10 July 2011

Why I Love The Fifth Element

I'm doing this post slightly sooner than I intended as people have been discussing this on Facebook. Sorry folks, you are just going to have to wait for a ramble about history.

The Fifth Element
In case you haven't seen The Fifth Element, get thee to youtube (though the trailer does seem a bit spoilery and doesn't really show much of the humour that makes the film so good).

Alternatively you can read my plot synopsis:
In 2257 a planet-sized, evil entity threatens to exterminate life in the universe unless four ancient, elemental stones can be joined with the mysterious fifth element to create a secret weapon, long guarded by the Mondoshawan race. Taxi-driver and former military man Korben Dallas rescues and then falls for the beautiful but odd Leeloo. He becomes explosively embroiled in the machinations of an ancient priesthood, the government, an eccentric billionaire and alien mercenaries. It’s a race against time to save life in the universe and only Leeloo has the solution. 

Written and directed by Luc Besson this is a comedic, SF action film with a plot that isn't simplistic, but is easy to follow. The comedy ranges from funny little touches to laugh out loud moments, and the stunts and action set-pieces are well done and full of firepower. There are some heavier, emotional moments, that can be quite touching, although no one watching will be in any doubt as to who is going to win the day.

The setting is brilliantly realised, with every scene packed full of little details in the scenery, props, costumes and effects, which add to the feel of a rich and realistic future world. 
What's also great is that it's heavily industrialised, crowded future -where the ground of New York is lost in fog- but it isn't a dystopia. The world was clearly created with a sense of lighthearted fun, I suspect that the crew enjoyed putting their own stamp on this cool futuristic setting. The film itself makes it clear that humanity is far from perfect, that as a race we've done plenty of crappy things (war being chief among those), but yet the tone rarely dips below hopeful. It's one of the most optimistic yet familiar versions of the future you will seen on film.

Milla Jovovich's spirited portrayal of Leeloo is great to watch. I think it's fair to say that Milla Jovovich is an actress who gravitates to a certain type of role. In fact The Fifth Element is so ingrained in my consciousness that I now see her playing either Leeloo, or character-that-isn't-quite-Leeloo, though possibly that dichotomy will change once I've seen her play Milady in the upcoming Three Musketeers film?

Bruce Willis plays his familiar gruff yet sentimental man of action, but his peculiar, John-Paul Gautier designed costume reflects the playful and delightfully self-mocking tone of the film. Korben is the everyman, but (like John Mclaine) an everyman who knows how to shoot guns and blow stuff up!

Ian Holm plays a kindly priest of an ancient order. Committed to ensuring good triumphs he seems bumbling, but is actually fairly quick-witted. His good-naturedness collides with desperation and the scene where he very apologetically bashes someone over the head is a joy to watch. This film cemented Ian Holm as a kindly fellow in my head, and so it causes me no little confusion when he plays darker characters in other films.

Chris Tucker is unrecognisable and absolutely hilarious as wild, metrosexual* celebrity Ruby Rhod, despite the challenges of this over the top character he never lets his performance slide.

Gary Oldman is wonderfully bizarre and amoral as human bad guy Zorg. Oh, and that weird plastic thing on his head was apparently his idea.

This is an excellent film where the absurd, serious, violent and comedic sit comfortably side-by-side without any one feeling imposed or superficial. If you haven't seen this film you should. If you have, go watch it again.

* Particularly impressive considering the word Metrosexual hadn't even been invented at the time the film was made. Though I suspect it's a concept that's far more understandable to the French mindset than the US one.

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