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Review: Luc Besson debuts two beautiful films on 4K UHD

Posted Tuesday, July 11, 2017 at 3:02 PM Central
Last updated Friday, July 21, 2017 at 10:54 AM Central

by John Couture

If there's one director that has a polarizing visual style, it's Luc Besson. He's known for his distinctive visual epics that have gotten better as technology has finally caught up to his vision. But, you either love his style or hate it, there's really not much middle ground to be had.

I have always considered myself a fan of Luc's work and have spent many hours to no avail arguing with those who despise his films, so I won't lead you down that rabbit hole. With his latest film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets set for a theatrical release next week, Sony is doubling down on Luc Besson with the 4K UHD debut of two of his pivotal films, The Fifth Element and Leon, The Professional.

I don't care what you think about Luc Besson, these two films are classics and should be found in any film buff's collection. Of course, if you are like me, you have bought these films many times over, but thankfully, we should have the definitive versions - at least for a few years until 8K comes out.

When standard Blu-ray debuted, The Fifth Element was the iconic film that truly showcased the benefits of the format over the standard definition DVD. While nothing has really changed with the film, technology has progressed to a point where I would argue that 4K UHD's touchstone film is something more along the lines of John Wick. The newer technology and various dark settings really allow you to appreciate the High Dynamic Range (HDR) and wide color gamut.

That's not to say that The Fifth Element shows its age on the 4K UHD version, it's just that it's no longer the touchstone film of cutting edge and that's ok. Meanwhile, Leon, The Professional was shot on 35mm in the mid-1990s and the gritty look of the film suits the film quite nicely. It's a no-brainer that both of these films will look spectacular on 4K UHD, but I was surprised just how much I enjoyed them on the new format.

Both of these films have been released numerous times on every format, including most recently in the robust Supreme Cinema Series on Blu-ray in 2015, but the 4K UHD still provides a superior visual and auditorial experience. Sure, the difference isn't quite as extreme as going from DVD to an HD format like Blu-ray, but you will be able to tell the difference in both versions right away.

In The Fifth Element, the opening desert scenes are crisp and vibrant while in Leon, The Professional, the opening hit on Mathilda's family is an auditory experience that borders on the visceral. Both films hold up to the many repeat viewings and despite having seen them both a dozen times in the last few years, the 4K UHD review felt like a new experience altogether.

That is the true power of these two films and why every film buff should own them. In terms of new bonus features, there really isn't much to move the needle here, but that's not the real selling point of this package. Over the course of many releases, there is a ton of bonus material that is already available and the best of the best is curated and included on these releases.

The one notable exception is the 4K UHD of The Fifth Element. It does feature a new featurette, "The Director's Notes: Luc Besson Looks Back," and it is even shot in natively in 4K UHD. The feature provides a nice look into the mind of a filmmaker that has been a pivotal mover and shaker in this industry for the last 30 years.

The Fifth Element is currently available everywhere and carries a suggested retail price of $30.99, but you can find it around $20 at most places. Leon, The Professional however, is an exclusive debut at Best Buy and will be available for general consumption in October.