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The Fifth Element (1997)

Le Cinquième élément, The 5th Element

There is no future without it.

Rating: 5/10

Running Time: 126 minutes

US Certificate: PG-13 UK Certificate: PG


Anyone who’s ever ignored a periodic table knows what the four basic elements are: water, fire, earth and air. The important question here, though, isn’t: “Aren’t they the ones who sung Boogie Wonderland?” Nope, it’s: “What is the FIFTH element?” Prior to watching this movie, my answer would probably have been ketchup, or possibly denim. But no, the Fifth Element is actually a young slip of a girl called Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) who, having been cloned from one single cell, gets to wear some conveniently-revealing outfits as she takes her place as Planet Earth’s only hope.

Set in New York in the year 2263 (following a brief stop-off in Egypt 1914, that is), this loud, visually-stunning and consistently cluttered sci-fi adventure somehow manages to be both a treat and a pain at the same time. Writer-director Luc Besson puts so much effort into bringing his imagining of a Gaultier-clad future to life, that somewhere along the line he forgets to pay any attention to his story. Packed to the gunnels with eye-popping colours and ridiculoysly-expensive special effects, it’s the sort of film you could watch time and time again and still see something new every time – but, sadly, it still probably wouldn’t make a great deal of sense.

Accompanying Jovovich’s Leeloo in Besson’s high-budget sick-bucket are Bruce Willis as the reluctantly-heroic driver of a flying taxi, Gary Oldman as a maniacal baddie and Ian Holm as the Priest who really should have told someone a lot sooner about the impending end-of-the-world. Valiantly, each of them fight a losing battle against the visual clutter. And, in the end, the whole thing degenerates into a distinctly run-of-the-mill shoot-em-up.

I don’t want to be too harsh on ‘The Fifth Element’ though. Despite coming in at over two hours and not being very good, it’s an engrossing piece of work if only because so much detail and imagination has gone into it. Besson’s sporadic injections of comic relief further help in keeping things moving along and, though many of the attempts at comedy seem out-of-place (particularly from an irritatingly-camp Chris Tucker), the alternative option of a ‘Fifth Element’ intended as a completely serious piece would have been pretentious in the extreme.

It's Got: An opera-singing conehead, taking the phrase “dying on stage” a little too literally.

It Needs: More screen-time for the bystanding Mr Oldman. As it stands it feels almost as if he got all dressed up for nothing.

DVD Extras This two-disc bonanza has a visual effects commentary, trailers, TV spots, print posters, a pile of extra bumf to read about the background of the film, and a whole host of documentaries and featurettes (‘An Audience with Diva Plavalaguna’, ‘Imagining the Fifth Element’, ‘The Art of Jean-Claude Mezieres, ‘Elements of Style’ and MTV’s ‘Cannes Opening Night Party’). Version reviewed: The Fifth Element Special Edition (Pathe Distribution Ltd) DVD Extras Rating: 8/10


A visually-stunning mess.