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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
The Fifth Element (Superbit) (1997)

"Torture who you have to... the President, I don't care. Just bring me the stones. In one hour."
- Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg (Gary Oldman)

Review By: Dale Dobson   
Published: October 09, 2001

Stars: Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, Gary Oldman
Other Stars: Chris Tucker, Ian Holm
Director: Luc Besson

Manufacturer: IFPI
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sci-fi violence, some sexuality and brief nudity
Run Time: 02h:05m:44s
Release Date: October 09, 2001
UPC: 043396075740
Genre: sci-fi

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

French writer/director Luc Besson earned his reputation with such efforts as The Deep Blue Sea, La Femme Nikita and Leon (The Professional), films arguably in the action genre that also approach human relationships in serious, credible terms. In 1997, he was able to bring his outrageous sci-fi adventure The Fifth Element to the big screen, the rough outlines of which the adolescent Besson had sketched out many years earlier.

The Fifth Element (after Earth, Air, Fire and Water) is the ultimate force of Good, called into service every five thousand years to battle an unspeakable Evil. After its alien custodians are murdered by millionaire megalomaniac Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg (Gary Oldman), the Fifth Element assumes the form of Leeloo (Milla Jovovich), a powerful but vulnerable young woman. Renegade cab driver and ex-military man Korbin Dallas (Bruce Willis) inadvertently rescues Leeloo from her uncomprehending pursuers and becomes caught up in the action, as Leeloo seeks to recover the alien artifacts necessary to defusing the approaching threat. A galaxy-spanning adventure ensues.

The plot is fairly typical space-opera material, but The Fifth Element is an amazing ride, combining a refreshingly loose attitude with phenomenal production design. It's firmly rooted in modern comic book sci-fi, with definite echoes of the popular French fantasy magazine Metal Hurlant (repackaged as Heavy Metal in the United States). Veteran Hurlant artist Jean "Moebius" Giraud contributed to the film's look, and fans will readily spot several of his distinctive creations. Alien creatures, space ships, costumes and cultural ephemera are rendered with pop-futuristic abandon, and the characters are wonderfully broad and colorful. Chris Tucker turns in a frenetic, over-the-top performance as celebrity deejay Ruby Rhod, Ian Holm is great fun as a dignified but bewildered priest charged with delivering the Fifth Element safely to her destination, and Maiwenn Le Besco is stunning as the alien Diva Plavalaguna (though her otherworldly singing is provided by another performer). Bruce Willis is perfectly cast as an aging warrior who just wants to settle down, Milla Jovovich plays Leeloo with sensitivity and childlike wonder, and villain Gary Oldman chews the scenery with verve and intense good humor. Director Besson keeps the story moving at a rapid paceˇas soon as a scenario threatens to run out of energy, the plot moves on to something else, and the film's two-hour running time seems much shorter.

The Fifth Element is almost completely critic-proof, papering over its story flaws with sheer, palpable joy in the telling; it's exactly what it wants to be, and poking holes in this outlandish, highly imaginative movie seems unforgivably petty. Moreover, it's a unique production, a big budget science-fantasy movie that doesn't take itself too seriously. It captures the Metal Hurlant aesthetic far more successfully than either of the animated Heavy Metal films, enlisting Hollywood special effects and production values to achieve a distinctly European flavor. Luc Besson has made many more "meaningful" movies, but his The Fifth Element is an amazing creation in its own right, a thoroughly entertaining and artistically successful take on the space opera. Great fun, and that rarity of rarities, something completely different.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The Fifth Element is presented in its original 2.35:1 widescreen theatrical format, with a reference-quality anamorphic transfer. Colors are vibrant, detail is crisp, and the gorgeous production design comes through impressively. Is it a tremendous improvement over the 1997 release? No, but the original single-layer disc has long been regarded as reference-quality; this higher-bandwidth edition can't improve much on the previous edition.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Superbit edition of The Fifth Element includes two full-blown 5.1 digital soundtracks, in Dolby Digital and DTS formats. No DTS track was created for the theatrical release, and the DTS presentation here sounds like a reformatted version of the Dolby Digital mixˇbass is smoother (and actually less striking in some scenes), but the usual DTS advantages aren't particularly evident in this case. Both tracks are still impressive, with broad frequency and dynamic range, crisp dialogue and sound effects, solid surround imaging, and a fine presentation of Eric Serra's techno/orchestral score. Only the DTS track is new to the Superbit release, replacing the Dolby English and Spanish 2.0 Surround tracks included on the original disc. An excellent presentation, but the "Superbit" moniker doesn't account for any dramatic improvements over the first release.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Thai with remote access
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: Columbia's guiding philosophy for the "Superbit" label eliminates extras in favor of maximum data bandwidth for audio and video, so it's not surprising that there are NO extras here (the original release didn't include any either). 28 picture-menu chapter stops (rearranged from the first release), subtitles in 5 languages, and very simple menus support the main attraction; the disc even eschews the usual printed artwork in favor of a simple red/white "SuperbitˇThe Fifth Element" label. Nothing to look at here, befitting the "Superbit" approach. And the layer change is VERY well disguised; I have not been able to find it!

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

Columbia TriStar's Superbit edition of The Fifth Element maintains the high-quality audio and video of the original 1997 release, but it isn't enough of an improvement to warrant repurchase for owners of the earlier edition. The movie remains a great ride, a loosely structured comic-book sci-fi story enhanced by broadly drawn characters and fantastic production design. If you don't already own this one, the Superbit edition is certainly worth picking up. Recommended.


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