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The Fifth Element

****
1997

‘a distinctive Moebius-inspired gumbo that’s easy to enjoy’

The Fifth Element supposedly has a divisive reputation; Luc Besson’s sci-fi romp was dismissed by many critics after opening Cannes in 1997, with many railing against the goofy Flash Gordon-lite tone. And yet The Fifth Element has endured, building up a cult reputation while remaining in the public eye, with this new blu-ray and digital release an ideal opportunity to check in on Korben Dallas and LeeLoo.

The Fifth Element is almost certainly not how you remember it; thoughts drift to the first meeting between Dallas (Bruce Willis) and LeeLoo (Milla Jovovich) when she swan dives off a sky-scraper and smashes through the roof of his flying taxi. That’s actually a good 30 minutes into the movie, with only one brief scene to establish Dallas’s character, alone in his tiny apartment. But what a scene; a large part of the re-watch value is spotting the little details, like the ridiculously long filters on his cigarettes, or the adverts for exotic holidays that signify a plot-point later on. Dallas and Leeloo get involved in an adventure that takes them to space and beyond, visiting an interplanetary hotel resort where a mysterious opera-singer hides the secrets that will enable them to save the universe from destruction.

Willis, sporting a shock of blond hair and an orange vest, is on peak snark here, every bit the caustic, cynical but loveable hero, while Jovovich works wonders with her ingénue/ alien-role, spouting gibberish and holding her own in the big martial arts scenes; we’re led to believe that watching Bruce Lee videos has enabled her to pick up some choice moves. Gary Oldman hams it up as Zorg, the evil ruler who embodies familiar values of vanity, selfishness, and a complete lack of interest in the welfare of his people. And The Fifth Element’s elaborate production design, with innovative costumes from Jean Paul Gautlier, dazzling effects and Eric Serra’s off-beat, funky score, also finds space for fun cameos from Brion James, John Wood, Julie T Wallace and Ian Holm as a sagacious monk.

If there’s an element that jars, it’s Chris Tucker as the dreaded comic-relief character Ruby Rhod, a role that surely should have been quickly deleted when Prince understandably turned it down. Instead, his shrill, unfunny turn provides a brief but unwanted distraction from a story in which pretty much everyone already has a comic side-kick, from Tricky’s seeing-eye cockroach to Zorg’s elephant-nosed pet. A little touch on the fast-forward button can edit out Tucker’s mugging, and let the story flow. Besson lifts from Hitchcock, notably North by Northwest (the hero pestered by his own mother) and The 39 Steps (the public concert reduced to chaos), but stirs each element into a distinctive Moebius-inspired gumbo that’s easy to enjoy.

I saw The Fifth Element in Cannes, in an open air beach screening, under the flight-path for Nice airport, right alongside the coastal high-speed railway. With jets landing overhead and TGV trains speeding out of the side of the screen, it made for an immersive, theme-park experience, and the perfect way to see this silly, cheerful film. With a nice coda reminding us that love is The Fifth Element and the quality that should save the day, this spiffing blu-ray and fresh digital release (links below) captures this bright confection at its radiant best.

Thanks to Organic PR for Blu-Ray access to this title.

THE FIFTH ELEMENT releases on 4K Ultra HD and digital download for the very first time, and on Blu-Ray™ and DVD on 24th August.

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  1. Saw this in theaters back in the day. Enjoyed it very much. Got a VHS copy of it when there were no DVDs on the horizon, the DVD copy later on that never worked properly, and two Summers ago I imported the Laserdisc from a private seller on Ebay. That one works. Haven’t checked out the Bluray yet, but this movie gas always looked good on any format. Good memories, and Bruce Willis at his snarkiest, when ge still gave a shit.

    • Ah yes, Bruce when he still cared. I haven’t given up hope that he’ll surprise us with at least one more great role, but I’m not seeing any signs of life. This movie was made for blu-ray, looks spiffing!

  2. I loved it and still love it. But, I feel like Besson could never repeat its success. Most of his recent ultra violent attempts come off as Tarantino wannabes. The Fifth Element had it all: Sci-fi, mysticism, action, and even spirituality. And, Chris Rock was hilarious! Also, that soprano performance scene! Wow!

    • Let’s agree to disagree on Rock, but agree on everything else. And also that Besson made too many supposedly hip crime movies, and even Valerian didn’t come close to this!

      • Okay, he WAS annoying, but as an introvert who has had to deal with so many extroverts in my family, I could relate to Bruce Willis’ drab responses to Rock’s bucket of confetti persona 🙂

  3. While it obviously has its flaws, overall it was a visual treat with little else to match it. Granted some of it was muppety, but who doesn’t love muppets? It can be enjoyed on a variety of levels from dark comedy to sci-fi fantasy. While JoJOJOvovovitche’s glossolalia made me guffaw out loud at the time (really?? that’s the language of the gods?) I always enjoyed the film.

    • Aha, thought you meant Joan of Arc, but I’ll revise my comment. yes, I dio love LeeLoo’s gibberish langiage of the gods, I should have written my whole review in her language! Again, I’m so pleased to hear I’m not alone in thinking this film has merits.

    • One of the least pure, but most thematically accurate screenings I’ve been to! Absolute chaos on the screen, and in the audience!

      • 24th August? Looks ok to me, is the number missing for you?

        I was going to pretend that this was some futuristic notation, but maybe it’s just a mistake.

        • when I looked on the reader this bit was missing ‘and DVD on 24th’ but I was on an old ipad in the conservatory (haha I sound like Professor Plum 😂) which is probably the cause of it as it’s fine on my Big Mac in the Observatory 🤣 . Much of that won’t make sense if you’ve never played Cluedo!

          • So not Mrs White in the Conservatory with the candlestick? Oh, yes, I’m no stranger to the world of Cleudo! So I take no responsibility for dust on your screen obscuring my text, any complaints please send your gripe directly to me with a $20 note to cover admin fees. Thanks.

  4. Thoroughly enjoyed this first time round. Didn’t come with a great reputation, but one of the first films to rip it up in Europe while not being so stellar Stateside.

    • It was a US number one, but despite Willis, is a much more European than American film. I like to see films that do their business outside the US, like The Three Musketeers or Warcraft, there’s usually something interesting there…

  5. I really enjoyed this film a lot. It’s goofy, it’s weird, but that’s part of the reason I think I love it so much. Milla was really great in this film, and played such a fun character. I really need to rewatch this again at some point. It’s been quite a while since I’ve last seen it😊 Terrific post as always..and wow, that must have been some experience seeing it the way you did! Definitely envy you😀

  6. What’s with the “what’s your reaction” below the comment box? I’m afraid to click something!

    This is a fantastic movie. I don’t own it, but with between the library and it regularly showing up on Prime, I can see it once a year easily and seem to average about 2 years between viewings. Willis as a blonde never fails to amuse me 😀

  7. I’ve been looking forward to rewatching this for a while. I have fond memories of it. What happened to Besson? This and Nikita were so good. Recently everything I’ve seen of his just seems like an expensive mess.

    • That’s a good question. Europacorp seem to have re-structured their debts (any company that has Christophe Lambert as CEO is of interest to me) so maybe they’ll come back off the rails. Some bad choices along the way, so it’s nice to see this one on digital for the first time, it’s such an easy watch.

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