Twenty years after it cleaned up at the box office while simultaneously polarizing critics, Luc Besson’s colorful, action-packed sci-fi extravaganza is as bonkers as ever. It has elements that are reminiscent of both “Total Recall” (1990) and “Stargate” (1994), but “The Fifth Element” is loudly, proudly its own beast — and it all hinges on Milla Jovovich’s iconic performance. Continue reading…
After a prologue set in Egypt in 1914 involving hieroglyphics, aliens, and portents of “a great evil” that can only be stopped by a combination of four powerful element stones and a mysterious “fifth element,” the action skips ahead to the year 2263. Laconic cab driver/former special forces officer Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) has no idea what’s happening when a lanky, nearly naked, gibberish-spouting redhead (Jovovich) literally falls into his flying taxi. But he’s immediately entranced by the passion and urgency of “Leeloo,” as she dubs herself, so he helps get her to Father Vito Cornelius (Ian Holm), who recognizes Leeloo as the all-powerful, genetically perfect fifth element. It’s now up to Cornelius, his apprentice, and Korben to reunite her with the stones and fend off the great evil, which has returned and is an imminent threat to Earth.
Leeloo kicks, punches, and whirls her way through obstacles of all kinds, catching up on millennia of human experience and history as she goes. And what she discovers — hatred, violence, persecution — leaves her unsure whether she actually wants to help defend the Earth and its people. But there’s love in people’s hearts, too; specifically in Korben’s. And it’s that (literally) saving grace that ultimately gives Leeloo the power she needs to unite the elements.
“The Fifth Element” offers nonstop action, memorable characters (we haven’t even mentioned Chris Tucker’s motor-mouthed diva, Ruby Rhod, yet!), quirky humor, inventive production design, and impressive cinematography and special effects — especially considering how far technology has come since it was first released. But in the end, it’s the powerful symbolism of a woman saving humanity with the power of love that lingers. — Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW Comments:
Dorothy Woodend: The Fifth Element is celebrating its 20th Anniversary this May, and it remains a curious example of French sensibility, mixed with American genre action, and spiked with a sweet dose of insanity. Long before Guardians of the Galaxy fused campiness and space ships, Luc Besson’s vision took flight, combining sex, sass, aliens, and the age old quest to save the world and get the girl, in that order. Read full review.
Sheila Roberts: Luc Besson’s colorful sci-fi action fantasy, “The Fifth Element,” remains visually stunning and thrilling to watch even today with all the technological advancements that have taken place since 1997. In the re-release celebrating its 20th anniversary, Thierry Arbogast’s cinematography, Dan Weil’s production design, and Sylvie Landra’s editing continue to impress. Set in the 23rd century, the film features an awesome cast. Milla Jovovich plays quirky super heroine Leeloo opposite Bruce Willis’s gritty Korben Dallas, a retired Special Forces soldier turned New York City cabbie. When Leeloo crash lands unexpectedly into Dallas’s cab, he becomes an unwitting but pivotal player in her urgent love vs. evil mission to save the planet. In epic supporting roles, Gary Oldman is the deliciously evil Zorg and Chris Tucker is the hypersexualized intergalactic DJ Ruby Rhod and they offer some of the film’s most memorable moments.
Jeanne Wolf: The Fifth Element is a first rate surprise. This ol’ movie is completely up to date for NOW. The actors are sensational. I fell in love with Bruce Willis all over again. Mila Jovovich is stunning and fabulous. Talk about spouting a made-up language, she is perfect! And this movie is really really funny as well as just a wonder to look at. The gadgets, the costumes, the wild scenery, the bold bright look of the whole flick. I had a grand time watching The Fifth Element.
Nell Minow: This is an action film where the good guy is never in the same room as the bad guy, and a sci-fi film where the hero drives a cab, and the climax features an opera solo. Luc Besson’s mashup of the most wildly fantastic visuals and the pettiest everyday interactions is back where it belongs, on the big screen.
Jennifer Merin: Luc Besson’s classic femme-centric scifi actioner is being re-released in theaters to mark the film’s 20th anniversary. Concurrently, SONY is preparing a special edition 4K UHD for release in July 2917. As the new version of Wonder Woman is about to blockbust her way into into women’s psyches, it’s the perfect time for The Fifth Element to appear again on the big screen and re-establish her place among our galaxy of superstar cinematic female heroines. Read full review.
Liz Whittemore: I’ve reached an age where movies from the 90’s are now 20 years old and I think out loud, “Didn’t I just watch that?!” The Fifth Element is celebrating its 20th Anniversary with an upcoming 4k UHD release. Trying to describe this film usually baffles me because it easily crosses genres. While clearly a sci-fi, it’s also an action comedy with a side dish of love. Iconic performances from Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, and Chris Tucker made this film just as fun to watch now as it was in its 1997 release. Every time I fly and am forced to show my ID I say, “Leeloo, multipass.” *But inside my head* With its colorful costumes, sets, and out of this world fun, The Fifth Element might have been its generation’s Guardian’s of the Galaxy. I’m excited to see it remastered and introduced to a whole new audience.
Cynthia Fuchs: The titular character in Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element, Leeloo is a bit of a puzzle. A Supreme Being sent to earth to defeat the Great Evil, she’s at once Christ-like and childlike, ethereal and utterly corporeal, a follow-up to 11-year-old Natalie Portman’s Mathilda (from Besson’s Leon, The Professional) and a precursor to Scarlett Johansson’s Lucy (in Besson’s film of the same name). See full review.
Title: The Fifth Element
Director: Luc Besson
Release Date: May 9, 1997, re-release May 14, 2017
Running Time: 126 minutes
Language: English, and Leeloo’s language
Principal Cast: Milla Jovovich, Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman, Ian Holm, Chris Tucker
Screenwriter: LucBsson, Robert Mark Kamen
Production Company: Gaumont
Distribution Company: Sony Pictures Classics
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Thelma Adams, Anne Brodie, Betsy Bozdech, Cynthia Fuchs, Pam Grady, Leba Hertz, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sheila Roberts, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna, Jeanne Wolf, Dorothy Woodend
Written by Dorothy Woodend and Betsy Bozdech, edited by Jennifer Merin