Fifth Element Technical Review, The (UK - BD RB)
Chris checks out the new Fox Blu-ray release of this Luc Besson sci-fi movie
It is the year 2263, and a planet-sized sphere of ultimate evil is heading straight to Earth with the intention of wiping out every living creature on the planet. The only hope for the future rests with Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis), an ex-military man who now makes a miserable living as a cab driver, priest Vito Cornelius (Ian Holm), and a mysterious young woman named Leeloo (Milla Jovovich).
Charged with the task of recovering four sacred stones—representing the elements of Earth, Wind, Fire and Water (there’s a disco group in there somewhere)—from a stunning Diva on the beautiful planet of Fhloston, Korben must face many challenges along the way. The agents of evil, led by the despicable Zorg (Gary Oldman), are also searching for the stones, and they will stop at nothing to achieve their objective.
Long story short, I requested this title weeks ago and it’s taken this long to get to me on a round-robin basis. Anyway, it’s well past the street date now so I’ve opted for my favourite time-saving device: the technical (formerly mini) review. If you’re looking for a more in-depth discussion of the film might I suggest my DVD review, linked at the bottom of this page. Anyway, on with the assessment of Fox’s Blu-ray.
We begin the technical assessment with my main reason for wanting to see the disc: the transfer. Just in case you’re not familiar with the whole Fifth Elelement on Blu-ray saga I’ll fill you in. Sony originally released the film in 2006 to universally negative reviews, owing to a particularly poor MPEG-2 transfer that had inconsistent detail and more than its fair share of film and digital artefacts. Sony made amends in 2007 when they released a remastered version utilising AVC encoding and a BD50 disc (the earlier release was a BD25). The combination of a more efficient codec and greater storage along with a cleaner print and less processing resulted in a much nicer looking version of the film. Over time it has come in for a bit of criticism for its harsh 'digital' appearance typified by hard edges, but I still think it’s a pretty decent looking disc considering its place in the format’s lifecycle. However, the saga doesn’t end there. A Scandinavian disc recently surfaced with a brand new, Luc Besson approved transfer. I was reasonably sure that this UK disc would arrive with said transfer and the Gaumont logo at the beginning of the film confirmed it.
As mentioned the new transfer was approved by Besson. Anyone who’s seen Leon on Blu-ray might have an inkling what that could mean. Basically we’re talking more or less the same quality as the remastered Sony effort with a couple of noticeable differences both good and bad. The first thing you’ll notice is that it’s been contrast boosted (see, told ya it was like Leon). This results in blown out highlights that obscure detail, even during scenes that occur in space. Colours have also been tinkered with and the palette has been pushed very firmly towards the warmer end of the spectrum, so think lots of yellows, oranges and reds. The image now ‘pops’ off of the screen, but it looks slightly unnatural. On the plus side the new transfer has not been sharpened so grain looks more natural (the Sony version is heavier and clumpier) and edges are less harsh, and while some halos are still present they’re much less noticeable. Casting my mind back to my old DVD review the contrast boosting and palette shift are actually nothing new, as I complained about similar things back in 2003.
Sound like a case of swings and roundabouts? Well maybe. To be brutally honest I'm probably over-analysing and I'm sure most people will be perfectly happy with either version of the transfer. Both have their issues, so it's up to the viewer to decide whether they prefer the more natural palette and contrast of the Sony disc and put up with the artificial sharpening, or plump for the more film-like Fox effort and live with the nuclear whites and cartoonish colours. On balance I think I prefer the Sony disc, but the new transfer is director approved so what do I know? In any event I've included shots from both the UK and US remastered discs below so you can compare and contrast to your heart's content.
Okay, I promise this section will be a lot shorter (I’m a videophile, not an audiophile). Lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks are the order of the day here, with the former being my track of choice for the review. In a fit of overkill Sony outfitted the remastered US disc with both LPCM and TrueHD 5.1 tracks that sounded very nice indeed (especially the TrueHD with its punchier bass). The DTS-HD track on this disc is every bit as capable, offering up plenty of multi-channel thrills and spills. There's a lot of discrete action right from the outset as Mondoshawan space ships cruise through space with smooth pans and the evil planet forms with a fiery explosion that ripples across the soundstage. This impressive surround utilisation continues throughout the film, with the many action sequences serving as major highlights: traffic whizzes by as Corben Dallas weaves through the city skyline; bullets fly all over the place as Zorg demonstrates the ZF-1; and the climactic shootout aboard the cruise liner on Fhloston sounds great. Also of note is the bass, which is extremely potent in even the most pedestrian of sequences but really kicks in whenever there's a gunfight or an explosion. Dialogue is generally pretty well balanced in the mix, although there are a few instances where it becomes slightly muddled, mainly when Eric Serra's wonderful score is in full effect. Beyond that there's not a lot to say, other than it's a pretty terrific soundtrack that's definitely on a par with Sony's TrueHD effort.
The disc includes nearly all of the extras found on the Special Edition DVD. First up there’s a visual effects commentary track followed by the near-fifty minute documentary ‘Discovering the Fifth Element’, which covers all of the usual stuff you’d expect to find in such a feature. ‘Imagining the Fifth Element’ covers the special effects design while ‘The Art of Jean-Claude Mezieres’ handles the conceptual art angle. Next up comes ‘An Audience with Diva Plavalaguna’, which examines how the diva sequences was created, and this is followed by ‘Elements of Style’, which deals with Jean Paul Gotier’s costume design. Things draw to a close with a collection of trailers and TV spots and the MTV Cannes Premiere. To my knowledge this is currently the most feature-packed Blu-ray release of The Fifth Element available. Okay, so there’s nothing here that hasn’t been seen before, but it’s better than a bare-bones disc any day of the week.
As far as I’m concerned The Fifth Element is a guilty pleasure. I can sympathise with those who hate it, but I’ve always had a soft spot for the film ever since it was played to death on cable during the late nineties. In fact I think that’s what converted me, as I remember being fairly nonplussed the first time I saw it. Anyway, it’s taken an age to arrive on Blu-ray over here and I’m sorry to say that the disc is a bit of a mixed bag. The audio is top-notch and as previously mentioned it’s the most bountiful release extras-wise, but the video transfer just doesn’t sit right with me. It’s not a bad transfer by any means, but like Leon before it there is something slightly annoying about having your retinas burned out by excessively bright whites. Still, if extras are your thing and you’re not overly bothered by the blooming you could do a lot worse than to pick this up.
* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 6th June 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio
Subtitles: English HoH
Extras: Featurettes, TV Spots, MTV Cannes Premiere
Easter Egg: No
Director: Luc Besson
Cast: Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman, Ian Holm, Milla Jovovich, Chris Tucker
Genre: Action and Sci-Fi
Length: 126 minutes
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