I know it hasn’t won any oscars, and it would have been a weird day if it had, but The Fifth Element has guilty pleasure written all over it. Fun is the magic word. It is not meant to be the best movie of all times, it is meant to give people a fun evening and I think it gloriously succeeds.
On the other hand, it has the kind of style that easily divides people into groups of lovers and haters. It has the humor that you “get” or you don’t. The dividing line is often the scenes with Chris Rock’s (detestable or funny) Ruby Rhod. A friend of mine once asked if he should take this film seriously after viewing these scenes. In that case, I wondered what you were thinking about the whole previous hour, because you shouldn’t have taken serious any of it.
The Fifth Element moves at a good pace and it consistently funny and inventive. It has a great cast of characters: Willis plays as he should play, the way we like him, Oldman clearly enjoys his evil Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg and Jovovich’s Leeloo is an adorable creation with a few funny quotes. The aliens are awesome, from the big-bellied Mondoshawans to the stupidlooking Mangalores. And this must be the only movie that features an opera singing alien.
The plot is ridiculously simple and there is never any doubt that the heroes will save the day, it is all tongue-in-cheek, but the locations have been given great care, from Willis’ little room and the desk of Zorg to the office of the president. The Fifth Element is a movie that is very conscious of its pulpy play but sneaks in a few scenes here and there that can easily stand repeated viewings and even get better with age. Such was always the style of director Luc Besson and it proved a happy marriage with science fiction. We need more like this!
The recent movie Jupiter Ascending (2015) tried to do something in a similar vein but it crashed and burned horribly. The tone was very inconsistent as it moved from comedy to social satire to drama and back. The plot was very messy and repetitive, and the characters didn’t make any sense and were badly acted out. The Fifth Element in contrast had at least an internal consistency in its feel and an excitement in its performances.
I find it a terrible shame that Jupiter Ascending failed, because it is perhaps the type of movie that I love the most, and I want it to succeed. It has amazing special effects that now feel a bit wasted, and a very interesting back story with the royal families in space. It has this lovely baroque space opera feel that could have been so much more.
Well, at least we have the book The Algebraist, by Iain M Banks, which is similar to Jupiter Ascending in baroque opera feel, but executed well.