French filmmaker Luc Besson (Léon; La Femme Nikita) has always been known to make films heavier on style than substance and perhaps none of his films is more deserving of that description than Besson’s 1997 sci-fi action film The Fifth Element. With its colorful world of frenzied characters, hyper-kinetic action sequences and Jean-Paul Gaultier, Element is more about looks, action, and special effects than it is about story, but it is still a wildly enjoyable ride.
It’s the 23rd Century and the Earth is in peril by a form of pure evil that comes around every 5,000 years to engulf it. The only thing that can save the world is a weapon formed by four stones representing the four classic elements, earth, wind, fire, and water, and a fifth element embodied in the form of a human (Milla Jovovich) that is in the care of an alien species known as the Mondoshawan.
A powerful businessman, Jean-Baptiste Emanuelle Zorg working with the evil to recover the hidden stones (Gary Oldman) hires a band of intergalactic outcasts and mercenaries to attack the Mondoshawan ship as they are bringing the Fifth Element to Earth’s forces. They are destroyed and only a small part of the Element’s body is recovered. She is then genetically re-engineered, but she escapes from the military facility where she is being held.
That is when former Special Forces major turned cab driver Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) becomes entangled in the situation after the Fifth Element literally falls into his cab. With the police and the military chasing her, Korben decides to help her get to the priest, Father Vito Cornelius (Ian Holm) who holds the secret of the stones and is sworn to protect it and the Fifth Element.
Together, they must make their way to a floating vacation city known as Fhloston Paradise where they will meet the one who has been protecting the stones so they can assemble the weapon to kill the evil bearing down on the Earth. The problem is, Zorg is after the stones and out to stop the Fifth Element.
Element is a frenzied romp of a film the hardly gives time for the story to sink in. It’s certainly fun, but it is marred by a particularly annoying performance by Chris Tucker who plays an interstellar radio show host who is supposedly a sex symbol. He’s meant to be funny, but he comes across as an annoying imitation of Prince on really bad day.
The special effects, though pale by today’s standards, still hold up well under scrutiny and Willis’ performance is perfectly smug, grizzled, and humorous. Milla Jovovich, sexy as always, plays a wonderful innocent yet somehow deadly and fragile “supreme being.” This is perfect cult-classic sci-fi material.
This review will focus mostly on the 4K Ultra HD disc since the 4K remastered Blu-ray included has been previously reviewed. The disc arrives in an HEVC 2160p ‘4K’ encodement with HDR10 high dynamic range mastered with a maximum luminance of 4000 nits and a minimum of 0.005 nits. There is most definitely a noticeable improvement in crispness over the 2015 4K remastered Blu-ray (which itself was a big improvement). The opening scene with the hieroglyphs really look sharply etched without resorting to any noticeable edge enhancement to get those results. The really big leap over the previous Blu-ray is the WCG (Wide Color Gamut). The Fifth Element has always been a colorful film — too bad the Ultra HD cover art, for whatever reason does not play up these, umm, elements, choosing to use the darker poster art instead. From Milla Jovovich’s orange, orange, orange hair to the glowing red light in Bruce Willis’ taxi when the two meet, the colors here really ‘pop’ over the Blu-ray disc. Highlights also standout nicely thanks to the HDR10 mastering. Fire, explosions, glistening of buttons, and the delineation between shadow and brightness is superb as well. The Fifth Element has never looked better. The 4K remastered Blu-ray was gorgeous – this is absolutely breathtaking.
When I last reviewed The Fifth Element, I’d still not made the leap into immersive audio, so I couldn’t access the Atmos soundmix. The Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track in the Atmos ‘core’ was stellar, the Atmos mix takes things to a new level. The low-end is still staggering, but now the atmospherics and discrete sounds like flying cars and spaceships, or laser guns move around and overhead as well. Dialogue is clean and full. This one makes a play for being a showpiece and a go-to for the bass lovers.
The Fifth Element in its Ultra HD release maintains the same port-over SD extras on Blu-ray from the 2015 4K remaster, but there is a new featurette on the UltraHD disc with Luc Besson in Ultra HD to boot. Besson looks back on his time filming The Fifth Element in the ten-and-a-half-minute interview.
- Digital HD UltraViolet
- The Director’s Notes: Luc Besson Looks Back (1.78:1; Ultra HD; 00:10:29) (NEW)
- The Visual Element (1.78:1; SD; 00:18:25)
- The Visual Element Extras (1.33:1; SD; 00:06:13)
- The Star Element: Bruce Willis (1.33:1; SD; 00:04:18)
- The Star Element: Milla Jovovich (1.78:1; SD; 00:12:47)
- The Star Element: Milla Jovovich Extras (2.35:1; SD; 00:12:01)
- The Star Element: Chris Tucker (1.33:1; SD; 00:04:17)
- The Alien Element: Mondoshawans (1.78:1; SD; 00:08:13)
- The Alien Element: Mondoshawans Extras (1.33:1; SD; 00:03:23)
- The Alien Element: Mangalores (1.78:1; SD; 00:09:47)
- The Alien Element: Mangalores Extras (1.33:1; SD; 00:02:11)
- The Alien Element: Picasso (1.78:1; SD; 00:04:16)
- The Alien Element: Strikers (1.78:1; SD; 00:03:04)
- The Alien Element: Strikers Extras (1.33:1; SD; 00:01:32)
- The Fashion Element (1.33:1; SD; 00:07:46)
- The Fashion Element Extras (1.33:1; SD; 00:05:16)
- The Diva (1.78:1; SD; 00:16:15)
- The Diva Extras (1.33:1; SD; 00:08:02)
- The Digital Element (1.78:1; SD; 00:09:48)
- Imagining The Fifth Element (1.78:1; SD: 00:05:14)
- The Elements of Style (1.78:1; SD; 00:05:13)
- Fact Track
The Final Assessment
The Fifth Element has always been a great escapist popcorn flick that also doubled as superlative ear and eye candy. This will now be a quadruple-dip since the Blu-ray era began counting the first horrendously botched release from Sony, the reissue to fix that release, the 2015 4K remastered Blu-ray, and now this new 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release. Granted, the latter can be counted as a new format, but whether you do or not, it is a significant upgrade and well worth it.
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