Home > Action, Sci Fi, Thriller > The Fifth Element (1997)

The Fifth Element (1997)


What do you get when a teenaged art student writes a sci fi film?? What do you get when a French director noted for his contributions to the cinema du look style direct it? What do you get when they’re both the same person? You get this.

The Fifth Element is a Friench sci fi film co-written and directed by Luc Besson, starring Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, Gary Oldman, Ian Holm, and Chris Tucker.

In 1914, when planet Earth is on the verge of World War I, an alien race called the Mondoshawan arrives at an ancient Engyptian tomb to retrieve a weapon capable of fighting a Great Evil that appears every five thousand years: four stones representing the four classical elements, plus a fifth element that can unite the other four. They promise to return when the Great Evil returns, presenting a key to be kept safe until then. Fast forward 349 years. Planet Earth is now a bustling, futuristic, visual cacophany, and the Great Evil is drawing closer, eating a Federated Army starship. The Mondoshawans attempt to return to Earth with their anti-evil weapon, but their ship is ambushed and destroyed by Mandalores, a race of shapeshifting mercenaries hired by one Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg. In the remains of the Mondoshawan ship, Earth’s scientists find a sample of astonishingly complex genetic material, and reconstitute it into a supreme being named Leeloo, who escapes and winds up in the company of Korben Dallas, an ex-Army Major with the Federated Army Special Forces turned cab driver. After the situation is explained to him, Dallas is ordered to recover the stones from their current holder, an opera singer. Dallas isn’t so sure about the saving-the-world thing, but he thinks Leeloo is hot, so what the hell. And a very beautiful action movie ensues.

The first thing you will notice about this movie is its beauty. The Fifth Element is a definite treat for the eyes, giving you plenty to see as the story unfolds. The future Mr. Besson offers us is colorful and chaotic, from the costumes to the sets to the vehicles, with everything enhanced with CG just enough that the effects don’t get in the way. New York City of 2263 is just as busy as its modern counterpart, but in three dimensions – perfectly understandable in a setting with flying cars – leading to a unique twist on the car chase seldom seen in science fiction. The costumes are garish and exotic, offering a unique flavor to the setting without making the eyes bleed, though this is turned up until till the dial breaks with Chris Tucker’s near-brush with drag queen fashion as Ruby Rhod (incidentally, the costumes he wears during the Phlogiston scenes are not the most garish the costume designer had cranked out; those were shown to Tucker first to make the actual costumes seem tame by comparison). Pair the Technocolor palette with a handful of unique alien designs (without having the whole movie crawling with weird races), and The Fifth Element is a lot of fun to watch without even touching the story.

Fortunately, unlike some other pretty movies I’ve seen, the plot rises to meet the challenge and doesn’t drown in the spectacle, offering a unique take on the “saving the world” plot, set against the flashy backdrop of this colorful future. The action parts are about average for 90’s Bruce Willis, with gunfights, bad guys, car chases, and snarky one-liners tossed about. Dallas is delightfully deadpan about the whole thing: with his history in the Special Forces, absolutely nothing phases him about getting chased by cops after an alien woman falls into his cab from about five stories up, hostile Mandalores shooting at him while opera plays in the background, or even the impending destruction of Earth by a Big Ball of Hate. He assesses, he reacts, he powers through, and he goes about his business. One unusual point that I didn’t notice for a long time after I watched this movie for the first time, though: You have the hero, Korben Dallas. Fine. You have a human antagonist serving the Hateball, Zorg. These two people never meet. At all. They’re never in the same room with each other at any time in the movie. They never see each other. This seems like it wouldn’t work, until you realize that the movie isn’t about Dallas vs. Zorg, but rather Dallas vs. the Hateball. Zorg becomes an incidental pawn in the Hateball’s plans, and while he’s entertaining to watch, he’s only a part of the grand scheme for the annihilation of all life. Brilliant.

If you’re tired of the same old sci fi action movie with the same cookie-cutter settings and conventions, check out The Fifth Element. It’s sheer eye candy, backed by a solid plot that will entertain any sci fi fan.

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  1. 05/29/2011 at 8:31 pm

    Fifth Element is a great movie all the way around, and I definitely couldn’t agree more with you on the eye-candy aspect of it.

    I really need to get this on Blu-ray. Nice review!

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