Friday, 18 March 2011

Review: The Fifth Element

The Fifth Element is Luc Besson’s big budget futuristic blockbuster, which, at the time, was the most expensive film ever produced outside of Hollywood. Besson again called on the might of Gary Oldman to play the bad guy, following his fantastic performance in Léon (1994) and he excels again here as the ruthless industrialist Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg.

This film is a visual extravaganza. The rich and vibrant colours ensure that the future is a bright and appealing one, not bleak and dystopian, as in so many futuristic films. Besson said that he wanted to show a vision of the future that wasn’t dark and dangerous. What comes across most about the visual effects is the amazing attention to detail. The shots of 23rd century New York are some of the highlights. Leeloo’s POV shot when she sees the skyline for the first time is remarkable. The skyscrapers, packed closely together, ascend high into the clouds, with subways zooming up and down their sides and the areas in between packed with flying cars. The quirky, original costumes were designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier, who even checked over the extras individually before scenes to make sure they were looking their best. Two famous French comic book artists, Jean Giraud and Jean-Claude Mézières developed the production design. They were responsible for much of the iconography of the film; the vehicles, spacecrafts, buildings, human characters and aliens.

The story boils down to a straightforward good vs. evil narrative. A huge, dark sphere of absolute evil attempts to destroy Earth every 5,000 years and five elements need to be used together to stop this from happening. Earth, wind, fire and water, along with the Supreme Being; an ultimate warrior created to protect life. Korben Dallas, a former major, becomes embroiled in a mission to retrieve the stones housing each of the elements and activate them in a temple before the Great Evil reaches Earth. His allies are the beautiful and mysterious Leeloo, a Priest, his apprentice and a rather annoying media personality.

A simple but effective technique used a number of times throughout the film is cross-cutting. Used to switch between action taking place in different locations at the same time, it is cleverly used here because characters often finish each other’s sentences. For example, when Zorg meets with Aknot (leader of the Mangalores) to exchange crates of weapons for the case of stones, he shuts the lid and then states “This empty.” The scene then cuts to Leeloo laughing and Cornelius asks “What do you mean, empty?” Cut back to Zorg, who tells his lackey “Empty. The opposite of full. This case is supposed to be full! Anyone care to explain?” Cut back to Leeloo, explaining in the divine language that they gave the stones to someone they could trust. Cornelius says “We’re saved” and then a final cut back to Zorg, who says “I’m screwed.”  This is an intelligent use of dialogue and editing that is both interesting and efficient.

Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) is a rather reluctant hero. He was living a lonely, uneventful life before Leeloo crashed through the roof of his cab. At the beginning of the film he says he wants to meet the perfect woman. He hasn’t had very good experiences with women; his wife left him for his lawyer and his mother continuously calls him just to moan at him. He is laconic and very humourous at times. It is interesting that our hero Korben and the villain of the film, Zorg, never meet or communicate with each other. Usually there would be an epic battle at the end where they would fight until the villain was killed. However, they do narrowly miss bumping into each other as Korben gets into an elevator in the hotel on Fhloston Paradise and Zorg exits the one next to it seconds later. There is a connection between hero and villain too; Zorg orders the dismissal of 1 million people from one of his smaller companies, a cab company, and in a later scene Korben gets a message telling him he’s fired. The name ‘Zorg’ is clearly visible at the bottom of the message.

Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) is the heroine of the film. Beautiful and very strong, she is often referred to as ‘perfect’. She is a fast learner, able to absorb large quantities of information; she learns 5,000 years worth of Earth’s history from a computer in a very short amount of time. She is kooky and has lots of funny moments in the film, usually when she is trying to understand certain words in the English language (“Big ba-dah boom”, “Auto-wash”, “Mul-ti-pass”). The ‘divine language’ spoken by Leeloo has 400 words and was invented by the director and Milla Jovovich. Jovovich stated that she and Besson wrote letters to each other in the language as practice and by the end of filming they were able to have full conversations.

I highly recommend this film. It has a great cast of actors all having a good time, the visuals are fantastic and it’s very enjoyable as long as you don’t take it too seriously. It’s refreshing to see a bright and colourful vision of the future.


  1. Yeah it gets ironic when the Fifth Element flakes out, and what saves mankind is a match that is intended for a cigarette!

  2. Good review. You're right about the look of the film; the use of colour is beautiful. I also think this might have Chris Tucker's best performance (not exactly high praise considering the rest of his work, but still).

  3. One of my favourites, breathtaking visuals, the tongue-in-cheek humour which was like a throw back to the 80s indiana jones films, and actually the soundtrack is pretty great too.

    Leeloo absorbing large quantities of information, sounds kind of like the new film Limitless, doesn't it?


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