IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! The Fifth Element

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Originality is a rare commodity in movies these days. Adaptations, remakes and wholly derivative works clog the cinemas and jostle one another in cajoling you for your money. There was a time when an original spectacle didn't have to count on a phrase like "You have to see it in 3-D to get the most out of it." I'm speaking here of films like Metropolis, Blade Runner and Akira, films with such singular and original visions that they blew minds when they first debuted, and in some ways still remain fresh by the light of modern screens. This is not to say The Fifth Element ascends to that sort of cinematic pantheon, but it does provide some stunningly unique visuals that speak to the ambition, passion and imagination of its creator. And it's a blast to watch.

Courtesy Gaumont

Our story begins in 1914, where an archaeologist in Egypt uncovers an ancient tomb where a desperate battle was once waged. Every 5,000 years, a great and powerful evil force crosses into our universe from parts unknown bent on wiping out all life - at least on Earth, it doesn't seem to make any other pit stops. Anyway, the archaeologist translates the ancient depiction to tell us that the only way to defeat this evil is with the four elements - air, fire, earth and water - gathered around a mysterious fifth, an 'ultimate warrior'. No sooner are we given this exposition than the imposing but benevolent Mondoshawan aliens arrive, revealing that the four elemental stones and the warrior (in a sort of statue stasis thing) were right under the archaeologist's nose, and now must be removed from Earth due to the oncoming World War. It's when the movie time-skips ahead 300 years that director Luc Besson completely assaults our eye sockets in a way most would probably thank him for.

New York City, 2263. Reports are coming to Earth of a giant ball of fire impervious to damage and on a collision course. With help from a terrestrial priest, the Mondoshawan contact Earth with the intent to return the five elements to battle the incoming evil, but they are intercepted by vicious thug-like and extremely unpleasant aliens called Mangalores. All that is left is the hand of the Mondoshawan's passenger, and through super-science, Earth technicians reconstruct the ultimate warrior, revealing it to be a beautiful if waifish humanoid who promptly escapes. Korben Dallas, played by Bruce Willis as a mix between Butch from 'Pulp Fiction' and a futuristic John McClane, is a retired space fighter pilot and special ops soldier making a living as a cab driver when the warrior, 'Leeloo', drops literally into his lap. Korben and Leeloo end up working with the priest to retrieve the elemental stones, which are also sought by malevolent arms dealer Zorg, who employed the Mangalores but isn't really the most scrupulous of business partners. He likes to blow things up, especially people who disappoint him.

Courtesy Gaumont
I'm starting to think there's no role Gary Oldman can't absolutely nail.

What we have here is indeed a mish-mash of elements. Mysticism, cyberpunk, blazing sci-fi gunplay and some generous portions of ham are all mixed up in a very colorful and boisterous way. This is a film crafted and directed with a bit of abandon, a touch of whimsy that clearly has roots in the genesis of the story, which director Luc Besson wrote when he was a teenager. When it comes to cinematography, set design and special effects, this movie not only delivers but holds up despite the way in which graphics have marched on. The aliens not only feel real, given that they're not composed entirely of pixels, but they also seem... well, alien.

To some, the entire film might feel that way. Some people might not be able to allow the visuals to overcome some of the way the elements of the film don't blend as smoothly as they could. Others might feel it's a tad long in the tooth, from the first scene in Egypt to sequences like Leeloo learning about war. And I'm sure that while I found Chris Tucker's extremely flamboyant intergalactic DJ "RUBY RHOD!" to be hilarious more often than not, some might get rubbed entirely the wrong way by him. Other characters may feel one-note, underdeveloped or just outright insufferable. Broken into individual elements, there's a lot in The Fifth Element that has no right whatsoever to work as well as it does in the final equation. It's an over-the-top and completely off-the-wall sci-fi pantomime, which might put it in the "Pass" column for some people.

Courtesy Gaumont
No, no, no, Leeloo, I said 'Pass'. Not 'Multi-Pass'.

However, to others (including myself), that's part of its charm. Much like Flash Gordon, the sense of camp and self-awareness that permeates The Fifth Element keeps it from being taken too seriously. And when viewed merely as a feast for the eyes and two hours of escapist fantasy fun, rather than a treatise on The Power of Love or a would-be usurper of the Star Wars juggernaut, the film reveals a sense of humor not just about itself, but the genre in general. It's light-hearted, surprisingly quotable and unafraid to make some of its set pieces, costumes and characters downright ridiculous in the name of having a little fun.

The Fifth Element is ultimately harmless, diverting and enjoyable if you can forgive some of the rougher patches in the storytelling in terms of scene length and characterization. It doesn't make apologies for itself in that regard, however. It's completely committed to delivering this campy, colorful and rather unique vision of the future, which in my opinion is a nice change from the many variations on dystopia that seem to have come to dominate a large portion of the genre. There are plenty of great moments to carry a viewer from one scene to another, and many stand out in retrospect, from Zorg introducing his multi-use BFG to the Mangalores to the show-stopping Diva performance. Fans of science fiction, unique costuming, great make-up work and actors having an all-out blast with their roles could do a hell of a lot worse than The Fifth Element. Throw it on your Netflix queue and give it a look. Some might say it's "So bad it's good" and others claim it's "So cool it's awesome." Personally, I'm one of those balls-out weirdos who happen to think it's BOTH.

Josh Loomis can't always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it's unclear if this week's film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain... IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

Nice read as ever, didn't get to listening to the review but I'm afraid Mr. Frank Turner can be blamed for that. This sounds interesting though, I might get round to watching it after I finish with The Butterfly Effect.

My one cat, Leeloo, is both named after Milla Jovovich's character in this film and a horrible 5th Element related pun: She's the purrfect cat, ha ha!

Yes, we're horrible nerds.

Everytime I watch this movie, it makes me feel supergreen
The cat watching TV gets me everytime XD
:P

Aptspire:
Everytime I watch this movie, it makes me feel supergreen
The cat watching TV gets me everytime XD
:P

Me too. The cat's expression is priceless.

Really good stuff my man, enjoyed it :D fz... FZZZ!

haha oh, sorry to contradict your intro, but Blade Runner and Akira are both adaptations. It's not a big thing, and at least you have an intro, most people just get down to it. They probably hate foreplay too...

but I digress :D

I remember this movie!
It was a fun one. May dig it out of my DVD collection one of these days...

And I would call it "So bad its cool which makes it awesome" if that makes any sense.

Good review as well.

domble:
haha oh, sorry to contradict your intro, but Blade Runner and Akira are both adaptations. It's not a big thing, and at least you have an intro, most people just get down to it. They probably hate foreplay too...

Holy crap, you're right. I... I think I have to go turn my nerd card in now. *hangs head*

Hah, what a silly, silly, silly, brilliant film.

It's like you asked Terry Gilliam to do serious Sci-fi. It almost makes the universe believable, but even when the suspension of disbelief is gone, it compensates for it by being hilariously over the top.

I love silly films.

I watch The Fifth Element to christen every new media-playing device I acquire. HDTV, new speakers, Zune HD, PS3 - anything that I can play The Fifth Element on gets it played. The Blu-ray is quite nice.


One day, my wife and I were in the airport waiting for a delayed flight. She was bored. I had my Gameboy. I offered to let her watch a movie on my Zune. She asked me which ones I had.

"The Fifth Element and Demolition Man"

"Ugh, those are terrible? Who would carry those around?"

The guy across from us jumped in and said "I would, those are awesome!".

And that explains everything.

Who doesn't love The Fifth Element? That movie is gold, pure and simple. Ok, sure, the whole bit about love saving the day is almost unbearably corny, but the guy came up with the story when he was a kid, after all. Chris Tucker is brilliant, Gary Oldman is...well, Gary Oldman, which is to say once again he seamlessly morphs into his character, and Bruce Willis manages to convincingly pull off blonde hair. It's glorious eye candy and damned funny, too.

loved this movie, it is so off-the-wall and unserious that it was great. Plus I love the "MULTIPASS!" line. That is so classic!

I think it's odd that you listed Akira, Metropolis and Blade Runner as being wildly original when they're all futuristic science fiction dystopia movies (albeit, quite good ones). Other than that, I liked your review quite well.

That being said, I didn't really like the fifth element all that much (though I've only ever seen it in pieces). Maybe I should give it another try. The problem is that I've never accepted "campy-ness" as a major selling point.

Except when watching Adam West as Batman (though even that quickly gets old).

domble:
Really good stuff my man, enjoyed it :D fz... FZZZ!

haha oh, sorry to contradict your intro, but Blade Runner and Akira are both adaptations. It's not a big thing, and at least you have an intro, most people just get down to it. They probably hate foreplay too...

but I digress :D

The only thing I can think of that Blade Runner is adapted from is "Do androids dream of robot sheep", and that book didn't have much in common with the film other than the protagonist being named Deckard.

OT: Great review of an even greater movie.

Sorry, but your review just can't surpass the awesomeness that is "Fat Police officers eating at MacDonalds".

Oh, that joke was so original.

I loved that movie but has been a while since I saw it the last time. Might look for it again soon thanks to your review.

Virgil:
I watch The Fifth Element to christen every new media-playing device I acquire. HDTV, new speakers, Zune HD, PS3 - anything that I can play The Fifth Element on gets it played. The Blu-ray is quite nice.

I remember being told, when I last watched this at a friend's Movie Night, that this film got used quite a bit when Blu-ray first debuted in major market electronics stores. You'd walk into a Best Buy or Circuit City or what have you, and there's Leeloo kicking Mangalores around to the Diva Dance on a dozen crystal-clear HD sets.

Susan Arendt:
Who doesn't love The Fifth Element? That movie is gold, pure and simple. Ok, sure, the whole bit about love saving the day is almost unbearably corny, but the guy came up with the story when he was a kid, after all. Chris Tucker is brilliant, Gary Oldman is...well, Gary Oldman, which is to say once again he seamlessly morphs into his character, and Bruce Willis manages to convincingly pull off blonde hair. It's glorious eye candy and damned funny, too.

It's funny. A couple acquaintances started listing all of the roles Gary's taken on, but neither one mentioned Stansfield, his character from Léon (aka The Professional), Besson's previous film, which is just as good as this one for different reasons.

In the future, we'll all wear Jean Paul Gaultier and all the McDonalds employees are hot women. To bad I won't live to see the day.

This movie certainly was dripping with, not only colorful visuals, but a large ammount of France humor. It was also one of the few times that Bruce Willis put on a playfull act. I really should rent this movie again.

Nice review.

BlueInkAlchemist:
snip

lol don't worry, you can stay in the club. It's not like we can throw you out, our asthma would flare up

Hmm, Great review, great film.

However, your latest couple have been pretty positive. It seems like ages since you've torn into a film.

I can't say it is a great movie. I can say that it is like future a Die Hard. I liked the blue chick, didn't get why the rock was in her guts, and I liked Milla alright, but I did not understand in the first view that she was the hunch-backed alien from before.

I'm amazed at the number of Escapists that know this movie. I thought I was the only one :O
Great review, great movie :)

I loved it (well, apart from that Ruby guy, but he was jokes during the battle) when I caught it on TV, but my sister totally didn't get it. I don't think she can appreciate corny sci-fi in quite the same way as I can... though she didn't mind Cone Heads.

image
THAT WAS A NICE REVIEW! I REALLY LIKED IT!

Pretend that was in his voice...

Pimppeter2:
Hmm, Great review, great film.

However, your latest couple have been pretty positive. It seems like ages since you've torn into a film.

I saw something last night that I haven't in a while which might fit the bill.

This is the first "It Came From Netflix" review of yours I read (well listened to, which is awesome btw.)

I love this movie. It's one of the few movies I still own, and I even bought it on Blu-ray. Very nice review. You pretty much summed up all the reasons I love this move. That and the crazy frenetic pace.

One of my favorite scenes is when the guy comes to rob Corbin. When Corbin takes his gun and the thief justs busts out in that crazy dance, I laugh every time.

Personally, I would put this in the camp of a good "comic book" genre movie. I separate those from basic sci fi because the style is very specific. it's probably like this because the production design fellows are French comic writers. Tank Girl is another movie like this. I know people generally didn't like Tank Girl but I really enjoyed it.

Still good as always, might actually put this on my queue.

meganmeave:
This is the first "It Came From Netflix" review of yours I read (well listened to, which is awesome btw.)

Thank you! Sometimes I wonder if the audio's the way to go or if I should move to video. The Escapist has plenty of great video content already, though. On the other hand, YouTube isn't exactly a podcast venue.

meganmeave:
I love this movie. It's one of the few movies I still own, and I even bought it on Blu-ray. Very nice review. You pretty much summed up all the reasons I love this move. That and the crazy frenetic pace.

One of my favorite scenes is when the guy comes to rob Corbin. When Corbin takes his gun and the thief justs busts out in that crazy dance, I laugh every time.

Personally, I would put this in the camp of a good "comic book" genre movie. I separate those from basic sci fi because the style is very specific. it's probably like this because the production design fellows are French comic writers. Tank Girl is another movie like this. I know people generally didn't like Tank Girl but I really enjoyed it.

I like Tank Girl, as well. It's another one of those unashamedly absurd projects that seem to define the phrase 'So Bad It's Good'. I mean how many other films can you watch that break into a Cole Porter musical number and have it actually make a weird sort of sense?

Also? Yes, "GIMMIE THE CAAASSSSHH!" is a fantastically funny moment in The Fifth Element that pretty much lets you know what you're in for.

Seriously one of the best films ever. It also started my love affair with Milla Jovovich.

The Fifth Element is a great film, easily one of Luc Besson's best. Dare I say...better than Leon?

BlueInkAlchemist:

meganmeave:
This is the first "It Came From Netflix" review of yours I read (well listened to, which is awesome btw.)

Thank you! Sometimes I wonder if the audio's the way to go or if I should move to video. The Escapist has plenty of great video content already, though. On the other hand, YouTube isn't exactly a podcast venue.

Stick with the audio! Then I can listen to it in my car. Because I know your choice hinges on whether or not I approve. ;)

Though, if you do youtube I could watch it, but not while driving.

BlueInkAlchemist:

I like Tank Girl, as well. It's another one of those unashamedly absurd projects that seem to define the phrase 'So Bad It's Good'. I mean how many other films can you watch that break into a Cole Porter musical number and have it actually make a weird sort of sense?

And it has Malcolm McDowell in it! Tank Girl has the same kind of crazy energy to it that The Fifth Element has. I like Fifth Element better, but Tank Girl is definitely very watchable as well.

The Cole Porter number is one of my favorite scenes.

"What the hell is that?"
"Sounds like Cole Porter to me, sir."

I just love how much fun Lori Petty seems to be having in that movie.

Jonny49:
The Fifth Element is a great film, easily one of Luc Besson's best. Dare I say...better than Leon?

That's a bold statement. Care to elaborate?

BlueInkAlchemist:

Jonny49:
The Fifth Element is a great film, easily one of Luc Besson's best. Dare I say...better than Leon?

That's a bold statement. Care to elaborate?

Don't get me wrong, both the Fifth Element and Leon are fantastic but the Fifth Element has that extra bit of finesse. It's just so exaggerated and full of life, it's like a vision that was created in the 50's brought to life in the 90's.

It's world is extravagant, it's story is great, it's characters interesting not to mention it has some awesome action and that scene with the diva kicks bucket-loads of ass.

It doesn't take itself seriously...at all, yet still manages to keep a narrative that the audience cares about. Then again...Leon is pretty fucking awesome too.

It's too hard to call.

It has been altogether to long since I saw this film. Sounds like it is time! Thanks for the reminder and good review.

 

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