RETRO REVIEW – ‘The Fifth Element’

Review by J.T. Johnson

4-stars

ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE: May 7, 1997
DIRECTOR: Luc Besson
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Thierry Arbogast
WRITERS: Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen
MUSIC: Eric Serra

“The Fifth Element” is one of the best movies from Luc Besson, the creator of hit action films such as “La Femme Nakita”, “Leon the Professional”, “The Transporter”, and “Taken”. It’s a definite cult film and audience members either act in awe of the visual spectacle or they scoff and call it one of the worst films ever made.

I definitely love the movie, though I must admit that when I first watched it back in ’97, I really didn’t get it and shrugged it off for the most part. A few years later, I re-watched the movie and became a fan! I must admit that I do like the movie more for its visuals than the story itself.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the story that’s told, but it would be nothing without the special-effects and unique style. Besson was inspired by other sci-fi projects such as the “Valerian and Laureline” comic books that started in the 1960s. In fact, I think it’s kind of cool that now, 20 years after “The Fifth Element” was released, Besson is releasing a film based on “Valerian” called “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”, which is due out on July 21.

The story sets up that a great evil will one day return to plague the galaxy. This happens in the year 2263 when the great evil appears in the form of a giant ball of black fire. The only thing that can save humanity and destroy the evil is four stones representing Earth, Wind, Water, and Fire.

However, their power cannot be utilized without the fifth element, a super being that appears in the form of a human. The fifth element turns out to be a female named Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) and she escapes the people holding her captive only to literally crash land into a taxi belonging to Korban Dallas (Bruce Willis). Korban is instantly attracted to Leeloo and soon, we learn that Korban is also a former special operations officer.

Korban just so happens to be sent on a mission to recover the missing stones. Meanwhile, a ruthless industrialist named Zorg (Gary Oldman) is also trying to recover the stones due to the influence of the great evil.

I recently watched the movie again and was surprised that the special-effects are still really good and fun to watch even though the film is 20 years old. The action, when it does happen, is just as fun as anything Besson has done before. There’s an awesome energy to his fights and the excitement level is never down.

Another good aspect of this film is its good humor. The filmmakers know that some of the things they are presenting to us are completely absurd and they don’t mind making the jokes when necessary. Oldman, in particular, is fantastic and funny as Zorg and gives the antagonist a weirdly out-of-place Southern accent that somehow feels right for the movie.

This was during the time that Willis was still a bankable action star. His Korban Dallas is pretty much John McClane in space and I have no problem with that. He may not have as many clever one-liners, but he can definitely handle the film’s action scenes with ease.

The true star of the movie though is Jovovich as Leeloo. She is both a wise and ancient being and a duck out of water. It’s been 5000 years since she was needed last and she unfortunately sees what dicks we humans have been. That means that when the time comes, she may not be too keen on helping humanity out.

This movie is completely nuts and has a unique and wonderful style to it. Besson has created a sci-fi film unlike any other. While the story can be a little barren, “The Fifth Element” refuses to settle on conventional methods of storytelling and provides a fun thrill ride with plenty of colorful characters to follow throughout.

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