The Fifth Element (1997)

Fifth_element_poster_(1997)I’m very certain that everybody’s seen this film at some point, and I guess it sort of earned its popularity, being one of the only sci-fi films of the Independence Day era that wasn’t about mindless killing. By the time this was made, sci-fi was begging for a breath of fresh air, especially after the farcical travesty that was Independence Day, which had basically created the perception that sci-fi was about shooting aliens and big explosions. You could argue that this film had a more creative approach to sci-fi than its peers, but at the same time, I can’t help but think that the film tends to scatter a number of ideas all over the place.

The story is rather glib, with a somewhat stereotypical “good vs. evil” narrative, casting “evil” as a giant planet heading towards Earth. On top of that, it’s one of those films that links evil with death in a fit of philosophical ineptitude. Of course, you shouldn’t expect much exposition from what is essentially pop sc-fi. Perhaps that’s why it’s best not to read too much into this one. It doesn’t always take itself seriously anyway, and that seems to be part of its appeal.

And then of course, there’s the film’s colourful cast of characters. They picked a pretty good cast to play the characters, although some of the characters come across as campy in a very corny sort of way, with Ruby Rhod being the film’s king of all things camp (if his loud, overbearing, funny voice doesn’t cement that, I don’t know what does), while he simultaneously serves as supercharged parody of pop stars, complete with the annoyingly over-the-top showmanship and goofy outfits. As a main character, Bruce Willis makes an ideal protagonist for a film that would suffer if the writers actually decided to take its goofy plot seriously. But, while he adds a sharp-edged counterpoint to the film’s idealistic overtones, it’s Gary Oldman’s performance as the film’s extraordinarily campy villain that steals the show. On top of him being the most ridiculous-looking character in the whole film, he’s the kind of villain that isn’t exactly serious, and he isn’t meant to be, so his performance works in so many ways.

Of course, the film excels in the visual department. A lot of the set pieces and character designs remind me of The Phantom Menace. In fact, I swear they got their art direction from this film. A lot of Jean Paul Gaultier’s costumes for the film look really ridiculous, but I think that suits the tone of the film quite well. It certainly helps the film stand out in front of its more serious contemporaries. The visuals and music are quite effective at complimenting the style of the film, and that’s just one way the film is so good at presenting itself. Perhaps the best scene in the movie is the scene where the intergalactic resort is invaded by the villain’s hired guns, and a mixture of style and action plays out as one of the characters attempts to fight off the invaders to the tune of operatic singing. It’s a rare break from the film’s usual tone, and the action doesn’t disappoint. Overall, while I question the film’s concept and silly narrative, I still enjoy the film because it plays with the silliness of its plot to the point that it’s actually the main selling point, and the result is a charmingly enjoyable sci-fi flick that only occasionally falters.

  • Score: 71%
  • Grade: C

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