Film 41: The Fifth Element
My chum Tim and I watch a film every week, taking it in turns to pick. The only catch? Each film has to be linked to the previous one by a shared actor.
Last up was Silverado. It was jolly good fun indeed. The kind of film the word ‘rollicking’ was invented to describe. Even Kevin Costner had a good go, bless ‘im.
It’s a very short shortlist this time. Here it is:
The Fifth Element (1997)
That’s the lot.
We decided a few weeks ago that we wanted to watch The Fifth Element on the 20th anniversary of its UK release. And so here we are. We’re not going to make a habit of this sort of thing, as the free flowing nature of the CRFC is part of the appeal. But more on that later.
Brion James is the shared star. Despite being uncredited in Silverado (most of his part was left on the cutting room floor apparently), he made a notable impression. He’s one of those great character actors that’s in an awful lot of stuff (over 170 credits on IMDb), but often on the sidelines or as a villain. I know him best from either The Fifth Element itself or as Leon in Bladerunner, but I’m keen to get back to more of his work in future choices.
This is sad – he died in August 1999 at just 54. Also in August 1999 he said the following in an interview:
“I think now, in my 50s, with Robert Duvall, Albert Finney and Gene Hackman, those guys are getting up there in their 60s, it’s my time. And I’m making sure that I push myself into their slot. So, my best work’s coming.”
The Fifth Element and me
I missed The Fifth Element on the big screen. I was 16 and into sci-fi, so I’ve no idea what I was thinking. I seem to remember the press was fairly negative about it, but that wasn’t something I paid much attention to. I just didn’t go to the cinema that much then. Idiot.
Somewhere around 18 months later (I thought sooner, but just double checked some dates) I was in Our Price in Tunbridge Wells, where I’d end up working for a couple of years after leaving school, and saw Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and The Fifth Element in a 2-for-£12 deal on VHS. Money changed hands, I went home and watched them, and fell absolutely in love with The Fifth Element (and, for a long time, Milla Jovovich). I’ve watched it fairly regularly since, though not for a good five years or so. Does it hold up? Let’s find out.
In the colorful future, a cab driver unwittingly becomes the central figure in the search for a legendary cosmic weapon to keep Evil and Mr Zorg at bay. 7.7 stars.
I’m going to break this up into four elements of the film. And then another. A fifth… element.
Firstly, and most importantly, if you ever play a drinking game while watching the Fifth Element, and one of you has to drink when someone says Korben, the other on Dallas, pick Dallas for the love of god. I chose poorly. It’s all plain sailing until Chris Tucker turns up and has lines such as “Korben Korben Korben Korben my man.”
Secondly, when doing a bit of research for this I noticed that Milla Jovovich was nominated for a Razzie for her performance. A RAZZIE! I spotted that before the rewatch, and wondered whether my teenage hormones had blinded me. I remembered her being pitch-perfect. Happy to confirm I was correct (unless my thirty-something hormones are blinding me). Milla is the absolute heart and soul of the film, and grapples with the made-up language, action set pieces and preposterous costumes with expertise.
Thirdly, yeah, there’s some weird stuff. A LOT of characters ogle Milla. Like, a lot. It’s not that much of a surprise that the director, Luc Besson, started production of the film in a relationship with the actress who played Diva Plavalaguna, but ended it in a relationship with Milla. His hormones were quite clearly raging too. And of course she is the most manic pixie dream girl of them all. And yes, I’m sure the Supreme Being needed to be given a make-up box. Though I suppose you could argue that that says something about the priest’s inexperience with women.
Fourthly, I could watch Ian Holm and Gary Oldman in this until the cows come home. Particularly Ian Holm. He is an absolute delight.
Fifthly, it’s just fantastic. The music, a kind of weird big-beat vibe, is somewhat dated, but everything else is absolutely fresh. The world reminds me a little of Brazil – everything’s full-to-bursting. People show up for one line and deliver characters you want whole spin-off films about. It’s telling that just this week the long-awaited sequel to the game Beyond Good and Evil was unveiled in a CGI trailer, and it’s clearly inspired by the world of The Fifth Element. 20 years on and it’s getting better and better. Except Tricky. Tricky is terrible.
Leeloo Dallas Multipass! Autowash! Dot! It’s a b- a b- a b-! Big badaboom! Chicken good!
Apart from the music (and Tricky), it’s a timeless masterpiece. It’s a joy, from beginning to end.
Okay okay okay, so you know earlier where I mentioned we weren’t going to try and get to specific films any more? Well The Prince Charles Cinema is showing Streets Of Fire on the 16th, and a mutual friend of mine and Tim’s has mooted an outing and suggested making it part of the CRFC. So I kind of said yes.
That means we need to find a linking film between The Fifth Element and Streets of Fire and squeeze in a viewing this week. It’s definitely do-able, but there are only a few viable options…