Can you believe that it’s bee 20 years since this first came out?! This film was actually written by Luc Besson when he was a teenage boy, and by the mid 90’s Besson was quickly becoming one of my favourite directors having giving us the masterpieces that are Nikita (1990) and Leon (1994). His visual style combined with an astounding ability to merge action and fantasy is what helps to bring the film alive from the game.
The film begins in Egypt in 1914, where the alien race The Mondoshawans have returned to earth to remove the 5th element, with promise to return it as they feel a war is coming. Together with the 4 stone elements (air, water, fire and earth), when put together, the 5th element creates a divine light that defeats evil and keeps life a-buzzin on earth. They explain this all to Father Vito Cornelius (Ian Holm) who vows to upkeep goodwill on earth and fulfill his destiny. As for The Mondoshawans, who they are and how they all got there is not important. Only life is important. Yes the narrative is patently absurd but it works if you focus on the music, characters and humour.
The film cuts quickly to another extraordinary scene, New York City in the mid-23rd century. A futuristic city metropolis, with apartments in blocks, cars that levitate on air and Chinese restaurants upon floats (I’m guessing it would be New York).
Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) plays and a former space fighter turned deadbeat cab driver, has the titular character The Fifth Element, Supreme Being/Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) fall into the back of his cab and thus their story begins.
Besson gives us one great visual conceit after another and he used his characters to bring these out. Miss Plavalaguna a towering alien diva opera singer whose skin is made from extremely tight leather, has tentacles coming out of her head, sings like an angel and dances like she is on speed.
Ruby Rhod (Chris Tucker) plays an outrageous and zany DJ who prances around in a dress, with crazy makeup and an equally barmy entourage. Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg (Gary Oldman) embodies the villainous role of a power maniac aligning with evil. These characters succeed because they both fit into clear archetypes and yet exist with so much individual color and texture that they feel more like the individuals the archetypes are based upon than characters based upon the archetypes. Paul Gaultier’s outlandish costumes fit this film like a hand to a glove.
The weakest part of the film though is the broader story as we don’t come to know the origin of the elemental stones and why out of all the planets n the solar system the great evil seems hellbent on destroying only earth? Perhaps it’s because it’s the only one where their is proof of life form (my own observations). With all the narrative flaws I still really love this film but I must point out the ending scene where Dallas professes his love for LeeLoo in order for her to release the Divine Light in the nick of time has to be one of the cringiest moments in film history. Still works though!
Director: Luc Besson
Stars: Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, Gary Oldman, Ian Holm, Chris Tucker
Screenplay: Dan Mazeau, David Leslie Johnson
Runtime: 99 mins Cert: 12A
Enjoy the trailer
The Fifth Element (1997)