The Fifth Element 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Review
Released over twenty years ago, I find the lasting success of Luc Besson’s THE FIFTH ELEMENT perplexing. It’s unusual for a movie to be treated so kindly over the years, but for whatever reason, fans and critics alike have lifted THE FIFTH ELEMENT up as something much more than it really is. It’s fine to appreciate the costumes and the settings, but make no mistake about it; THE FIFTH ELEMENT is a bad movie. If you can find something to like about it or give it extra points for creativity and campiness, I can accept that, but I can’t bring myself to call this a good film.
Korben (Willis) is a down on his luck New York City cab driver in the year 2263. He’s minding his own business when the beautiful and mysterious Leeloo crashes through the roof of his cab. He reluctantly helps her escape the police and then begrudgingly gets caught up in an intergalactic war as he takes her to a vacation resort that’s set to be the location of the showdown between Leeloo, Zorg (Oldman) and the evil Mangalores.
I think the draw of THE FIFTH ELEMENT is just the spectacle of it all. I remember the scene where Leeloo jumps on the cab being repeated in every trailer and TV spot and even today, it’s probably the scene most people remember. That’s a cool scene and the flying cityscapes of NYC are visually impressive for the time, but everything else that plays out feels like something out of an old Star Trek episode. It’s a very juvenile outline of a story, which makes perfect sense since Luc Besson started writing this when he was 16. It’s not the kind of movie that needs explanations or backstory, but there are some confusing plot decisions that seemed like a waste of film. For example, why bother having the earth scientists “grow” Leeloo from a severed hand found in wreckage? That scene took up a good ten minutes, yet it had no impact or importance on the overall story. This is one of the many examples that made me think Luc Besson wasn’t in on his own joke.
Watching it again twenty years later made me long for the Bruce Willis that actually put effort into his characters and cared about his movies. Willis was obviously game for this kind of movie and does a good job of riding the wave of nonsense throughout. But the biggest surprise in the film is Chris Tucker as Ruby Rhod, mainly because he’s actually acting in this film rather than just playing a glorified version of himself. Yes, he was annoying, but it was still fun to see him go so over the top with Ruby. And then there’s Milla Jovovich, who blast onto the scene with THE FIFTH ELEMENT and then got stuck in the RESIDENT EVIL franchise. She plays Leeloo perfectly, but to be fair, there wasn’t much required of her.
I know THE FIFTH ELEMENT has its legions of fans and to some degree, I understand the fascination with a campy sci-fi film because I’m usually the one defending them. But THE FIFTH ELEMENT just doesn’t work for me. I’m not convinced Luc Besson thought he was making a campy sci-fi film and a part of me thinks he just stumbled into it after swinging and missing on a serious space opera. But either way, THE FIFTH ELEMENT launched his career and if viewed with the right mindset, it can be a fun film.
4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: Let me first say that this is by far and away the best THE FIFTH ELEMENT will ever look. Given its visual appeal, Sony seems to use the film to show off new formats whenever they can (remember the Sony “Superbit” DVD’s?). I was actually surprised it took them a year to release this on 4K. This is a very colorful film, but remember back to the scene of Leeloo jumping on the cab; yes, it’s colorful, but it’s also 99% CGI. That creates a unique conflict when it comes to 4K because although the colors in that scene pop way more than they ever have, the cars in the scene have a slight outline to them, which diminishes the realness of the scene. I had never noticed that on the Blu-ray, if it was even there. In other scenes, the added clarity and color depth gives a 3D-like experience. This is noticeable in the scenes in Korben’s apartment when he’s trying to hide the general and the priest. The refrigerator and the bed are clearly distinguishable from their backgrounds. Given the age of the film, don’t be surprised when you see some grain or fuzziness to certain scenes. This grain was evident in any scene where there was a lot of one color, such as the sky or a building. This goes back to the old debate about older films on 4K, but I mention it to make you aware that the 4K UHD does heighten some of the film’s imperfections. Overall, fans of the film will definitely want to check out the 4K UHD.
Audio: The Dolby Atmos track was a nice inclusion and again, this is the best the film has ever sounded. However, I felt the track was a little front-heavy for an Atmos track. It’s not a deal breaker or anything and I have to assume that was intentional.
This title was reviewed using a Samsung UBD-K8500 with a Sony XBR75X850C TV.
The 4K UHD does contain one exclusive 4K feature:
The Director’s Notes (10:29): This is an all new interview with Luc Besson where he reflects on the film and it’s standing in pop culture today. He talks about how he came up with the ideas and how he wanted to create something original and creative. It’s a short interview, but it’s nice to hear him talk about the film.