Thursday, June 06, 2013

il quinto elemento

The ultimate guilty pleasure movie, The Fifth Element, or how I like to refer to it, Il Quinto Elemento, is also incredibly entertaining. It also manages to be colorful, funny, and a little scary at times. Its sci-fi roots are definitely in Blade Runner territory, but director Luc Besson has managed to create a wholly original future world, that even upon multiple viewings manages to enchant. This is helped in no small part by the amazing costumes designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier.

The Italian poster
Milla Jovovich as Leeloominaï Lekatariba Lamina-Tchaï Ekbat De Sebat — but you can call her Leeloo
Leeloo: Leeloo Dallas. Mul-ti-pass.
I saw the movie when it first came out in 1997, but started referring to it as Il Quinto Elemento after a trip to Italy, where posters for the movie were plastered everywhere. My pet name seemed appropriately absurd, as much as the bright orange hairstyle of female lead Milla Jovovich or the outrageous character played by Chris Tucker, Ruby Rhod. Besson originally came up with his version of the future when he was just 16 years old. Years later, after he had quite a few successful films under his belt (Subway, La Femme Nikita, Léon: The Professional), he was able to move forward on his pet project and hire comic book artists Jean-Claude Mézières and Jean Giraud to work on the film's production design and help design his future version of New York City.

Taxicabs and police cars in the 23rd century

In The Fifth Element a perfect super being, in the form of a young woman called Leeloo (Jovovich), is sent to 23rd century Earth to determine whether humanity is worth saving. Helping her save the world is a cab driver (and former crack military man) named Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis), a priest who is in a long line of protectors of her alien race (Ian Holm) and a reluctant flamboyant DJ (Tucker). Up against them are a bunch of scary-looking aliens called Mangalores and Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg (Gary Oldman), a crooked arms dealer who also seems to be in league with a terrible evil force, a black planet which is hurtling towards Earth. They are all after four mystical stones, which represent the four essental elements of life.

Chris Tucker's androgynous Prince-inspired DJ Ruby Rhod is an either love him or hate him character. I love him.
DJ Ruby Rhod: And now we enter what must the most beautiful concert hall of all the universe. A perfect replica of the old opera house ... But who cares?
Bruce Willis as Korben Dallas, sporting a rubber Gaultier t-shirt that I still covet
Gary Oldman as Zorg. Clothes for bad guys in the 23rd century — pretty cool. Hairstyles — not so much.
Korben Dallas: Whoa, lady, I only speak two languages, English and bad English. [Leeloo speaks in divine language] 
Korben Dallas: Now, don't get me wrong, I'm all for conversation, but maybe you could just shut up for a moment?
Besson fell in love with Jovovich during the making of the film and the two constructed the "divine language" that Leeloo speaks when she first meets Korben. They married, but were divorced in 1999. Jovovich is not the only fashion model in The Fifth Element who can show off the fabulous wardrobe created by Gaultier. Fans of fashion will recognize some favorite faces in the extras cast, including: Sibyl Buck (Zorgs secretary), Stacey McKenzie (VIP stewardess), and Ève Salvail (Tawdry Girl).

Willis is in his usual wry humor/hero mode and helps the (at least American) audience connect with the fast-moving adventure. I will always have a fond place in my heart for the original Star Wars film, and I love, love, love Blade Runner (especially Rutger Hauer), but if I was really pressed, I think I would have to say that Il Quinto ElementoThe Fifth Element, is my favorite science fiction movie. It's certainly the most re-watchable, and its visuals are hard to beat. It makes so much of the gray exploding CGI buildings that seem omnipresent in recent sci-fi films (The Avengers, Star Trek, etc.) seem dull and lifeless. To quote Ruby Rhod, The Fifth Element is "A hotel of a thousand and one follies, lollies, and lickemollies. A magic fountain flow of non stop wine, women, and coochie coochie coooo! All night long!"

Further Reading — an amusing post about movie:
How 'The Fifth Element' Predicted Lady Gaga And Everything Else About Modern Life—Back in '97

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