Wed
Dec 31 2008 12:52pm

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.

17 comments
Sandi Kallas
1. Sandikal
I hated this movie the first time I saw it. I think it's because I was tired and didn't realize it was a comedy. The second time, it was okay. Now, it's one of my all-time favorites. (I'm slow.) My favorite scene is the one that overlaps the Diva's performance with LeeLoo battling the bad guys. It's such and artistic moment in an otherwise hysterically funny science fiction comedy.
Lou Anders
2. LouAnders
The Fifth Element is one of my all-time favorite films. Yes, it's silly as fuck, but when it appeared it was a wonderful counterpoint to the endless retread of Blade Runner and Aliens that Hollywood is still stuck in today. So much SF visually is all about people in coveralls walking through drab corridors and dark rubber sets. Alien was 1979. H.R. Giger isn't cutting edge anymore. I love The Fifth Element for its color, its exuberance, its exoticism. The news that Luc Besson may make another SF film really cheered me up.

Meanwhile, I've always been fascinated by the parallels with Babylon Five, right down to a shadowy enemy and winged aliens in encounter suits.
Pablo Defendini
3. pablodefendini
Oh man, I adore this movie.

I think I may just join you on your New Year's watching.
joelfinkle
4. joelfinkle
I initially hated this film not strictly because it was funny, but because Luc Besson's previous films that made it to the states, La Femme Nikita and Leon (The Professional), were tough, solid action flicks, and I expected he'd provide the same to SF.

Little did I know that Besson is a major comic buff (he's since done Arthur and the Minimoys), and that I'd be seeing a live-action Moebius comic.

Add that to a movie where Bruce Willis gets to add another number to his repertoire (12 Monkeys, Sixth Sense...), it's a definite good time.

"Just Perfect"
Joe Sherry
5. jsherry
I love this movie, Genevieve. I probably saw it five times in the theater (and I don't rewatch stuff at the theater), and a multitude of times on VHS.

Even Ruby Rod grew on me, and that was one of the few aspects of the movie I didn't like the first time through.

The scene Sandikal mentioned has long been a favorite, as was the frantic fear / desperation of Leeloo when she is first reanimated (after she gets the bandage wrap).

But...has anyone ever figured out the black oil that drips down folks heads when the Big Bad communicates is all about?
Eric Braddock
6. EricBraddock
This is by far one of my favorite movies of all time. Loved it ever since I saw it in theaters.

I'm leavin'.. Bzzzzz!
David Lev
7. davidlev
There is no word better than "fun" to describe this movie. And I'm not if I agree that it was ordained that Korben et al were gonna win: it gets pretty down to the wire to set up and activate those stones, and "Mr. Shadow" is (if I remember correctly) essentially an entire planet made of evil. I always thought that the black stuff that drips down when people talk to him was blood.
joelfinkle
8. mwschmeer
I *hate* this movie because of Chris Tucker. He ruins the film with his scene-stealing, over-the-top performance which constantly screams "look at me, I'm Chris Tucker." He doesn't play a role, he plays himself playing a role. Which is exactly the reason all those Rush Hour movies suck, too.

Apparently, the French were under the delusion that Chris Tucker was the new Jerry Lewis. Too bad hindsight is 20/20, eh, Besson?

This movie would have been soooooo much better if Tucker wasn't cast.
Jeff Youngstrom
9. jeffy
I love the movie, not least for Eric Serra's wonderful score/soundtrack. It has the rare joint properties of suiting the film to near invisibility, and being really fun to listen to alone.

Hearing that there's a new edition on Blu-ray is the first thing that has given me the merest glimmer of the beginnings of a faint desire to own a Blu-ray player. (In fact, now that I think of it, I owned the Fifth Element DVD before I had a DVD player. Uh oh.)

Oh, and I love the wonderfully insane costumes by Jean-Paul Gaultier.
Malohin ...
10. Malohin
> I think Chris Tucker wins by a
> length, having created one of science
> fiction’s most memorable--and most
> gleefully annoying--characters.

Ruby Rod is one of my all-time favorite sidekicks, carries it off more than a bit of panache, and Chris Tucker blows the doors off the performance.

Think about how most sidekicks behave, their role, and their fate. Ruby Rod: sticks by the hero, generally does what he's told, doesn't do anything horrendously stupid, when the moment comes he does the right thing, and doesn't collapse or faint until the crisis is past.

Given your choice of annoying sidekicks, wouldn't you rather have Ruby Rod than most of those annoying, "Oops, I dropped your gun," or "Sorry, I pushed the button," or "Save me" types?

> most gleefully annoying--characters.

Well. Um. Yeah. That too. :)
--
Malohin
Justin Adair
11. Hobbyns
Just have to agree that it's an excellent New Year's flick! Maybe I'm just slow or something, but TFE was the first movie that I watched Chris Tucker in, so I knew nothing about him and giggled with glee in the theater at his over-the-top performance. Since them I've seen it about four times, but I'd watch it again, probably right after watching Blade Runner for the 1000th time, just to lift my spirits.

Happy new year, all!
Mitch Wagner
12. MitchWagner
I'm glad to see so many 5E fans in one place. I remember it got terrible reviews, and my wife and I loved it. The reviewers apparently didn't realize it was an action/comedy.

Same thing for "The Mummy" and "Con Air." ("Put. The bunny. Back.")
Soon Lee
13. SoonLee
The mishmash spawn of Luc Besson, JP Gaultier, Moebius & a cast that includes Gary Oldman, Ian Holm, Bruce Willis & Tricky. Tricky!

How can you not love it?
joelfinkle
14. j h woodyatt
Short shameful confession time: The Fifth Element always makes me feel unsufferably smug.

When it came out, a lot of my friends saw it before me, and they panned it pretty horribly. I saw it a couple days later, and I came out of the theater telling them that they'd all change their tune. All of them.

One by one, they all did. Eventually. I've always wanted to say, "I told you so."
Brady Allen
15. akabrady
I loved this show from the moment I saw it! I love science fiction and fantasy (duh! I'm posting on Tor), but I've always thought some people take it a bit too seriously.

I love stories that are over the top and crazy!
joelfinkle
16. SMB
5E grew on me also. It only works once you learn not to worry about the complete irrelevance of the plot.

Although the first 40 minutes of setup is fun, 5E only hits its straps when everyone is at the spaceport trying to get checked in with those two free tickets.

There is a wonderful 10 minutes of intercutting that builds in tempo to a climax as the spaceship takes off (more than one if you include Ruby and his girl ;) and its a fabulously enjoyable piece of directing.

Unfortunately, Luc followed up 5E with the execrable Joan of Arc and I've never been game to assume that anything he does will be any good since then.
Troy Lissoway
17. Troylis
I loved this movie from the first time I saw it in the theatre. I had no clue it was coming until I saw the first ads on TV, but my friends and I quickly realized we weren't watching "Blade Runner", we were watching "Metal Hurlant".

One part that established the movie's world for me was the ground crew during the spaceport scene. In a "standard" SF movie, they would be a faceless crew of clockwork professionals. In 5E, we get a highly-competent group of blue-collar Rastafarians which (taking away the pot) looks a lot more like my experience of real-world work crews. There was no reason to have them in there, except to let you know that real humans live in that world.

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