On the eve of another Luc Besson science fiction extravaganza (the director’s new film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets will be released July 21st, 2017), it is worth recognizing his first space romp The Fifth Element. The film 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, 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. Continue reading…
Besson wrote the original story when he was 16, and the testosterone fuelled zippiness of adolescence remains in the film’s depiction of heroic men, nearly naked ladies, and super cool weaponry. But The Fifth Element is more than the sum of its parts, buoyed by the performances of Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, Gary Oldman, Chris Tucker, and Ian Holm. The film is lavished throughout with lovely little grace notes that sing out, whether it’s Gary Oldman’s toothy Southern accent, or the across the board sexuality of radio shock jock Ruby Rhod (Tucker), dressed in leopard, and sporting what resembles a rather large loofah on top his head. (The apocryphal story is that Prince was originally approached for the role, but declined at the last moment.)
The Fifth Element with its bright orange Jean Paul Gaultier fashion, bravura set design, and resolutely cheerful take on Armageddon offers up an entirely different view of the future. Culturally diverse, cluttered and chaotic, it is far more humanist in spirit, and oddly familiar, than many other science fiction classics. The film celebrates excess, but in the most gleefully affectionate and effervescent fashion. It is a welcome relief from the more ponderous genre fare currently on offer. To wit: the sludgy pomposity that is Alien: Covenant.
In a summer of warmed over sequels, Transformers, Spiderman, The Mummy, et al, Besson’s bombastic vision still stands as a truly original piece work.