Release Date(s)1997 (August 24, 2020)
Studio(s)Gaumont/Columbia TriStar (StudioCanal UK)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: N/A
[Editor’s Note: Like all 4K Ultra HD releases, this UK disc has no region coding. However, the regular Blu-ray included in the packaging is Region B only.]
Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) is a down-on-his-luck New York City cabbie. Retired from military service as a space fighter pilot, he’s been having a hard time adjusting to civilian life. Things begin to change however, when a mysterious and beautiful girl named Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) literally falls out of the sky and lands in the back seat of his cab. Before long, it seems as if everyone on Earth (and off it too) is after either Leeloo or Dallas himself, including a priest (Ian Holm), a crime lord (Gary Oldman), the military, the police, a strange group of alien thugs, and even a bizarre radio show host (Chris Tucker). Little does Dallas know, Leeloo may be the key to solving a thousand year old mystery... and possibly the only thing standing between the Earth and the threat of destruction by an unthinkable Evil.
The Fifth Element is an incredibly hard film to categorize. It’s science fiction certainly, but it’s also infused with elements of fantasy, action, and even comedy. This is arguably the most visually captivating and stylish vision of the future to be seen onscreen since Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. It would exceptional for that reason alone, if for nothing else. This vision was almost completely inspired, and ultimately realized, by the legendary French comic book artists Jean-Claude Mézières and Jean Giraud, the latter known as Moebius to his fans (the creator of Heavy Metal magazine, which began in France as Metal Hurlant).
Fortunately, beyond its simple visual design achievement, The Fifth Element works on other levels too. The story is fascinating and engaging, and surprising performances by Willis, Holm, Tucker, Oldman, and Jovovich really bring it to life. That’s a truly unusual bunch of actors to bring together onscreen, but the ensemble gels against all expectations. Jovovich’s Leeloo is not just authentically alien in the way she speaks, but also in the very way she looks at the world—indeed at everything around her. You believe that this is a being that’s fresh off the turnip truck, so to speak. Earth isn’t just new to her, she’s new to life itself. Jovovich fully sells her character, and thus manages to tie this film together convincingly.
Sony originally released The Fifth Element on 4K Ultra HD in the US back in 2017, in honor of the film’s 20th anniversary. (We reviewed the disc here on The Bits at that time.) Now, StudioCanal has finally released the film on UHD in the UK. But while this new disc appears to be mastered from the same 4K scan of the original camera negative (done by Sony in 2015), this is a brand new encode. Why does that matter? It’s a noticeably better encode, much cleaner and less noisy looking than the Sony UHD. What’s more, the StudioCanal disc offers a much higher data rate. The Sony presentation was more variable, with a data rate that averaged between 50 and 65 Mbps. StudioCanal’s disc is almost constantly in the 85 Mbps range, with peaks of up to 100 Mbps.
The film is presented in its proper 2.39:1 theatrical aspect ratio. As with the Sony disc, the high dynamic range grade is restrained—which is good given that the film was already vibrant—allowing for truly dark blacks and highlights that gleam brightly but fall just short of being eye-reactive. It is however, just a little bit warmer looking than the Sony grade. But here’s the clincher; not only does this disc include HDR10, it offers Dolby Vision HDR for the first time on disc as well (not noted on the packaging).
Fine detail and texturing are very good and the grain is now a bit more stable given the better encode (the film was shot in Super 35 format, so grain is to be expected). The image is pleasantly film-like, though the visual effects do still have a slight digitally-processed appearance, with a bit of haloing visible on high contrast edges (not seen in the live action footage). This is actually inherent in the film master, an artifact of what was then state-of-the-art in digital post production and visual effects capability at the time The Fifth Element was completed back in 1997. Nevertheless, this is a pleasing presentation and certainly one that bests the already strong Sony 4K—that extra data rate (and the inclusion of Dolby Vision) makes a real difference.
In terms of audio, the 4K disc includes the exact same English Dolby Atmos mix (compatible with 7.1 Dolby TrueHD systems) that was available on both the Sony 4K UHD and their previous Cinema Series Blu-ray. It’s smooth, with highly immersive staging, livelier panning, and slightly deeper bass. The height channels are used to fine effect, especially during the “street” sequence, when Leeloo leaps off the side of a building and crashes into Dallas’ cab. It’s a great mix. Unlike the Sony disc, however, there are no additional audio or subtitle options. It’s English Dolby Atmos with English HOH subtitles only.
There are also no extras here on either the 4K disc or the included 1080p movie Blu-ray. It does, however, appear that the Blu-ray (which is Region B only) is mastered from the same 4K presentation and is also a new encode (it features the Atmos mix as well). Because of the lack of extras, the video data rate on this disc too is 5-8 Mbps higher on average than it is on the US Blu-ray. But again, there are a lot of special features missing here. Refer to my review of Sony’s 2017 4K release for the complete details on what’s been omitted.
The Fifth Element is not the best science fiction film you’ll ever see, but it’s certainly among the more unique and intriguing. Even at its most outrageous, it remains fully entertaining and engaging, with a strange but functionally believable futuristic world that grows more enjoyable with each viewing. StudioCanal’s 4K Ultra HD release is bare bones, but offers a definite upgrade in image quality over Sony’s 2017 UHD. While it’s still not quite at the level of modern film releases in 4K, this is the best this film has ever looked at home. So if you’re a fan of The Fifth Element, StudioCanal’s new edition is worth considering.
- Bill Hunt