At the time of release, The Fifth Element was the most expensive European film ever made. All of that money can be seen on the screen. Director Luc Besson dreamt of making this project for years, and his passion is clear in the detailed sets and complex world-building. His unique sensibilities created a unique sci-fi experience.
The Fifth Element feels so tied the decade it came from, the 1990s. The stylish and outrageous production design, hairstyles, and costumes, all come from a place of optimism, that the world will remain crazy and bright and bold. The fashions are transgressively androgynous and challenge gender norms. The whole film reflects a kind of trashy Euro-culture, in a way that is endearing and would also be uncommon in Hollywood. French cinema since the ’80s was moving away from the intellectual attempts of the New Wave directors with the Cinéma du look movement which included the filmmakers Luc Besson, Jean-Jacques Beineix, Leos Carax and Jean Pierre-Jeunet. So here the film is so much about its fantastic imagination and world-building, not so much about its story and message.
Although an original work, The Fifth Element really feels like a pulpy sci-fi novel. It has a lot of characters caught in a confusing world. The storytelling is so convoluted that it can be hard to follow. Like so many of these types of movie, we open with some very cool prologue scenes, before moving to the main action. From there we are shown an odd futuristic world. It’s weird because the future shown is both far ahead technologically but really dated and contemporary at the same time. The domestic life already seems outdated. If not for the sci-fi gobbledygook surrounding him, the main protagonist could have come from 1997. Clearly The Fifth Element cares more about its world than it does the story, which is so incidental to proceedings that the main protagonist and antagonist never meet.
The Fifth Element manages to bring together a pretty great cast. Bruce Willis is in the lead role, and supporting him are Gary Oldman, Milla Jovovich, Chris Tucker, Luke Perry, and Ian Holm. Jovovich and Willis seem to accept the weirdness around them, while the other actors either ham it up or seem out of place. Gary Oldman clearly has a lot of fun, with a stupid accent and undefined villainy. If there’s one scene-stealer, it is probably Chris Tucker, who is so infectiously bizarre and exaggerated he makes any sequence more entertaining. It is somewhere between a great performance and a crazed one.
The Fifth Element is utterly and constantly ridiculous. It is a lumbering mess. However it is the most admirable kind of nonsense. Not only is it fun and visually stunning, it entertains in a really endearing way and allows plotting to take the back foot. It is actually a deceptively simple film, because the complicated story matters not at all, it is about each moment. The Fifth Element is entertaining pop sci-fi as it should be made, and a winning combination of passion and excess.
The disc drops all the previous extras which is a real shame because it could’ve been a definitive package.