The Fifth Element

Review by Guido Henkel

Cover

The Fifth Element    (1997)                                                Columbia Tristar Home Video

Length:         127 mins.                                              Rated:           Not Rated                                                               Languages: English, Spanish                                     Subtitles:     Spanish                                                        Format:       Letterboxed                                                                              Pan & Scan

Zorg and his toy

Boasting a $90 million budget, “The Fifth Element” is the most ambitious French movie production to date. The money was well spent. What starts out feeling like a remake of “The Mummy” quickly turns out to be one of the most colorful and unique science fiction-action-comedy epics of recent years. It’s a bubbling melting pot of different styles, ideas, visions and quotes, delivering a sensationally entertaining experience.

In Egypt of 1914, an archeologist discovers a cosmic secret, but before he can further uncover it, aliens appear, taking the find with them. The discovery is the fifth element secretly placed there to help protect mankind from the ultimate Evil, a force that returns to Earth every 5000 years. When the time comes in a bare few centuries they will return the element to save the world… or so they say.

In the 23rd century, when the Evil finally appears from the depths of space, the fifth element is on its way back to Earth aboard an alien space freighter. When the freighter is taken down by space pirates, total annihilation seems inevitable. Scientists recover a hand from the wrecked freighter and clone its original owner. It turns out to be a young, fiery girl named Leeloo (Milla Jovovich), who soon escapes the scientists’ custody. She flees to the cab of New York cabdriver Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis). A furious race against time ensues, taking us to places as fascinating and unpredictable as life itself.

New York
Leeloo

“The Fifth Element” presents a racy 23rd century with a set of colorful characters and an eye-catching production design. From the futuristic costumes of Jean-Paul Gaultier to Digital Domain’s computer-generated special effects, this movie is near-perfect. The special effects in this movie are some of the best, presenting the future not as a glimmering metallic hi-tech world, but as a believably organic society that has simply taken evolution a few steps further and higher. Everything in the movie is somehow related to technologies existing today, which lends a strong element of credibility to the movie. Though we view a strange world, it is somehow familiar. And the same is true for the characters in this movie.

We know people like the lovable loser Korben. History shows us the close resemblance of the villain Zorg (Gary Oldman) to Hitler, and even the movie’s postmodern radio-artist Ruby strikes us somehow familiar. If “The Fifth Element” sometimes quotes and pulls from other movies, it is sheerly for fun’s sake, childishly toying with all too familiar genre stereotypes.

Korben in trouble

“The Fifth Element” has achieved a stunning transfer to DVD that makes it a showcase product. It is the kind of disc that will, without question, convince everyone about DVD’s outstanding qualities. The image is razor sharp without even the slightest of noise and the level of detail is unmatched. There is absolutely no pixelation to be found on this disc and the colors are simply phenomenal. Columbia/Tristar have once again proven that they have mastered DVD’s possibilities and know how to get the most out of the format. The disc holds both the 2.35:1 widescreen and the Pan&Scan version of the movie. It loses so much in the Pan&Scan version, however, that I would not by any means recommend watching it this way!

No review of “The Fifth Element” would be complete without mentioning Eric Serra’s incredibly ambitious soundtrack. It combines a traditional orchestral score with modern hip-hop elements in a mix that perfectly complements the visual presentation of the movie. Making heavy use of North African themes and instrumentation, the score is interesting and strange, yet familiar, mirroring the images on screen. The DVD contains a rich and active Dolby Digital 5.1 channel mix and a Dolby Surround version of the film’s soundtrack.

The Fifth Element

Director Luc Besson’s “The Fifth Element” is a furious, fast-paced, hi-tech spectacle that, at the same time, remains poetic. The movie is rich in its presentation and is simply one of the best movies of 1997. As one of the best looking and sounding DVDs, this is a downright must-have disc for every DVD owner.

 
 

December 1997

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