Diving into Luc Besson’s “The Fifth Element,” 25 years later…

*****SPACE CRUISE SHIP-SIZED SPOILERS!*****

Acquired Taste.

I remember seeing teaser trailers for French filmmaker Luc Besson’s “The Fifth Element” in early 1997, along with a dramatic TV spot during the Super Bowl (which, over time, has become more famous for its ads than the actual game). “The Fifth Element” promised an epic space opera, a 1990s answer to “Star Wars.” Director/cowriter Besson certainly had action/drama cred from 1994’s “Leon: The Professional,” and 1990’s “Le Femme Nikita,” two films that I appreciated, even if I wasn’t entirely crazy about them. I also remember reading in Cinefantastique magazine (which I miss dearly) that world-class comic/pop artist Jean “Moebius” Giraud was involved as well. I was certainly interested. Then I went to see the film at my local multiplex in May of that year. One ‘element’ the promos hadn’t prepared me for was the movie’s wildly offbeat sense of humor. This was less a “Star Wars”-style space opera, and more a lavishly budgeted sendup of one. Like Mel Brooks’ “Spaceballs”, but with a ton of money and an unmistakably European perspective.

New York City, c. 2263.
With a production design by Jean “Moebius” Giraud and Jean-Claude Mézières. “The Fifth Element” was a gorgeous, but sadly mis-marketed movie, at least in the US…

Milla Jovovich (“The Messenger”) certainly gave a full-throttle performance as the enigmatic “perfect” humanoid, Leeloo. Bruce Willis (“Die Hard”) parodied his John McClane character as all-Américaine hero Korben Dallas. Comic actor Chris Tucker (“Rush Hour”) was wildly over-the-top as the oversexed, obnoxious media star Ruby Rhod (think: Daffy Duck as MTV vee-jay). Yes, the visual effects, sets and animatronic creature FX were lovingly rendered, but the movie also left me a little bit confused. I expected an e-ticket “Space Mountain” of a movie, but instead, I was in “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” on acid. However, thanks to the magic of cable reruns and an eventual DVD release, I would rewatch this oddly intriguing movie several more times over the years, and eventually learn to appreciate its daft punk sense of humor. It certainly leaves more than enough crumbs of interest to warrant a rewatch, no matter one’s initial mixed feelings.

Well, after much reevaluation, I consider myself a true fan of this film, which is now celebrating its silver anniversary (wow, I feel old…). Breaking out the HD digital projector and 7 ft/2 meter screen for this rewatch, I wanted to re-immerse myself in the madcap universe of…

“The Fifth Element.”

The movie opens in an archeological expedition to Egypt, in 1914, which gives it a bit of a “Stargate” vibe as well. Bumbling archeologist Professor Pacoli (John Bluthal, of 1998’s “Dark City”) and his feckless young assistant Billy (Luke Perry, in an unexpectedly small role) are translating ancient hieroglyphs which speak of a forthcoming apocalypse involving four elemental stones and a “perfect being” who will save the world.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of “Dune”…
Prof. Pacoli (John Bluthal) meets some unusual allies…

As their young local assistant Aziz keeps nodding off (“Aziz, light!”), their work is interrupted by a ‘friendly’ local priest (John Bennett) who’s trying to offer the archeologists poisoned water in a desperate attempt to keep them from the stones. The monk’s clandestine murder attempt is thwarted by the professor’s suggestion of wine instead of water–for a proper toast. With the priest unable to stop them, the room is darkened by the appearance of a massive alien starship which has parked itself directly over the site. The aliens are the large, armored, and surprisingly friendly Mondoshawans, who go inside the crypt to retrieve the elemental stones, fearing that they’re not safe on Earth.

Note: The hapless, bumbling priest’s continually foiled murder attempt establishes the movie’s sly gallows’ humor.

Don’t tell me that crackpot Von Daniken was right…?

With the bumbling Billy preparing to shoot the alien ‘invaders’, the overwhelmed professor faints, as the priest pleads with Billy not to shoot. The aliens give a key to the stones’ chamber to the monk, making him vow to tell each new generation of priests about the pending apocalypse, which will occur in 300 years. They will need the stones, as well as a ‘perfect being’ to use as a weapon against the Great Evil to come…

Note: The movie’s central plot about four elemental stones being used to avert a pending apocalypse is remarkably similar to the “Infinity Stones” arc of the first wave of the Marvel shared cinematic universe movies, beginning with the 2012’s “The Avengers.” Of course, first mention of Marvel’s infinity stones, under different names (“soul stones,” etc), began appearing in Marvel comics lore as far back as the 1970s–plenty of time to have influenced a teenaged Luc Besson, who was (is) an avid comics fan, hence his hiring of comics legend Jean “Moebius” Giraud as a production designer. Giraud was also part of the creative team who collaborated on the aborted 1975 attempt to bring “Dune” to the silver screen, under director Alejandro Jodorowsky.

“Star Destroyers, comin’ right at us!”

Cut to the 23rd century. A fleet of three Earth defense starships approach what appears to be a large, nebulous, red mass on approach to Earth. The commander of the ships, General Staedert (John Neville, of “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen”) calls down to Earth’s President Lindberg (Tommy “Tiny” Lister), and signals his intention to fire on the potentially dangerous object. The general’s foolhardy attempt fails spectacularly, as the mass absorbs the incoming energy of the weaponry, quickly growing in both size and solidity. The now planetoid-sized burning mass immediately envelops the warships. In the president’s war room, visiting priest Vito Cornelius (Ian Holm, of “ALIEN”), who has remained in contact with the Mondoshowans, is given permission to speak. Cornelius warns the president and his military advisors that the approaching object feeds off of violent acts and intentions. Any aggression against the Great Evil will only nourish it.

Note: Is is just me, or did the Earth battleships firing into the Great Evil remind anyone else of the three Klingon warships firing on the “V’ger” cloud in the opening of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” (1979)?

“Mr. President? It’s Captain Kirk on line two…”
It’s the 23rd century, but Earth President Lindberg (Tommy “Tiny” Lister) is still rockin’ the handset phone…

Cornelius fills President Lindberg on the elemental stones, the prophecy, and the imminent danger of the Great Evil headed their way. We later learn that a Mondoshowan spacecraft which was carrying the stones and the “perfect being” itself was ambushed by the rival Mangalores–dastardly, animalistic mercenaries hired by filthy rich, utter amoral arms-maker Zorg (Gary Oldman), who is working with the Great Evil to bring about the apocalypse. The crashed remains of the Mondoshowan spaceship are retrieved, and while the stones have been safeguarded elsewhere, there is only a severed arm remaining of the “perfect being.” The president turns to his military aide, General Munro (the late Brion James, of “Blade Runner”) and gives him carte blanche to do whatever is necessary.

“Yippee ki-yay, motherf–ker.”
Bruce Willis trades in his “Die Hard”-armament for something slightly more up-to-date.

Meanwhile, in 23rd century Brooklyn, in a thick forest of skyscrapers and flying cars (the dream of every sci-fi future vision), ex-military commando turned down-on-his-luck cabbie Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) is living in a tiny apartment the size of a shipping container when his morning is interrupted by a would-be mugger at his front door. Calmly disarming the nervous idiot, Dallas casually takes the young man’s weapon and adds it to his collection. He then takes a call from his pestering mother, before going out on a day’s work driving his flying taxicab. Naturally, Dallas’ boss also calls to remind him that due a string of accidents, he only has a few points remaining on his taxi driver’s license. All in all, a fairly crappy morning for our hero, as he takes his yellow cab out into the noise and aerial traffic of the congested New York skyline…

Note: Dallas’ flying cab is a decidedly retro-looking vehicle, much like the 1950s-style flying taxis seen in “Back to the Future Part 2.” This is in keeping with Dallas’ character, a no-nonsense guy who seems to prefer things simple and unadorned. Seems rather fitting that this ‘throwback’ character would drive a vintage-styled cab as well. Willis’ character in “The Fifth Element” is a sendup of his hard-to-kill hero character John McClane from the “Die Hard” movies. Sadly, actor Bruce Willis recently announced his retirement from acting at age 67 due to his struggle with aphasia, a degenerative neurological disorder which has impaired his cognitive abilities.

“Perfect being.”
Milla Jovovich gives the best performance in the entire film as the nearly alien “Leeloo,” whose innocence masks an array of talents and knowledge; this isn’t Madison from “Splash” (thank goodness…).

Meanwhile, the severed arm of the ‘perfect being’ from the crashed Mondoshowan vessel has been taken to a nearby government genetics lab, where it’s hoped the remaining DNA of the being can be fully replicated–including its memory–in order to learn more about the Great Evil. With General Munro in attendance, the scientists begin automated genetic replication of the ‘perfect being’, based on the extremely complex DNA from the arm. As the automated replicating tube finishes its task, the completed ‘perfect being’ is a young woman with flaming red hair, bright blue eyes and the lanky body of a supermodel (Milla Jovovich). Unfortunately for the leering General Munro and the male technicians, the medical bay computer generates bandage-like strips of clothing in order to allow the nude young woman some measure of modesty. Enclosed inside the translucent, unbreakable tube, she immediately begins speaking in a language the computers fail to recognize. Munro tries to establish a baseline of English words with her, but he makes the mistake of doing so in a threatening manner, which prompts her to shatter the ‘unbreakable’ medical tube and almost effortlessly escape the heavily-guarded medical complex…

Note: Kudos to a very young Milla Jovovich, who was only about 21 or so when she played “Leeloo”. With orange-red hair and her character’s unusual accent (“Multi-pass!”), Jovovich steals nearly every scene she’s in with her wide-eyed, quasi-alien vibe. Effortlessly speaking in Leeloo’s complex, incomprehensible language as if she were born into it, Jovovich gives one of the best ‘otherworldly’ performances since Jeff Bridges played the titular “Starman” back in 1984.

Leeloo receives a rude welcoming to 23rd century Manhattan…

Following her successful escape from the medical complex, Leeloo finds herself on the ledge of a Manhattan skyscraper, as flying cars whiz by. With the military and scientists closing in, she decides to jump from the ledge to escape their grasp–landing right through the roof of Dallas’ flying cab, which will surely cost him the rest of his license points. Dallas checks to see if his odd, but beautiful new passenger is alright, before quickly realizing she’s wanted by the police–badly, in fact. As a flying police car pulls alongside his cab, Dallas apologizes to the strange woman, as he prepares to release her to police custody. As the cops attach a connecting cable onto his cab for the transfer of custody, an impulsive Dallas decides to trust Leeloo and flee–yanking the cable off his vehicle as well.

“Blue Skies, smiling at me…

As Dallas’ battered, doorless taxi speeds away, the two fugitives run right into a wall of hovering blue police cars around the next corner. With no options left, Dallas warns Leeloo to buckle up as he takes his flying cab for a nose-dive directly into the foggy, polluted surface streets below. Once hidden, he realizes that Leeloo is injured, and discovers that she is seeking a priest named Father Vito Cornelius, her contact on Earth.

Note: The largely practical miniature effects of the flying cabs and futuristic New York skyscrapers are simply stunning. The work holds up remarkably well, 25 years later. Mark Stetson, the first-time visual effects supervisor of the film, oversaw dozens of model-makers and technicians in order to complete the 220 or so visual effects for the movie (feels like a lot more). Most of these shots were achieved using the analog techniques of the time. Full-scale CGI FX work was still in its infancy during the 1990s, and many FX-filled movies of this period used combinations of both.

Father Cornelius (Ian Holm, right) and his young padawan David (Charlie Creed-Miles) show Leeloo the internet.

The fugitive Dallas carries the exhausted Leeloo to the address of Cornelius, who initially mistakes the pair for a couple seeking wedding services. Kicking in the door, Dallas insists on seeing the good father. As Leeloo begins babbling in her native language, Cornelius realizes that she is the “perfect being” prophesied as part of the weapon against the Great Evil. Cornelius’ acolyte, a younger priest named David (Charlie Creed-Miles), brings an array of clothing in Leeloo’s size, as Cornelius familiarizes her with Earth history via the internet. With the priests away for a moment, a smitten Dallas impulsively tries to kiss Leeloo, but she angrily rebuffs his advance, holding a gun to his face (“Not without permission,” she growls in her native tongue). Leeloo then tells Cornelius, who’s fluent in her language, that the stones were sent to an opera diva named Pravalanguna, who is scheduled to give a performance on a space cruise-ship very soon. With the perfect being in his care, Cornelius offers to take it from here, sending Dallas on his confused and angry way…

Note: Despite the presence of 1990s-style cathode ray monitors everywhere, the movie makes timely use of the internet to advance Leeloo’s education with Earth’s languages and history. The internet as we know it today was only six years old at the time of this film’s release, and I can vouch (for myself and others) that we lived our lives largely (and blissfully) internet-free in those days–something utterly unimaginable today. Now I’m sent into a near-panic if my home Wi-Fi is down for more than a few minutes; it’s literally my work and primary communications tool all in one service. What a difference 25 years makes.

“Now for my next act, I will buy Twitter!”
Gary Oldman as Zorg, giving a soon-to-be-fatal weapons demonstration to the Mangalores.

Having just received a threatening ‘phone call’ from the Great Evil (via radio waves), Zorg is not exactly in a chipper mood. The mercenary Mangalores then arrive and deliver the containment case for the elemental stones–unaware that the stones are with the Diva. Zorg opens the empty case, screaming furiously at his incompetent mercenaries, who believe that delivering the case itself fulfilled their end of the bargain. Zorg then decides to give these incompetent alien contractors a live demonstration of his new, multipurpose weapon–obliterating most of them in a fit of rage. A “very disappointed” Zorg decides to retrieve the stones personally. Meanwhile, the Mangalore leader has survived the blast that killed most of his comrades, and he gathers a few of them to seek the stones for themselves.

He…is…very…disappointed!

Note: Gary Oldman gives a wildly over-the-top performance as the unfortunately-maned Zorg, who looks like fellow industrialist/entrepreneur Elon Musk (a good 20-odd years early), while sounding like a Sunday morning televangelist minister. Oldman’s modulated, high-strung performance (“I…am…very…disappointed!”) is tonally fitting within this quirky sci-fi comedy’s parameters.

A priest, a cabbie and a supermodel walk into a bar…

Back at Dallas’ apartment, he gets a call from his yenta mother, who scolds him for not telling her about his winning an all-expenses paid trip to Phloston Paradise. A perplexed Dallas has no idea what his mother is talking about, until General Munro arrives at his door along with two aides (one of whom looks like a severe Princess Leia) to ‘congratulate’ him on winning a rigged contest in order to recruit his help in retrieving the elemental stones before the Great Evil destroys Earth. Dallas is reluctant to take the job, until his door chime rings again, and he sees Leeloo standing outside. Hiding the general and his aides in his refrigerator (!), Dallas is about to escape with Leeloo in order to make the flight to Phloston Paradise, until a recently freed Cornelius knocks Dallas unconscious and takes Leeloo. Over her protests, Cornelius insists that his acolyte David can pretend to be Dallas at JFK airport, using a forged ‘multi-pass.’

Note: One of my few nits with the movie is the far too-young sounding voice of Dallas’ mother (Haviland Morris), who is actually four years younger than her onscreen ‘son’ Bruce Willis.

Hard-pressed priest.
Father Cornelius is briefly captured and released by Zorg and his henchmen–an act of compassion saves his life.

Note: A lot of event is squeezed into this brisk section of the film, as Father Cornelius is briefly kidnapped by Zorg in a prior scene. Zorg’s informal interrogation of the priest is interrupted when he nearly chokes to death on an errant cherry. Cornelius demonstrates compassion by saving the ruthless Zorg’s life, after the arms dealer’s array of in-office technology is unable to help him. Zorg returns the favor by sparing the priest, just before he meets up with Leeloo and the others in Dallas’ tiny apartment in the following scene. One aspect of “The Fifth Element” I’d forgotten over the years–its two hour and six minute running-time unfolds rather briskly.

“MULTIPASS!”
Note the barely-acknowledged mounds of garbage surrounding the spaceplane boarding area.

Dallas eventually comes to, and runs off just in time to catch Leeloo at the boarding gate. Arriving as David is trying to take his place, Dallas tells the young priest to get lost. Convincing the boarding gate attendant that they are who they say they are, Leeloo and Dallas board their spaceplane. Meanwhile, identity-theft hijinks at the airport ensue, as various Mangalore shapeshifters try to unsuccessfully pass themselves off as Dallas and Leeloo. Desperate to continue Leeloo’s education, Cornelius tells David to prepare the temple in Egypt, as he smuggles himself aboard the spaceplane…

Note: A barely acknowledged ecological rebuke is made during the JFK airport (spaceport?) sequence, as the boarding area near the spaceplane is surrounded by large mounds of industrial garbage. I’m only speculating, but this may have been a means of cutting production costs by not building an elaborate surrounding spaceport set (which could’ve easily been done digitally today). The mounds of garbage surrounding the boarding area makes for an “Idiocracy”-like bit of dystopian commentary–somewhat rare in this movie’s otherwise PG-13 answer to “The Jetsons.”

The Jar Jar before Jar Jar.
Chris Tucker is Ruby Rhod–a live performance DJ who makes the obnoxious Jar Jar Binks seem positively sedate.

Once aboard the plane, Dallas and Leeloo are met by the toxically-obnoxious “Ruby Rhod” (Chris Tucker) who is a galaxy-famous celebrity DJ for the radio station which ran the contest that Dallas “won.” Ruby holds his live mic in Dallas’ face, hoping to get a few soundbites for his many listeners, but is frustrated by Dallas’ monosyllabic answers. As passengers and crew prepare for launch, we then see Ruby seduce a starstruck flight attendant just as the spaceplane takes off from Manhattan and warps into light-speed for its rendezvous at the oceanic world of Phloston Paradise

Note: Chris Tucker’s performance as the histrionic Ruby Rhod (a human, pansexual Daffy Duck) arguably segued to his 1990s and early 2000s fame in the “Rush Hour” trilogy, playing equally motormouthed LAPD detective James Carter. Chris Tucker first came into the pop zeitgeist in 1995’s comedy “Friday.” I must admit, I was not a fan of the cartoonish Ruby Rhod character when I first saw the film, but like the film itself, I developed an appreciation for Tucker’s comedic gifts–his high energy delivery is a force of nature.

Paradise…
The gorgeous spaceship miniatures and optical FX of the film are lovingly crafted.

Arriving at the oceanic world of “Paradise”, the spaceplane docks with a galactic cruise ship in low orbit over the planet’s ocean. The passengers, including contest ‘winners’ Leeloo and Dallas, are welcomed in grand style by the contest’s promoters. Ruby, frustrated by Dallas’ refusal to play along, coaches him on giving the listeners more “pop.” Taking advantage of their momentary privacy, the no-nonsense Dallas grabs Ruby by the throat and warns him to back off–he’s not on vacation, he’s on assignment. The shaken Ruby receives the reprimand. Dallas is also given complimentary front-row tickets to a live performance by the Diva Pravalanguna (Maïwenn Le Besco); the blue-skinned alien singer who is, of course, custodian of the four elemental stones needed to assemble the weapon against the Great Evil.

Note: Actress Maïwenn Le Besco (now known simply as Maïwenn) was the wife of writer/director Luc Besson during filming (she was barely 20 at the time). Maïwenn creates a surreal performance as “the Diva,” and gives the film one of its most memorable visuals as she sings an opera-pop medley against the backdrop of the planet Paradise. Right after divorcing Maïwenn in 1997, director Besson would later marry “Fifth Element” star Milla Jovovich that same year. Besson and Jovovich would divorce as well, in 1999. No judgments, but it must feel a bit strange for Besson to look back at a movie which features two of his ex-wives. The Diva’s makeup seems vaguely inspired by the Twi’lek race seen in the Star Wars universe.

Singin’ the blues…
The Diva (Maïwenn Le Besco) delivers a showstopping opera/pop medley in one of the movie’s most memorable moments.

As the alien singer delivers her unearthly aria against the orbital backdrop of the planet Paradise, the ship is illegally boarded by the renegade Mangalores, whose leader Aknot (Vladimir McCrary) now seeks the elemental stones for himself. Following her majestic performance, the Mangalores burst into the ship’s opera house and begin shooting up the place. As bullets fly by, the Diva is struck, and collapses onstage. Rushing to the Diva’s side, Dallas learns with her dying words that the stones are hidden inside of her body. As she dies, Dallas then plunges his hand into her blue-bleeding abdominal cavity and retrieves the four stones, handing them over to a thoroughly flipped-out Ruby. With ship’s security outgunned, and the celebrity guests (including a hearing impaired film star) proving themselves useless, former military man Dallas snaps into action, killing most of the Mangalores, before rushing off to ‘protect’ Leeloo. Meanwhile, Zorg has also boarded the cruise ship under false pretenses, feigning distress…

Note: During most of the shootout in the ship’s opera house, the increasingly hysterical DJ Ruby Rhod continues live broadcasting to his listeners (“Best show I ever did”). I find it more than a little anachronistic that the early 20th century medium of radio would survive into the 23rd century, let alone make a galaxy-wide celebrity out of a disc jockey (a term that’d most likely have no meaning by then). If the movie were remade today, I’m sure Ruby Rhod would be changed to a live podcaster, which would, no doubt, seem equally outdated by the film’s 23rd century.

“Want a piece of me?”
As seen earlier, Leeloo has clearly been brushing up on her Bruce Lee moves…

As Dallas spring into action at the opera house, Leeloo has snapped into combat mode herself, fending off a group of Mangalores who’ve raided the Diva’s stateroom for the stones. One by one, the ‘perfect being’ Leeloo hands each of them their asses, having ‘studied’ martial arts via Bruce Lee movies on the internet in Cornelius’ apartment. With the Mangalores out of the picture, Zorg arrives and begins shooting up the Diva’s stateroom, forcing an injured Leeloo to retreat into the air ducts for safety. Zorg then leaves sets a delayed-detonation bomb in the room before fleeing the ship with the carrying case for the elemental stones. The ship’s sensors then detect the bomb Zorg left behind, and a mass evacuation of passengers to the escape pods begins. In the confusion, Zorg flies clear of the doomed cruise ship and opens the case…only to realize (once again) that it’s empty. With only a few minutes left to detonation, Zorg makes the foolhardy decision to fly back into the ship in a last-ditch, desperate attempt to retrieve the stones.

“I…am…very…disappointed” Part 3.

Meanwhile, Dallas finds the injured Leeloo. With the stones back in their possession, Dallas, Leeloo, Ruby, and Cornelius head down to the cruise ship’s docking bay and steal Zorg’s spacecraft. Once aboard, they quickly set course for Earth and jump into hyperspace. Zorg rushes back to the Diva’s stateroom where he left the bomb and defuses it with only several seconds left. However, one of the presumed-dead Mangalores nearby stirs, and reactivates the bomb remotely. Zorg is, once again, very disappointed, as the all-but deserted cruise ship goes up in a gargantuan fireball.

En route to Earth aboard the late Zorg’s ship, Dallas calls down to President Lindberg, who tells him he has less than two hours before the Great Evil planetoid collides with Earth. Unfazed, Dallas casually quips that he’ll call back in two hours…

Note: Another little movie about a doomed cruise ship would be released seven months later and go on to win Best Picture at the 1998 Oscars ceremony. That little movie would, of course, be James Cameron’s “Titanic.”

A Pilot has arrived at the Stone Temple…sorry, I couldn’t resist.

Arriving at the secret Egyptian temple seen in the film’s 1914 prologue, the group is met there by David, who’s been preparing the place for the stones’ arrival. With only minutes remaining until Earth is destroyed by Evil, each of the group grabs one of the four cylindrical stones and places them on select stands which match their elements; earth, wind, fire and water. A weakened Leeloo is carefully laid on the dais in the center of the room–the place reserved for the ‘fifth element’ herself. The priests are unsure about how to activate the stones, until David accidentally exhales onto the wind stone, causing one of its ‘petals’ to open. After a bit of trial and error, Dallas and Cornelius realize that each stone is activated by its source element.

Note: In addition to sending up Star Wars and other space opera fantasies, the movie also pokes a little fun at the Indiana Jones movies as well…

You’re fired.

A nervous Cornelius then wrings his own sweat to activate the water stone, as sand from the floor of the temple is used to activate the earth stone. Dallas realizes he has one final remaining wooden match left for ‘fire’ (he’s trying to quit smoking). All eyes are on the flickering flame of the match as it successfully activates the fire stone. Unfortunately, the dying Leeloo herself still needs to be ‘activated’ as well. Dallas tries to comfort the dispirited Leeloo, who has lost her faith in humanity after learning about the concept of war during her time alone aboard the cruise ship. As Dallas tries to restore Leeloo’s faith in the human race, Cornelius suddenly realizes that the final element is love. Dallas must somehow demonstrate to Leeloo that he loves her (I imagine it would help if he meant it, too).

Note: At this point, you can almost hear Sebastian the crab from “The Little Mermaid” singing “Kiss the Girl”…

Snow White for the Space Age…

No surprise as Dallas and Leeloo engage in a passionate kiss–like a scene from a Space Age “Snow White.” Their kiss results in a near-orgasmic light-show, connecting the energies of the four stones, and sending out a large unified energy pulse that instantly transforms the molten ‘Great Evil’ planetoid into inert rock. The former threat is now a newly-minted moon of Earth. The world is saved by love, not war.

The final scene has President Lindberg and General Munro visiting the government lab where Dallas and Leeloo are (*ahem*) ‘recuperating’ together inside of a private regeneration tube. The high-profile visitors are deliberately ignored. All that’s missing is a ‘DO NOT DISTURB’ sign hung outside…

Note: The final scene of Dallas’ ignoring the president’s visit while making love to Leeloo in their private tube is a direct nod to the final ‘reentry’ scene of 1979’s “Moonraker.”

The End.

Summing It Up.

At its core, “The Fifth Element” is a near-perfect comic book movie, with an emphasis on ‘comic.’ The ‘elemental’ story echoes the Marvel universe’s ‘infinity stones,’ creating a mad race for our heroes to collect these magical McGuffins before the bad guys. However, with fabulous production design by legendary comic artist Jean “Moebius” Giraud and couture costumes by runway fashion icon Jean Paul Gaultier, the story is but a mannequin on which to drape a colorful variety of eye-catching artwork.

The late Luke Perry (1966-2019), wasted in a bizarre comedic cameo at the height of his popularity. I can almost imagine another version of the movie where he might’ve played Korben Dallas…

The actors certainly do their best. Bruce Willis’ ‘Korben Dallas’ riffs on his own “Die Hard” image, while Milla Jovovich (giving the best performance in the film by far) manages to place the cosmic spirit of “E.T.” into the body of a Paris runway fashion model–her ‘Leeloo’ is both the innocent waif and ass-kicking warrior, all in one. Chris Tucker’s breakout role as obnoxious DJ ‘Ruby Rhod’ paved the way for his motormouthed LAPD cop character in the “Rush Hour” franchise, which kicked off a year later. Gary Oldman hams it up as the villainous ‘Zorg,’ with a bizarre southern affectation and an equally bizarre haircut (which foreshadowed the look of real-life eccentric entrepreneur Elon Musk by two decades). A few odd casting choices work well with the film’s deliberate quirkiness; the late 1990s teen idol Luke Perry (1966-2019) plays against type as a feckless coward in a small role, while the late former wrestler Tommy “Tiny” Lister (1958-2020) is also cast against formidable type as Earth president Lindberg. Every single performance in the movie is deliberately broad and heavily stylized–anything less would be lost in the mad melange of this movie.

An anti-grav Thai food truck/boat merrily makes its way through the skies over 23rd century Manhattan. Images like these are inspired and surreal, and are part of the movie’s unique charm.

While one might typically expect a classically symphonic or even a Vangelis-like score for a grand futuristic saga (see: “Star Trek,” “Blade Runner”), “The Fifth Element” bucks expectations in this regard as well. Frequent Besson collaborator Eric Serra gives the film a wildly upbeat, sometimes garish score that alternates between 1980s synth pop and alarm clock. While Serra’s score may not be for everyone’s tastes, it is certainly memorable, and it’s well-suited to the unique spirit of this wonderfully odd epic. Every component of the film (the broad performances, the couture-costume design, the lavish visual effects, the music, the exotic aliens, and the day-glow color palette) seems designed to grab attention at every moment, much like the bright panels of a classic comic book.

A subtle dig at Star Wars without being too overt…

While I wasn’t sure what to make of it when I first saw “The Fifth Element” (largely due to US mis-marketing) I began to feel the unique groove of this French roast-flavored (and heavily caffeinated) piece of pop sci-fi. Yes, “The Fifth Element” is a blatant and unapologetic exercise in style over substance, but if you know that going in? You can relax and enjoy the ride.

Where To Watch.

The DVD/Blu-Ray and 4K discs of “The Fifth Element” are available on Amazon.com, as well as BestBuy.com and BarnesandNoble.com. The movie can also be streamed for rental or purchase via YouTube premium ($3.99/$12.99), Prime Video ($3.99/$7.99) and AppleTV ($3.99/$7.99).

Images: Columbia/Sony Pictures.

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