by Andrew Mooney
The Fifth Element (1997) – Luc Besson (Dir.), Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich
Here’s the funny thing about having roommates. Sometimes they get really excited about the things you’re doing. Sometimes they want to share in your insane plan to re-culture yourself. Sometimes they tell you, “Let’s do it!”
And then someone quotes The Fifth Element and suddenly everything is fucked. One “Leeloo Dallas, Multipass,” and you’re immediately sucked into a deep dark hole of bizarre sic-fi references, Bruce Willis sneers, arguments about the limits of human/blue person voices and the merits of that period of Gary Oldman’s career where he only played psychotic homicidal maniacs. No matter how I tried to convince people that, “we might not pick one with child-rape in it…” (‘might’, mathematically, being highly statistically improbable as I am convinced almost all of these movies have a little rape in them…and, yes, I am lumping Annie Hall in with this).
Thus, my relapse occurred. With the room set to giggle-factor 10, we switched on the surreal Luc Besson 1997 Science-Fiction-Adeventure film. To those of you who did not have a childhood in the 90’s, The Fifth Element is the tale of a great evil (in the form of a rapidly expanding and surprisingly tech-savvy planet) coming to destroy earth. The only way to stop it is to collect the four stones corresponding to the four elements, earth, wind, water and fire (yes, I too had difficulty with this as we are all aware the first four elements are Hydrogen, Helium, Lithium and Beryllium. Ugh. God) as well as a fifth. This fifth element (see what they did there?) is none other than Milla Jovovich wearing what can only be described as Jesus-bondage gear. Bruce Willis, an ex-special-forces-come-foul-mouthed-cab-driver-come-cross-eyed-cat-owner, is pulled out of retirement to help Leeloo (Milla, the ‘divine being’) and Ian “What the Fuck Am I Doing in this Movie?” Holm to collect the stones and then, well…
Are you lost? Good. Because you should be. I grew up with this film, being only 10 years old when it was released. I watched it with giddy, euphoric, school-boy glee. I accepted the random placement of McDonalds in a car chase. I allowed to pass the fact that the stones, probably seven to ten pounds a piece, can fit in a stomach of a seven-foot-tall blue woman who, in a skinny-off, would give Kate Moss a run for her money. I even accepted everything Chris Tucker did.
This movie is crazy. Not that it employs any bizarre narrative devices or structures. In fact, plot-wise it is incredibly by the numbers. The issue is this: Luc Besson is French. Hear me out. He is to French filmmaking as Michael Bay is to American. Don’t get me wrong, on the very virtue of him being French he has more artistic skill and talent in one of his pubic hairs than Mr. Bay has in his entire douchebag body (sorry, typo). In much the same way that Michael Bay’s unnecessary epic Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen unintentionally fulfilled the Surrealist ideal with almost Goddardian disregard for sense and narrative arc, Luc Besson employs art direction that, though pretty, is about as worthy of sense as possum stuck in a vending machine. Hilarious and easy to watch…yet you are left thinking “How the hell did he get there?”
Some examples: apparently, 200 years in the future, hair dye has taken a technological leap backwards. Instead of remaining in one’s hair, it melts at the slightest sign of stress and then leaks down your face. I don’t even…I mean…why? Bruce Willis has air vents in the back of his orange wife-beater. Every female outfit has boob holes. Gary Oldman wears plastic side-part guards in, what I can only assume, is his attempt to become robo-cop.
I am a science-fiction writer. I have been mercilessly drilled to always ask “Why?” and “How?”. “Because it’s pretty!” is not a valid answer. So, let’s extrapolate. In the infamous “Chicken GOOD” Scene, Leeloo puts a plate in a microwave and a fully cooked chicken, along with fresh vegetables comes out the other side. Does this mean that we can now computer-generate matter? Not just matter, but complex organisms such as green beans? Does this mean that in 200 years we will have broken every single law of physics in terms of mass conservation? World hunger is ended? Do people need jobs if they can just press a button on a household instrument and receive a meal fit for five? Also, she is rebuilt and reanimated from a hand. Does death no longer matter? Can we just bring people back whenever we wish, even if we only have strands of DNA? And, a minor plot point…WHY DOES SHE STILL HAVE THE MEMORIES THAT WERE STORED IN HER BRAIN IF SHE WAS RECONSTITUTED FROM A FUCKING HAND?
But then Chris Tucker arrives and every sensible thought melts into a congealed mass of discarded cognizance, leaving you with nightmares of “Korben, Korben-ma-man,” “bzzzzzzzzzzzz,” and “supergreen!”.
I would like to take a moment here and discuss two of my favorite actors. No, it isn’t Bruce Willis whose career after this film took a turn for the humorless, reducing his wise-cracks and duress-induced witticisms to increasingly steely glares. No, it isn’t Milla Jovovich who has made a career of…Resident Evil? Really? Get a real job, Milla. And no, it isn’t Luke Perry. Oh yes, I almost forgot, he’s in this. Remember him? The leather-faced member of 90210? No? Neither do I.
No, I am talking about two thespians of such British brilliance that they have won countless awards for their stage work and dramatic roles. I mean, of course, Mr. Ian “I Was in Alien and the Original Works of Harold Pinter” Holm and Mr. Gary “Fuck You, Ian, I was Sirius Black” Oldman. I have watched the original Royal Shakespeare Company performances of Harold Pinter. I have seen Holm as a deranged, withdrawn psychopath. I have seen this man ACT. And now he is reduced to being Willis’ goofy sidekick. What happened? Did he have a divorce? Did Besson drug him? For the entire shoot? Was he just trolling for young tail in a hilariously situational comedic environment, a Swingers for an older, British generation? (Note to self: new movie idea).
And then there’s Oldman. That man has done what was never thought possible. For a period of time he only played brutal murderers, the pinnacle of which was his performance as a hopped-up, Beethoven-loving, shotgun-weilding DEA agent in Besson’s amazingly uncomfortable Leon: The Professional. Now he has an oscar nod! And he’s Sirius Black! And Commissioner Gordon! I don’t know what virginal creature he murdered, but he did a deal with some malevolent force in the universe. As the careers of such greats as Derek Jacobi have descended into the murky shit-storms of Underworld: Evolution, he has risen. He has risen high and fast.
Perhaps too fast. Too fast. Watch out, world, the Oldman is coming.
And now, for your viewing pleasure: