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.