The Fifth Element is the story of a quest to save the universe from an impending evil force. According to an ancient teaching, four elements, and an elusive fifth, otherwise known as the Supreme Being, are the only solution to stop the evil. Our protagonist team is lead by Korben Dallas, an ex Special Forces major/ taxi driver (Bruce Willis), a wise priest named Father Vito Cornelius, and the mysterious orange-haired Leeloo, the fifth element herself.
The Fifth Element is directed by Luc Besson, a French director primarily known for La Femme Nikita (1990), Leon; The Professional (1994), Lucy (2014), Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) and Anna (2019). His breakout work contains impressive and complex special and practical effects, which make his earlier films much more nuanced and intriguing. His later work his cramped with CGI, and in my opinion, nowhere near as dazzling as his work in the 90s.
There’s something so captivating about older visual effects. With modern computers and programs, movies that fall into the category of “sci-fi” today are often, ironically, cookie cutter. The special effects utilized in The Fifth Element were a mixture of innovation and old school tricks, which excited audiences. Besson actually waited more than a year to start production because he knew that the effects he wanted to accomplish required computers that weren’t even invented yet.
A common theme in Besson’s work is the female protagonist. She’s normally a warrior or an assassin with a keen eye and alluring nature. I do think Besson’s direction is often-times flawed, his female characters are mostly portrayed through a highly sexual and male-gazey lense. The Fifth Element is not my favorite Besson film for this reason, but should certainly not be overlooked.
The Fifth Element is a blend of many surreal worlds. Like Blade Runner or the original Star Wars films before it, The Fifth Element is set in a futuristic intergalactic society – where human beings coexist with alien life forms, and fantastical creatures. There is nothing “foreign” about any character; whether it be the bright blue alien opera singer known as Diva Plavalaguna, the tough and buff green militaristic leader Aknot, or Picasso, a mini multi colored elephant-mole hybrid. This method of melding is obviously used a lot in modern sci-fi films, the 2014 box office smash, Guardians of the Galaxy being just one example.
The film uniquely mixes comedy with sci-fi and uses famous 90s pop stars, models, and a few stand up comedians to fill roles big and small. The eccentric Ruby Rhod, a radio host with fantastic style, is portrayed by Chris Tucker. He stated that his inspiration for the role was a mix of Prince and Micheal Jackson. Jean Paul Gaultier, the famous designer of Madonna’s cone bra and other iconic looks, was the head designer on the film. Every costume piece, from Leeloo’s staple orange vest to the futuristic McDonald’s uniforms, is captivating.
The Fifth Element successfully incorporates late 20th century nostalgia with its use of unique casting choices, design elements, and costumes. I can see why films such as Ready Player One are created. We yearn for nostalgia, times when everything was new. Spielberg missed the mark in many ways trying to blend so many great references together, and instead created a mess. The Fifth Element works because it is bizarre and unlike anything else.
The Fifth Element will be shown at the Byrd Theatre on July 17, 2019 at 7:15pm.