Luc Besson’s science fiction classic, The Fifth Element, finally makes its way to 4K UHD Blu-ray, and what a treat it is for the eyes and ears!
The Production: 4/5
A great evil appears like clockwork every 5,000 years on Earth, and the only weapon that can stop it is located in a temple in Egypt. Fearing the weapon will fall into the wrong hands during World War I, a team of Mondoshowans (who look like something out of The Dark Crystal) arrive in 1914 to collect the four stones and a sarcophagus that make up the weapon, vowing to return in time to save Earth from the next appearance of the great evil. Fast forward to the year 2263, and as a large dark ball of fire heads towards Earth, a Mondoshowan ship returning the weapon is shot down by a team of Mangalores. All that remains of the weapon is what appears to be a hand. Scientists use the DNA from that hand to clone and resurrect the “perfect” human, a frightened young woman named Leeloo (Milla Jovovich), who breaks out of her enclosure and escapes among the skyscrapers of New York, jumping headlong into the taxi cab of Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis), a former major in the special forces who is about to lose his driver’s license due to his wreckless driving habits. After a thrilling chase through the skyways of New York and eluding the police, Dallas takes Leeloo to Father Vito Cornelius (Ian Holm) at her request. Leeloo tells Cornelius that the stones are in the possession of opera singer Plavalaguna (Maiwenn), who will be performing on a cruise ship orbiting the planet Fhloston, an exclusive vacation destination that is sold out years in advance. As luck would have it, radio personality Ruby Rhod (Chris Tucker) has been running a contest to the resort that includes tickets to see Plavalaguna. The President (Tommy “Tiny” Lister) fixes the contest, sending Dallas and Leeloo to retrieve the stones. However, industrialist Zorg (Gary Oldman) has been working with the great evil and the Mangalores and follow Dallas and Leeloo to take the stones for themselves. Dallas will have to call on his special forces training to battle the Mangalores, retrieve the stones, and get them and Leeloo back to Earth before the great evil destroys the planet.
Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element is a bit more complicated than that, and is a film that almost defies explanation. When I first saw the film upon its initial theatrical release back in 1997, the visual style reminded me of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, particularly its depiction of 23rd century New York. It is also a very strange, very European movie that blends comedy, science fiction, and action genres rather seamlessly, never taking itself too seriously. Some of the humor is downright bizarre, such as the would-be mugger who knocks on Dallas’s front door early on in the film. Bruce Willis, who was still a very bankable action star at the time, fits in perfectly as the down on his luck cab driver with a military background, very much a cross between his John McClane character from Die Hard and David Addison from Moonlighting. Milla Jovovich is given a broad range to play in one of her first major roles as Leeloo, from comedy to drama to action (something that would come in handy later on in the Resident Evil movies). Gary Oldman is wonderfully cast as the power-hungry, bat-shit crazy Zorg, chewing up the scenery every chance he gets. Ian Holm is delightful as the eccentric priest Vito Cornelius, obviously having a lot of fun with the character. But then there is Chris Tucker as Ruby Rhod, who way too often is as annoying as nails on a chalkboard, although thankfully he has a relatively small role.
3D Rating: NA
The Fifth Element was completed on 35 mm film, back in the days before we had digital intermediates, and this new 2160p transfer appears to have been harvested from the same 4K digital intermediate that was created for last year’s Mastered in 4K Blu-ray release (which is also included in the package). The very first thing one will notice when viewing The Fifth Element in UHD is the major increase in fine detail, particularly the sandstone temple during the opening prologue, where one can see just about every grain of sand on the set. This continues throughout, with Willis’s beard stubble and even the textured blue skin of Plavalaguna (so much so that in a few shots one can see the seams in her latex prosthetics). Grain structure is natural and consistent, never distracting or bothersome. Colors are natural with larger gradations than one would see on the included reference-quality Blu-ray. Contrast is also very strong, with deeper blacks that retain shadow details and bright whites that don’t clip. You can’t ask for a more perfect transfer.
The 4K UHD Blu-ray contains the same highly immersive Dolby Atmos mixed that was included on the previous Mastered in 4K Blu-ray release. I recently upgraded my receiver to a Denon AVR-S930, and this was the first film I experienced on that receiver in a 5.1.2 configured Dolby Atmos. The first thing I noticed was how much more ambient the overall sound design is, providing a more spatial quality to the stone temple in the opening prologue. Heights are also used to great effect during the chase though the New York skyline and other points in the film. LFE is strong, but never overbearing or boomy. Dialogue is clear and understandable, directed mostly to the center channel with occasional panning where appropriate.
Special Features: 3.5/5
Most of the special features are found only on the included Blu-ray, with one exception.
The Director’s Notes: Luc Besson Looks Back (2160p; 10:29): Besson discusses the film’s long history, starting out as a screenplay he wrote as a teenager, to its eventual production and release.
The Visual Element (480i; 18:25): How French comic books inspired the look of the film.
The Visual Element Extras (480i; 6:13): Camera tests – 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 (480i; 4:18): The actor talks about the film.
The Star Element: Milla Jovovich (480i; 12:47): The actress discusses her work in the film.
The Star Element: Milla Jovovich Extras (480i; 12:01): Four screen tests of the actress.
The Star Element: Chris Tucker (480i; 4:17): The actor discuses his role.
The Alien Element: Mondoshawans (480i; 8:13): How the aliens were created.
The Alien Element: Mondoshawans Extras (480i; 3:23): The extras consist of Screen Test 1, Screen Test 2, Screen Test 3, Battle Outtake 1, and Battle Outtake 2.
The Alien Element: Mangalores (480i; 9:47): A look at the design and casting process.
The Alien Element: Mangalores Extras (480i; 2:11): The extras consist of Head Test and Battle Outtake.
The Alien Element: Picasso (480i; 4:16): Zorg’s pet.
The Alien Element: Strikers (480i; 3:04): Creatures that were cut from the film.
The Alien Element: Strikers Extras (480i; 1:32): Extras consist of Striker Test 1, Striker Test 2, Striker Test 3, and Striker Test 4.
The Fashion Element (480i; 7:46): Costume design.
The Fashion Element Extras (480i; 5:16): Extras consist of Korben Dallas Test, Leeloo Test 1, Leeloo Test 2, and Leeloo Test 3.
The Diva (480i; 16:15): A look at Plavalaguna.
The Diva Extras (480i; 8:02): The extras consist of Make-up Test, Opera House Outtake, Studio Outtake 1, and Studio Outtake 2.
The Digital Element (480i; 9:48): A look at the film’s visual effects.
Imagining The Fifth Element (480i; 5:14): More on the film’s visual effects.
The Elements of Style (480i; 5:13): Another look a the film’s production design.
Fact Track: Subtitle trivia track.
Digital HD Copy: An insert contains a code to redeem a digital copy through UltraViolet partners.
The Fifth Element is a disc just about any home theater enthusiast with a 4K UHD setup should have in their possession for its reference quality presentation alone. Highly Recommended.