Past: I was 13 when I went to the movies to see The Fifth Element. I saw it in a cinema called The Odeon in Bromborough with a friend and a girl I had a crush on. It was on some sort of special day where tickets were, say, ten pound each and my parents had driven to the cinema in the morning and queued up for an hour to get us all cheap tickets for my first ever cinema double bill: The Fifth Element and One Fine Day (starring George Clooney and Michelle Pfeiffer). I remember pretty much nothing of One Fine Day, but I remember falling head over heels in love with The Fifth Element, and the girl I had a crush on falling asleep during it.
I probably would have last watched The Fifth Element in my final years of high school. I can remember listening to the soundtrack with my friend, Whelan, who had a passion for Eric Serra, the composer of both this soundtrack and Leon: The Professional (among others). I can also remember reading the novelization and playing the awful video game (and loving it).
The Fifth Element is set 300-odd years in the future when the embodiment of all evil appears in space with its sights on Earth. The only way to stop it is to gather stones representing the four elements and use them to surround a divine supreme being, a fifth element, who will destroy evil. This supreme being, played by Milla Jovovich, falls through the roof of a taxi driven by space marine/cabbie Korben Dallas played by Bruce Willis, which brings him into a wider story involving Gary Oldman’s psychotic businessman Zorg and hapless priest Vito Cornelius (Ian Holm). Chases, gunfights, explosions, and derring-do ensue.
The Fifth Element is like someone upended a toy chest and then, rather than just playing with the GI Joes or Lego or Transformers, they mixed them all together and made a new game. The Fifth Element is what happens when you take Star Wars, Blade Runner, Silent Running, Die Hard, Jean Giraud a.k.a. Moebius, Heavy Metal, Valerian and Laureline, The Incal, the music videos of Prince, David Bowie, and Michael Jackson, the fashion of Jean-Paul Gautier, Jerry Lee Lewis (or maybe Abbott and Costello), Red Dwarf, the Bible, Akira, Metropolis, Battlestar Galactica, and score the whole thing with a mix of French 90s techno, Algerian pop, and opera. It shouldn’t work. It should be a disjointed mess like a teenager telling a story about a dream they had after the first time they listened to their brother’s copy of Daft Punk’s Homework and smoked a joint.
Present: The first thing I did once I volunteered to watch this movie and write this article was put out a poll on Twitter that let people vote if the movie was good or bad. 90% said good with a variety of comments complaining of the lack of an option to vote for it as being great.
My constant readers (they call themselves Sean FAN-lons, or they would if they existed) will know that I have a soft spot for this sort of high-concept tomfoolery as evidenced by my rave reviews of Masters of the Universe, Monster Squad, and Highlander. I love it when a movie has a mad premise and then just commits to it. I love the fact that these movies exist as a direct opposition to the snark and cynicism that too often permeate the current movie conversation.
The Fifth Element is not a conventionally good movie. Its entire plot rests on convenience and coincidence and nonsense. It is broad, slap-sticky, weird for the sake of weird, silly, outrageous, and can’t decide if it wants to take itself too seriously or wink so hard at the camera that it breaks its own cheekbone.
It’s also gorgeous and fun as hell.
Jean-Paul Gautier designed every costume and created this fashion of the future in which everything is either hyper 90s or adapted from 1920s Parisian culture. Gautier goes nuts with it and creates some insane imagery. Case in point, Bruce Willis somehow pulls off spending the whole movie wearing a semi-backless bright orange vest that seems to be made from plastic. It’s like seeing John McClane dressed up to go clubbing at an underground rave in 1990s Soho. Milla Jovovich famously/infamously spends a good portion of her introduction to the movie wearing strategically placed bandages. Gary Oldman, during his peak insanity phase, wears a plastic thing on his head for some reason. Like it’s half a plastic bowl or something and it’s not quite a hat, not quite a mask. It’s amazing.
The special effects have also held up remarkably well. The New York of the future with its flying vehicles and high rises still looks incredible 13 years later, which is impressive considering there are movies released this year that will look like garbage tomorrow.
Besson does some remarkable world-building to create a lived-in environment for his characters, with hints of the culture and society that exists outside of the story, and it’s clear that he loves this world and its characters and is taking everything the right level of seriously (i.e. with a healthy amount of cheekiness).
Future: This movie will definitely join my canon of Sunday hangover movies. It’s fun, funny, has a blue alien dancing to techno opera, and moves with shocking pace (two hours long and feels like half that). I spent the entire movie with a smile on my face, amazed by Besson’s big ideas and big emotions. It’s actually quite surprising that this was the last movie set in this universe as the further adventures of Leeloo and Dallas (and Chris Tucker’s Ruby Rhod and Zito Cornelius) would have been awesome. Who knows–in this current climate of reboots, remakes, and re-imaginings, it might not be long before The Sixth Element is heading to the big screen. Fingers crossed.
Featured Image: Columbia Pictures