When I first took Film as Literature in high school, back in 2010, one of the films our teacher made us watch was Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element. While I am sure it resonated well with most of my classmates, I found it to be the most irritating, ridiculous, poorly-made film I had seen. Needless to say, I hated it with the utmost passion I had felt for any movie. For almost eleven years, I have written it off as a terrible movie that I could never bring myself to watch again. However, thanks to a good friend of mine who loves discussing movies with me (and a scratch-off list of the 100 Must-See Cult Movies), I brought myself to watch it again, with the help of my fiancee, who absolutely loves this movie more than I ever could, and a trip to her parents’ house to borrow the DVD, as to appease my friend and see what was under that opaque substance I was eager to reveal with my dime. I fully expected it to be a torturous slag of an experience with no merit, except to waste two hours of my life, what I witnessed upon this particular viewing surprised me more than any movie ever could.
As I was watching a series of 90’s science-fiction blueprints grace the screen with rapid-fire quickness, a feeling had indeed changed inside me. The dreaded disgust and annoyance that once seemed to exist no longer vacated the soul within me. Instead, what creeped in was a light of calm and contentment as I soaked in every ridiculous, goofy moment that came my way. I kept thinking that this particular feeling was only temporary, and the rotten taste would return eventually. Yet as Besson’s film was coming to an end, I had noticed that what I was feeling never left like I thought it would, then the sign became clear. Here was a movie that made such a bad impression on me as a young aspiring film critic that I dare even look its way, only for it to finally win me over with its bright visual flair and sense of humor. There was no denying it, I may have been a bit too harsh on this movie, and I knew it (I was young and cynical then).
I am not saying that The Fifth Element is a science-fiction masterpiece with the substance of Blade Runner (It doesn’t even come close in terms of style either), but I am saying that it is appreciative in the sense of taking your kid to a Chuck-E-Cheese. Sure, the atmosphere may be off-puttingly ridiculous with irritating characters shoving its goofy eccentricity in your face (Ruby Rhod, notwithstanding), but it is not meant to be taken seriously and can be fun if you so let it take hold. If it sounds like I am talking deeply about a cheesy movie that came out nearly twenty-four years ago, I assure you that is not the case at all. The way I see it, certain foods need to be digested thoroughly, and certain flavors can only be described in a particular fashion that simple words cannot. The Fifth Element is quite a feast that not everyone can stomach completely, especially with its flavor, though it sure does not hurt to take a bite, if not once.
Enough about my descriptive experience! Let’s inform those who have not an inkling of what I am reviewing (which would be insane with it being the ninth-highest-grossing film of 1997, grossing $263 million on a $90 million budget) on what this films plot is about. The Fifth Element takes place in the future of 2263, filled with flying cars (You were way too early with that invention, Jetsons!) blocking up traffic. A great evil is headed to Earth after 5,000 years in the form of a fireball set to obliterate humanity, and a supposed fifth element is the key to saving the universe and restoring its balance. What is this fifth element and why is it so powerful? The answer lies in a woman named Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) (Don’t even ask her for her full name), brought back to life with government biotechnology. Though upon her awakening, she escapes security and falls in the backseat of a taxi driven by unwitting cab driver Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis, of all people). Dallas was already having a bad day, what with nothing interesting going for him, and phone calls from his overstressed mother and five points away from losing his license; now a woman just shows up out of nowhere in his cab, and he has to solve the problem. However, Korben eventually learns from a priest named Vito Cornelius (The late Ian Holm) that she is of importance and decides to help.
To condense a two-hour movie in a basic arc, The Fifth Element is a race against time as it turns out that five of the elements are contained in stones, with Korben trying to get Leeloo to save the planet, and an industrialist named Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg (Gary Oldman being a goofball) who wants the stones for his own evil purposes. There is also a flamboyant, sexed-up radio personality named Ruby Rhod (Chris Tucker in a role that seemed tailor-made for the late Prince) that serves basically as pure comic relief (though whether he actually gets laughs is up to the viewer; I found him less annoying this time around) and a blue alien diva named Plavalaguna (Maiwenn Le Besco) serving up one of the weirdest opera solo this side of film.
If all this sounds crazy, that is because The Fifth Element is nothing short of insane. Besson seemed like he had a lot to work with when making this movie. The exuberance on display is quite visual, even if its age shows at times. The set design, construction, and costumes make the movie even if its tone fails to impress. I now see the appeal that made The Fifth Element a cult film. Though I am not on the same level of love as most fans are, I cannot deny when I say it grew on me a bit.