The Fifth Element (1997)
By: Captain Red Eye on June 24, 2011  | 
Madman | Region B | 2.35:1, 1080p | English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 | 125 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Luc Besson
Starring: Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman, Milla Jovovich, Ian Holm
Screenplay: Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen
Country: USA
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Something of an oddity in the Luc Besson canon, The Fifth Element followed on from 1994s highly-regarded Léon: The Professional. In addition to being one of Besson's most visually complex films it also stands as his principal attempt at anything approaching a Hollywood-style blockbuster, albeit one done through a very European filter. With worldwide box office takings exceeding $250 million and a loyal fan following almost 15 years after the fact Besson could be said to have achieved his aim, though the film has always polarised viewers and evoked some rather heated critical reactions upon its initial release. American audiences and reviewers in particular didn't seem to appreciate a French upstart intruding into the realm of space epic, previously the near-exclusive domain of US filmmakers, no matter how frenetic and determinedly bombastic an attempt.

Much of the film's success is derived from the casting of its principal roles. It's a real treat to watch Bruce Willis strutting his stuff in outer space, a hyper-villainous Gary Oldman rejoicing in the 'lovely ballet' of destruction, Milla Jovovich parading around half-dressed whilst prattling away in a futuristic language of her own devising or Rush Hour's Chris Tucker camping it up as the universe's most flamboyant radio personality. The costumes might most aptly be described as futuristic cyberpunk meets bad acid trip (they were in fact designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier, right down to Jovovich's barely-there bandage ensemble) and the characters themselves, humanoid and extraterrestrial alike, are likewise amongst the most garish, bizarre creations ever committed to celluloid.

In case you've been living under some sort of igneous geological mineral formation for the past decade and a half, The Fifth Element opens in Egypt just prior to the outbreak of World War I. A group of peace-loving mechanoids known as the Mondoshawan visit an Ancient Egyptian temple to retrieve the only weapon capable of destroying the Great Evil, which is destined to appear every 5000 years and just about due for a resurgence. The weapon is comprised of four stones representing the four classical elements, and can be activated with the addition of an all-powerful figure known as the Fifth Element. The Mondoshawan don't trust the warring human race with such a precious commodity, and promptly head back into the outer reaches of the cosmos to prevent the stones falling into the wrong hands.

Fast forward to the 23rd century, and two such hands belong to wealthy industrialist Jean-Baptiste Zorg (Oldman), an ally of the Great Evil with a penchant for unusual haircuts and subjugating the working masses. Desperate to locate the stones at any cost he employs the services of a group of shape-shifting and decidedly unfriendly aliens, the Mangalores, to destroy the Mondoshawan spacecraft, and although they achieve this aim the precious cargo itself is not aboard. Earth scientists are able to salvage, however, the severed hand of the Fifth Element. Thanks to some extremely effective high-tech jiggery pokery, they manage to reconstitute the DNA strands into the form of a punk-haired humanoid hottie named Leeloo (Jovovich), dressing her in as few clothes as possible in the process. Leeloo subsequently escapes, is rescued by a former Special Forces major turned cab driver Korben Dallas (Willis), aided by a priest with the key to the Egyptian chamber (Ian Holm) and hunted incessantly by Zorg and his ruthless minions. Oh, and in the interim the Great Evil has awoken, and is hurtling towards Earth in the form of a planet-sized ball of fiery horridness which only the Fifth Element can repel.

If this all reads like something conjured in the mind of a teenager, that's because Besson was just 16 when he began working on the film's script, though it was to be more than another 20 years before he could bring his vision to the screen. The finished product provoked some interesting reactions from the US press: 'colossally stupid and overbearingly pompous,' an 'overblown cosmic comic book,' a film that 'may or may not be the worst of all time.' I'd suggest this is a little unfair; the film is certainly loud, arguably disjointed, quite possibly overlong. It's also a singularly imaginative ride through the reaches of distant space, a realm populated by some of the most vibrant, incredible filmic creations ever conjured.

There are one or two glaring miscastings, notably the wooden 'Tiny' Lister as the Galactic President, and not everyone, understandably, will care to watch Chris Tucker screeching like a demented peacock for the better part of an hour. But it's all part of the spectacle, and there's more than substance to counteract the flash and bombast.
This is, by a factor too large to compute, the best The Fifth Element has ever looked. The film's abundantly grandiose imagery, costuming and special effects are perfectly encapsulated in this flawless 2.35:1 1080p HD transfer, which is as rich and spectacular as the visuals themselves. It really looks the business, containing plenty of depth and clarity and not so much as a hint of grain, more than atoning for the myriad sins of certain previous DVD editions.
This (relatively) new Blu-ray edition also boasts an eminently impressive Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack. As robust and in your face as a Mangalorean aerial assault, the lossless audio boasts a solid midrange, good directionality and excellent use of the surround technology on some of the film's more frenetic sequences, of which there is one seemingly every several minutes. Plenty of 'big bada boom,' as Leeloo might say.
Extra Features
In addition to looking quite literally brilliant in HD, The Fifth Element stands as the highlight of the corpus of Besson titles released by Madman on Blu this past year – it actually contains bonus features! Good stuff too, including the 25-minute Making Of documentary The Element, and supplementary featurettes on the costuming, special effects, lead actors, visuals and more, all of which runs over 100 minutes and contains some illuminating BTS footage of Besson at work, interviews with Besson and his leads such as Willis and Jovovich, a tongue in cheek look at the film's fashion sense, interviews with costume designer Jean-Paul Gaultier, etc.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
A space opera in the truest sense, The Fifth Element is one of the most camp, colourful and downright fun films of the nineties. It's a very French take on science fiction, which perhaps explains its somewhat tepid reception amongst American reviewers, but whatever criticisms one might level at the film – and however justified – you could never accuse it of being boron.

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