Four are known, and a fifth shall save the earth.
In 2001, Columbia turned a new corner in the DVD market with the release of a new type of DVD. The new "Superbit" discs are essentially stripped down editions of certain films with superior picture and sound quality instead of commentary tracks or theatrical trailers. Here is Sony's summation of the discs:
"Superbit DVDs utilize a special high bit rate digital transfer process that optimizes video quality and offers a choice of both DTS and 5.1 Dolby audio. Superbit DVDs start with high definition masters and double the bit rate of the original release."
Got all that? What it all boils down to is no extra features, but enough video and audio stuff to blow your sound system and TV away. The first wave of these Columbia discs include Air Force One, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Johnny Mnemonic, Desperado, and the science fiction action flick The Fifth Element. This review will be looking at The Fifth Element starring Bruce Willis (Die Hard), Gary Oldman (Bram Stoker's Dracula) and Chris Tucker (Rush Hour).
Facts of the Case
Apparently, every 5000 years or so a malevolent evil "force" comes into the galaxy to destroy that precious thing we humans like to call life. Only one thing can stop this evil—the fifth element. Aided by the four other elements (earth, air, fire and water in the form of magic rocks), these five elements, when put together, form a huge weapon that can stop the hurtling evil (in the form of a big red fireball) on its way to seal our doom.
In 1914, a race of aliens called the Modashawan came to earth to collect the four rocks, stating that they are not safe here on our planet. 300 years later, the "evil" rears its ugly head, but the stones are nowhere in sight. Hired by the evil "force," Zorg (Oldman) and a group of really ugly aliens shoot down a ship they assume is carrying the four stones, yet find the case inside the ship empty. Government officials piece together cellular material from the supposed "fifth element" and out pops Leeloo (Jovovich), a spunky red-haired Supreme Being who escapes from their lab. After dropping into the cab of Korben Dallas (Willis), Leeloo is taken to Father Vito Cornelius, a man who has the knowledge about the fifth element and can hopefully help save the earth and keep mankind alive!
When I first saw The Fifth Element I wasn't very impressed. Maybe it was the shrieking whine of Chris Tucker's obnoxious voice. Or maybe I just wasn't in the mood for a science fiction action film with multiple shades of comedy (and Luke Perry) thrown in for good measure. Either way, I walked away from The Fifth Element with mild indifference.
After seeing The Fifth Element years later, my impression changed drastically. I can honestly say that I really enjoyed this film the second time around. I laughed more, I enjoyed the action more, and overall I ended up thinking The Fifth Element was a zinger of an action flick. The Fifth Element seems to incorporate a lot of different ideas into one big ball of a movie. Borrowing themes from Blade Runner, Back To The Future Part II, and maybe even Big Trouble In Little China, The Fifth Element has a quirky charm that zips along without slowing down enough to ever bore the audience. This is a film that tries to be a little bit of everything—there's comedy, there's action, there's a love story, there's science fiction elements—The Fifth Element is a cornucopia ingredients that shouldn't' work, but somehow does.
Bruce Willis leads with a role that is tailor made to fit his personality. Korben Dallas is a mix of every other action hero Willis has ever played; he's smarmy, smirking, and cocky. Of course, Willis excels at these types of roles, finding just the right tone to make the character his own. Gary Oldman shows up as Zorg, an atypical outer space baddie that only wants power and money (what else do bad guys ever want?). Oldman has been featured as a freak of nature baddie in movies such as Bram Stoker's Dracula, Air Force One, and The Contender, among others. Much like Willis, Oldman could play this type of character with his hands tied behind his back in his sleep. The rest of the cast plays this material exactly how it should be played—with a tongue firmly placed in cheek. Milla Jovovich is animalistic and cute as Leeloo (the coveted "fifth element"), Ian Holm plays wacky as the frantic priest Vito Cornelius, and Brion James and Tommy "Tiny" Lister, Jr. (as the president of the United States!) are very funny in smaller yet memorable roles.
The Fifth Element is not the best action film ever made (I mean, let's face it, this is rated PG-13). However, it is unabashedly fun stuff. The plot comes secondary to the spectacular action and space sequences, and the characters are given enough funny dialogue and quirks to make up for the lacking blood and guts we've all come to expect from these types of summer blockbusters. Put your brain on neutral and just enjoy the ride!
So, these are the new Superbit titles. I'm going to be honest and say that I don't have ten billion dollars worth of equipment to watch DVDs on. I have a nice Sony surround sound home theater system (with six speakers), as well as a 32 inch TV set. I don't own the original The Fifth Element disc, but I hear that the sound and audio on that early release was close to reference quality. [Editor's Note: You can read our review of the original release for details on that edition.] Keeping that in mind, I was very impressed by The Fifth Element's audio and video specs.
The Fifth Element is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. As far as I can tell this is a perfect transfer. Everything about the image was excellent, including crystal clear colors and flesh tones. There was no instances of shimmer, digital artifacting, fading, bleeding, or edge enhancement present. Black levels were right on the money, and I honestly couldn't ask for a better looking picture. Detail and resolution did look stronger than most transfers, and while the difference wasn't that much more striking, it was still detectable. I am assuming that these titles will look even better when used on a 16x9 widescreen TV or with HDTV (which I am sure we'll all have someday in the near future). Overall, the quality of this picture is perfect, and Columbia gets high raves for paving the way for a new look on DVD.
Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround as well as DTS 5.1 Surround. Both of these tracks are excellent, and are also perfect in every way (at least from what my ears could discern). I will say that after listening to both tracks, I found that the DTS track sounded just slightly better than the 5.1 soundtrack. Both release a veritable mass of sounds and effects that nearly blows the viewer out of their seats. Falling meteors, gunfire, and explosions rocket around the viewer as if they are right there next to Bruce firing a missile at the bad guys! I didn't spot any distortion or hiss during the film, and all aspects of the music, effects and dialogue were clear. Columbia has done a nice job on both of these mixes, and it's great to have a choice between 5.1 and a DTS track on the same disc.
As on par with all the Superbit titles, The Fifth Element includes no extra features. However, that's the whole point of these discs: the tradeoff is no supplements for mint video and audio components.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I liked Chris Tucker in Rush Hour. While he was somewhat grating in Rush Hour 2, I still found that movie to be mildly enjoyable. I wanted to take six feet of duck tape and wrap it around Tucker's head the minute he showed up in The Fifth Element. His screeching and whining Ruby Rhod character made me yearn for the sweet sound of a dentist drill being scraped across a high school chalkboard. I hear that movie studios are digitally erasing the World Trade Towers from movies these days. Maybe their next deletion should be Chris Tucker's performance in The Fifth Element.
The Fifth Element is a fun flick that should please action aficionados alike. These new Superbit titles from Columbia are worth the price if you're only interested in having the best sound and picture quality you can get (so far) from DVD. If, however, you're interested in the supplements and extra features then you should stick with the regular releases (though the original The Fifth Element didn't include any extras to being with). True to its name, the Superbit title has superior video and audio components that truly are out of this world!
The Fifth Element is free to go! Case dismissed!
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