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The Fifth Element: A Critical Analysis

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 2093 words Published: 13th Apr 2017

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The Fifth Element is one of the best science fiction movies ever made. What is science fiction? Stories that often tell about science and technology of the future is considered a trademark of science fiction. Science fiction films are also known to include a human element and are often set in the future, in space, on a different world, or in a different universe or dimension altogether. They often will depict dangerous or sinister natures of knowledge and vital issues about the nature of mankind and our place in the whole scheme of things. Science fiction displays the possibility to destroy mankind with Armageddon-like events through technology as well.

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In the film, The Fifth Element, the Earth is threatened by an evil force every 5000 years. An alien race, the Mondoshawan, have created a weapon to defeat the evil force and safeguard it on Earth in Egypt. The Mondoshawan look like gigantic upright beetles with metal skin and tiny heads. The weapon is four sacred stones representing the elements of Earth, Fire, Water, and Wind with a fifth element that is used in combination with the stones. With the imminent arrival of World War I in 1914, they no longer feel the weapon is safe on Earth and come to take it away, promising to return when the evil force comes back during the course of the 5000-year cycle. In the year 2259, as the Mondoshawan are returning to bring the weapon back to Earth, their ship is shot down on the orders of an agent of the evil force, Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg. The Mondoshawan never fully trusted the human race and it was determined that the sacred stones were never on that ship, as it was a decoy. The Earth’s military was able to gather some cells from the wreckage of the ship, and by using the genetic makeup of those cells, reconstructed a life form. The life form, which is in the shape of a young female human, is the fifth element. Her name is Leeloo. She becomes frightened and escapes from the reconstruction chamber. She runs into Korben Dallas, a recently retired Commander of Earth’s military, and currently a New York City cab driver.

Leeloo’s undertaking was to find the priest, Vito Cornelius, as he knows of the ancient ritual to set off the weapon against the evil force. President Lister was given this information regarding Cornelius earlier. President Lister recruits Dallas to go and retrieve the sacred stones from the Diva PlavaLaguna who is on another planet. Leeloo and Cornelius have their own plans. Dallas, Leeloo, and Cornelius travel to the other planet. Dallas retrieves the stones with the help of DJ Ruby Rhod. With help of Cornelius and Leeloo, the four of them beat Zorg at his own game for control of the sacred stones. They flee back to Egypt and with only minutes to spare, Korben tells Leeloo what she needs to hear and the love she feels enables her to destroy the evil force from annihilating Earth.

The plot may be a standard one; good versus evil with a love story intertwined, but it is a good solid one. The film is based on a story by Luc Besson and he wrote it when he was sixteen years old. Roger Ebert agrees that the plot does sound like something conjured up by a teenager but still remains positive. In his review in the Chicago Sun-Times, he states, “The “Star Wars” movies look deep, even philosophical, in comparison, but never mind: We are watching “The Fifth Element” not to think, but to be delighted” (Ebert). This movie is exciting and catches your attention very quickly. The introduction of characters goes seamlessly from one to another. It does, however, have many stereotypes of what one might expect from a science fiction film. Mick LaSalle said in his review of the film in the San Francisco Chronicle, “It’s an amalgam of every science fiction cliché about flying cars, evil forces and benevolent outer-space creatures — most of them dusted off and made new” (LaSalle).

Many science fiction films show things in them that may be unbelievable. The beauty is that these things could happen. Flying cars? Sure, that might be possible some day. Aliens coming to destroy the planet? It could happen. The Fifth Element has all of these things. This movie creates a sense of wonder in the viewer. Not only is the viewer wondering what is going to happen next, like any other enjoyable film, the viewer will be anticipating what outrageous thing they are going to show you. In this world, you do believe it and it is true to the life portrayed in the film.

This film is well told and the viewers will find themselves rooting for Leeloo, the fifth element. This is high-voltage excitement in a pop culture world. It’s big on commercialism and there is a lot of product placement. The film is a bit predictable, by the end, evil is destroyed and the boy gets the girl. But the viewer will have a good journey to the end.

The characters themselves are phenomenal. Bruce Willis plays Korben Dallas, the recently retired war hero who now drives a cab in New York City. Korben just cannot get a break. After being plagued with nightmares, he gets mugged on his way to work. He gets into an accident, where the viewer is first introduced to the beautiful Leeloo. He’s involved in a high-speed police chase and after returning home, he is notified that he has been fired. The military comes back into his life to send him on a dangerous mission. He travels with Leeloo to retrieve the sacred stones and must fight the ugly, killer-for-hire Mangalores. He must constantly put up with Ruby Rhod, an annoying DJ. After getting the stones and saving Leeloo from certain death, he must race against the evil force to set up the ancient weapon. In the end, he helps to save Earth and also gets the girl but his trials seem long and by the end, you are cheering that finally, something has gone his way.

Leeloo is played by actress Milla Jovovich. Her role in all of this is that she is the fifth element. She tells Korben on their way to meet the Diva to get the sacred stones, “Me fifth element – supreme being. Me protect you” (The Fifth Element). She has regenerated from cells alone to a perfect modelesque being that has flaming red hair with blonde roots. She learns the history of humans from a computer to bring her up to speed on Earth’s history. She can fight with the best of them, kicking the kung-fu out of some Mangalores. By the time they recover the stones and have made their way to Egypt to set the weapon in place, Leeloo is exhausted and is disillusioned as to why she must help the humans as she has seen the destruction they have done in history. She whimpers of not knowing love and does not realise that Korben has fallen in love with her. Korben must tell her how he really feels and kisses her with passion and she feels the love from him. She is able to make the ancient weapon work and defeats the evil force trying to demolish Earth by blasting it with white light derived from all that is pure and good.

Priest Vito Cornelius, played by Ian Holm, is Leeloo’s contact on Earth. Cornelius takes this role very seriously. When Korben wins two tickets to Fhloston Paradise, his “cover” to retrieve the sacred stones from the Diva, Cornelius knocks Korben unconscious to steal the tickets for Leeloo and himself to go. When Korben shows up at the airport in time to make the flight, Cornelius stows aboard the plane in a maintenance compartment in order to reach Fhloston. He is a supporting character in this film but really is necessary for the story as he holds a plethora of knowledge that has been passed down to him from the last 5000 years.

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Under Korben’s cover of winning the radio contest, he is bombarded by DJ Ruby Rhod, played fabulously by Chris Tucker. Ruby is simply a combination of Dennis Rodman and Pee-wee Herman, on crack. He speaks in a falsetto voice and gets irritated with Korben because his responses on air are not “super green”, his favourite catch phrase. Dressed flamboyantly in a leopard print body suit, he is all about using his popularity to his advantage with the ladies. He ends up with Korben in battle with the Mangalores and screams like a little girl every chance he gets. He also flies with Korben, Leeloo, and Cornelius to set up the weapon in the temple.

Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg is the bad guy in all of this. Played by Gary Oldman, Zorg is an egotistical munitions dealer who is also the agent of the evil force that threatens Earth. He is relentless in pursuing the sacred stones, hiring the Mangalores to shoot down the Mandoshawan ship before it ever reaches Earth. He bullies Cornelius to try to give him the location of the stones. He puts a bomb on the pleasure cruiser to Fhloston Paradise which eventually kills him in the quest for the sacred stones.

The makeup effects were not extraordinary by any measure but the visual effects in The Fifth Element are absolutely breath-taking. In the 23rd century, New York City is crammed full of people and the buildings seemingly shoot up from out of nowhere for miles. But the place they originate from is the garbage. As the author of The Fifth Element, Terry Bisson states, “The deepening haze and smog that clung to the ground level of the city mercifully obscured the generations of litter and debris – the urban midden that covered the streets to a depth of between twenty and forty feet” (Bisson 78). The depth of the garbage problem is shown quite well. During the police chase scene, Korben and Leeloo hide the taxicab in the garbage down by the street level. There’s even a sign from an “old” company called IBM. In the airport scene, there is garbage piling up against all the walls due to a sanitation strike. It is heaped so high that it covers exits as a Mangalore jumped into a pile and escaped from police.

The visual effects are model based as well as computer generated. The flying traffic depicted in this film is amazingly meticulous in detail. The cars are rounder at the edges and somewhat flatter than the cars of today. In the police chase scene, the details of flying the can in between cars, avoiding traffic jams, and even escaping through a train tunnel are wonderfully done. According to filmsite.org, the film’s most celebrated sequence was, “the cab chase with flying cars” (filmsite.org). Everything is brightly coloured and moves fast so the viewer’s attention is caught and remains focused on where the film is going.

The costumes for most of the characters are all a little strange and what the film would portray as futuristic. Korben wears normal looking pants but his shirt is fluorescent orange with cut out strips in the back. Leeloo’s first outfit after regeneration is nothing more than strategically placed white surgical tape. Her second outfit of the film consists of gold pants and a white half-shirt which would look tame enough with the exception of the orange thong suspenders. DJ Ruby Rhod’s costumes are by far the best. He is originally dressed in a leopard print bodysuit with a huge flared collar with pointy brown boots. His microphone is covered in the same leopard material, the end lights up red when someone speaks into it, and it is about three feet long. His hair is a short blond afro with a cylinder of blond hair sticking out of his forehead. His second outfit is again a body suit; however, this time is completely black and wrapped around the flared collar is a wreath of red roses. The pants are flared out into bellbottoms and completely with black boots. The microphone is the same length but covered in black fabric with a silver tip. His hair is black this time and wrapped up in several little buns all over his head. Jean-Paul Gaultier was the costume designer and he was nominated for a Saturn award in 1998 in the category of Best Costumes (Internet Movie Database).

This is absolutely one of the best science fiction movies ever made. The Fifth Element was nominated for an Oscar award in 1998 for Best Effects and Sound Effects Editing and also won a BAFTA award in the category of Best Special Effects (Internet Movie Database). It is a fantastic tale of good versus evil in the far away future. The viewer will enjoy the fabulous special effects and colourful characters as they root on the good guys in the destruction of evil.


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