erik lundegaard

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The Fifth Element (1997)

I'm the type of person who has to be an hour or two early to the airport, so these kinds of movies — Spielberg perfected them — in which the heroes have to travel halfway across the solar system even though they must be back on Earth at such and such a time and do such and such a thing otherwise life as we know it ends? They always make me a little anxious. Can't they plan ahead a little? Get to their destination early for a change?

Written by:
Luc Besson
Robert Mark Kamen

Directed by:
Luc Besson

Starring:
Bruce Willis
Gary Oldman
Ian Holm
Milla Jovovich
Chris Tucker
Luke Perry
Brion James
Tom "Tiny" Lister

Academy Award Nominations:
Best Sound Effects Editing
(It was nominated for eight Cesar Awards in France, winning three, including Best Director)

The Fifth Element opens in the first part of the 20th century, in an Egyptian pyramid, as an archeologist uncovers and deciphers the meaning behind ancient tableaux: great death and destruction rain down on mankind every 5000 years unless something prevents it. That something? Giant, shuffling, goony aliens, who suddenly land in the desert. The archeologist's assistant (Luke Perry), fearful of their size and shape and goony gait — not to mention the huge shadows they project against the wall — takes out a pistol and shoots, thereby fouling up our defense for the next rain of destruction. Plan B involves a priest and his descendants: passing the relevant information through the centuries until the appointed time. Humans are now involved in their own survival.

Cut to: the appointed time, early in the 23rd century. The Evil is on its way again but so are the goony aliens, thankfully, when another group of bigheaded aliens blast them from the sky. A small piece of biology is recovered from the crash site and is quickly regenerated into Leeloo (Milla Jovovich), our most perfect human specimen, who, sensing the evil of earth generals, flees, and does a Greg Louganis into Korben Dallas' (Bruce Willis) aerial taxicab. These two, with the help of the priest's progeny (Ian Holm), must then travel to a faraway planet (a kind of Hawaii in the sky) to retrieve four stones representing the four elements, and then make it back to Egypt before The Evil arrives — with human villain Zorg (Gary Oldman) dogging their every step — otherwise darkness settles upon the universe. Forever.

Who are these evil creatures? We don't know. Why do they come every 5000 years? We don't know. What the hell is Gary Oldman doing helping them, since, one would assume, he too needs light and warmth to survive? More important, why is Gary Oldman overacting? What's with his weird hairdo? And how come he has an overbite? Doesn't orthidonture progress over the next 250 years? Is it so hip to be square?

Of course Korben Dallas (awful name) is not just a taxicab driver but the last member of an elite fighting force. His wife recently left him, too, so he's lonely. He's lonely, tough and cynical, but with a heart of gold, the classic Bruce Willis character. He decides to go on the mission because, well, deep down, he likes Leeloo. Maybe even loves her a little. She's so sweet and innocent. And then there's that ass. Just think: if she hadn't been so pretty, would he have gone on the mission? Probably not. Would the mission have succeeded without him? Probably not. Thus the fate of the world rested on the ass of Milla Jovovich.

Chris Tucker turns in a fun, loud-mouthed performance as Ruby Rhod, a man who appears to be a star simply because he broadcasts his life over the airwaves. There's some inspired B-movie casting, too. The General who sends Korben on his mission is played by Brion James, Leon from Bladerunner. Even better: Earth's President is cockeyed wrestler Tom "Tiny" Lister Jr. If only the man could act.

Eventually Leeloo, having studied the history of the world, has doubts about whether humankind if worth saving; but since she's the titular fifth element we need her to take on The Evil. How does Korbin convince her? He talks about love. That's what makes humans worth saving. But to really get her psyched he has to admit that he loves her; and he can't quite get the words out. This has got to be the most male moment in any movie ever. With the fate of the light of the universe in the balance, this guy still has trouble telling the woman he loves that he loves her???? No wonder women want nothing to do with us.

—February 7, 1999

© 1999 Erik Lundegaard