PictureI never saw the previous Blu-ray edition of The Fifth Element, but by all accounts, it was a bit of a stinker. Well, it looks like the engineers at Sony have learned their lesson and this remastered version presents the film in terrific, image-popping 1080p high definition. Encoded using MPEG-4 AVC, the movie boasts wonderful eye-popping colours that retain integrity and richness without looking over-saturated or wandering beyond their edges. The entire image is awash with colourful texture. The opening credits are sharp white against deep black space and set the tone for an image that has great delineation and excellent contrast. Sadly, grain seems a little bit more pronounced, and some shots, especially, seem riddled with it. Just look at the opening shot of the little kid riding up on his camel. It can be seen against the blues of the picture, such as the views from space of the calm seas witnessed both on the Earth and the planet Flostron, and against the skin of the Diva. But, I'm really nit-picking here, folks, because otherwise, this is a wonderfully crisp and clean image with no signs of damage or dirt on the print.
Detail is certainly greater than I have seen it before in The Fifth Element. Just one glance at the fabulously realised high-rise metropolis and you should be as agog as Leeloo when she first witnesses its hyper-busy glories. Although still nowhere near as intricate or as seamless as Lucas' air-car crowded Coruscant, this BD transfer brings the multi-layered travelways to entrancingly decorous life. Views up and down the skyscraping canyons reveal a tremendous sense of depth - far off lines of vehicles can be clearly seen, as can signs and structures, ledges and windows, the image successfully weaving the deluge of CG information into a cohesive whole that just begs you to freeze the frame and have a proper gander. Some of the CG still looks a little ropey, however - but, again, I'm just finding faults for the sake of it. The desert opening offers great detail on the rocks and carved walls of the ancient edifice, and delicate renderings of the alien metal suits. Finite facial features are realised on everybody, but especially on Bruce and Milla, whose eyes simply radiate. The floating Chinese junk that serves Korben fast food is very smartly detailed with oddments and paraphernalia, too.
Contrast, as I said, is well-maintained and blacks are strong and deep, but not too dense as to cloak any finer detail to be found within the shadows. The corridors of Zorg's headquarters or the murk of the lower levels of New York feel real and atmospheric. The blackness of deep space, pinpricked with sharp little silver stars, and the glowing sphere of Evil look tremendous. Escape pods evacuating the Floston Paradise look great too, with acute lights igniting against the stars.
The primaries are achingly gorgeous, full of depth and stability and without a single hint of smearing or ill-saturation. The rest of the spectrum, which is also fully utilised, is presented with just as much love and respect. The blue skin of the Diva is slick and coated with a translucency that you can almost touch. The various costumes are so brightly hued you may even wince - Bruce's vest, the red berets of the officials - and the sets are daubed with lashings of intense cross-co-ordinations that would make even Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen squint. Explosions are beautiful and the mystical lights radiating from the activated stones during the climax are utterly bewitching with the increased resolution.
Three-dimensionality is sporadically effective, however. Leeloo's dive off the ledge is impressive, as are shots of the police cars and Korben's taxi whirling through the sky. But some large-scale fx shots can seem quite bogusly enhanced and unconvincing - the Floston Paradise floating above the blue sea, for example, or the Mondoshawan turd-shaped spacecraft descending onto the desert of Egypt. But, on the whole, interiors carry a good sense of depth and shots like those in the opera hall feel suitably grand and spacious.
There is some edge enhancement, though, that is more obvious in some shots than others. It poses no major detraction from the clarity of the image but it would have been nicer if they could have eliminated it altogether. As it stands, though, The Fifth Element looks fantastic. I wouldn't rate it as highly as a lot of newer transfers, but fans will find little to complain about now that the film has been properly treated to the high definition process.
SoundThe original BD release was praised for its PCM Uncompressed (48 kHz/16-bit) track and, thankfully, that track is still present. But there is also now a Dolby TrueHD track, as well, which is great for a direct comparison. The last time I came across this was with the awesome transfer for Ghost Rider, with the PCM pipping the post. And, once again, it does the job here, with slightly more power, greater clarity, smoother steerage and a warmer, more lustrous presentation of all the elements that went into the sound design. The Dolby TrueHD runs a very close second, though, and to some ears there may well be little in it.
The explosive nature of the track is well-produced, with bombs going off with great depth and plenty of oomph. The side of a building blowing-out behind Zorg is very effective and meaty, as is Korben shooting out of the steel hull of the Floston Paradise in order to fly through the hole. Gunfire roars around the set-up with smartly pronounced and guttural velocity and is directed front to back and side to side with cool, wraparound precision. Once things go ballistic, both tracks offer a tremendous showcase for zippy, dynamic and immersive effects and both feature seamless panning around the soundfield. Dialogue, despite all the activity around the set-up remains uncompromised. Which is actually a shame as the audio engineers could so easily have drowned out Chris Tucker's lamentable screeching and hollering.
Serra's score comes across very well, with the mid-range warm and enveloping at all times. The rears are active throughout much of the film, carrying lots of ambience for the metropolis and the lively hubbub of the Floston Paradise, and some of those beefy explosions reach around behind you, too. Korben's fiery escape from the pleasure ship is bolstered by a nice front-to-back sweep of rushing flame and scattering debris and there is an impressive deep-space bass rumble whenever the sphere of Evil draws closer.
As with the picture, there are much better audio transfers out there, but for a film that now a decade old, this still sounds very good, indeed, whichever track you opt for.
ExtrasDisappointingly for fans of the film, there is nothing extra on this disc other than a Trivia Track which crops up with intriguing and amusing bits and bobs about the production, the story and the actors. Personally, I didn't stick with it because it just didn't keep my interest level up. Even the lacklustre original R2 release had more than this. My opinions of the movie, notwithstanding, a big budget FX spectacle such as things simplt demands more attention bestowed upon it.
VerdictFor fans of the film, this is a no-brainer. Trouncing its former BD release with ease, The Fifth Element looks and sounds scintillating. The lack of extras is a misstep with such a contentious film, however - for a cluster of documentaries and commentaries would be lapped up by those either eager for more insight into the production or just thirsting for an explanation, or two, from Besson. Of course these can already be found on some of the previous SD incarnations of the film and, really, this 1080p version would sit quite nicely alongside those discs for multi-dipping fans.
So, partly magical, often hysterical (though rarely in a good way), The Fifth Element remains an overblown curiosity that entrances some whilst alienating and infuriating others. To get through it, you have to make a pact with it and it depends wholly upon the individual if that bargain is worth the effort. A cult Sci-Fi item that will be treasured and discussed for many years to come? Nah ... that would be Blade Runner, not this ridiculous masquerade.
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