After making heavy movies like La Femme Nikita and Leon, it is somewhat of a departure for Luc Besson to do this comic, pulp, sci-fi film The Fifth Element. Looking at his work now, with such high-octane humor as the Transporter series, among others, (written by Besson, but not directed), it doesn't seem that out of place. He just must have decided to only direct his more serious fare and leave the fun stuff to others. However, The Fifth Element is by no means a slight film without a fan base. As far as sci-fi goes, this is a very capable installment. With its mythology, creatures, action, and special effects, the movie has everything going for it. The humor that's infused just makes it better, vaulting it through genres and making it accessible to almost everyone who gives it a try.
Like most of its ilk, the story revolves around an evil force about to devour Earth and the rest of life itself as it increases in size and power with each influx of destruction and hate thrown at it. Every opportunity to blow it up only makes it stronger. Through a series of fortunate/ unfortunate happenings, (depending on who you are aligning with), we have the paths crossing of a priest who holds the answers for survival, an ex-military, cab driver bent on having some fun and excitement, a strange woman from another place at the center of it all, an evil mercenary out for money, and the government of the galaxy trying to save face in front of inevitable extermination. It is good versus evil traveling through space in order to either shed light or death out to the universe as victory.
In what is a nice little introduction to the myth of the fifth element that will unite with the more common four to wipe out evil, we learn of those who keep the secret of its location. We don't quite know if these aliens are good or not until later, but we do find out the impetus for their coming to the temple on display. A cut forward in time introduces us to the president of the galaxies, (played in what would seem to be horrible casting, but ends up being pretty good with Tommy "Tiny" Lister, Jr.), and our head priest in the guarding of the truth, Ian Holm. Holm explains what the dark force coming after them is and goes on the quest to find the fifth element and her four stones needed to combat it. This supreme being, played wonderfully by Milla Jovovich with a childlike glee and discovery, falls into the unwitting hands of cabbie Korben DallasBruce Willis at his sarcastic bad-ass best. Willis must join with Holm and Jovovich on a mission to recover the stones and find a way to save the world.
A lot of the success lies with the man behind it all, Luc Besson. His script is made up of a pretty solid plot line as far as the world destruction goes. Everything makes sense and is explained in a way to not bore us, but instead in tidbits culled from the numerous characters running about it this singularly unique landscape. The art direction is spectacular and for being a decade old, still has some nice special effects that stand up. I've always been a proponent for prosthetics, when able, at the expense of computer graphics. Reactions are always better from actors who have something real to play off of and the lighting and environments just become more realistic. Even so, when computers are used, the effects are more subtle than flashy and never take away from the story that is being told. No matter what spectacle is on display, the script is what is important.
All the personalities on display also lead to much of the greatness that The Fifth Element has to offer. Bruce Willis is the king of this kind of role. His quips and rapport with those around him are priceless. Other standouts are Chris Tucker, in an early role for him, and the great Gary Oldman. Tucker takes loud and obnoxious to a whole new level, but it works flawlessly. His radio DJ has no shame when it comes to working a crowd or chasing the ladies, but his utter fear of danger is hilarious. As for Oldman, I have to believe Besson just said create something fresh. This villain is a pastiche of so many crazy components. His futuristic hair, complete with plastic half shield, is plain weird; the southern accent and buck teeth look is just the right amount of hillbilly; and the disposition of greed and ambivalence is perfect for a bad guy. When he explains how destruction allows all the little machines that man created to finally have work cleaning up the mess, it's fantastic. The real beauty, though, is that no matter how many strong lead roles are here, the little guys steal scenes as well. Singer Tricky is great as Oldman's "Right Arm" and Mathieu Kassovitz partakes in one of the best scenes in the film when he attempts to mug Willis at his apartment.
Even with all its camp and fun, Besson keeps it all grounded in drama as any fantasy tale does. He has a real vision for aesthetics and has changed his scope often as he goes from film to film. From the mobster/corrupt cop world of New York, to the countryside of war with Joan of Arc, he never pigeonholes himself in a style. I am still holding out hope that his newest, Angel-A, with all its black and white, stylish noir feel, will hit the big screens here in Buffalo. It will be a real shame if the rumors are true and the completion of his children tale, Arthur and the Minimoys, will be the final work by him as a director.
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