Set in the 23rd century, New York cab driver Korben Dallas didn't mean to be a hero, but he just picked up the kind of fare that only comes along every five thousand years: A perfect beauty, a perfect being, a perfect weapon. Now, together, they must save the world.
Thanks to the success of films like Guardians Of The Galaxy, the Action/Sci-Fi genre seems to be in the middle of a revival. Growing up on the genre in the 80s and 90s, I always felt a certain level of creative freedom allowed for some great fun from directors and actors that I normally wouldn’t like. Take Luc Besson's The Fifth Element, for example. For me, personally, Besson's style and humor are distracting, in his more grounded Action movies, but in this Sci-Fi setting, I feel like it is the only film in his portfolio where it acts as an asset.
We start off 300 years in the future where a war is brewing between our government, a secret group of monks, and an evil alien race. The entire war revolves around the protection or control of an alien weapon that requires five elements to wield it. Earth, wind, water, and fire plus a fifth element in the form of a human woman simply named Leeloo (Mila Jovovich), whose sole existence is to stop the weapon from getting in the hands of evil forces.
The Fifth Element was my very first exposure to Jovovich back in the day, and I was amazed by her lack of vanity and confidence on screen. Given her scantily clad wardrobe and the way she is objectified here, it would be easy for that to get in her way. But Jovovich owns and perseveres in a role that could easily come across as misogynistic. It is no surprise to me that she would go on to excel in films such as the Resident Evil Franchise after seeing this performance. The same goes for our lead Bruce Willis as Korban Dallas, and Gary freaking Oldman as the wonderfully maniacal Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg. Yes, that name is a mouthful, but it fits Oldman's over the top performance. He is simply electric as the puppet master pulling the strings of war, trying to make it work to his own advantage. Willis is in his usual role here and seems to be having quite a bit of fun with Besson's over the top world.
I enjoyed The Fifth Element quite a bit, but I understand that it is absolutely not for everybody. If you are looking for a traditional or grounded or dower Action/Sci-Fi flick, stay far away. This movie boasts a lot of humor as well as bizarre tonal shifts and performances (Chris Tucker) that seem to be here solely to insert parody and pull you away from the overall narrative. But Besson's style works so well in this silly futuristic setting and allows it to stick out, even on Bruce Willis's resume, which I think says a lot for this film. Is The Fifth Element a movie for the general masses? Maybe not. But it is a film this reviewer appreciates as a silly popcorn flick with a whole lot of style and a handful of moxie.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-Ray
Sony Pictures brings The Fifth Element to Blu-ray with the standard Ultra HD packaging, featuring alternate cover art that I wouldn’t mind hanging up on my wall. Inside a clear keepcase is a BD-66 Ultra HD Blu-ray, with its standard BD-50 Blu-ray (the 2015 4K remastered version), and an UltraViolet Digital HD Code. Once the Ultra HD version is popped in, we are brought to a substandard menu that is becoming all too familiar with Sony's 4K releases. It just seems thrown together and confusing to navigate, where the one extra feature that is exclusive to the 4K version is just thrown under the play button and not even in a special feature menu. I have seen Blu-rays with just a still gallery that have their own Special Feature menu.
The Fifth Element comes to life on Ultra HD with a 2160p HEVC/ H.265 encode that fares quite well compared to what I was expecting. Some movies are filmed in such a hyper-stylized way that I feel like over time they don’t lend themselves to newer formats, and this definitely seemed to fit into that category. So imagine my surprise when I found myself digging this transfer. Besson chose to shoot in 35mm with an aspect ratio of 2:39.1. He also made the choice to go with a mixture of CG, practical effects, and modeling throughout the film to create looks like the outdoor street chase scene, and the blending of the three has always bugged me. Thankfully it is no longer a problem, largely because these scenes have been cleaned up and remastered for this version, which is for the better. This also isn't the sharpest image in the world (in fact it's a bit on the softer side), but it is consistent and not an issue.
HDR can change the way a film looks in interesting ways. In the case of this transfer, it is noticeably darker with colors that don’t pop as much and are kind of muted (think the 4K transfer of Suicide Squad). With that being said, shadow detail is spot on and is a highlight of the transfer. The biggest drawback is the fact that we have a 4K standard Blu-ray remaster which comes with this transfer but doesn’t look all that different. In fact, I would say the only reason to get this is if you want the remastered CG blending with the upgraded shadow detail that comes with the HDR feature. Sadly this is another Ultra HD transfer that is strictly for enthusiasts and doesn’t offer that great of an uptick.
UPDATE 8/1/17: Greetings! M. Enois Duarte here. We've heard some criticisms of this review's PQ scoring and take our readers' feedback very seriously, so our Editor-in-Chief asked me to put another set of eyes on this 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray to ensure we're being as objective as possible. That said, while we probably could have done a better job arguing our case and pointing out some of the flaws with specific examples, we sincerely believe our The Fifth Element scoring is correct even if our industry colleagues feel otherwise. (Also, as a reminder, the context and content of our reviews are more important than numerical scores alone.)
In other words, yes, this 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray bests its Blu-ray counterpart in many ways and is our preferred way to watch the film going forward, but personal preference doesn't make it a 5-star reference quality disc and neither does the fact that the original elements were recently remastered in 4K. With that said, I should point out that contrast and brightness are definitely a nice improvement. Without a doubt, black levels are a huge selling point, delivering darker, richer shadows while Zorg's hair appears silkier.
A great example of this excellent balance is early on at around the 00:15:40 mark, the scene when Earth's military spaceships are about to fire upon the great evil. In the DVD days, the scene was used as an excellent reference image for assessing a display's capabilities, and in HDR, this moment looks incredible with the inky black of space and the crisp, brilliant whites of the lights while still exposing the tiniest details of the ship. Sadly, the 4K presentation doesn't stay this beautiful and consistent, as contrast and brightness waver dramatically depending on the scene. There are many sequences that fall flat and dull, and many times, cast members even appear flushed and very pale, as though people are walking around with a flu.
The movie has always come with a very vibrant palette, and the primaries are definitely brighter with a nice pop in the secondary hues. However, the jump to UHD is not by much and sadly doesn't compare to some of the best 4K movies we've seen since the format's inception. The video is also sharper with a bit more detailing throughout but again, not by a significant margin. In fact, because the CG sequences were finalized at a lower resolution at the time of its production, much of the presentation is fairly soft looking and the special effects really stand out in 4K. Then, there's the weirdly inconsistent grain structure. In some scenes, it looks like a thin film-like layer washing over the image, which is very welcomed, but then practically non-existent in other moments. A few times, the structure seems somewhat unnatural and thicker in a couple areas, possibly related to the special effects while sometimes completely missing.
In the end, I would have to agree with Kyle's assessment of the picture quality of The Fifth Element. The overall 4K presentation is comparable to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Labyrinth and Pineapple Express.
Sony blasts The Fifth Element onto Ultra HD with the same wonderfully bombastic Atmos track that appeared on the 2015 remaster. And why not? That was an amazing Atmos track and it is transferred over here. Like always, this track defaults to a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix for those who don’t have the Atmos capabilities, but trust me, try to seek this out in its Atmos format. Some mixes just aren't done justice by being loud and in your face. Some mixes require a little nuance......That is not this mix and that is not this film. The Fifth Element is a garishly loud thrill ride, and this is a mix to match. This was composed by Erick Serra and it has to be one of the oddest scores I have ever heard. At points, there is a literal accordion....in a Sci-Fi flick. But this score is so bugnuts that it works in this setting and it is presented here gloriously with even the height speakers providing support.
Fronts and surrounds come in heavy from the get go with wonderfully bombastic fury, whether inside the high-tech space stations, or outside in the traffic heavy exterior. All speakers come together in perfect harmony to create a track that will surely bring joy to any audiophile's face. The Fifth Element was actually nominated for an Academy Award back in '97 and we definitely see why here. Just because it is loud and bombastic doesn’t mean it’s a bad "unsophisticated" mix. Sometime we need to drop the high-minded attitude and just have fun, and this mix grabs you by your seat and commands your attention.
The Visual Element (SD 18:25) - A featurette that focuses on the visuals of the film.
The Visual Elements Extras (SD 6:13) - A collection of test footage from many scenes such as inside the pyramid and the airport.
The Star Element: Bruce Willis (SD 4:18) - Willis actually took a pay cut for this film, and here he talks about his inspiration for the project.
The Star Element: Mila Jovovich (SD 12:47) - Mila actually auditioned twice for the role and got turned down at first; here she recalls getting a second chance at the role that caused her career to take off.
The Star Element: Milla Jovovich Extra (SD 12:01) - A collection of screen tests that Jovovich was asked to do.
The Star Element: Chris Tucker (SD 4:17) - Tucker recalls how Prince and Michael Jackson were his inspirations for the role, and working with the cast and crew.
The Alien Element: Mondowshawans (SD 8:13) - I for one am not the biggest fan of the alien design in this film, but this is a featurette about the ideas behind these silly creatures.
The Alien Element: Mondowshawans Extras (SD 3:23) - Test footage for the designs of the aliens.
The Alien Element: Mangalore's (SD 9:47) - Not Just anybody can get into these alien suits. It takes a very specific body type, and this featurette tells us all about what these actors went through to embody these aliens.
The Alien Element: Mangalore's Extra (SD 2:11) - Test footage of the actors in costume.
The Alien Element: Picasso (SD 8:13) - A special look at this furry creature who was the pet of our villain.
The Alien Element: Strikes (SD 3:04) - There was actually a decent amount of footage cut from the final edit of this movie, and thisnis a look at the creature left on the cutting room floor.
The Alien Element: Strikes Extra (SD 1:32) - Test screening for the furry animals that didn’t make the cut.
The Fashion Element (SD 7:46) - When we are talking the weirdest costume design in a Sci Fi film, The Fifth Element just might take the cake. Here are the ideas behind these overly garish designs.
The Fashion Element Extra (SD 5:16) - Screen tests for the crazy costumes Willis and Jovovich wore for their roles.
The Diva (SD 16:15) - Smack dab on the back of the casing is the alien simply known as The Diva. Ironically enough, this is actually Besson's girlfriend at the time, and this is about the process she went through for the role.
The Diva Extra (SD 8:02) - You can't just make the director's girlfriend go through hours of makeup if you aren't sure it will work. Here is the trial and error process to getting her makeup just right.
The Digital Element (SD 9:48) - The Fifth Element was an effects-heavy summer blockbuster back in '97, and here is a look at the creation and blending of the effects on screen.
Imagining The Fifth Element (SD 5:14) - A featurette displaying the ideas behind the effects in the film.
The Elements Of Style (SD 5:13) - A discussion about Jean –Paul Gaultier.
If you look at my page on this site, you will read that I love fun popcorn flicks. That is exactly what The Fifth Element is. Is it silly? Yes. Does it have weird tonal shifts and tangents? Absolutely. But it is because of those qualities that we are presented with hilariously bad characters (Chris Tucker) and explore a completely bugnuts world that is fun to be transported to. I also think it says something when we can have a film this frantic, and yet still get solid performances throughout. Jovovich, Willis, and Oldman all excel in a film that could have been a jam-packed mess. This 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray does come across as a tad bit on the redundant side, after a 4K-mastered standard Blu-ray back in 2015, but if you are a fan of the film and HDR functionality, then I suggest picking this up.