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The Fifth Element

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Fifth Element

Starring: Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman
Director: Luc Besson
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 122 Minutes
Release Date: May 1997
Genres: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action, Cult

*Also starring: Luke Perry, Milla Jovovich, Ian Holm, Chris Tucker, Lee Evans, Yolanda Garza, Nina Brosh

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1.  MrBrown review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
2.  Steve Rhodes read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
3.  Walter Frith read the review no stars
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Review by MrBrown
3 stars out of 4

The cryptic teaser trailer has been unspooling in moviehouses for quite sometime now: "IT MU5T BE FOUND." So what, exactly, is The Fifth Element? After seeing Luc Besson's ambitious, much-shrouded-in-secrecy science fiction fantasy, I could not help but be let down by the actual answer, which is not nearly as exciting nor clever as one would think. But what is far from a letdown is the film as a whole, a wildly imaginative feast for the senses that does what all the best science fiction films do--create a universe unlike any other presented on the silver screen.

The biggest irony of The Fifth Element is that the one thing that has been kept under such tight wraps--the actual storyline--is the most conventional, dismayingly so, element (pun intended) of the film. Speaking in the vaguest possible terms, the basics of the plot are as follows: in the year 2259, a great force of evil threatens to consume the earth, and only the four elements--earth, wind, fire, and water--united with a fifth element can stop it. Figuring into all of this are New York cabbie Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis); a shady, Southern-drawling entrepreneur by the name of Zorg (the hilariously hammy Gary Oldman, picking up where he left off in Besson's The Professional); a priest (Ian Holm); and a mysterious creature named Leeloo (Milla Jovovich). All of the pieces come together in a tidy and somewhat underwhelming--and unsurprising--fashion, but there is no denying that this basic story holds some intrinsic interest.

What remains interesting and exciting, however, after brief glimpses is the fascinating world Besson has created with production designer Dan Weil, director of photography Thierry Arbogast, visual effects supervisor Mark Stetson, and the crew at Digital Domain. The look is absolutely mesmerizing right from the opening moments to the last. The frenzied cityscape of New York, with its vibrant day-glo colors, tall buildings penetrating high into the clouds, and the swarm of cars, cabs, and other vehicles flying through labyrinthian skyways, is absolutely breathtaking to behold, especially in a wild car chase sequence early on in the film. But it would not have been a completely captivating vision if the people inhabiting the settings weren't equally as interesting, and are they ever. In addition to the exotic menagerie of alien creatures that populate this world, from bulky robots to dog-like Mangalores, the humans are outfitted in costumes by eccentric designer Jean-Paul Gaulthier, best known for creating Madonna's pointy bustier get-up in her Blonde Ambition tour. Gaulthier's outlandish creations, such as a number worn by Leeloo made entirely out of white straps, feel more at home in Besson's futuristic vision than on any fashion runway in the world; they add to the sense of otherworldliness about the film.

While Besson's bold vision is the biggest virtue of the film, it also could be its biggest obstacle to reaching a mass audience. For all its imagination, certain things about the film may be a bit too quirky and bizarre. I really do not know what middle America will make of the most outrageous character of the film, Ruby Rhod (Chris Tucker), a flamboyant disc jockey who makes Dennis Rodman look conservative--he makes a raucous entrance dressed in an animal print dress, sporting a blonde hairdo in the shape of a hair dryer, speaking in high pitches at rapid fire speed. At first this character's hyper energy is funny, but the act wears out its welcome very quickly. Not irritating, but just as strange, is a musical number by blue-skinned alien chanteuse Diva (Maiwenn LeBesco), who sings--and dances--an aria that is an unlikely blend of classical opera and techno. The tune, as with the entirety of longtime Besson collaborator Eric Serra's innovative score, is haunting, but it is also completely jarring. Then there are the campy touches of humor Besson and co-scripter Robert Mark Kamen sprinkle throughout, which too often are silly and forced; a comic sexual encounter between Ruby Rhod and a flight attendant is highly distracting and not very funny, to boot.

The story's weakness shines through in the climax and conclusion of The Fifth Element. While still visually and aurally spectacular, the events detailed are not as exciting nor powerful as they should be. The big, serious dramatic climax was met with more than a few snickers, and it ambitiously strives for a profundity which the film had not even begun to work toward. As such, at the end there is a sense that there was something bigger at work here, that there was still more left to be said about this story and these characters. This suspicion was confirmed by Besson himself, who told me in the lobby following the screening (imagine that, the filmmaker watching the film with the "enemy"--the critics) that what had made it to the screen was really just the first half of the lengthy original Fifth Element screenplay and that the second half--now titled Mr. Shadow--is still waiting to be made.

Still, despite the story problems, The Fifth Element is an artistic triumph for Luc Besson; rarely does a filmmaker's original vision come to the screen in all its audacious, undiluted glory. It is a fascinating example of how of one artist's fervid imagination can transport an audience into an intoxicating fantasy world generally seen only in dreams.

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