The Fifth Element
November 1, 2001
Starring: Luc Besson, Starring: Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman, Ian Holm, Milla Jovovich, Chris Tucker, Luke Perry, Brion James, Tom 'Tiny' Lister Jr., Lee Evans, Charlie Creed-Miles, Tricky, John Neville, John Bluthal, Mathieu Kassovitz, Christopher Fairbank, ,
After critical success with indie movies like Nikita, The Big Blue and Leon, Luc Besson surprised everyone by making his next project a $90 million science-fiction adventure about a taxi driver who helps save the world.
When he was thirteen, Besson dreamed up the story for The Fifth Element, and turned it into a giant movie script. Over the years this was gradually whittled down into two separate scripts – The Fifth Element and the as-yet-unfilmed sequel Mr Shadow. Production planning began as far back as The Big Blue in 1988, but it was the international smash-hit of Leon that ensured the studio money necessary for him to finally bring his vision to the big screen. Released in 1997, the film was a huge box office hit, but was released on DVD with a distinct lack of extras. This new special edition aims to make up for its predecessor’s shortcomings.
The Fifth Element was a bombastic, stylish flurry of ideas that divided the audience cleanly in half. Some balked at Chris Tucker’s screeching Ruby Rhod and the tongue in cheek aspect of the film, whilst others embraced the sheer fun of the energy on display. It’s one of those love it or hate it films.
Bruce Willis is Corben Dallas, a retired military man who now drives a cab for a living in a sky-jammed New York city. One day a strange girl lands in the back of his cab (Jovovich) who turns out to be a supreme being known as ‘The Fifth Element’ – the only weapon against an ancient evil that awakes every three hundred years. With the help of a priest who has been waiting for her to arrive (Holm), Corben must protect Leeloo from other enemies who also want to see evil come to power. Zorg (Oldman) has made a deal with the mysterious Mr Shadow to snatch the four stones that Leeloo needs to complete the five elements of the title.
On the pretense that Corben has won a holiday on a cruise ship, and accompanied by raucous DJ Ruby Rhod, the small team move to intercept the stones before Zorg and his Mangalore minions can get their hands on them.
One of the first big movies to be kept under complete secrecy until the last minute, The Fifth Element successfully defied the growing wave of internet spoilery and arrived in the summer of 1997 as a genuine surprise to audiences. And six years later it still stands up as one of the most unique sci-fi movies of the nineties, full of French humour and colourful production design, right down to the eccentric Jean-Paul Gautier costumes. And Eric Serra is one of the most inventive composers in the industry – his music here is nothing if not memorable.
Sure, the plot is hardly ground-breaking, but when you have Luc Besson’s bonkers characters and visual style, this little niggle disappears right into the background. It’s a shame he hasn’t directed a movie since The Messenger: Joan of Arc, and has recently been biding his time writing fluff like Kiss of the Dragon and The Transporter.
Whilst not as solid as Leon, The Fifth Element is still a wonderful joyride of eye-candy – a distinctly French mix of Blade Runner and Die Hard.
Sadly there’s a noticable lack of new input from Besson himself (a commentary with him and the cast would have been nice), so we have to make due with an FX commentary from the boffins who worked on the visual effects in the movie. Whilst interesting, it all too often falls back on them pointing out which scenes were CGI and which were practical, or merely giggling at their favourite parts. “All this would be just be CGI if it was made today,” they point out during the action scenes, and it highlights the lazy workman-like attitude Hollywood has these days (Die Another Day anyone?).
The second disc is split into sections covering everything from design and conception to production and visual effects. But the main showpiece is the fifty minute documentary covering the whole shebang, with previously unseen interviews with the cast and crew. The most interesting thing mentioned is how the original script was split in two, and that hopefully Besson will make the second part, Mr Shadow, one day soon.
There are also trailers and TV spots, and an hour long MTV 1997 Cannes Film Festival special, covering the world premiere of the film in France.
Whilst this is certainly a decent package, there are no signs of deleted scenes, outtakes, or retrospective interviews with the main players. So it’s not impossible that we may see a special special edition some time in the future, but if you don’t yet own the film, now’s as good-a-time as any to finally see what you’ve been missing.