The Fifth Element

The Fifth Element 4K”. Now there’s an evocative phrase. If ever a UHD re-release should promise eyeball-searing imagery bursting off your TV, it’s this one. That’s not the case though. It’s a great transfer, the best the film has looked. But if you’re expecting blow-your-socks-off-Fury-Road good, that’s your memory playing tricks on you. It’s rather more restrained, which suits the film, but unambitious. With no extras of any kind, it makes an upgrade hard to recommend.

Luc Besson’s enthusiastically indulgent film was never quite as nuts as its reputation suggests. It has its daft moments, sure, as any Bruce Willis sci-fi action flick that credits Jean-Paul Gautier for costumes and features a Lee Evans cameo should. But Luc Besson had always indulged eccentricity with a wink rather than be ruled by it; his Euro-remix of Blade Runner is farcical and ridiculous, yet great characters and a faith in the story allow it to work. It could happily live in the pages of 2000AD. Only a disappointingly Bond-style misogynistic coda at the end lets it down.

I’m not sure if it’s a rescan, but the 2160p is still based on the 35mm source, so there’s a lovely balance of grain and detail. It has a range of style and colour to deal with. Moments of contrived contrast stands out, such as Milla Jovovich’s evocative white costume and striking red hair against the oily, range soaked city. Detail in smaller areas like Bruce’s apartment is strikingly sharp, as is definition in faces, though very occasionally Willis gets a slight suntan and overall the image can be a little soft.

It just lacks a killer punch, but where it is really impressive and comprehensively beats the Blu-ray is in the visual effects which really should date the film. The prosthetic work looks amazing to say it’s 23 years old. CGI has been regraded too. The literal ball of evil heading for earth has a suitably deep dark blackness to it and importantly, all the effects feel fresh yet ingrained in the fabric of the film.

Audio similarly seems to have been scrubbed up. A muscular presentation brimming with confidence, the running gun battle at the hotel really stands out and works all the channels. Dialogue is tight and centred throughout.

The film holds up better than I expected. It’s prime Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich is wonderful in a perfectly pitched performance of raw power encased in vulnerability. Gary Oldman is having great fun as an exceptionally well-drawn villain. It feels like a natural progression from Total Recall to Minority Report, even if it leans into comedy. It has a place, despite being very silly (especially Chris Tucker’s DJ).

What a shame then that at a time when physical home releases need all the help they can get, we get a bare-bones release. There isn’t even the old extra features from previous releases, which could have included the unusually substantial making of stuff. Turns out that the “Collector’s Edition” of old was just that and you should hold onto it.

Jon Meakin

Updated: Aug 30, 2020

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