The Fifth Element

Columbia Pictures

1997

Directed and Written by Luc Besson

Produced by Patrice Ledoux

Is there any doubt that whenever a list of the coolest guys on the planet is compiled, Bruce Willis is somewhere on it?  Right from when he made his big splash on the TV series ‘Moonlighting’ and then hit box office gold with “Die Hard” and it’s sequels, Bruce Willis has been not only one of our most likeable and favorite action heroes he also just comes across a really cool guy.  Bruce Willis has never appeared remote or distant to us.  He’s approachable.  One gets the impression that if you met Bruce Willis on the street and asked him if he wanted to go get a beer he’d say; “sure” and you’d spend the night with him kicking the willy bobo.  Maybe that’s the real charm of his appeal: Bruce acts and feels like one of us: a regular guy who made good and lucked into a brilliant Hollywood career but never forgot his New Jersey roots.  I like him and I like most of his movies.  And one of his best movies is the science fantasy action/satire/romp THE FIFTH ELEMENT.

Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) is a cab driver living and working in 23erd Century New York where vehicles fly along skyways.  He’s a retired Federation Special Forces major who’s just trying to keep his head down and live as quiet a life as possible.  And he’s been doing that until a beautiful red-haired woman named Leeloo (Mila Jovavich) literally drops out of the sky into his cab.

Leeloo is “the perfect being” who has been genetically created to save the human race from a Great Evil that has taken the form of a living planet and is heading straight at Earth.  The only way to stop this Great Evil is to find four stones that embody the characteristics of the Four Elements: Earth, Air, Fire and Water.  When combined they will give their power to The Fifth Element which is The Perfect Being and give this entity the power to destroy The Great Evil.  However the problem is to find the four stones.  Especially since they’re being hunted by kazillionaire industrialist/munitions dealer Zorg (Gary Oldman) who has allied himself with The Mangalores, a reptilian warrior race that is hilariously bent on destruction at all costs.  Zorg is an agent of The Great Evil and he’s just as single-minded to find the stones as is Vito Cornelius (Ian Holm) who is the latest in a long line of human priests who have served another alien race, The Mondoshawan who have been the keepers of the stones for millennia.  Korben is recruited by his old boss General Munro (Brion James) on orders of The President (Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister) to secure the stones.  This means that Korben has to agree to a rigged contest to meet his contact: the blue skinned alien opera diva Plavalagunan (Maiwenn Le Besco) who is appearing on the pleasure starliner ‘Fholston Paradise’.  But the Mangalores find out about the meet and they have their own plans for the stones…as does Zorg…

Korben has to secure the stones from The Diva Plavalagunan, save the starliner when The Mangalores hijack it in true ‘Die Hard’ fashion, do an interstellar radio show with the bizarre Ruby Rhod (Chris Tucker) and after all that still figure out a way to save the world from The Great Evil.

I love THE FIFTH ELEMENT to death for a number of reasons.  First off, it’s one of the most original and imaginative fictional worlds I’ve ever seen on screen.  There’s an entire universe here that is a visual treat.  The production design of the movie was created by French comic artists/creators Jean Giraud who is more popularly known as ‘Moebius’ and Jean-Claude Mezieries.  The costumes were created by a French fashion designer: Jean-Paul Gaultier.  All of which contributes to the unique look of the movie.  THE FIFTH ELEMENT looks like no other science fiction film you’ve seen.  Unless you’re a fan of the American magazine “Heavy Metal” which in itself reprinted stories from the French magazine “Metal Hurlant” which was a graphic magazine of science fiction and fantasy stories.   There was a “Heavy Metal” movie made in 1981 and a respectable argument could be made that THE FIFTH ELEMENT could be considered as an unofficial remake of the ‘Harry Canyon’ segment of that anthology movie as it has a lot of similarities.   All of which sums up like this: THE FIFTH ELEMENT has a unique flavor to its look, tone and style that is quite refreshingly different from conventional science fiction movies.

Second, I love the humor in this movie.  Most science fiction movies are so deadly serious it’s fun to see one that doesn’t take itself so seriously.  The group that eventually gets together to say the world is so goofy that you figure the world might be better off if they failed.  But they come together as a team in a way I found really charming and surprising. And even the soundtrack is different.  It’s got a decidedly Middle Eastern flavor, especially during a wild car chase where Korben is outrunning the cops.  A car chase with flying cars, remember.  It’s as wild as it sounds.

Third, the performances.  Bruce Willis does something really surprising in THE FIFTH ELEMENT.  He doesn’t play ‘John McClane In Space’ as I think a lot of people expected him to do.  Korben Dallas is a totally different character and some of the best scenes in the movie is how Korben Dallas reacts to the events he’s involved in.  Bruce Willis knows the effectiveness of how a single look can enhance a scene and he does it to great advantage in this movie.   This was Mila Jovavich’s first big role and she does a great job conveying the charm and grace of a “Perfect Being” (whatever that is).  She’s got a lot of terrific scenes with Ian Holm as his character is the only one who can understand her “perfect language”

And now we come to Chris Tucker.  Sigh.  I really don’t understand my brother.  I’ve seen him in interviews and in the remarkable PBS series “African American Lives” and he talks and behaves nothing like the way he does he does in those horribly embarrassing “Rush Hour” movies.  However, I have to say that I can accept his wildly over-the-top performance in THE FIFTH ELEMENT because that’s the nature of the movie.   It’s that kind of movie where you either have to go along with what’s on the screen or not.

I do have to say that as much as I enjoyed Gary Oldman’s hilariously bizarre performance as the intergalactic industrialist/arms dealer Zorg I have no idea why or how he came to be working for The Great Evil or what he hoped to gain from that arraignment.  I mean, The Great Evil is coming to destroy all life on Earth, right?  So wouldn’t that mean Zorg as well?  And for that matter The Great Evil is never really explained.  Why does it want to wipe out Humanity?  Why do The Mondoshawan care so much about why Humanity survives?  Why do they establish a sect of human worshippers on Earth?

Even after all the questions and doubts I still say watch THE FIFTH ELEMENT.  Chances are you’ve seen it already.  Good for you.  It’s not only a great Bruce Willis movie it’s a great fun movie as well.  It’s got terrific visuals, outstanding productions values and special effects that hold up amazingly well 15 years later.  Enjoy.

Rated: PG-13

126 minutes

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