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‘The Fifth Element’ is starting to turn into the new ‘Army of Darkness’, with its many different versions across many different regions. So, because of this, we have decided to take a look at the video quality in each release, especially since the original R2 was so awful and there are now Superbit releases in addition to a new R2 2-disc special edition. Brief specs for the discs are as follows:

Aspect RatioAudioDiscsExtrasCover
R12.35:1 and 1.33:1Dolby Digital 5.11 - dual sidednoFifth Element Video Guide
R1 Superbit2.35:1DD 5.1 and DTS 5.11noFifth Element Video Guide
R2 (UK)2.35:1DD 5.11yesFifth Element Video Guide
R2 SE2.35:1DD 5.1 and DTS 5.12yesFifth Element Video Guide
R3 Superbit2.35:1DD 5.1 and DTS 5.11noFifth Element Video Guide


Note that the R3 Superbit does not say R3 on the cover - I put it there to distinguish it from the R1 Superbit.

Now to look at video captures from each film. These will be presented in the following format. First a cap from the R3 Superbit will be presented following a compilation of five zoomed captures from each DVD (in the same order listed above - that is R1, R1 SB, R2, R2 SE, R3 SB). Each zoomed image is hyperlinked to the original capture measuring 1280x720 pixels and open in a new window. Each image was captured using Cyberlink's PowerDVD software (review) and (no hardware acceleration) which means the quality will be lower than that of the output observed using a standard DVD player. These are presented to show the colour variations and detail, or rather lack of, that some of the versions use. It would appear that the R1 Superbit is encoded for Regions 1, 3 and 4. However, since I had access to the R1 and R3, I thought I would include both even though it would seem they are the same transfer.

First up is a scene from the beginning of the film showing a ship that someone has reliably informed me is called a 'Mondoshawan' ship. Not that that matters.

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Anyway, the R1 is widely considered to be a good transfer and here it fares well. However, the Superbit version has slightly more definition and less edge enhancement. Both have good colour, however the R2 and the R2 SE both have awful colour with a vast amount of yellowing. The brightness on these seems higher too, as does the contrast, which results in less detail. Just comparing the backgrounds shows how much of the small detail is simply not present or blurred out in both R2 DVDs. The R3 and R1 Superbit versions win here. Next up is the scene where Leeloo escapes and leaps from the building that held her captive.

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Again the standard R1 version is quite decent, however the R1 and R3 Superbit discs show more definition than the standard R1 and better colour rendering that both R2 editions tested. Next up is a scene that introduces Zorg, played by Gary Oldman.  

Fifth Element Video Guide

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Here it is quite easy to see that even the standard R1 has more detail in the tower than both R2 editions. The lighter background and blurred lines lack cohesion and the harsh blue of the sign is carried further into the rest of the image due to the blurring. Finally we have a scene from near the end of the film. This was picked because of the bright colours in the foreground and the dark detail on the walls at the rear.

Fifth Element Video Guide

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What to say? Again the standard R1 has more detail than both R2 editions, and the Superbit versions have more detail still.

So what to conclude from this exercise? Well it would seem the R1 standard and original release has a good transfer, as everyone always said. The standard R2 edition lacks the definition of the R1 and has dreadful colour replication. This is echoed in the newly released R2 Special Edition, which seems by all accounts to have the same appalling transfer that the original R2 has. This is a shock as it was widely publicised that the video transfer would be new for this edition. The R1 Superbit and the R3 Superbit, at a guess, share the same video transfer, and this does come out on top here. While I have not mentioned extra features here, it is worth noting that the R2 SE has DTS (1536Kbps) as well as Dolby Digital 5.1, which is a mirror of the soundtracks available on the Superbit discs.

Therefore, if you are just after the best video and audio quality, I would recommend going for a Superbit DVD, particularly the R3 as it is quite a bargain at the moment (if you can still find it). If you really must have extra features and you want to hear the commentary then the R2 SE is the one for you, however after these revelations I cannot see as many people buying that now.

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