The Fifth Element: Supergreen!

The New Year is fast approaching, with all the traditions that accompany it; special dishes are being prepared, special outfits being ironed, and special movies being lined up in the DVD player to be the first movie of the year.

My first movie? The Fifth Element.

It may not be the best sci-fi movie ever made (obviously that’s Waterworld), but it has one thing that’s always nice to have at the start of the year: optimism.

A lot of sci-fi classics are dour, and rightly so—let’s face it, in another hundred years Wall-E will be filed under Documentary. But that’s a little heavy for the first day of 2009, where a little optimism comes in handy, and that’s where The Fifth Element shines.

Not that this is a Star Trek-ian parable about species rising above their base instincts. Humanity is just as frail and corruptible as ever. In the very first scene mankind loses an intergalactic custody battle, and the bottom layer of 2235 New York is a smoggy sludgepile which is probably 80% Starbucks cups. But director Luc Besson tweaks the usual Blade Runner nihilism, and instead shows a human race that has adapted to circumstances; humanity now lives in a towering New York with flying fast-food delivery and cigarettes that are 80% filter. (Studio apartment size has not changed with time.)

When Special Forces cabbie Korben Dallas gets a smash visit from unexpected alien beauty Leeloo (she’s unexpected!), the race is on to see who can have more wacky adventures before the budget runs out. Ian Holm, Chris Tucker, Gary Oldman, Tricky, T’Pol’s stunt double, and a handful of old-school character actors all take a stab at it, though I think Chris Tucker wins by a length, having created one of science fiction’s most memorable—and most gleefully annoying—characters. Though sci-fi is rich in camp, it’s often painfully unintentional; it’s wonderful when a movie is in on its own joke. Tucker’s manically carefree performance steals the movie—and when Gary Oldman is in it, that’s no small task.

Since this is a science fiction movie, there’s a union-mandated bad guy (Gary Oldman, who lost the good Guy Role/Bad Guy Role coin toss that day), but the case of magic stones he’s after is a feather-light excuse to visit a world populated with hand-held manicure machines, blue Muppets, multipasses, microwaveable chicken flakes, and alien opera divas. From moment one, there’s never a doubt that Korben, Leeloo, Ruby, and Father Bilbo will set up the stones in time to save the world. And with a whole year ahead of me, that’s just what I like to see.

After a disappointing initial DVD, this cult classic has been released as a remastered special edition, available on DVD and Blu-Ray. If you want a bit of sci-fi that won’t have you sobbing your way into January 1 (I’m looking at you, Decker!), then load up The Fifth Element and let Ruby Rhod’s dulcet tones lull you into a New Year. Supergreen!

Bonus New Year’s Activity: if you’re looking for something to do on your day off of work and want to knock out a resolution, you can check out the Divine Language online; it’s only 400 words, and then you can scratch “Learn a new language” right off your list.

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