Film #124: The Fifth Element (1997)

the_fifth_elementdirector: Luc Besson
language: English and “The Divine Language”
length: 121 minutes
watched on: 20-21 July 2014 (and many times in the past)

I often name this as my favourite film, having been caught out with the question before and not having had an answer. I think that’s probably stretching the truth a little: I still maintain that I don’t have a favourite as such and generally hate picking favourites. But anyway, I think, and still think after many years, that this is a great film.

It’s been about five years since I last watched it, though. It felt like a shorter time, but I even checked. So I wanted to point out a few of the things I noted this time around. I’m not going to go over the plot… I kind of think if you don’t know the plot you should go and watch the movie first and come back to the review, in fact.

Basically, it’s hard to have watched a film so many times and not be able to easily point out all its obvious flaws. The invented language is atrocious by my high standards, for instance, and not handled well by the actors. There are obvious plotholes. The stones themselves, MacGuffins to end all MacGuffins, have these now really old-looking CGI effects, and why on earth are they inside the blue alien’s body, of all places? How can Leeloo read but not speak? How on earth does the system of the three eclipses happen, and where does the Dark Planet even come from? Like is it outside the solar system (and if so, it’s travelling rather fast!)? Little niggles, though.

But the whole thing comes together very well and is coherent. I actually worked out this time another reason why I liked it, and that’s the casual realism of the world that they live in. The way things work in the world is taken for granted by the characters, such as the level to which the police have powers, and the ubiquitous yellow circles to prove that one is not carrying a weapon, a background nod that the world is not the same as our current one.

This also extends to the culture of the future. I could compare it directly to Futurama, a series that contains similarly ludicrous technology and comedic overtones, and yet Futurama is wholly rooted in the culture of the late 20th and early 21st centuries – for instance, the president is a re-animated and re-elected Richard Nixon, instead of a new character entirely. The president is also important in his own way in this film because by making him black (and generally having a multiethnic cast, including the blue alien of course), the film is following in the great tradition of Star Trek in “jumping the gun” on progress in the field of multiculturalism, over ten years before Obama made black presidents a reality.

I also just find it very interesting when Ruby Rhod points out the minor celebrities in attendance at the opera; even though it’s a minor aside, this felt like the movie was hinting that there was more than meets the eye about the film’s universe. Or you have the other unexplained weirdnesses: why is there a huge pile of trash in the airport? I think more films should include these welcome distractions from conservation of detail.

Another thing I realized recently is that the opera mixes classical and dance music because in this world, both are hundreds of years old and considered classic at that point. That was a bit of a slow burner… wow.

It’s that kind of thing that piques my interest and makes me want to find out more, to be honest. I have never actually tried to search out any tie-in materials for this movie. I wonder if there is anything else, not necessarily a sequel but just another story set in the same universe. I do remember a video game being advertised on the video we had when I was younger, although I bet it wasn’t any good.

In terms of the film itself, I find Luc Besson’s style addictive, but sometimes grating. I definitely think he overused the trope of interspliced conversations, where, perhaps, two sets of characters have the same conversation, or say things that when spliced together, make up a sentence of some kind. Or they seem to react to each other. To some extent, they become the main setpieces of the movie, particularly the take-off scene, which splices together scenes of at least five different characters, mainly to make a sex joke. They’re fun, but by the fifth time, it starts getting repetitive. Still, it’s a comparatively minor distraction in an otherwise great film.

As a final aside, this film was also my successful trial in watching movies on my phone, as I managed to watch half of it on the way to Okinawa and the other half when I had a spare hour in the hostel. Think I’m gonna do that a bit more.


One Response to Film #124: The Fifth Element (1997)

  1. Pingback: Film #202: Nikita (1990) | reuoq

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