the most part. The picture and sound, while perhaps not quite reference quality, are excellent. Over 90 minutes of excellent featurettes, along with a ton of outtake clips and screen tests of varying interest, make for a juicy selection of extra features. The Fifth Element: Ultimate Edition is definitely worthy of my RECOMMENDATION.