Overdue Review: The Fifth Element
You Can't Spell 'Fifth Element' Without 'Meh'
When Luc Besson re-released “The Fifth Element” (1997), I decided to go see it…for the first time. Yes, revoke my geek credentials, for I am guilty: I had never seen it before. I announced my intentions to my friends, who either raved about the movie, or sneered in disgust. It seems that ‘5E’ (as I’m trying to rename it) is one of those films that allow no one to remain neutral. Either they love it, or they hate it.
Well, you’re looking at the Switzerland of the 5E war.
Let’s get one thing straight: this is not a good movie. The story is boilerplate sci-fi nonsense, with huge plot holes and no consistent rules for the world being built. Things just happen because plot says they should. The characters are either one-dimensional cutouts or weapons-grade irritants (you thought of Chris Tucker too, didn’t you). There’s not an ounce of real emotion displayed anywhere. And Luke Perry gets top billing but only shows up for five minutes at the beginning.
But when you get right down to it, I can still enjoy movies with those things going against them. ‘Star Wars’ suffered a lot of the same problems, and it’s still one of my favorites.
Visually, though, ‘Fifth Element’ is a visual feast. Where ‘Star Wars’ goes for utilitarian and drab, ‘5E’ goes for eye candy. Bright colors, quick action, and a cast that’s as much scenery as actors…in a good way. This was an ethnically diverse movie at a time when nobody gave two shits about diversity, and more importantly, there were lots of actors with what they call “unconventional beauty”. That means they were ugly, but so striking that you couldn’t look away. I liked that. The designs by Moebius and Jean-Claude Mezieres reminded me of nothing so much as an issue of “Heavy Metal”, busy and frenetic and stylish in a consistent way. ‘Star Wars’ went for gritty verisimilitude; ‘5E’ goes for campy future-noir and scores big. If you like that sort of thing, you’ll like this.
But where ‘Star Wars’ combined melodrama and science fantasy with cutting-edge effects and designs to make something epic, ‘5E’ manages to take the same things and turn them into a giant shrug. So what if there’s a giant evil ball headed toward Earth? So what if Gary Oldman is chewing scenery? So what if there’s a blue opera singer with literal gallstones? I felt like I was flipping pages in a comic book, marveling at the detailed illustrations but skimming the dialogue because I’d read it a million times in other places. I felt no suspense, because hey, it’s Bruce Willis! Of course he wins!
So now I’ve seen it, and I can geek out over the details (It’s a police state! How can everybody have a Corbin Dallas Multipass in such a world?!), but the point is, I don’t want to, because the movie did nothing to earn such passion. In the end, the Fifth Element is not Leeloo. It’s who cares?
Bonus Review: Valerian the Trailer.
Because let’s face it: The Fifth Element re-release was a thinly-disguised excuse to show Valerian trailers to the target demographic. The trailer makes Valerian look like more of the same—lavish, detailed environments with empty suits as our main characters, and sweeping action sequences that carry no weight because they’re all shot on greenscreen. My friend, after seeing the trailer, declared, “Curious that the movie is named after an herbal remedy that puts you to sleep.”