The Fifth Element

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