The Fifth Element (1997)

It’s a shame Luc Besson hasn’t directed an action film since this incredible, epic sci-fi blockbuster from 1997. His big break came at Cannes in 1988 with the diving featureThe Big Blue. Besson exploded onto the scene in 1990 with the breathtaking international espionage hit La Femme Nikita which was turned into a successful Americanized version starring Bridget Fonda called Point of No Return and spawing two televison series; one in 97 and and another in 2010. Then in 94 he crafted one of the greatest action films of all time with Leon, The Professional featuring iconic performances from Jean Reno, Gary Oldman and newcomer Natalie Portman.

Since The Fifth Element he has only directed epic films and fantasy adventures (1999’s The Messenger, 2005’s Angel-A, 2006’s animated Arthur and The Invisibles and its sequel, 2010’s Adele Blanc-Sec and last year’s The Lady) and written and produced several successful action thrillers including Kiss of the DragonTransporter and Taken. Unfortunatley Besson seems uninterested in directing any of these action opuses that he has co-penned and these truly unique and original action tales suffer greatly for it. He has a visual style and ability to create other-worldly atmostpheres like no other filmmaker. His sense of editing is impeccable and his musical scores when teamed with Eric Serra are bone chilling. And none of his recent writing efforts match the energy of an eager to realize his dream filmmaker like the screenplay to The Fifth Element.

Fashioned out of a love for all things sci-fi, fantasy and comic book; Besson had been concocting the mythology for The Fifth Element since he was a teen. Visualizing the film with comic book artists Jean-Claude Mezieres and Jean Giraud the outline emerged as a massive 400 page saga titled Mr. Shadow. Following the success of Leon, Besson broke the script in half and decided to take on the first part. Unfortunatley the sequel entered development hell a year later and has been stuck there ever since.

In 1914, mankind has its first encounter with the extraterrestrial race The Mondoshawans who claim the Great Evil is coming in five thousand years and that they will return with the five elements of life that will bring down the diabolical force. Enter the mid 23rd Century and the Great Evil has indeed returned as a giant ball of fire with the ability to consume everything from ships to planets. The Mondoshawans ship is destroyed while on its returned route to Earth with the elements and the only remainder of the wreckage is a severed alien hand. Scientists are able to salvage the hand and in turn recreate the supreme being, which comes in the form of a leggy orange-haired supermodel with super strength named Leeloo (Milla Jovovich). In fear of this new world, Leeloo escapes the scientists custody and literally crashes into the life of New York cab driver Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) forcing him into a dangerous mission to save the galaxy.

Its surprising to me that 1.) this film opened the 1997 Cannes Film Festival and 2.) this was one of the ten highest grossing films of 1997. Why? Because the film is madcap crazy, outlandishly over the top and features Gary Oldman in a half-bald cap with the weirdest hairdo in history and Chris Tucker hamming it up as a loud-mouth cross-dressing radio DJ. Because entering the 3rd act of the film is a lovely opera ballad sung by a 7 foot blue alien that quickly becomes an incredible techo jam and scores Leeloo’s brawl with a group of armed alien mercenaries.

Bruce Willis is having a ball playing up the conventions of the typical 90s action hero and this top-of-his-game performance is one of the best of his legendary career. Milla Jovovich is surprsingly affective as the fish-out-of-water heroine (her and Besson even developed their own language to use in the film). Gary Oldman is the ultimate villian. He’s played so many in his industrious career and never once does the man repeat himself. His portrayal of Zorg is so funny and yet undeniably creepy that he just may be my favorite character in the film. And Chris Tucker as Ruby Rhod will forever change my vocabulary to using the word “Green” whenever possible.

Let’s not forget performances from the legendary Ian Holm, the late great Brion James and none other than Tommy “Tiny” Lister as the President of the United States. And oh yeah…is that Luke Perry in the opening sequence I see. This movie never gets old and with the Bluray it only gets better. Super green.

-John

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