The Fifth Element, a futuristic blend of science fiction, comedy, action and arthouse sensibilities, actually begins in 1914 when an aged archeologist uncovers a universal secret. Before he can make his findings known to the scientific community, however, a gang of aliens whisk it away from him. What he found was The Fifth Element, and its purpose, along with four other elements, was to help the human race defend itself from an evil force that manifests on Earth once every five thousand years.
Fast forward through time a little bit to the Earth of the 23rd century. The Evil is about to makes it's regular appearance and the aliens who scooped up the Fifth Element are shipping it back to Earth to let it do its thing. Unfortunately for Earth, a gang of sinister Mangalorian space pirates board the freighter that the Element is on, and they steal it knocking the freighter down in the process. Scientists find only a hand left from the remains, and they clone it (in the future this practice is acceptable) and create what turns out to be a foxy rehead named Leeloo (Milla Jovavich).
Meanwhile, Evil has aligned itself with a human ally named Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg (Gary Oldman). He's going to send his army of alien thugs out to gather up the remaining four elements and open things up for The Evil to come in and lay waste to the planet.
Leeloo doesn't dig being held captive by the scientists and she soon makes a break for it and ends up in the back of a space taxi cab driven by one Major Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis). Dallas and Leeloo soon become friends and form an alliance in spite of themselves, and it's up to them to save the world.
The Fifth Element is two hours of pop-perfect eye candy. It's a wonderful blend of French arthouse style and comic book science fiction action. The plot is all over the place and it jumps around quite a bit, and some of the performances range on annoying (cough-cough-Chris-Tucker-cough-cough). But then there are the visuals – my God, the visuals. Besson has filled this movie with so much detail, so many vibrant colors and symbolic background touches that any shortcomings in the story are soon forgotten about and easily forgiven. This film looks so gorgeous and has such a good time with itself that in turn this enthusiasm becomes infectious, and ultimately it's a whole lot of fun. The film remains the most expensive French production in history and it was money well spent – even now almost ten years later, with plenty of advances having been made since this movie was shot, it still looks fantastic in the truest sense of the word.
I may be a little biased in that I find Milla Jovavich just so darned fun to look at that I could probably be entertained by watching her fold laundrey but I do believe she puts in a great performance as Leeloo. Considering that her dialogue consists mainly of a made up alien language, it's quite remarkable that at such a young age she was able to portray as much character through a series of unintelligible bleeps and bloops and a whole lot of physical emoting. Bruce Willis plays the type of character he excels at – he's down on his luck and a little rough around the edges, but at the core he's a good man who wants to do the right thing. Willis has the face and the voice to handle these kinds of roles convincingly, his performance here is no exception to that trait. Of course, Gary Oldman is given plenty of opportunity in this film to go completely over the top, and being Gary Oldman it shouldn't surprise anyone to find that he makes the most of it. His slimey character is a great villain – evil enough to be despicable and showing equal parts greed, ignorance, and evil genius.
Take the visuals and the cast and mix in a whole lot of fashionable futuristic sets, a few different alien races, and an interesting gang of supporting characters to flesh things out a little bit and The Fifth Element ends up as an enjoyable science fiction romp. The story might not be breaking any new ground but the look and feel of the movie more than makes up for that – just sit back and take it all in.The DVD
The Fifth Element is once again presented in a ravishing 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. The previous single disc Superbit release of this title looked just great and thankfully so does this re-release. The colors are fantastic – red and orange hues, which play a big part in the look of the movie, are bold and distinct without ever bleeding into each and the black levels remain pretty much rock solid from start to finish. Flesh tones look nice and life like, never too pink or too yellow, and the wildly colorful visuals of the film come shining through very nicely.
There's plenty of detail present throughout the film and the image is stable for the duration. Mpeg compression is virtually non-existent and while there is some minor edge enhancement in a couple of scenes, it's a very minute problem even at the worst of times and it doesn't pull you out of the movie or ruin the viewing experience. There's a lot of detail in both the close up items on the screen and in the background of the picture as well, aside from a couple of specks here and there, the picture is free of any major blemishes or print damage.
If you've already got the single disc Superbit disc, you probably won't notice much of a difference in picture quality on this DVD (which also sports the Superbit logo on the back of the packaging) as they only extra feature on the 'movie' disc is the fact track, which is essentially a subtitle and doesn't take up much space at all.Sound:
You've got your choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound or DTS 5.1 Surround Sound, and to be honest, you can't go wrong either way. This sound mix is a pretty active one especially during the action scenes where effects zip around the room making use out of all five channels and hitting the subwoofer with the appropriate amount of 'boom.' Dialogue is clean, clear, and distinct and neither track ever suffers from hiss or distortion of any kind.
The background music and sound effects levels are mixed into the movie perfectly and don't overshadow the dialogue at all. While the DTS mix did sound just a hair more distinct to my ears then the Dolby Digital track did, both are very nice mixes that do a great job of bringing the movie to life in your living room or home theater. The clarity during the Diva scene in particular is razor sharp and at times it is almost a little haunting. Bass response from the lower end of the mix is lively and just as powerful as it needs to be (again, the DTS mix gets the slight edge here as well, but it is slight).
Optional subtitles are available in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese and Thai and an English language closed captioning option is also included on the DVD.Extras:
On the first disc the only extra available is the Fact Track, which comes in your choice of English, Spanish, or Portuguese. This is essentially a subtitle option that plays overtop of the film itself (disabling any other subtitle options you might choose in the process) and displays some interesting trivia and factoids about the film and those who made it as the movie plays. This track should prove to be of marginal interest to fans as it covers all manner of odd little facts and trivia bits. It gives some background information on some of the effects work, which segments were shot in Africa compared to what was shot in a studio, and does an interesting job of tying in some of Gary Oldman's dialogue to Bruce Willis' much maligned singing career. The only drawback with this is that there are more than a few stretches where there just plain aren't any facts to present. This has the same result as dead air during an audio commentary. It's not that big a deal in that you're just basically watching the movie as your normally would during these moments, but switching back and forth between 'movie mode' and 'fact track' mode as the disc dictates is a little annoying.
Moving on to the second disc, we find the bulk of the extra features on this release. They're laid out and titled as follows:Disc 2:
The Visual Element: Essentially a featurette that runs 18:24, this segment takes a look at how the look of the film was developed and then created on camera. There's some interview footage with a few of the artists who worked on production designs and character sketches. This piece also details some of the background and influence that some specific French comic books had on the vision for the film and the look that Besson wanted for the movie. This interview footage is spliced and edited in with plenty of behind the scenes footage and production footage artwork, as well as with some clips from the movie itself. In addition to the featurette itself, this segment also contains test footage for The Pyramid, Cornelius' Apartment, Zorg's Office, The Airport, The Lobby, The Corridor, and The Bedroom. It's interesting to compare how things look in this test footage, that is presented silent without narration or commentary of any kind, in contrast with how the final version of the film ended up looking.
The Digital Element: The featurette for this second segment clocks in at 9:46 and focuses on how a lot of the digital effects were created and composed for the film by Digital Domain. Containing interviews with a few of the technicians who orchestrated a lot of this work, this piece also features some interesting 'green screen' footage as well as some behind the scenes shots.
The Star Element: This section contains three featurettes – on a piece for Bruce Willis (4:19), Milla Jovavich (12:45) and Chris Tucker (4:16). Each one of these segments contains an interview with its respective subject, all of whom give their version of how the ended up cast in the film, and how the feel about the movie and their work in it. Jovavich in particular, who gets an interview almost three times longer than those awarded Tucker and Willis, discusses her initial enthusiasm at being cast as a lead in a Besson (to whom she ended up being married to for two years) film at the tender age of twenty one years old. This section also contains different screen tests for Milla Jovavich, in which her character does look a little bit different compared to how she looks in the finished version.
The Alien Element: The most interesting of the segments contains a featurette for each of the main alien beings in the movie. The Mondoshawans (8:11), The Mangalores (9:45), The Strikers (3:03) and Picasso (4:15). Also contained in here are three screen tests and two outtakes for The Mondoshawans, and one test and one outtake for The Mangalores. This section does a very good job of filling us in on how these creatures came to be and why some of them were used in the film more than others were. For people who enjoy make up effects footage and special effects footage, these are interesting little snippets of how they make it happen, and sometimes why they don't.
The Fashion Element: This is a 7:44 minute look at the fashion design work that renowned French designed Jean-Paul Gaultier did for the film, and how he thinks working for the silver screen differs from working for the runways of Paris. Gaultier, in an on camera interview, discusses his work on the movie and some of the themes and ideas that were running around in his head that he wanted to get up on the screen in his designs. This section also contains three test footage segments for Leeloo's character and one for Korben Dallas.
The Diva: While not part of the 'Elements' section, it more or less follows the same format. This section contains a featurette running 16:13 and which contains the first on camera interview that Maiween Le Besco has done on her work in this film. She discusses some of the difficulties involved in the shoot, some of the technical issues, and some of the more personal memories she has of the film (she and Besson were engaged while this film was shooting and the two of them have a child together). Also in this section are two general outtakes, a third outtake from the Opera House scene, and some make up test footage for The Diva.
Rounding out the extra features is a nice photo gallery consisting of twenty five different variations on the film's poster art from different international marketing campaigns, and trailers for Leon – The Professional, The Forgotten and Mirrormask. On a semi-related note, the cover art is rather ugly. There are so many cool variations on the poster art contained in the gallery that it's kind of mind boggling as to why Columbia/Tri-Star wouldn't just go with one of those choices, but never the less, they obviously didn't do that and we're treated to some sort of goofy Photoshop collage treatment instead.Final Thoughts:
If you've already got the single disc Superbit release, whether you'll want to upgrade or not will hinge solely on how much stock you put in the supplements – of which there are quite a few, and most of which are pretty interesting. If you don't already own a copy of the film, then The Fifth Element – Ultimate Edition two disc set comes highly recommended. The movie is a lot of fun and it looks and sounds terrific on this release.