The trailers for The Fifth Element make it look like it tries very hard, perhaps too hard, to be cool and stylish. The futuristic setting and the backflipping scraggly girl invite a skeptical comparison to Blade Runner.
In fact, the movie does have some elements of Blade Runner. It also has some from Die Hard, Brazil, Star Wars, and Stargate. It sounds like a big confused jumble, but actually it has its own internal consistency and look. It is almost immediately engaging and engrossing.
After an introductory scene in Egypt, 1918, the movie jumps to the 23rd century. A black hole of Evil threatens humanity. Attempts to destroy this Evil with force result in the growth and strengthening of the evil body.
Four stones from the early Egypt sequence, plus a perfectly engineered human, the Fifth Element, are needed to banish the darkness and death.
The good aliens, the golden robot ducks, are the keepers of the stones and of the Fifth Element. When they learn of humanity’s impending doom, they come to the aid of the Earth, bearing these five components. On their way to Earth, they are shot down by the evil mercenary aliens, “destroying” the stones and the Fifth Element in the fiery wreckage.
The human government is able to salvage a piece of the Fifth Element from the wreckage and regenerate the perfect human using DNA from the mummified and stone-encased piece of shrapnel. The human reincarnated from the Fifth Element is Leeloo, and she escapes from the clutches of the scientists so she can go off in search of the priest she’s been programmed to find.
She falls into the arms of Corben Dallas (Bruce Willis), a down-on-his-luck space cab driver, an ex-space military man kicked out of the space army who now lives alone with his cat. (In the last Besson film, The Professional, the hero lived alone with his plant.). The two end up on a search for the stones so that they can vanquish the evil black hole.
Working against them is Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg (that’s John-the-Baptist, Jesus, Zorg, played by Gary Oldman), who wants to steal the stones and use them for evil and darkness. (Chaos is better for the economy, you see.)
The plot sounds rather ridiculous, but The Fifth Element is so engaging and has such integrity of style, that I was never bothered by the cartoonishness of the plot. This is a positive example of solving a problem by throwing enough money at it.
Several factors make this movie much better than it sounds. First, the visual elements of this movie are interesting, and the filmmakers went all out. The sets are great (the scientist’s chamber), the costumes are great (the police officers, the aliens), the special effects are good, and these are cartoonish by the same amount as the plot, which allows them to cohabitate in the same movie.
Second, this movie is good, fun, escapist entertainment. The movie has a little humor and camp — not too much to distract from the action, but enough to keep you watching for little jokes. If you haven’t seen it yet, pay attention to Dallas’ cigarettes, or look for visual “quotes” from Star Wars. There are lots of clever details packed into the movie.
Finally, the editing (by Sylvie Landra) was superb. Besson and Landra used some cross-cutting techniques both to cleverly link scenes and also to transition from one scene to the next. The cross-cutting (as well as the “regular” straight cutting) kept the movie’s pace nice and brisk.
The one factor that nearly everyone dislikes about this movie is the character Ruby Rhod (played by Chris Tucker). Ruby is a flamingly shrill, annoying DJ, ten times worse than Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh combined. Many people say the movie would have been better without him, and I’d have a hard time disagreeing.
Nevertheless, it is refreshing to see a science fiction movie with space scenes and interesting aliens that is not part of some established Star (fill-in-the-blank) series or based on some pre-existing comic book. Apparently, Besson wrote the story for The Fifth Element when he was a teenager, and he is just now coming back to it.
This movie is not as heavy as Blade Runner or as insightful as Brazil, but incorporates a lot of the more fun elements from both. The result is a movie that’s less substantial than either, but a lot more fun.