It’s a busy year for Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman and Milla Jovavich with each having a film out in September, Willis stars as the time travelling Joe in Looper, Oldman plays the ruthless Floyd Banner in Lawlessand Jovavich will be returning as the apocalypse preventing Alice in Resident Evil: Retribution. However, fifteen years before these block busting celebrities were travelling through time, shooting people in the face or killing zombies they all starred together in a quirky little science fiction film called The Fifth Element.
Luc Besson’s bizarre insight to the twenty third century follows the story of Leeloo (Jovavich), a ‘supreme being’ who is sent to earth as a part of the four elements (earth, fire, water and air) to protect the planet from an impending attack. While the fifth element was being brought back to earth, the ship it was travelling on was destroyed leaving just a small part of it left. Scientists on earth then rebuild the element using the DNA from the recovered part and the result is a red haired, green eyed woman, Leeloo. She then escapes in fear from the laboratory she has just awoken in and ends up falling through the roof of taxi driver Korben Dallas (Willis). She asks him to help her and he takes her to see Father Vito Cornelius who is more than excited to see her as he was aware of her arrival to Earth. Meanwhile, someone else is aware of the power these elements hold and his reasons for acquiring them are purely for evil. Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg is a powerful, strangely dressed individual who wants nothing more than to kill everything and be in control of the Universe. His shape-shifting alien army undergo various disguises in order to intercept Dallas, Leeloo and Vito as they travel through space on board ‘Fhloston Paradise’ a holiday makers space craft, in order to reach their destination and save the world by converging with the other four stones in a spectacular finale.
Alongside Willis, Jovavich and Oldman is quite an impressive ensemble case, including Chris Tucker, Ian Holm, Luke Perry and Lee Evans. The film also has a very small, perfectly formed cameo from La Haine (1995) director Mathieu Kassovitz. Despite this great cast and imaginative storyline, it was still nominated for two Razzies during awards season, one for Worst Supporting Actress (Jovovich) and one for Worst New Actor (Tucker). In general though, the film was very well received, winning a BAFTA for special effects and nominated for an Oscar. It also trebled its budget by grossing $263 million.
Arguably, the dominant feature that makes The Fifth Element so memorable is the stylised futuristic world that it is set in. Luc Besson’s exceedingly French style is exceptionally brilliant at allowing the film to completely stand out from the crowd. The brightly coloured costumes, courtesy of Jean-Paul Gautier, and the wacky, futuristic hair styles aid its uniqueness. This highly stylised mise en scene is only further exaggerated in the over the top mannerisms of the people that surround Korben Dallas, especially talk show host Ruby Rhod (Tucker), an unforgettable character to say the least. This over-stylisation gives the film an almost comic book feel, something that has become a common feature in films of the last few years; Kick Ass (2010), Scott Pilgrim Vs The World (2010) and so on. This is the futuristic world Besson is aiming to create, and his dedication to this idea is only further demonstrated in the ‘Divine Language’ which starts cascading out of Leeloo’s mouth when she first awakes. Vito understands the Divine Language but cannot speak it, thus he finds a way for her to learn English. This language was created by Besson and Jovovich and in order for them to fully understand their creation they would communicate by using it in letters to each other.
The cast of The Fifth Element are nothing short of brilliant and are massively responsible for its success. Bruce Willis as the former Special Forces soldier is witty, charming and over-confident as the male lead Korben Dallas, he is instantly charmed by Leeloo and makes his move on her quite early on, only to be greeted by a gun to the head as she is very displeased at his advances. However it is very difficult to ignore the blatant fact that Korben Dallas is just a futuristic version of John McClane. Die Hard fans beware! The gem of the movie for me though comes in the form of Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg, played villainously by Gary Oldman. Everything from his voice to his haircut is perfect. The juxtaposition of a camp, girly voice on a man who ruthlessly will kill members of his own elite makes him very non-threatening, which is perfectly demonstrated when he chokes and almost dies, on a cherry pip.
Overall, The Fifth Element is a great film for any science fiction fanatic. It draws on so many elements of 80’s science fiction films like Ridley Scotts Blade Runner (1982), especially the epic cityscapes, and it has provided influence for many science fiction films after its release in 1997. Even the newly released Dredd 3D has slight Fifth Element inflections, more so Blade Runner, but they all seem to roll together and work off each other creating an epic sci-fi nostalgia snowball that just keeps on growing the more it snows.
Further Reading in The Information Store:
· Science Fiction Cinema: Between Fantasy and Reality by Christine Cornea
Location: Book Zone 791.436 COR
· The Blade Runner Experience: The Legacy of a Science Fiction Classic by Will Brooker
Location: Book Zone 791.4372 BRO
· Blade Runner (1982)
Location: The DVD Zone 791.43
· The Fifth Element (1997)
Location: The DVD Zone 791.43