Preparing for the imminent release of Luc Besson’s latest film, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (releases theatrically July 21), Sony Pictures Home Entertainment today re-released two of the director’s seminal classics in Ultra HD Blu-ray, The Fifth Element and Leon: The Professional.
I remember seeing both movies during their originally theatrical releases, and it’s hard to believe that Leon debuted in 1994 and Element in 1997, making the films 23 and 20 years old, respectively. And while I’ve seen both films several times since—and used Element for years as rich demo material to show off scaling capabilities and demonstrate Dolby Digital versus Pro-Logic—these new Ultra HD releases offer a chance to revisit these films in picture and sound quality that’s better than ever before.
Both films were given a full 4K restoration along with a new Dolby Atmos 7.1 TrueHD audio soundtrack for their Supreme Cinema Series release back in 2015, and this Ultra HD release includes the films for the first time in their full 4K Ultra HD glory, along with HDR. If you are a fan of either film, rest assured this is the definitive presentation you have been hoping for, and likely the best that either movie will ever look. (At least until 8K comes along and Sony decides to dip into the well once again.)
Due to the age of both movies—obviously predating digital and originally filmed in 35mm—some aging and film grain is apparent, especially in early, brightly lit outdoor scenes in both films. However, the restoration did a wonderful job of cleaning up both titles and the grain preserved in the transfer makes for a wonderfully film-like presentation. Fine details and textures abound throughout, such as in the opening scenes of Element, where the cave walls, four stones, and Mondoshawan armor reveal micro scratches and subtle texture, and in the tight pattern of Jean Reno’s shirt in Leon. Also, as many times as I’ve watched Element, I don’t remember ever noticing the massive scar on Bruce Willis’ right shoulder, but here it stands out in vivid detail.
While HDR is used on both films, it isn’t too aggressive; however, there are clear differences between the UHD disc and the Blu-ray in terms of brightness, contrast, and color grading, with the UHD version offering a far more cinematic look with the added contrast delivering additional depth and detail, and the richer color palette bringing more realism. I did notice several scenes in Element, such as the bright red of the McDonalds sign and Leelo’s hair, where the UHD image was more saturated, as opposed to a more orange color on the Blu-ray.
The other big hook on both discs is the Dolby Atmos soundtrack. While Element has always been a reference track, the remix in Dolby Atmos ups the ante considerably, liberally using the height speakers for a fully immersive track that will give cause to return this film to your demo rotation, with old favorite scenes having new life. The Atmos mix on Leon is far more restrained, with the ceiling speakers only being called on to deliver the musical score. However, bullet sounds and explosions (of which there are many) have appropriate punch, and most importantly, dialog is clear and easily understandable.
Both sets include the Ultra HD Blu-ray, regular Blu-ray, and a digital download, and are packed with plenty of extras including a brand-new 4K featurette titled “The Director’s Notes: Luc Besson Looks Back” included with Element.
Between the two titles, The Fifth Element is far more demo-worthy, and here are four scenes that will make any home theater shine!
“She Jumped” – Chapter 4, 30:07 – 32:45
This scene was long used by video scaler manufacturers to reveal how well systems could handle the difficult circular pattern in the ventilation shaft, but here the detail is terrific with not a jaggie in site. The Ultra HD image shines in the long outdoor shots when Leelo looks down from the ledge, and as Leelo steps out on the balcony, you’ll hear the sounds of traffic racing around the room, with the vertical subway rumbling down the front wall. When Leelo jumps into Korben’s cab you hear horns blaring, and cars whizzing past overhead and along the sides and rear of the room, and then more mayhem streaking all around the room as Korben drives off.
“The ZF1” – Chapter 7, 48:16 -52:45
I’ve demonstrated with this scene on DVD dozens of times and it holds up here for all the same reasons as in the past. As the scene begins, notice how Zorg’s voice echoes off the walls and ceiling of the room, before he starts blasting away. The hard walls of the space are clear and the audio captures it perfectly. When he starts blasting away with the ZF1, you can feel the bullets whizzing past and circling the room, and the net and flamethrower pass right through the center of the room to the rear. The scene ends in a massive explosion out the right corner of the room and into the center, giving the sub a nice workout.
“The Diva” – Chapter 13, 1:27:27 – 1:32:24
This is another example of classic demo fodder, with the Diva’s voice transforming your listening space into a large concert hall. The overhead and surround speakers are used to wonderful effect here to expand the audio space all around you, turning even the coldest heart into an opera fan…at least for a bit.
“Anybody Else Want to Negotiate?” –Chapter, 13 1:38:23 – 1:43:45
Here you get to watch classic action star Willis doing his thing, running around Fhloston Paradise blasting alien baddies while avoiding getting shot. Bullet and rockets rip past with shrapnel and explosions sending debris splintering and cascading around the room. Shots come in from different angles, heights, and positions, filling practically every inch of your theater with mayhem, all the while with the classic bits of humor that make the movie so clever and entertaining.