Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Luc Besson
Stars: Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman, Milla Jovovich, Ian Holm, Chris Tucker, Luke Perry, Brion James, Tommy “Tiny” Lister jr, Lee Evans, Tricky, Charlie Creed Miles, John Neville, John Bluthal, Matthieu Kassovitz
Running Time: 127 minutes.

This impressive, big budget action packed futuristic fantasy from French director Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita and The Professional, etc) is the most expensive European movie ever made. Every cent of the film’s massive $160 million budget is evident in the final product, a futuristic world impressively brought to life through complex computer generated imagery, opulent production design, superb makeup that creates weird looking alien creatures, and the lavish and bizarre costumes designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier. The Fifth Element is a film that almost demands to be seen twice in order to fully appreciate the scope and breadth of vision and imagination that Besson brings to his future vision, which boldly takes special effects to a new level that few other films have achieved.

The film is set in the year 2259, when a mysterious alien force of pure evil energy that emerges every five hundred centuries or so to threaten the world with destruction, approaches the earth. The military is powerless to prevent disaster as every attack against it just makes the force stronger and more powerful. A priest (Ian Holm) informs them of a centuries old ritual, involving magical stones representing the four elements of earth, wind, fire and water, which when combined with a fifth element, can repel and destroy the alien force. The Mondoshawans, fierce looking armoured alien creatures with comically small heads, know the location of the stones, but they are destroyed by the evil Mangalores before they can reveal the information to the US President. With the deadline for the destruction of earth ticking away, the desperate hunt is on to locate the stones.

A beautiful Mondoshawan survivor, named Leeloo (played by former model Milla Jovovich, from Return To The Blue Lagoon, etc), knows the location of the rocks, but scared and isolated she flees the safety of the laboratory. Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis), a former fighter pilot now a humble New York taxi jockey is reluctantly thrust into the unlikely role as saviour of the world when he picks up the fleeing Leeloo. Dallas is suborned back into military service and accompanies Leeloo to a luxury hotel deep in outer space for a decisive confrontation with rival aliens and the mercenary industrialist Zorg (Gary Oldman), who is also keen to possess this extraordinary energy source known as the fifth element.

Willis is in familiar terrain as the laconic and taciturn loner reluctantly thrust into the role of the hero, while Oldman’s megalomaniacal mercenary Zorg is yet another stock screen villain with designs of ruling the world, and much of their dialogue is as clichéd as any the pair have been called upon to deliver. Holm brings a touch of class and wicked humour to his role as the priest who, literally, holds the key to saving the world. Chris Tucker simply grates as a fast talking dj, and the film would have been much better without his largely unnecessary presence during the climactic and explosive finale.

Besson originally wrote the story for The Fifth Element twenty years ago, while he was still a teenager, and the very busy film throws elements of Star Wars, Stargate, Blade Runner and even Indiana Jones into the tumultuous and ambitious mix. Besson’s blueprint for the bold new world of New York three hundred years hence is every bit as spectacular, thrilling and visually stunning as Ridley Scott’s evocation of a futuristic Los Angeles for his cult classic. Despite its superb visual style though, the complex but undeniably formulaic plot resembles a 23rd century Die Hard rather than another Blade Runner. Co-writer Robert Mark Kamen (the three Karate Kid films, etc) is largely responsible for the glib one-liners that punctuate the action.

Besson is a dab hand at staging tough and violent action movies, and he brings flair and energy to the pyrotechnics of the film’s key action scenes. Some minor details of the plot do not bear too close a scrutiny, but that is only a minor quibble in such an assured and breathtaking mix of sci-fi fantasy and tough action thriller. To help recoup part of the budget, Besson includes some gratuitous product placement early in the film, and isn’t it somehow reassuring to know that McDonalds will still be around three hundred years hence?




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