I don’t get out to the movies as much as I’d like to, but I just bought tickets for next month’s re-release of Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element.
I love this movie.
Is it perfect? No. At its best it’s fun and light and has great characters. At its worst it’s downright corny and a shameless cheese-fest. But people who love it, love it.
And I love it.
Luc Besson had supposedly written it on and off since he was sixteen years old. The language Leeloo speaks is from an 800-ish word language that Besson created. So, yeah, on many levels, it’s ridiculous. But if you focus on questions “uhhhh…why is there a two dimensional border in a three dimensional space?” Instead of thinking “whoa that’s cool!” Then yeah, go watch Interstellar. But if you can turn off your brain and enjoy? Then The Fifth Element might just be your huckleberry.
There are lots and lots of positives. For example, the ultimate being is a woman . As it fucking should be! We can’t have enough of that in this era of toxic masculinity and institutional regression. I quote this movie allllll the time. When my 13 year old gets mouthy with me I chase him and grab him and pin him on the couch, and as he hoots and cackles, I hold him down and rub my nose into his ribcage. He howls and I ask, through gritted teeth:
And he makes that Chris Tucker voice as Ruby Rhod and hisses out his capitulation:
Good times. I also mumble this quote waaaaay too much when I’m driving:
“You wanna play it soft. We’ll play it soft. You wanna play it hard. Let’s play it hard.”
And any time people ask me an open-ended question about what I am beginning with “Are you-” as in:
“Are you, like, a blogger?”
They always get the same answer.
“Negative, I am a meat popsicle.”
Rudely quoting movie lines to avoid small talk is an excellent way to alienate others, I’ve found. It’s also a super-simple way of finding your people.
Anyhoo, has it been a while since you’ve seen it? I haven’t watched it in probably two years, but let me just blast out, in no particular order, everything I can remember loving about this movie. (This is going to be super stream-of-consciousness, so apologies for the bouncing around and flagrant misquoting that’s about to happen.)
We open so fun. The light from the Mondoshawan ship blasts in and Professor Pacoli is like “Thank you, Aziz.” And Aziz looks at the pan he’s using to reflect light. Such a nice beat. That kid nails it.
The Priest in the beginning (credited as “Priest” and played by John Bennett who passed in 2005) has such a great face. When Professor Pacoli tosses aside the poisoned water? The Priest’s face is amazing.
When the Professer sees the Mondoshawans he asks if they’re GERMAN. And they shake their head no. I love how they move.
We also open with Luke fucking Perry. No, father! He stumbles and falls and shoots his Luger and the doors of the chamber close. I’m not a Luke Perry guy by any stretch, but the kitsch of it is bueno. I HATE how Luke Perry holds the pencil while he’s panic-sketching the Mondoshawans, but maybe that’s accurate? No idea. I’m a horrible artist, but I can draw a sick ziggurat.
Man, he was a looker back then. But no one can stop time.
I mean, is there a more noble race of anything in the history of space? Time not important. Only life important. Come on! FUCKING MVPS.
And Mondoshawans can knock you out by lighting up their eyes.
Leeloominaï Lekatariba Lamina-Tchaï Ekbat De Sebat. Leeloo. Mila Jovovich is radiant in this role. Bada Boom. Fifth Element. Supreme being. Me protect you. When she gets that head down, predatory look?
Multipass? I love that whole multipass scene. “Yeah, she knows it’s a multipass!” So fun.
Did you know that in Besson’s original imagining of Leeloo, she had black all around her eyes? Really changes the character’s feel.
That’s an image from the original screen test. The look never made the cut. And they vacilated about the color of Leeloo’s hair. When they settled on Mandarin orange, the dye job Jovovich got made her hair fall out, so they ended up making her a wig for half the shoot.
Tough to beat John McClane, but Korben Dallas is up there as one of the best Bruce Willis roles ever.
Korben’s Taxi? Come the fuck on.
Cigarettes of the future. Like 86% filter and a ration of four per day. Amazing.
Korben’s mom and her guilt trips?
Korben’s shitty apartment?
Jean-Baptiste-Emmanuel Zorg. Gary Oldman, you beautiful nutter. Dear god what an amazing bad guy.
When he opens the case at the end and the stones aren’t there?
That fucking plastic, transluscent dome shield he wears?
Fire One Million?
If you want something done? DOITYOURSELF! NYAHGH!
You know what I do like? A killer, a dyed-in the wool killer. Cold, clean thorough and methodical.
So so so many great lines.
DJ Ruby Rhod.
When I saw Chris Tucker pull this off and then saw him in Rush Hour I was like “this guy is going to have a huge career.” I have no idea why it never reached those heights. The character of Ruby Rhod is so magically well drawn. Some people find him irritating but I think that’s the point. How would our twenty-first century ears tolerate a twenty-third century performer? It feels right to me. Everything is faster and more inane. Lightning-quick repartee that has to pop-pop-POP! Constant sound effects. Everything has to be green. He buzzes people away. He signs autographs with a paintbrush while walking. He’s mic’d everywhere. He’s surrounded by sycophants. It’s a magical character. KORBEN MY MAN! I HAVE NO FIRE! Chris Tucker said the outfits from Jean-Paul Gaultier really helped him get into character, and that he imagined the character as something he created by thinking of Michael Jackson and Prince.
I love the partnership between Korben and Ruby Rhod.
I love when Ruby Rhod is on the table and Korben shoots the floor our from under him.
I love this spiky grenade thing.
I love when the deaf football player dude rolls him billiard balls instead of the gun.
I love the negotiation. I forget what the numbers were, but I love how Korben pops his head around and basically slays five guys.
I love that Mangalores won’t fight without a leader.
I love the ship Fhloston Paradise.
I love the name Fhloston Paradise.
I love the robot helmsman of Fhloston Paradise.
I love the Rastafarian airport workers who load cannisters of fuel and burn off space barnacle thingies.
I love that, oh just casually, SIR IAN HOLM is in this movie. Yawn. He’s only amazing in everything he does. Priest Vito Cornelius couldn’t have been played more masterfully by anyone else. When he whacks Korben on the head to steal the tickets and crosses himself first? Talking to the robot bartender? He’s unreal.
The cops in this movie are so badass and fucking disgusting.
The traffic in the city, with just hundreds of levels of craziness? And the fog at the bottom? I shudder to think of the atrocities in the fog.
Mr. Kim floating his food junk up to the side of your house?
The mail system?
And how good is Brion James as General Munro? He’s sooooooooo great in this. I love his relationship with Korben. I love the fourteen-foot long list of all Korben’s qualifications. I love the woman he brings to set up as Mrs. Korben Dallas. I love that he rigs the Gemini Croquettes contest. I love the name Gemini Croquettes. I love that he gets stuffed in the icebox. I can’t think of a role I didn’t enjoy Brion James in, but this was a great one. He passed away in 1999 at only 54 years old. Such a bummer.
And how about Charlie Creed Miles as David, Vito’s assistant?
And oh, let’s just toss in Christopher Fairbank as Mactilburgh. That’s not an embarrassment of riches or anything.
And what about Tiny Lister as President Lindberg? He was note perfect.
How about the Mondoshawan tomb key?
Or the Mondoshawan ship itself?
Or the elemental stones?
Or Diva Plavalaguna, played by Maïwenn?
The stones are in me? Her blue blood?
The fact that Mangalores can shapeshift?
Or Korben’s blaster?
Or the dude that always tries to rob him with the hallway hat? The mugger? GIMMETHECASH!
Did you know that was Mathieu Kassovitz? I had no idea!
If you’re a fan, there’s so much here to like. Yes, it plays like a story dreamed up by a teenage boy, and while that lends itself to being a bit all over the place, kind of campy and untethered, and immature, it also captures the sense of wonder that we lose as we age and become more reasonable.
The Fifth Element is pure, ridiculous fun, and even though I have the DVD and you can pretty much watch the whole thing for free on the internet, I’m excited to just take a couple of hours to enjoy something I’ve loved for a long time in its native habitat.
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