The Fifth Element: A colourful look into a dark future

Opening on an archaeological dig in Egypt in the early 20th century, the resting place of the fifth element is about to be discovered when the Mondoshawans, fearing its safety on Earth, arrive to take it away. 300 years later the Earth is facing a mysterious evil that will destroy all life in the universe and the only thing that can prevent it is the fifth element.

Korben Dallas [Bruce Willis] is a cab driver who drives much like he used to fly for the military judging by the lack of points on his license. He still has his street savvy, shown when he deals with a less than competent burglar, and his flying skills have not deteriorated as he evades the police after a fare drops into his lap. Bruce Willis is in full action man mode and a joy to watch if you’re a fan of his work.

Leeloo [Milla Jovovich] is the fifth element, the supreme being given the task of preventing the oncoming evil. Her Mondoshawan escort is attacked and her subsequent reconstruction leaves her lost and unable to communicate with her rescuers. A headlong flight lands her in the back of Korben Dallas’ cab with half of the city’s police force in pursuit. Milla Jovovich’s take on her Leeloo character is a little odd at first. She comes of as astoundingly stupid in parts until her rather charming half smile breaks the illusion. Leeloo’s increasing grasp of English is fun and her fight scenes are awesome. Milla Jovovich excels with her interpretation of the divine language spoken by Leeloo. It was invented by director Luc Besson and further refined by the actress, and by the end of filming they were able to converse fully.

Priest Vito Cornelius [Ian Holm] is the Mondoshawan contact on Earth. A member of a religious sect charged with protecting the knowledge of the five elements that will save the Earth in its moment of need. He fully expects the five elements to arrive as four stones and a sarcophagi but when a beautiful young woman turns out to be the fifth element he is a little out of his depth. Ian Holm does a wonderful job portraying Cornelius as a fish out of water, getting involved in physically saving the world is something he seems to have a knack for after all.
Ruby Rhod [Chris Tucker] is an effeminate talk show host with an annoyingly high pitched voice, a high camp wardrobe and an unbelievable magnetism for the opposite sex. As annoying as he is, he does work surprisingly well. I just would have preferred that the part was played with testicles intact.

Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg [Gary Oldman] is the villain of the piece. An utter monster who lives to make money no matter what the consequences. Gary Oldman delivers another over the top performance, not that far removed from his role of Stansfield in Leon. He is nasty and malevolent with absolutely no redeeming features — exactly what you want in your comic book bad guy.
The Fifth Element is, at first glance, a big departure from what most people have come to expect from Luc Besson. But underneath it is an energetic and colourful retelling of the traditional good against evil tale.

The plot is engaging, dealing not only with the fight for life over death, but also picking up on the problems of an overcrowded future and an even wider gap between the rich and the poor.

Luc Besson’s direction is strong, but frantic as he moves the story along at breakneck speed. The sense of urgency is palpable and adds to the film rather than detracts.

The look of this film is amazing. Bright primary colours add to the comic book feel and sense of fun. As do Jean-Paul Gaultier‘s incredible costumes. From street wear to the high fashion Fhloston Paradise soiree, his touch is unmistakable.
Eric Serra, a long time collaborator of Luc Besson, outdoes himself with the music. It adds a visceral impact to the film, highlighted by the choreography of the Diva’s performance and Leeloo’s fight with the Mangalores.

The basically aliens come in two flavours. The good guys are the Mondoshawans, big shiny guys with teeny little heads and an abundance of fins. And the bad guys are the Mangalores a mercenary bunch of shape shifters whose human counterparts are played by the stunning Vladimir McCrary with military aplomb and British actor Richard Leaf with a more indigestible feel. The costumes, makeup and effects used to achieve these creatures is remarkable and the effects team scored a well deserved BAFTA for their efforts.

The sets are magnificent. From Dallas’ cramped apartment, to the futuristic New York, the shuttle and liner — especially the opera hall.

For the most part the casting is superb and if you’re a fan of British films you’ll see a lot of familiar faces. Comedian Lee Evans, the X-Files’ John Neville, the wonderful Brion James (whose presentation of the sturdy Major Iceborg to Dallas is hilarious) and the cameo from Luke Perry in the opening scenes. My only complaints are the casting of Tommy Lister Jr as President Lindberg because it looked like they were trying for a Ving Rhames look alike, and the absence of Jean Reno is unforgivable.

Overall this is a fun film that I enjoy immensely. If you go in looking for two hours of escapist fun, you’ll love it, but if you’re looking for something with the gritty reality of Leon and Nikita I’d suggest giving it a miss.

Published Epinions — 09.10.2000
Published WrittenByMe — 25.03.2001
DVD available from Amazon US, Sendit UK and DevotedDVD AU.

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