THE FIFTH ELEMENT
However, Besson goes wrong disastrously so. It is hard to imagine what Luc Besson thought he was doing with The Fifth Element. You are never sure from one minute to the next whether he is taking the film seriously or not. His tone flails wildly between mindlessly pounding action and wild camp. The entire look of the film seems designed for a tone of hard realism but Besson treats it as a bad joke some scenes like where Gary Oldman gets a cherry pip stuck in his throat and virtually any scene in which Chris Tucker appears have something fascinatingly awful about them. Even Luc Bessons exhilaratingly pyrotechnic action style appears to have deserted him.
Then there is the story or lack of it. The Fifth Element feels like a science-fiction film made by people who have no idea of what science-fiction entails. The film operates somewhere down there below the level of Saturday morning cartoons an incomprehensible muddle of comic-book action, Blade Runner-esque Cyberpunk future realism, Erich Von Daniken-ian Chariots of the Gods nonsense and alchemical mysticism. It is hard to believe the corniness of some of it the villain has a name like Zorg like something out of a 1930s pulp alien invasion novel; the hero manages a straight-faced line several times about having to save the universe and just happens to be a space marine who is slumming it as a New York cab driver (he improbably gets into the action when the heroine lands in the back of his cab after surviving a 100 story leap). Plausibility holes abound the heroine manages to become a martial arts expert just by reading a book about the subject but never doing any practice and when she is genetically engineered into being even manages to come constructed with a bad orange hair dye job. The script bandies about terms like Ultimate Evil in the Universe and Supreme Being but these seem meaningless the Ultimate Evil is an undefined black space-going blob that does nothing except head toward Earth and go up in a pyrotechnic flash at the end; the Supreme Being is a confused waif of no particularly supreme abilities or intelligence whose purpose in the film is equally unclear. Luc Besson reportedly came up with the idea for The Fifth Element when he was in high school; the sad thing about the finished film is that it emerges exactly like an incoherent hodgepodge written by a high-school kid and not an adult.
Further, Luc Besson does little with the fine cast he assembles. At the time, Bruce Willis was emerging as one action star who had a sense of wry humour and some acting ability that stood him shoulders above other contemporaries but his role here is one that could have been filled by anybody. Indeed the part would have been more eminently suited to the woodenness of his contemporaries like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone or Jean-Claude Van Damme. Besson fails to use Bruce Williss laconic persona anywhat and Willis himself appears disinterested in the film. Milla Jovovich (who was Bessons wife at the time)s waif act has its amusements but similarly Besson has no idea what to do with her as a character. Ian Holm is solidly professional, Gary Oldman typically overplays and Chris Tucker, seemingly cast in an attempt to outdo The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994), gives a performance of squealing excess that is fascinatingly awful to watch.
What almost makes The Fifth Element worthwhile is its background, which is as visually alive in texture and detail as Blade Runner was. There are fascinating little throwaway touches Faster-Than-Light planes and streets filled with aerial traffic, including airborne McDonalds drive-thrus and flying junks that sell Chinese food from window to window. Bruce Willis has this cool foldaway apartment where the shower, the bed and the fridge all pack up and slide down behind each other. There are charming little pieces like Ian Holm getting drunk before a robot barman that is programmed to nod sympathetically. There are some nifty gadgets such as Gary Oldmans multi-use gun and a police device that x-rays apartment walls. It is just that whenever the film tries to do anything else, the plot is so utterly inane you feel like kicking yourself.
Luc Bessons other films of genre note are the arty Le Dernier Combat (1983) set in a post-holocaust world where people have become mute; his fantastical interpretation of the historical story of Joan of Arc in The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999); the eccentric angelic intervention film Angel-A (2005); Arthur and the Invisibles (2006), a part-live, part-animated film based on his own childrens books about adventures in a land of miniaturized people, and its sequels Arthur and the Revenge of Maltazard (2009) and Arthur and the Two Worlds War (2010); the adventure film The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec (2010); Lucy (2014) in which Scarlett Johansson gains enormously expanded mental abilities; and the space opera Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017). Besson also produced and wrote The Dancer (2000) about a mute dancer who gains expression through a unique sound invention; produced the mystical quasi-sf Quebecois film Chaos and Desire (2002): wrote and produced the End Times serial killer thriller Crimson Rivers II: Angels of the Apocalypse (2003); produced the serial killer film Tristan (2003); produced and wrote the futuristic action film Banlieue 13 (2004) and its sequel Banlieue 13: Ultimatum (2009); produced the serial killer thriller Tell No One (2006); produced the Backwoods Brutality film Frontier(s) (2007); produced the videogame adaptation Hitman (2007); produced the horror film The Secret (2007); produced the animated A Monster in Paris (2011); produced the orbiting prison film Lockout (2012); wrote/produced the English-language Banlieue 13 remake Brick Mansions (2014); and wrote/produced The Warriors Gate (2016) in which a videogamer is transported to Ancient China.
(Winner for Best Production Design, Nominee for Best Special Effects at this sites Best of 1997 Awards).