The Fifth Element (1997)

Here's a topic that will be debated on the newsgroups for the rest 
of the summer:  is Luc Besson's spectacular sci-fi action/comedy/
love story the most visually arresting film of the decade?  Could 
be.  Think BLADE RUNNER meets BRAZIL in this magnificently multi-
colored, multicultural vision of the 23rd century.  Every image is 
an eye-popper and not just the flying taxies or futuristic city-
scapes.  Costumes, make-up, even the smallest set decorations are 
stunning.  And yet, the special effects-- the most seamless blend 
of mattes, models, and computer animation that I can recall-- never 
once threaten to overpower the narrative.  

Yeah, there's a plot.  Former fighter pilot-turned-New York cabbie 
Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) saves the life of an orange-haired 
beauty (actress/model/recording artist Milla Jovovich), who is 
actually an alien super-weapon, once stored on Earth, then removed 
from Earth, then *returned* to Earth, to save the Earth from an 
approaching, planet-sized, super-duper-evil-and-with-a-cherry-on-
top menace.  So far?  Now, to be activated, she (it?) requires the 
presence of four sacred stones, which she doesn't have, and which a 
villainous industrialist (Gary Oldman, bucktoothed and brandishing 
an outlandish Southern accent) is also trying to get.  Got it?

Based on a story that Besson started when he was sixteen, THE FIFTH 
ELEMENT is likely to be the most cryptic of the summer blockbuster 
wannabes.  (Actually, it's a French film that's been several years 
in the making.  Does that qualify as standard summer fare?)  Only 
the slightest explanation is offered for the movie's major events, 
though, admittedly, anyone with even a *modest* sense of sci-fi can 
extrapolate what's what and which end is up.  The smaller story de-
tails, however, are another matter.  Besson and Robert Mark Kamen's 
screenplay relies heavily upon coincidence and that's all fine and 
dandy until you try to think about it.  (I tried to make detailed 
sense of the plot and track who was where and how they got there 
and almost had a brain hemorrhage in the process.)

Okay, so you may not understand even *half* of the story.  That's 
fine.  THE FIFTH ELEMENT entertains in so many, many other ways.  
Nearly every character, for example, gets their turn at playing 
comic relief.  (So much comic relief that some scenes border on 
slapstick.)  Ian Holm, the ass-biter from BIG NIGHT, is very funny 
as a high priest who's also the alien's contact person on Earth.  
Later scenes with Gary Oldman are often a howl, while latecomer 
Chris Tucker is a hyperactive scene-stealer as the flamboyant radio 
personality Ruby Rhod.  (Imagine, if you can, a cross between Den-
nis Rodman and the Artist Formerly Known as Prince.  And then try 
not to scream.)

At the end, Besson attempts to get serious with statements about 
war and violence and man's bottom-line need for love.  The result-
ing shift in tone, however, is too abrupt and turns the finale into 
a fizzle.  (The sequence also feels rushed and the accompanying 
special effects are hardly special.  This is a movie that needs a 
*big* finish, which we don't get, and which may be on purpose.)
I suspect that Besson intended to end on a different note.  Maybe  
something more sentimental than visceral.  Maybe a tug at the heart 
instead of a kick in the 'nads.  Had he paid more attention to plot 
comprehensibility, and not required the viewer to work *quite* so 
hard to play along, we might've even felt it.  (Rated "PG-13"/127 

Grade: B+

Copyright 1997 Michael J. Legeros
Movie Hell is a trademark of Michael J. Legeros

Originally posted to triangle.movies in MOVIE HELL: Besson's Fifth

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Copyright 2001 by Michael J. Legeros -Movie Hell™ is a trademark of Michael J. Legeros