The Fifth Element (1997)

Would you like to know who I would be perfectly okay with removing from movies forever? Chris Tucker. I can’t think of a single role where he didn’t annoy me and make me wish his character dead. And it’s not like he’s a great actor either. No, the stand-up comedian, (I don’t actually mind his standup routines), just isn’t ever given good roles, or is possibly only given roles that people believe he can pull off. And since those roles are always ones of annoyance, he infuriates me when he’s on-screen.

I mention this, because Tucker is in The Fifth Element, and is given a role that becomes larger with time — as does the big enemy of the movie, a giant planet of evil. Tucker plays Rudy Rhod, a media personality who has a high-pitched voice and talks over everyone whenever he gets the chance. He’s introduced to us by getting a chance to sing, but eventually becomes the stereotypical sidekick role. But he’s so over-the-top and so incredibly infuriating that I just wanted him to leave the film and never return. Which happens near the end, when he announces his departure and isn’t seen from any more. But it comes too late and by that point, I wanted more conclusion. I wanted him dead.

I think that if a character made me feel this strongly — someone who isn’t even the lead of the picture — then the film has done a good job. I don’t like Tucker as an actor, and I disliked his character even more, but since I wished him gone every minute he was on the screen, then the film has gotten an emotional reaction out of me, and it has succeeded in that aspect. But making an intentionally annoying character has repercussions, as I didn’t like the film as much as I potentially would have had it not been included. It’s a mixed bag in including things like this, but I’ll call it a success here because of how strong an emotional response it got out of me.

It did this, especially in comparison to how neutral I felt regarding the film’s story, which didn’t make me feel much of anything at all. The story follows a couple of different characters, with the primary one being Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis), a cab driver who gets a flying car because that’s how it will be in the year 2263. One day, a girl falls through the roof of his cab — more or less unharmed, I might add — but doesn’t speak English. She manages to tell him to take her to a priest named Vito Cornelius (Ian Holm), and that her name is Leeloo (Milla Jovovich).

It’s at the priest’s house that the film’s prologue, which depicted events taking place 300 years ago, starts to make sense. The giant planet headed toward Earth can only be stopped by some mystical being who, together with four stones each representing the four elements (air, water, earth and fire) will destroy it. The title of the film comes from this being, who is supposedly the fifth element needed. Leeloo is this being.

But there are no stones. We learn where they are: They’re being kept by one Diva Plavalaguna (Inva Mula) on a planet that is difficult to get to. This sparks a race from four parties: Korben and the government, Leeloo and the priest, the main bad guy of the film, Zorg (Gary Oldman) and some creatures called the Mondoshawan. Zorg wants the stones to help the evil planet, who is affectionately named Mr. Shadow, while the Mondoshawan want them to sell them to Zorg. There’s essentially only two sides, and when the fate of the universe is at stake, two sides is plenty.

The story left me with indifference, particularly because of how quickly it comes to a conclusion. We see early on, when Leeloo is learning about our culture that she is horrified at the images of war. If humans are such terrible things, why should she help save them anyway? We know that this is what’s going through her mind, partially because it’s obvious how shocked she is, but also because of how well Jovovich has to act with only her body language. But the answer to this question comes and goes like a gust of wind, and then the film has its final scene.

I mentioned that Jovovich has to do a great job of acting here, and I stand by that, For most of the film, she doesn’t get to speak, at least, not in a way that we can understand. Her character doesn’t know how to speak English (although she can apparently understand it). So she has to convey emotions through her facial expressions, body language, and her eyes. And she does it. It works. We care for a character that can’t even use verbal communication, because of how well Jovovich does with this role. That’s not to say the other actors don’t do a good job too, (apart from Tucker), but they don’t have the same degree of difficulty as she does.

Since The Fifth Element is set in the future, and takes place a lot of the time in space, it counts as a science-fiction film. Now, science-fiction films generally go one of two ways, and spend all of their time after production in one of these two directions. They’ll either remain timeless, despite their special effects having aged and not looking quite as good as they once did, or they can look dated very soon after their release.

What determines what way they go is not in the special effects themselves, but more in how the film is presented, how the technology is used, and whether or not we can believe that this world could be possible, or could have been possible at one point. The world created here is one that feels realistic, and the things it dreams up are imaginable. The special effects aren’t even that bad, even if they are showing their age a touch.

However, this film gets worse as it progresses, largely because it has a large-scale action scene near its conclusion that felt really out of place. It’s like finding a chocolate chip in your lemonade. The chocolate chip itself is good, but finding it in your beverage was unwelcome. That’s what the large action scenes in this film felt like. Alone, there’s nothing wrong with them, but when this film wasn’t really about action, but they’re thrown in near the end anyway, they don’t feel like they should be there. That’s really the biggest problem that this film has though, well, that, and the lack of emotion that came from the main story.

There are also some pacing issues that occur throughout. The main story takes a while to get going, and once it does, there are moments that slowed it down and seemed unnecessary. You could probably chop this film down to about 105 minutes, instead of just over two hours like it ended up being, and you’d actually have a better film. (For instance, we could remove all of Tucker’s character, especially the 5 minutes of “singing” that happens when we first meet him.)

Helping to alleviate some of these pacing problems is the script, which isn’t great, but some of the dialogue that comes from it is. I laughed a lot more than I thought I would thanks to this film, both from the dialogue, and from how ridiculous some of the things that happen throughout are. There are a lot of scenes where I found myself laughing, and this was unexpected. This also stops once the action scenes begin though, which is another reason that I disliked them.

The absolute best part of the film comes from how certain scenes, and the transitions from scene to scene, are structured. A character will say something in one scene, and we’ll cut to another character in a completely different area, who will respond or react to what the first character said. While not a revolutionary technique, it’s one that I like to see employed, so I was happy to see it happening here.

I liked The Fifth Element. It’s not amazing, but it’s a fun ride that has colorful characters and some solid acting. The sci-fi setting is interesting and actually a decent enough depiction as to how our society could go, which means that this is a film that will likely stand the test of time. If only I had cared more about what was happening, or if Chris Tucker had been removed from the production, it would have been an absolute pleasure to watch. As it is, a really solid film that could have been better, but still was really enjoyable.

1 thought on “The Fifth Element (1997)”

  1. I’ll prefice my comments by saying that I’ve probably seen The Fifth Element 100 times. It’s campy, ridiculous fun and I love watching it. That being said, I know it’s not the best movie ever made and it has some major flaws. But I disagree that one of those flaws is Chris Tucker. I’m not really a Chris Tucker fan in general, but I love Ruby Rhod. His opening scene is one of my favorites in the whole movie. It’s outrageous and unexpected, and yes, can be annoying, but he’s not in the film long enough to get on my nerves. It’s not an Ocsar-worthy role, but it’s certainly a memorable one.

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