Plot: What’s it about?
This is an 80’s movie. Sure, I know it technically came out in 1997, but can you think of any film off the top of your head that’s as spastically neurotic as this one from start to finish? Can you think of any film that took as many visual, storytelling, and creative risks for the time? There are so many films in the 1980’s that did this and did it well, creating a real sense of individuality between movies that we just don’t get very often these days. It’s like comparing 80’s music to 90’s music. Whatever else is said about the 1980’s, it was a decade of excess and uniqueness. You knew precisely what song you were listening to from the first note. Once the 90’s rolled around, that all changed. We have so many interchangeable opening strains today that it’s taken nearly all the joy out of listening to the radio. And that’s a shame, because it used to be a fun thing to do. And so did watching movies. Before the big budget, big CGI, big spectacle, big nothing films started to emerge and meld into one another like a bunch of songs that could have all been written by the same mediocre artist. Now, don’t get me wrong, The Fifth Element is definitely a “spectacle” film with plenty of CGI and a whole heap of emptiness filling up it’s ridiculously thin, 126-minute narrative. So what sets this genre film apart from all the others like it? For one, it dares to be a genre-less genre film almost to a fault.
The Fifth Element is a comedy, a love story, a sci-fi epic, and an action film. It’s also an undefinable melting pot of cinematic ideas that keeps the film from fitting into any of these categories snugly, and I love that. There’s something here for everyone, and yet there’s also – almost unavoidably – a few things that not everyone will like. It’s a movie you’re almost guaranteed to enjoy watching, but even if you swallow it entirely, there’s guaranteed to be about 10% of it that you could trim out for yourself and enjoy it even more. Personally, I think director Luc Besson is to be commended for trying absolutely everything and making it work this well for two hours. I’m not sure a movie like this could be made again with even half of the satisfying results. This may sound like an odd comparison, but the movie that comes to mind right now is The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It’s quirky, disjointed, off-the-wall, and there’s absolutely no logical reason why any of it should work at all…but it somehow does. And it works every single time you watch it. I’d put The Fifth Element in this category, although it’s admittedly a completely different kind of movie. It tries to do it all and doesn’t spare taking a single risk to get there. While there are some films I could summarize quickly, the synopsis for this one is so all over the place that it would take the entirety of the story portion of this review to lay it all out for you. Here’s an attempt to be concise.
A huge ball of fire is hurtling toward Earth. It’s pure evil and it wants to extinguish every form of life. The only thing that can stop it is the fifth element. The fifth element is a girl reconstructed out of the only remaining appendage of an alien that was onboard a ship that was ambushed and destroyed on its way to save Earth. The aliens that attacked that ship were sent by a man named Zorg who wants to attain four stones for the ball of fire. The stones are needed so the fifth element can perform her function and save the world. The only people who know all of this are a priest, a cab driver, and a zany radio host named Ruby Rod who redefines flamboyant flare for a generation. If that makes no sense not having seen the film, rest assured that it makes precious little more sense once you have. That’s not to say that it’s not wholly entertaining. It’s just odd is all. Then again, normality has never been a prerequisite for me to enjoy a movie. In fact, it’s usually quite the contrary. The Fifth Element isn’t going to appeal to anyone who hates science fiction. The world it creates is just too “out there” for those viewers. On the other hand, it’s just about impossible for it not to please just about everyone else on at least some small level. It’s audacious, colorful and inexplicably fun to watch again and again. And there’s also something about it that’s strangely endearing even through its frequently cheesy tone. See, I told you this was an 80’s movie.
Video: How does it look?
This film has been a reference point for A/V enthusiasts for years. Ever since the fledgling DVD format came out, this movie was one in which all others were compared to. And with good reason – it’s visually one of the most beautiful movies I’ve ever seen. Looking at this site alone, we’ve got five reviews for the film in varying formats and now we’ve got this in a beautiful Ultra HD/4K. Moving on, the 2.40:1 HEVC transfer has indeed undergone a new 4K resolution and it shows – literally. While I found a bit more grain than I would have liked to see, it’s a moot point as the movie is simply breathtaking. Colors pop, detail is amazing and everything in between glows. You’ll know what to expect when you put this movie in and it delivers. The title is now 20 years old, but you’d never know it. This looks like it was made yesterday.
Audio: How does it sound?
The same Dolby Atmos track included on the previous Blu-ray is present here, but for those who aren’t equipped the Dolby TrueHD track has also been included. Needless to say, so much of this film takes place in completely alien worlds and environments that the soundtrack is more alive with nuances and quirks than in your average movie. It’s the Toy Story equivalent of live-action, and the results are incredibly enveloping and spacious. I’ve always been more than impressed with how The Fifth Element sounded at home, and this release is no exception. I can’t imagine anyone will be disappointed by the audio presentation.
Supplements: What are the extras?
All of the supplements from previous versions of this film are included on the Blu-ray and a new supplement has been added to the Ultra HD/4K version (most likely because it was easier to stick it on that disc as opposed to author a new Blu-ray).
- The Director’s Notes: Luc Besson Looks Back – In this ten minute new feature, the director tells of his history, how he got into directing and writing and some of his influences for The Fifth Element (Plutarch). He’s pretty candid and a tad bit hard to understand with his French accent, but it’s nice to see a new feature included after so many versions of the same ‘ol thing.
- The Visual Element – talks about the two French comic book artists, Jean Claude Mezieres and Jean Giraud aka Moebius, that Luc Besson brought in to work with the production design team to nail down the visual look of the movie. Plenty of production sketches are shown including some alternate concepts of sets/ships and characters in the movie. Separate from the featurette are tests for seven of the movie’s sets. It’s amazing how big some of the sets look without many people in them.
- The Digital Element – is a 10 minute featurette that focuses on the visual effects work that Digital Domain did for the movie with plenty of green screen footage to boot (which isn’t in the best condition as you see scratches like with the other tests and outtakes).
- The Star Element – has featurettes on the three main actors: Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, and Chris Tucker. Milla talks about how she was tested for the role, the problems with her hair falling out due to improper bleaching of her roots which lead to her wearing a wig for the rest of the movie shoot, and the language devised for Leeloo. As an extra treat, there are four screen tests of Milla as Luc tries to nail down the look and movement of Leeloo.
- The Fashion Element – interviews Jean Paul Gaultier as he talks about doing the costume design for the movie. You’re also treated to a test of the Korben Dallas costume and three Leeloo costume tests.
- The Alien Element – focuses on the four different aliens in the movie (three since one got cut out of the movie). Each of them except for Zorg’s useless pet, Picasso (who only gets a featurette) has their own featurette and screen tests /outtakes. It was interesting seeing test footage of the Mondoshawan costume as it was being designed and made. They got tall people to play them while body builders (and bouncers) played the ugly and yet dangerous Mangalores. However, the Strikers ended up on the cutting room floor and only rehearsal footage of them still exists.
- The Diva – is a featurette that features the first interview with actress Maiwenn talking about playing Diva Plavalaguna. She did the role because the model that was originally going to do the part did a disappearing act. Maiwenn is disappointed that her opera performance got edited, but you can see the uncut performance at the end of the featurette. Also included separately are Opera House outtakes and a green screen outtake done on a soundstage.
The Bottom Line
The Fifth Element isn’t for everyone, some might be turned off by Chris Tucker’s over-the-top performance and some might not. I look at it as a visual spectacle. It’s everything that embodies what I love about movies. It looks amazing, it beautifully shot and sounds permeate my home theater room. Though it’s disappointing that no new supplements were released, those that exist are present here (albeit in SD). Still, you can’t deny this movie is worth watching at least once.