The Fifth Element (1997)

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Food: In the summers in New York City, I spend a lot of time at Rockaway Beach. One place that I highly recommend (pre-movie night or otherwise) is Whit’s End. It is BYOB – so you have the opportunity to load up and save some money! My favorite meal to get is the Prosciutto Cotto pizza which is fully stacked, and the ravioli. Both of which are made using a sweet red sauce that you will crave for weeks after eating.

Film:  “Everything we create is used to destroy.” “We call that human nature.” The 1997 sci-fi flick by Luc Besson ‘The Fifth Element’ is preposterous, outlandish, and fantastic. Inspired by French comic books (titled “bandes dessinées”) and the writings of Plato, comes a story that takes place in the 23rd century, when the fate of the world winds up in the hands of a simple taxi driver in New York City, Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis), and an unknown woman who drops into his cab named Leeloo (Milla Jovovich).

The film starts out, like many late 1990’s/early 2000’s cult classics do to explain their bizarre plot line (see ‘The Hot Chick’), in ancient Egypt roughly 300 years prior to when the story is set. Scientists gather at the site of an event that took place in previous years and try to interpret a set of important stones that represent the four elements (wind, water, fire, air). Suddenly, they are sought out by a squad of robot-like creatures who take the stones because “they are no longer safe on Earth,” and they are warned of an approaching war. Melodramatic apocalyptic omens can underplay the story, but then we are fast-forwarded to the future where we are distracted by costly models and effects to illustrate a futuristic New York City.

All of the special effects in this film are especially stunning because they are practical and creatively constructed. The filmmakers released this movie before incredible advancements in special effects technology came out and they were stuck with “all blue screen, six hours, dots on the wall, takes forever to do one shot,” Besson complained in one interview. One example is that Milla Jovovich, though she was trained for the fight sequences on her own accord, was unable to lift her leg to the height needed, so they would use a constructed leg and film at a certain angle that she would just mimic a kick, and the leg would be lifted in the air to appear as her own. The effects in this film are exquisite. One scene that stands out to me is the creation of Leeloo, which nowadays would be reminiscent of a 3D printer.

Leeloo is created from leftover molecules found at the site of a nuclear explosion, and she is the embodiment of the “fifth element” which is said to be “life” itself. She quickly escapes her incubator and finds herself landing abruptly in the cab of our other main lead, Korben Dallas. Dallas becomes infatuated with the “perfect” Leeloo and takes her where she needs to go, a priest, who has knowledge of the ancient stones that she needs to use to save the world. She is made to rapidly learn the history of the world in preparation, and the story continues to unravel as many iconic characters are introduced.

Gary Oldman plays a Southern drawling villain with a sinister plan, who would rather destroy the world for his entertainment, than help save it. We also see an eccentric and flamboyant DJ, played by Chris Tucker. All the costuming is incredibly iconic. This movie would be nothing without Jean Paul Gaultier’s costume design. The pieces worn by each of the characters, from the flight attendants to  even the McDonalds employees, are emblematic. However, the most quintessential contributor to this film has to be the production designer, Dan Weil, who brought this innovative world to life.

“The Fifth Element” is an instant classic. There is one scene that stands out among the rest. Many of the central characters gather to enjoy an opera performance by Diva Plavalaguna (played by Besson’s at-the-time wife, Maïwenn), which is juxtaposed with climactic action sequences, resulting in a breathtaking spectacle. Frankly, though, the goofier moments in this movie are actually the best, and the more contemplative, sincere moments feel silly. All in all, it’s a very fun watch, and it likely inspires a lot of cosplay parties. It is a timeless picture, which will always be entertaining, like many other films with a cult following.

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