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Fifth Element, The
When the Superbit line of standard definition DVDs came out, one of the first titles to be released was The Fifth Element. This was a good choice since the film is filled with very interesting visuals and boasts an intricate and aurally impressive soundtrack that takes full advantage of the full soundstage. After the good reception the Superbit version of this film received, it doesn't come as a huge surprise that Sony has decided to include this film in its first wave of Blu-Ray high definition video discs. What is surprising is that the disc isn't the stunning reference quality release that it should have been. With a soft, flat image and chronic spots on the master, and almost no extras, this disc is fairly disappointing and is an opportunity that Sony really missed.
This movie has been released in three other editions, but in case you missed those here's a brief recap of the movie:
Every 5000 years a malevolent evil attacks the Earth, its only goal is to kill all living things. Luckily there is a weapon that will beat this invader, a fifth element, which when mixed with the other four (wind, earth, air, and fire) create a super weapon. The secret to this weapon has been passed down generation after generation through a series of Egyptian priests who guard the weapon itself. In 1914 however, the aliens who gave mankind this weapon took it back to use it in an interstellar war, promising to return it before the evil arrived again, 300 years hence.
Fast forward 300 years and the evil force, a ball of fire 12,000 miles in diameter, has appeared. It's heading towards Earth and nothing can stop it. To make matters worse, the fifth element's ship was destroyed as it was heading towards Earth. Luckily the living weapon was able to be saved. The weapon, naturally in the form of a hot woman named Leeloo (Milla Jovovich), escapes from military custody and quite literally falls into the hands of cabbie Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis). The four stones that it takes to activate the weapon, being escorted by a courier via a different route, are still needed though. Unfortunately these stones are being hunted by the military, a priest (Ian Holm), a rich psychopath (Gary Oldman), and a squad of irate alien mercenaries. It's up to Korben to aid the helpless and naive Leeloo in recovering the stones before anyone else can get to them, and before all life is exterminated from the Earth.
While this isn't the greatest movie to ever be filmed, it is a lot of fun. Director Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita, Leon the Professional) creates an action film that is light-hearted and filled with some wonderful visuals. The world of the future, as Besson sees it, is filled with bright colors and unusual fashions. A creative and imaginative world that really makes the film a joy to watch.
The acting is also very good. Willis plays the same kick-ass-and-take-names character that he played in the Die Hard films, and he does it very well. He brings a sense of humor and irreverence to the film that the movie really revels in. Milla Jovovich is also perfectly cast. She exudes sexuality in the film with a minimal outfit and orange hair, but she's also innocent, naive but can take care of herself when she needs to.
As for the plot, well, that's not the film's strong point. This is a good example of where style triumphs over substance to make a fun and enjoyable film.
With the bright colors and fun visuals, this should be the standout disc from the first wave of Blu-Ray discs to be released. Unfortunately, this wasn't the case. When the movie starts and the Columbia logo is on the screen, the first things that catch the viewer's attention are the spots on the master. Unfortunately this doesn't stop when the movie itself begins. Though they are infrequent, there are spots through the entire film. I was floored by this. You'd think that Sony would have tried to release a reference quality disc for this first wave of Blu-Ray discs. Apparently not.
The Superbit release of Fifth Element looked pretty good, and maybe I'm expecting too much, but I wanted the Blu-Ray disc to look significantly better. (If it doesn't, what's the point of upgrading to this new format?) I'd love to report that this film was drop dead gorgeous but, like the other Blu-Ray discs that I've seen, I can't. It just didn't look that much better than the SD DVD especially if you have an up-converting player. Aside from the spots and marks on the master, the transfer was a bit on the soft side. It didn't have the crispness that we've come to associate with HD video. Things didn't pop out like they should. Instead they tended to lie on the screen making the movie appear flat.
On the positive side, the myriad of strong colors that infuse this film are bright and solid. The blues are particularly strong being full and deep. Happily, there isn't any color bleeding even with large areas of red, a color that seems more likely to this defect. The colors blend from one shade to another in a nice manner too.
While this disc does look good at first glance, it doesn't have the quality that a high profile film like this one should have. This image just doesn't wow the viewer like other HD content does, which is a shame.
This disc comes with an uncompressed PCM audio track, as well as DD 5.1 tracks in English and French. I had always hoped that the new HD formats would give viewers more choices in the way they view films, but so far that hasn't been the case. The Terminator Blu-Ray release does away with the original mono soundtrack, and this disc doesn't have the DTS track that was featured on the Superbit and Ultimate editions of the movie.
Okay, besides that gripe, how does it sound? Very good actually. The PCM soundtrack is very full and clear and really reproduces the audio well. The Diva's song sounds rich and textured, and the sound effects during the battle scenes really surround the viewer and puts them in the middle of the action. The high audio quality is particularly nice since this film makes such good use of the soundstage. Once the action is over, the movie doesn't fall back to stereo sound the way many movies do. The whole room is filled with sound for the entire film, making this an excellent soundtrack.
*sigh* Once again the Blu-Ray discs doesn't even port over the extras that are available on SD DVD discs, not to mention having exclusive content. The Ultimate Edition of The Fifth Element had two hours worth of behind-the-scenes featurettes in addition screen tests and other clips. All of that is missing. The only extra that is included on this disc is a pop-up trivia track that relates some trivia about the movie.
I was disappointed that Sony didn't put a bit more effort into this release. The Fifth Element could have been the reference disc that everyone pulled out when they wanted to impress their friends, but it really isn't. Appearing soft and two dimensional as well as having defects on the master, this Blu-Ray disc is a bit of a disappointment. While the movie is fun and worth catching, it would be better to just rent this one.