The Fifth Element
In the 23rd century, a New York City cabbie, Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis), finds the fate of the world in his hands when Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) falls into his cab. As the embodiment of the fifth element, Leeloo needs to combine with the other four to keep the approaching Great Evil from destroying the world. Together with Father Vito Cornelius (Ian Holm) and zany broadcaster Ruby Rhod (Chris Tucker), Dallas must race against time and the wicked industrialist Zorg (Gary Oldman) to save humanity.
Is The Fifth Element “amazing science fiction”? That’s a rather complicated question when it comes to this film. And at over twenty years old, it’s one that has certainly found a place in fandom. From Luc Besson, the film is a classic attempt at mainstream big budget sci-fi with mixed results amidst plenty of expectations due in part to an obviously stellar cast.
Let’s dig into the real questions that keep us coming back to this wacky film.
The Fifth Element transcended cult popularity into the mainstream and has garnered plenty of opinions both damning and positive, so we won’t get caught up too much in explaining what happens in the story itself. Leeloo is a generally scantily clad savior figure, protected by blue collar worker Korben Dallas against both an invading evil and corrupt agendas from the industrialist Zorg. There are plenty of flashy special effects to make this a typical Hollywood affair worthy of a big bucket of popcorn, but there is also something interesting happening in the vision of the future as well and that is where most of the substance of the film lies.
The aspect that has many viewers digging deeper into the everything from the plot points to the fashion decisions is the depiction of gender in The Fifth Element. It’s frustratingly conservative in it’s approach to these themes, but it also comes at a time when mainstream sci-fi had yet to really offer any sort of in-depth breakdown of gender normatives. With Chris Tucker’s character Ruby Rhod, we get a high-camp slap in the face against the gender norm extremes presented in both Leeloo and Korben. These characters help to create a vision of the future that lays bare a spectrum that is worth exploring, but unfortunately, that’s about as far as the film gets in that discussion. The traces of true potential in The Fifth Element are buried in corporate-mandated effects, over-the-top humor and generically outdated writing even for a film released in ’97. Still, the fashion forward approach and willingness to bend otherwise rigid norms is interesting.
Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich take much of the spotlight as we discover Leeloo is actually the Fifth Element incarnate and the only way to prevent the alien invasion. We see Leeloo as lost for most of the film, which is where Korben finds relevance. It’s not something that stands out as quality storytelling, but it serves as a decent catalyst to do some grand special effects. Leeloo really is a badass, but she isn’t allowed to come into that role until it’s too late, as the other characters have already maneuvered her as a pawn in their own pursuits. By the films end, she’s reduced to a trophy for Korben and it’s difficult not to wonder what it would have looked like without the need to have that character attached to her own.
What The Fifth Element does best is world building. The team behind the camera captured a unique vision of a sci-fi world at a strange time for the genre. It relies on camp to help sell some of the more whimsical elements, and that’s mostly okay. It feels like such lived in and complex world that it helps to elevate the otherwise less impressive acting. Everything from the color palette to the class structure shows that a lot of thought went into the formation of the world and how we as viewers navigate it, so there is a lot to appreciate.
The Fifth Element most likely won’t be your favorite sci-fi film, maybe not even in your top 5, but it’s one that any fan of the genre should sit down with a popcorn and a soda and dig into. The extravagant Diva Dance song from Diva Plavalaguna has made it’s way into iconic status, so it’s worth watching if not for just that alone. Its a film that just barely scratches the surface of modern relevance but finds itself steeped in themes that simply don’t age as well as you’d hope, making for a great example of a mixed bag movie!
The Fifth Element just barely scratches the surface of modern relevance but finds itself steeped in themes that simply don't age well. It may not be your favorite sci-fi film, but it's one that any fan of the genre should sit down with a popcorn and a soda and dig into.
Amazing Science Fiction: The Fifth Element (1997): We Call it Human Nature
Writing - 7/107/10
Storyline - 5/105/10
Acting - 6.5/106.5/10
Music - 7.5/107.5/10
Production - 9/109/10
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