The Fifth Element on DVD

Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman, Ian Holm, Chris Tucker, Milla Jovovich. Directed by Luc Besson. Aspect ratios: pan&scan, 2.35:1 anamorphic. Dolby Digital 5.1. Two sides. 126 minutes. 1997. Columbia TriStar Home Video 82409. Rated PG-13. $29.95.

There's no question that The Fifth Element was the most popular demo disc at WCES '98; I don't think I saw a high-end system demo'd with anything else. The reason? In terms of picture and sound quality, it's one of the very best DVDs I've seen.

The film itself has sharply divided audiences. It was universally panned by critics when it came out, but a vocal minority accorded it instant cult status. I like the film; even though it's disjointed and includes a blend of trite science-fiction conventions wedded to a bravura sense of visual style, it includes several scenes that have a magical, goosebump-inspiring majesty. Much of this stems from designer (and French science-fiction/comic-book legend) Jean "Moebius" Giraud, who packed every scene with funky futuristic detail. This is one future that looks thoroughly lived-in.

Maybe The Fifth Element won't go down in history as one of the most significant films ever made, but no one can fault it on technical quality. The telecine transfer is amazing; on the Vidikron Vision One projector at TJN's house and several impressive systems at WCES '98, The Fifth Element looked better than the projected image at most theaters. And there are very few commercial-theater sound systems I've heard that can challenge the quality of a Class AAA home-theater rig playing a Dolby Digital soundtrack that is this well mastered. You've never worked out your subwoofer until you've tried to reproduce the sound of cosmic evil hurtling toward Earth at high SPLs!

I might feel differently if I lived in a city with even one Academy showplace theater, but in terms of sheer picture and sound quality, the commercial cinema is no longer my paradigm for the ultimate filmgoing experience. A movie like The Fifth Element playing in a world-class home theater is what I consider the real thing.