Viking Night: The Fifth Element
By Bruce Hall
September 6, 2011
First, cast Milla Jovovich, playing that girl she usually plays. Then get Bruce Willis, playing that guy HE usually plays. Add Chris Tucker in a leopard print bodysuit that’s so tight, you have no choice but to look away. Throw in Gary Oldman in a Tupperware hat. Combine them with the Harry Canyon sketch from Heavy Metal. Put it in the oven and bake it until it’s done. Then bake it some more. Keep going until it’s too big for the oven. Dip it in sugar, light it on fire and serve. What’s this on your plate, you ask? Only the most simultaneously infuriating, confusing, beautiful and stupid movie of 1997. Filled with energy, color, and wit, The Fifth Element is supposedly a lifelong labor of love for director Luc Besson, and it shows. The costumes and set design are lavishly decadent, joyfully depicting a world where everyone developed a simultaneous fetish for plastic clothes and cheap hair dye. The cast members throw themselves into their roles as though they’re at gunpoint. The soundtrack sounds like a collaboration between No Doubt and Bob Marley. There’s a lot of talk about life, death and other universal truths.
In a nutshell, this movie is like Dune met Star Wars, dropped a bunch of acid, took a three day weekend together and filmed the whole thing. How that affects you depends on your tolerance for absurdity. If you think you could tolerate being locked in a room full of screaming first graders for eight hours, then you won’t be able to take your eyes off this movie. If you’re anyone else, results may vary. Much like the first time I tried coffee or beer, I hated The Fifth Element the first time around. And yet there was something that drew me back to it; a lingering buzz, an unhealthy compulsion – call it what you will. Usually, this means that what appears on the surface to be a horrible movie has somehow achieved something that even good films rarely do. They transcend quality and establish a level of enjoyment that transcends puny concepts like “good” and “bad.” The Fifth Element is like an insane person who proudly insists: “I’m not crazy. YOU are. I’m not over the top. YOU are.”
Well, I must be crazy because I love this movie – I’m just not entirely sure why.
In the future, Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) is an ex military burnout who drives a space cab and lives in a space apartment with a bunch of space junkies. He’s got no direction in life, and no apparent compulsion to improve on it. The movie never establishes why Dallas left the military or why his life is currently in the toilet, but this is something you’re going to have to get used to. All of this changes when a cute little redhead does a thousand foot swan dive into the back of his cab one afternoon.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The Fifth Element asks you to take a lot of monumental things at face value and if you can’t do that, you’re not going to like what you see. The film’s first act splits time between convergent story lines – while Dallas is busy crashing his cab into things and not giving a damn, the President of the Galaxy (Tommy Lister) is dealing with a potentially monumental decision.