THE FIFTH ELEMENT: Luc Besson’s Vision Pops in 4K

It’s No Less Silly, but Much More Stunning

The term “visionary” is doled out with a light hand these days, and we’re all the worse for it. But love him or hate him, French writer/director/producer Luc Besson can shoulder that mantle with ease.

The Fifth Element is a bold, bright, loud, rowdy, lush, extravagant science fiction space opera that wears its heart on its garish sleeve. And none of that would be possible without the lunatic vision of Luc Besson. With this 4K UHD Blu-ray release of the film both celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the film and clearly timed to bolster the marketing campaign of Besson’s newest film Valerian, we get a perfect opportunity to revisit this stand out film.

While I’ve personally seen The Fifth Element half a dozen times at minimum, this most recent viewing was unquestionably the strongest, with the strangeness of the tale landing much more than it ever did before. Perhaps the current burdensome machine of interconnected universes and corporate mandated sequels gives this zany story a fresh new life. Or perhaps the genuinely jaw dropping visuals here on this new 4K disc brought the extra pop I needed. Despite many viewings of the film, I’ve never been outright in love with it. I often found Chris Tucker’s proto-futuristic galactic reality television sensation Ruby Rhod to be simply unbearable. Which is funny because this time around he cracked me up unlike ever before. Most of the comedy still does little for me, but the bizarre characters and worlds, the unique progression of the plot (any movie that BEGINS with Luke Perry in a speaking role therefore must get exponentially weirder in order to justify itself), and the lush and creative visuals win the day and wash the doubt away. While this may not reach greatness, it does stand out from the crowd in a refreshing way.

Bruce Willis’ special agent/taxi driver Korben Dallas isn’t much more than a thin veil placed upon the typical cynical and wise-cracking Willis character. The difference here is the genuine, paternalistic love he feels for Milla Jovovich’s Leeloo, the titular Fifth Element, and the embodiment of love itself. She’s a “perfect being” and ends up being a pretty compelling “strong female lead” even though there is a point where this god-like creation somehow needs Dallas to save her. Made today, my hunch is that Leeloo would have far more agency and Besson’s delightfully daft Lucy might be a taste of what that might have looked like. Jovovich is filled with childlike wonder and carries the film quite well, providing that spark that brings Willis to life, and giving the film its beating heart. Gary Oldman’s absolutely ridiculous villain offers little beyond another layer of comedy, but he’s just so wonderfully loaded with affectations that you have to enjoy the performance.

Perhaps the greatest joy of The Fifth Element is that while the core elements work JUST well enough to keep the whole thing moving, the little details are what make it sing. The blue “Diva” whose intergalactic space opera is intercut with Leeloo’s most action packed moments is a bravura sequence that holds up today as wild and wonderful. The vision of the future filled with flying cars, Brion James, hovering Chinese restaurants, bizarre creatures designed impeccably well, and Tiny Lister as the President of the galaxy, is just unique and detailed enough to allow The Fifth Element to will you into enjoying it. Then the Beatles-esque “all you need is love” finale, which never really worked for me in the 1990s, knocks you out by the end and lets you believe that in today’s rotting corpse of a functional democracy, perhaps love still has a shot.

I don’t think I’ll ever be won over to the concept that The Fifth Element is somehow secretly a great film. But I liked it more than ever on this go-round, and one can’t deny a visionary and schizophrenic charm to the whole affair. Besson was firing on all his weirdest cylinders, collaborating with the right people at the right times in their careers, and crafted a visually stunning world on the cusp of the digital effects revolution which allowed for some amazing practical and digital hybrids we simply don’t get to see anymore these days.

Between the truly inspired 4K restoration, Besson’s insanity, and the adrenaline shot of innocence and purity into today’s rotten times, The Fifth Element is a 20 year old film ripe for discovery today.

The Package

As mentioned, the High Dynamic Range and 4K scan of this film is truly game-changing. I’ve still only watched a handful of 4K Blu-rays and they’re a mixed bag. This one heightens the experience of the film in a way that’s not been seen since perhaps opening weekend on the cleanest 35mm prints imaginable. There’s a special feature done in 4K in which Luc Besson is interviewed today about the film. I watched this before the feature and could not believe what I was seeing. It’s breathtaking.

One note is that these Sony 4K discs appear to be going for a different feel and have a confusing navigational system. It’s almost like they’re trying to re-sell the “animated menus” of DVD’s yesteryear. Rather than clean, simple menus, you’re navigating left, right, up, or down and swapping to different screens to find chapters, view special features, etc. I don’t like it one bit, and found the navigation disorienting. A small gripe, but worth noting as it feels regressive and flashy when the visuals alone should be the revolutionary feature here.

There’s a second disc that is most likely special features ported over from a Blu-ray release. I didn’t have the time to delve into those, and none of them are mastered in 4K. I hate to sound like a spoiled brat, but at this point I’m checking these discs out exlcusively to experience 4K content and the appeal of watching old bonus features on a second, non-4K disc is minimal.

This is a release that makes your 4K set up pop and truly adds to the experience of the original film, so it comes recommended.

Disc 1

  • Feature Film in 4K
  • The Director’s Notes (An All-new Interview with Director Luc Besson) [In 4K]

Disc 2

  • Feature Film in HD
  • The Visual Element
  • The Star Element
  • The Digital Element
  • The Alien Element
  • The Fashion Element
  • Fact Check
  • The Diva
  • Imagining The Fifth Element

And I’m Out.

The Fifth Element is now available on 4K UHD Blu-ray from Sony.

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