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Fifth Element, The (1997)

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Score: 9/10

Genre: Sci-Fi Adventure Running Time: 2 hrs. 6 min.

Release Date: May 9th, 1997 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Luc Besson Actors: Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman, Milla Jovovich, Ian Holm, Chris Tucker, Luke Perry, Brion James, Lee Evans

F

illed with bold visuals and stylized to the point of acid-trip absurdity (or perhaps boundary-pushing genius), “The Fifth Element” is a wholly unique and vastly entertaining piece of cinema. Combining offbeat practical effects, vivid computer graphics, and all the colors of the rainbow into an anti-“Blade Runner” science-fiction spectacle, director Luc Besson has again created a truly unforgettable experience. It’s packed with action, romance, comedy, and aliens, and, most importantly, a quirky aesthetic and eye for fun that glimpse the mastery behind “Brazil” and “Star Wars.”

In 1914, a race of alien beings visits an Egyptian temple to collect a secret weapon in the form of four stones and a sarcophagus (representing the classical elements and an undefined fifth one). The extraterrestrial guardians routinely communicate with informed human priests, wary of their extremely important mission (chronicled through the generations), to safeguard the powerful artifacts. The stones are the only means by which to defend civilizations against an ultimate evil that appears every 50 centuries – and to protect Earth from total annihilation some 300 years in the future.

By 2263, human cities have transformed into overcrowded megalopolises, complete with flying cars, neon-glowing skyscrapers, jam-packed airways, and massive spaceships (the design is essentially reused in “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace” for the bustling cityscape of Coruscant). When the government is faced with an asteroid-like dark force, estimated to denote the apocalypse, the cosmic fifth element weapon is sent for. But rogue alien vessels attack the transport craft, leaving scientists to recover only bits of DNA from a surviving piece of the organism. After undergoing a cellular reconstruction of the perfect being, the terrified humanoid materialization isn’t quite ready to save the world and daringly flees from the facility.

Meanwhile, retired elite Special Forces military hero Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) spends his time as a lowly cab driver, always on the verge of losing his license. Getting through the day and minding his own business proves impossible when the fifth element, dubbed Leeloo (Milla Jovovich), crash-lands onto Dallas’ vehicle. He’s immediately caught up in the adventure of a lifetime, opting to help Leeloo navigate to Father Vito Cornelius (Ian Holm), the last remaining priest knowledgeable of the stone’s powers and a key interpreter for rescuing humankind. They must also stall pushy governmental forces, negotiate with heavily-armed Mangalore mercenaries, and thwart the plotting of illegal weapons racketeer Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg (Gary Oldman), who is in league with the evil entity.

Visionary filmmaker Luc Besson manages to create several of the most exotic and original characters for this magnum opus of sensory outlandishness. Limping crime boss Zorg is highly idiosyncratic and unpredictably insane; his henchmen are brutish, grotesque alien thugs with chameleonic capabilities; the stones are protected by a blue-skinned tentacled diva (Maïwenn Le Besco) who gets her own singing sequence; and the entire quest is led by TV personality Ruby Rhod (Chris Tucker), a seemingly transgender, immoderately energetic, leopard-print version of the Riddler, sporting an intrusively shaped, multi-colored coif. The inventive costuming, makeup, and sets, paired with over-the-top personas and amusing action choreography, give Besson’s futuristic playground an appealing atmosphere and tone not often found in blockbuster space operas. And though, on the outside, it may be a colossal battle between good and evil, the picture is also pervaded by striking humor at every turn, resulting in a well balanced, grandly rewarding science-fiction epic.

– Mike Massie

 



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