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Bada Boom

Bthankful for director Luc Besson. The Fifth Element doesn’t look like a corporate movie studio’s product. It’s too idiosyncratic, too bizarre, too outrageous to fit into a comfortable mainstream mold. Yes, Bruce Willis saves everyone and everything on a pedestrian hero’s journey, from retired military operative to cab driver to savior. What’s underneath Fifth Element is where it works.

Milla Jovovich stars as Leeloo, inherently a Christ figure who is reborn by science and under protection of religious monks. There’s prophecy and belief, centered around hieroglyphics and alien kind. The surrealism of Fifth Element gambles with studio money, as much a futuristic sci-fi fable as a French arthouse religious parable.

It’s rare for a film this busy to still work. Luc Besson penned the idea as a teenager. That’s obvious on-screen. Jovovich spends part of the movie wrapped only in elongated white band-aids. That’s the typical male teenage mind. The mixture of monsters, laser guns, missiles, spaceships, and intergalactic travel all converge around an unorthodox love story. Guy meets girl, but it takes a while. Stuff needs to blow up. Teens like that too.

Only a handful of films earn the title of “visionary,” but that’s Besson’s

Taking place in the 23rd century, Besson decorates his film with snazzy, anything goes production design. Only a handful of films earn the title of “visionary,” but that’s Besson’s. It’s eclectic and erratic, with flying cars and smartly cramped apartments. People wear unsuitable clothing, especially the police, and bulky globular aliens stumble like penguins, making suit performers suffer for the sake of art.

Chris Tucker looms large over Fifth Element. How can he not? A brash, abrasive, celebrity DJ, he screeches and crows every second he’s on screen. Some 20-years on from his performance, Tucker inadvertently predicted the rise of YouTube vloggers. The behavior, the mannerisms, the jumpy thoughts; Tucker needs his own internet channel. He’d succeed.

Yet in-between all of this, the vibrancy of the world and an ex-pro wrestler as president (that seems plausible now), Fifth Element finds time to chastise humanity. The script finds Leeloo searching for images of war. She begins to cry at the results. The final image is of a nuclear mushroom cloud, this with seconds to go before a rogue planet slams into Earth. It’s enough time to debate the merits of keeping us around, but the moment of restraint – one of maybe two total in Fifth Element – holds power. That’s why Fifth Element is so busy: It’s yelling and explosions loudly proclaim we have value, because if this mass of ideas can become art, then we have some something of worth.


Sony paraded Fifth Element on home media a multitude of times, always as a technical standout (whether true or not on the finished disc). Superbit DVD and the “Mastered in 4K” Blu-ray line saw Fifth Element in their ranks, and now on UHD with this 20th Anniversary release. It’s generally a beauty.

Excuse the computer generated effects. Those remain of their time, with rotten resolution. That won’t change. The rest, from a 4K master, shows remarkable fidelity. With retained (and resolved) grain, Fifth Element gains new life. A plethora of sweaty close-ups begged for additional resolution, provided here. High-frequency imagery constantly flows from the screen, dazzling in clarity and sharpness.

If something appears amiss, it’s not just you. A mild layer of edge enhancement tends to ruin distance shots. High contrast edges introduce halos. A handful of other shots bring about similar artifacts. Grain skews slightly rough too, furthering the cause & effect of digital sharpening. Without it, Fifth Element is likely to reach reference quality. As it sits, the slight manipulation robs the disc of slight fidelity.

Color does appear flat. In comparison to previous editions, grading takes some of the zest out of the images on UHD. As Leelo is first born, the warmth of the scene is lost. Primaries hold density, if not saturation. A touch of Fifth Element’s colorful zest disappears. Accurate flesh tones and a flatter palette give the world a more rundown look though, and suits the imagery.

Luckily, there’s a bevy of contrast to take in. Space appears with superior black levels. Sunlight glancing off planetary surfaces glistens. Shadow details soar, and plentiful daylight scenery keeps the disc moving visually.


Introducing a new Atmos mix, the UHD gives refreshed sonic life to Fifth Element. A movie this busy calls for the use of frequent directionality. In the city, cars pan by, their engines lightly catching in the subwoofer. Bigger ships – alien ones notably – defy science and lurch through space with booming thrusters, rocking the LFE channel.

Great balance manages crisp dialog amid the chaos. During a late shoot-out, with an entire room being taken out, dialog isn’t covered or lost. With every speaker active and mixing bullets and debris, it’s a great bit of mixing. Fifth Element doesn’t reveal its age. Fidelity is superb.


One bonus feature shows up on the UHD, luckily at the top of Sony’s awful menu system. The Director’s Notes revisits the film with Luc Besson, looking back on the project and his thoughts on it now.

Everything else comes on the Blu-ray, split into aging featurettes, test footage, and deleted scenes. Focus shifts from the cast to aliens to fashion. Each digs into the production, but the use of a narrator screams of an outdated ‘90s style. There’s also an option to view Fifth Element with a fact track.

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Luc Besson’s unusual, surreal sci-fi epic The Fifth Element holds up after 20 years, proving a timeless combination of visuals and philosophy.

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The 15 unaltered images below represent the Blu-ray. For an additional 19 Fifth Element screenshots, early access to all screens (plus the 9,000+ already in our library), exclusive UHD reviews, and more, support us on Patreon.

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