Once every five thousand years a hero appears who can save the universe from
ultimate darkness (We all know that feeling, don't we?) This time around, it
happens to be at 2 A.M. on March 18th in the year 2259. You can't imagine what
follows (or can you?) If you do not know what the fifth element is, then this
film may not help you find the answer. Nevertheless, you can have a merry
sci-fi jaunt into the future as envisaged by director Luc Besson and inhabited
by Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman, Ian Holm, Milla Jovovich and a very (Did I say
"very"? Sorry, I meant very) camp Chris Tucker all adorned in the gorgeous
garish garb of Jean-Paul Gaultier. Known as an "l'enfant terrible de mode
francais", Gaultier is no newcomer to the world of visual images on screen or
video, having previously employed his talents in such works as The Cook, The
Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover and The City of Lost Children. Designer Dan
Weil headed the production team for this futuristic venture whose team further
included Moebius, a.k.a. Jean Giraud, the French illustrator of "Metal Hurlant"
magazine (known better in the States as "Heavy Metal") and Jean Claude
Mezieres, illustrator of "Valerian, Agent Spatie-Temporel." Mark Stetson, who
headed the 1982 model shop for Blade Runner, was, in his capacity as visual
effects supervisor, responsible for giving the production much of its ultimate (I mean ultimate) look.
Although the film was received with less than resounding acclaim at the opening
of the 50th Cannes Film Festival this year, let it be said that perhaps the
reviewers were a bit too harsh in their outcries against a French film in its
own country. Although it may have weaknesses, it does not pretend to be
anything more than it is, pure entertainment, and on this level it succeeds as
well as most Hollywood films sharing the same objective. As Besson himself says, "It's just for fun and big, big adventure".
The Fifth Element strikes abundant memory chords of numerous films from the
sci-fi and other genres. It would be unappetizing to say that scenes are
derivative, so let us merely note that "homage" is paid (with extreme
frequency) to numerable forerunners. We start off on an excavation site
reminiscent of Stargate or, at the very least, The Exorcist. Give it a bit of
Star Wars flair and a couple of protective creatures, known as Mondoshawan,
that resemble a cross between overgrown armadillos and steel plated Don Martin
spies. Let's grab Bruce Willis straight out of 12 Monkeys and place him as a
Taxi Driver named Korben Dallas in a Metropolis setting. Imagine Gary Oldman
as futuristic Dr. No called Zorg with a pet purple Souliman Actapan called
Picasso replacing the cuddly white pussy. Have him trafficking weapons for
dog-faced alien warriors known as Mangalor, who look like they've might have
walked out of the Star Wars cantina. Pull up the cultural side with a
performance extravaganza reminiscent of the opening of Aria combined with end
of The Man Who Knew Too Much, including a tubular blue soprano straight out of
The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad and your heading toward your ultissimo finale.
And speaking of finales, the last days of shooting on the famous "007"
soundstage during production were allocated to the largest indoor explosion
ever created for film and, according to Bresson, "It took all of twenty minutes
for the fire crew to extinguish the blaze afterwards. It was certainly an interesting way to wrap the shoot."
Superb points for the performance of Chris Tucker as Ruby Rhod, the most famous
DJ in the galaxy, which, although definitely over the top, is wonderfully
captivating in its outrageousness. He gets away with it fabulously, walking a
thin edge that could have turned into an embarrassingly awkward performance if handled less professionally.
Director Besson, previously acclaimed for such films as The Professional, The
Big Blue, Subway, and La Femme Nikita remarks on The Fifth Element, "I started
working on this story when I was 16, writing solely for the pleasure of it --
just to escape the everyday, and to dream about this world. There was no way
that I could imagine someday filming it, and it grew to two or three hundred
pages of story. Then, years later, I began to think that maybe I could make
this story into a movie." Enlightening, to say the least. He continues, "The
first draft was 400 pages and would have cost \$ 145 million to shoot, but on my
first draft I never think of realistic needs." Even more enlightening. In any
case, it certainly seems as if there is sufficient written material left over to make the sequel, if one should be desired.
© 1994-2006 The Green Hartnett