Luc Besson must be a strange guy. He gave us Léon: The professional in 1994, a masterpiece with Jean Reno, Gary Oldman and a very young Natalie Portman, and the inexplicable Valerian and the city of a thousand planets in 2017. And he also gave us the various Arthur and the Invisibles and all the garbage he produced, but not directed, in the last twenty years… Well, the point is that in 1997 his most ambitious project came out: The fifth element, starring, among others, the great Bruce Willis, the wonderful Milla Jovovich, and the amazing Gary Oldman. Is it a good movie? Let’s talk about it…
Let me be clear: I like it, and sometimes I re-watch it. But I also admit its defects, and I think that it’s a missed opportunity for making a science fiction masterpiece. What do I like about The fifth element? I like its images, and I think that it was worth collaborating with artists like Jean-Claude Mézières and Moebius. For me, everything, really everything, from the spaceships to the aliens, from the flying vehicles to the futuristic weapons… EVERYTHING is fantastic to watch. I find the visual style of the movie extremely imaginative and its aesthetics fascinates me.
Bruce Willis is great, and it’s not surprising since he was in his golden age: two years before he starred in Twelve monkeys by Terry Gilliam and in the third Die Hard in which John McTiernan was back behind the camera! Milla Jovovich was perfectly cast for her role of superior being because she didn’t have to talk much and her beauty was… superior! And Gary Oldman, whom I adore… no, here I don’t. His character is too over the top. And when I read that it was modeled after a mix between Bugs Bunny and a now-long-forgotten Republican presidential candidate, I can only ask myself: why? Why did they do that? And more in general: why are so many things exaggerated in this movie?
Gary Oldman’s character is not the only over the top element of the movie: Chris Tucker plays a sort of Jar Jar before the original came out. The legendary Brion James, that is Leon Kowalski in Blade Runner (1982), is a caricatural general, as caricatural are the human president, Tommy Lister, and all his scientists. Ok, the satirical intent is clear, but in my opinion Besson exaggerated: in the same year Starship troopers directed by Verhoeven came out and the satire there is much better done! And the soundtrack! It’s at least bothersome, always present, and absolutely 90s in the worst sense of the term. Why all these wicked choices?
Dear Besson: you have an innovative idea for a movie, you imagine a bright and colorful future, as opposed to most of the existing science fiction (see the various Johnny Mnemonic, Twelve monkeys, or the classic Alien and Blade Runner…). Then bring it to the big screen without exaggerating things, and make it immortal with a classic sci.fi. soundtrack with a twist to make it compatible with your style! It should be easy, shouldn’t it? You have great actors, a lot of money, impressive artists, an amazing special effects team (the special effects still look credible after twenty years)… you have no excuses!
But unfortunately Besson filled his movie with rubbish. Basically, it’s like making a cake, doubling the quantity of sugar without changing the rest of the ingredients, and expecting the cake to come out better as a result. No, it doesn’t come out better, it’s simply sweeter, and sickeningly so. It’s too much. The result is that this movie became a cult, but not the science fiction masterpiece that I think it could have become. That’s a pity because there are a lot of interesting ideas: the protagonist and the antagonist never meeting in person, love as the superior force behind everything, the satire on power and militarism…
And let’s be clear, there are other defects: the rhythm sometimes staggers, with this evil planet getting closer to Earth we don’t know how fast and doing what, and the dialogues are not all well-polished… but above all it’s the tone that is all over the place. The movie switches from serious to ridiculous too many times, and the audience cannot help but being puzzled. Shall we take these sometimes-serious, sometimes-Jar Jar-style characters seriously or not? If you are confused you’re not to be blamed. Blame Luc Besson and his sense of humor that hardly fits into the sci.fi. world of what The fifth element could have been, and sadly will never be.
So, do I recommend watching this movie? Of course I do! But I perfectly understand you if you won’t like it, if you will hate it, or if you will thank me for the suggestion. Ciao!