Director: Luc Besson
Script: Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen
Cast: Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman, Ian Holm, Milla Jovovich, Chris Tucker
Running time: 126 minutes
It is the 23rd century, and war veteran turned taxi driver Korben Dallas (Willis) is just trying to get by, living on an overpopulated and polluted planet Earth. Until, that is, the beautiful Leeloo (Jovovich) crashes through the roof of his cab. Discovering that this woman is actually the last of an alien species and “the Fifth Element”, a powerful being who can destroy a great evil threatening the planet, Dallas teams up with a priest (Holm) and disc jockey (Tucker) to reunite Leeloo with the stones that will unlock her true power, all the while dodging alien bounty hunters and a megalomaniacal arms dealer (Oldman).
There is absolutely no denying, after 23 years, that Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element is still one of the most unique sci-fi action movies ever released. A cut and dry cult classic combining a stellar ensemble cast with visual effects that still look incredible in 2020 and a script that bubbles with both madcap comedy and serious sci-fi action, The Fifth Element straddles that strange line between accessible family movie and esoteric French arthouse curio, and StudioCanal are paying tribute to that with this brand new 4K transfer releasing on Blu-Ray and UHD.
Revisiting The Fifth Element in the 21st century is an absolute testament to how well it’s aged. From the opening scenes in 1914 Egypt, Besson is utterly dedicated to his story and vision. It’s ironic that The Phantom Menace, released just two years later has arguably aged poorer, but The Fifth Element’s groundbreaking practical effects show just how good a model shot can be vs CGI. It doesn’t hurt that the art design is also top notch, from the abstract alien spacecraft which punctuates that aforementioned opening scene, to the cyclopean future cityscapes, ripped straight from the pages of many a 90’s sci-fi comic (the debt that this film owes 2000AD is definitely apparent) to the baroque interiors of the floating cruise ship that takes up most of the stories third act, the design is simultaneously stunning and surreal, but always utterly captivating.
As well as it’s sumptuous visuals, The Fifth Element boasts quite the superb cast. Bruce Willis is front and center as Korben Dallas, the gruff marine turned taxi driver, and delivers a peak mid 90s Willis performance full of enthusiasm and heart. The late Ian Holm is probably the most grounded cast member that dials it back a little as priest Father Cornelius, while Gary Oldman seasons the scenery with a little salt and pepper before chewing heartily on it as insane arms dealer and main antagonist Zorg. Scattered among the main cast are a collection of recognisable character actors like Brion James, Tiny Lister and John Neville which provide significant flavor to Besson’s sumptuous platter.
At the top end of the cast, however, is Milla Jovovich as Leeloo, the supreme being and Fifth Element. An innocent, often naive yet powerful girl, Jovovich delivers what is absolutely a career defining performance. Funny, warm and touching, Leeloo’s innocent journey of discovery about the dangers of human nature and the power of love is central to the narrative of the Fifth Element and it’s impossible to imaging anyone other than Jovovich in the role.
Unfortunately the film does still have Chris Tucker as space DJ Ruby Rhod. Loud and overenthusiastic, this is arguably the film that launched Tucker’s career. Looking back, Rhod feels like a character before his time when put next to equally grating modern YouTubers, but that doesn’t make any of his onscreen appearances any less irritating. Annoying as he may be, however, Rhod is very much part of the cult appeal of The Fifth Element and Tucker’s off the wall performance does match up with the off kilter Gaelic charm of the film.
Ultimately, the Fifth Element is true lightning in a bottle. Besson tried to repeat its success in 2017 with Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, a film that arguably feels like a spiritual follow up yet doesn’t quite land on its feet. The world misses the lived in feel, the script is too overcomplicated and the characters don’t gel as well. The Fifth Element really is a unique beast and is still a fabulous film in 2020.
It’s great then to see the care that’s gone into this restoration that StudioCanal have released. The picture is as crisp and clear as it’s ever been and the sound is bright, with dialogue and the fabulous classical/electronica score from Eric Serra both mixed at the right levels for neither to become overwhelming. The Fifth Element has also received a full 4K HDR transfer which we sadly didn’t get a chance to look at, but if this Blu Ray release is anything to go by, UHD owners are in for an absolute treat!
Unfortunately, however, I find it hard to recommend this disc release. At a premium price on Blu-Ray and UHD, despite some fabulous new artwork, the disc comes with no bonus features whatsoever, not even a directors commentary or a reprint of older features from the film’s previous releases. As discs become more boutique items and as 4K begins to push the price of them up, collectors want to know they’re going to get bang for their buck and, unfortunately, this edition of The Fifth Element does not deliver.
The film is still marvellous and a must see, however those with the older Blu Ray release, or even the pre-transfer 4K disc from 2017 will be better keeping hold of their copies. For anyone else, the cheaper VOD release will likely be better value albeit not the highest quality way of watching this visually and audibly sumptuous film. A fantastic movie, but a disappointing release.