Basic Film Information
The Fifth Element is a 1997 Science Fiction, Action/Adventure movie staring Bruce Willis. The movie cost about $93 million to make and got a worldwide gross of about $264 million.[i] The MPAA gave this movie a PG-13 rating for violence, sexuality, and brief nudity. The movie received an Oscar nomination for Best Effects, Sound Effect Editing. The movie is set in the 23rd Century. This is the same century as the original Star Trek and Babylon 5 television shows[ii]. It is a completely different universe from these television genres. The Fifth Element’s 23rd Century is a zany place. This begs the question of how our time would look to the early 19th century? This article contains some spoilers. The first spoiler is the plot doesn’t involve time travel.
[i] International Movie Database, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119116/reference, last accessed 2/10/19. As of July 10, 2012, the move grossed $263,920,180.
[ii] The movie Forbidden Planet’s opening dialogue indicates the year should be 2200, possibly 2201, but it is often stated the setting is 2257.
The Plot and Observations
The movie opens in 1914 Egypt. Professor Pacoli (John Bluthal) is on the verge of making a major discovery. A priest (John Bennett) is willing to commit murder to prevent Professor Pacoli from learning the secret. A space ship comes down and aliens, who don’t appear to be humanoid, in clunky space suits thank the priest and retrieve the Fifth Element.
The movie fast forwards to the 23rd century. A malevolent force is on its way to Earth. A space ship carrying the Fifth Element is on its way to Earth. Space aliens, called Mangalors, shoot down the space ship. Earth recovers a glove with some living cells inside it. From these cells they reconstruct and reanimate the Fifth Element, a human named Leeloo (Milla Jovovich), complete with her memory intact. They put white surgical straps around her. The straps cover just enough of her to keep a PG-13 MPAA rating. Leeloo promptly breaks out of the laboratory. She jumps from a skyscraper and crashes through the roof of a flying yellow taxi. She it unharmed. The mid-20th century New York City law that all medallion taxis have to be yellow is still apparently in force.[i] The taxi driver is Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) who is down on his luck. Korben decides to help Leeloo and this leads to a wild police chase. Leeloo tells Korbin she needs to see a priest, Cornelius (Ian Holm).
Father Cornelius answers the door to his office and sees Korben Dallas in street clothes carrying Leeloo, across the threshold style. Leeloo is unconscious and only has on the white surgical straps. Korben says, “I’m looking for a priest.” Cornelius replies in a monotone voice, “Marriages are one floor down. Congratulations my son.” When Cornelius learns Leeloo is the Fifth Element he greets her and quickly ushers Korben out the door. Zorg (Gary Oldman) is an evil industrialist who is in league with the malevolent entity. He also pays Mangalors with weapons in exchange for their services. Zorg sends three of his henchmen to bring Farther Cornelius to him. When Father Cornelius opens his door and sees the henchmen he says in a monotone voice, “Marriages are one floor down.”
Korben is having lunch at the window of his apartment. He bought his lunch from Thai (Kim Chan), a vendor who is in a flying machine that resembles a junk. He explains his troubles to Thai. Besides the crashed cab his wife left him to marry his divorce lawyer. He gets a message delivered by pneumatic tube that tells him he’s fired. He is one of the million cab drivers Zorg summarily fired. Korben’s mother (Jill Mullan) calls. She is a drama queen.
General Munro (Brion James) comes to Korben’s apartment. He has a captain (Hon Ping Tang) and Major Iceborg (Julie T. Wallace) with him. Korben is a retired major who is the only surviving member of a commando unit. General Munro wants him to retrieve four stones from a famous opera singer, Diva (Maïwenn), who will perform on a planet called Floston Paradise. The government rigged a contest so Korben and a guest get a free vacation to Floston Paradise. General Munro’s plan is for Major Iceborg to go with Korben on the mission. Major Iceborg’s look matches her name. Leeloo and Cornelius show up at Korben’s door. What ensues shows the space efficiency of Korben’s apartment. In the process Korben almost freezes the three officers, almost suffocates Cornelius, and drenches Leeloo.
After some machinations Korben, Leeloo, and Cornelius get on the space ship to Floston Paradise. There is a garbage strike at the spaceport and the ground crew smokes pot[ii] as they rid the transport ship’s undercarriage of large parasites.
A flamboyant media personality, Ruby Rhod (Chris Tucker), is also on the transport. Ruby Rhod boosts the wackiness of the 23rd century to a whole new level. Women love him but it's difficult for a 20th or 21st century person to understand why. Besides his outlandish appearance he is a motormouth with a prima donna personality.
The transport takes the passengers to a flying cruise ship. The cruise ship flies above Floston. The bridge has a working steering wheel. When the guests enter the cruise ship a South Pacific style band and greeters welcome them. The hosts wear South Pacific style clothes. The ship has an opera house that resembles an old-fashioned opera house.[iii] Diva Plavalaguna is a blue alien. On stage she sings the aira “Il dolce suono”. Soprano Ivua Mula sang the sang the notes one by one and the notes were digitized and played as a continuous performance.[iv] It was not believed humans could sing this aria at the speed it was played in the movie. Since the movie’s release some singers have matched the movie’s rendition.
As the Diva performed Leeloo uses the martial arts she learned from reading about Bruce Lee to fight off a gang of Mangalors. The martial arts fight evolves into a gunfight between the Mangalors and Korben, with a screaming Ruby Rhod in tow. There is lots of gunfire and explosions.
After the gunfight and a huge explosion there is a riddle to solve and a planet to save. There is a James Bond Movie type ending. Korben’s mother makes another phone call. The President (Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister) elects to take the call and immediately regrets his decision.
[i] With transportation network companies and self-driving cars taxi drivers may not last the 21st century. Then again New York City often makes laws that keeps it behind the times.
[ii] The movie doesn’t say the substance is marijuana but there is a strong indication the substance is mind bending.
[iii] The opera house scenes were filmed in the Royal Opera House. The auditorium dates from 1858. Much of the rest of the Royal Opera House was reconstructed in the 1990s. Royal Opera House, Top films featuring opera 20-16, https://web.archive.org/web/20141116111132/http://www.roh.org.uk/news/top-films-featuring-opera-20-16, last accessed 2/17/19.
[iv] International Movie Database, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt,0119116/trivia, last accessed 2/10/19.
Cliches Used - Spoiler Alert
Make a hole by gunfire
Get out of retirement
The Whole Ten Yards
Dying on stage
Good-Bye Mr. Chips
Surprise, it's a woman
Romeo Must Die
Theatre of Blood
Conan the Destroyer
© 2019 Robert Sacchi
Robert Sacchi (author) on September 12, 2019:
Thank you for reading and commenting. I would say after 2 tries if you don't feel something favorable in the movie then the movie is not for you.
Dale Anderson from The High Seas on September 12, 2019:
My friends always give me the stink-eye when I tell them that I cannot bear to watch this movie. For some reason it just irritates me. I've given it several tries over the years but I have the same reaction to it every time.
Robert Sacchi (author) on April 12, 2019:
Thank you for reading and commenting. Yes, I think having a full view of why people behaved as they did in the past is the mark of a good historian.
C E Clark from North Texas on April 12, 2019:
I think a lot of people forget that past generations didn't have the technology or knowledge we enjoy today. They also forget that people from the past may have had different values and goals and concerns. People in the future will probably misjudge our generation the same way.
Robert Sacchi (author) on April 08, 2019:
Thank you for reading and commenting. It is one of those movies that grows on you.
Dianna Mendez on April 08, 2019:
The scene where Korben (Willis) orders lunch from Thai always makes me want noodles. I have watched this film at least twenty times. It is a classic in my book. Great review.
Robert Sacchi (author) on March 29, 2019:
Thank you for reading and commenting. I tend to go the other way. I look at the harsh criticism people make of those in past centuries and think how similar thought patterns may judge us in the next centuries.
I remember at Yorktown one of the staff was explaining some of the misconceptions about how armies fought in the 18th century. He said "give your ancestors some credit." Instead of being stupid the 18th century armies fought based on the technology they had.
C E Clark from North Texas on March 29, 2019:
Growing up, I watched movies pretty much every night during summer vacations and on weekends all year. Since graduation many decades ago, I have only seen perhaps a triple handful of movies either on TV or at the theater. I don't hate movies, I just don't get to them very often. Maybe if I could read your movie critics on more movies I would make more of an effort to see more movies! This one sounds interesting and if I can remember the title, I may see if I can borrow it at the library.
Your question in your introduction about wondering how people in the early 19th century would view our current time made me think about how our Founding Fathers might view our current government. Also, how people generally, who died some 50 or more years ago, might view our current society and all that involves. Would be interesting to see how all this ends up 200 years from now.
Robert Sacchi (author) on March 11, 2019:
Thanks for reading and commenting. It seems most science fiction/fantasy films are not for everyone.
Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on March 11, 2019:
I've tried to watch this movie a couple of times, but just couldn't get into it. I think for me, it was that little bit too strange.
Robert Sacchi (author) on February 20, 2019:
Yes, I would say in this case Sylvester Stallone got the last laugh.
Liz Westwood from UK on February 19, 2019:
There used to be programmes that highlighted the mistakes made in films. Sometimes in old period films, inadvertently a more modern prop would be accidentally left in shot. That was a clever intentional dig at Rocky.
Robert Sacchi (author) on February 19, 2019:
Thank you for reading and commenting. I'm glad you found the review interesting. Films set in the future have some interesting misses and hits. My favorite hit was in the movie Airplane 2. Set in the 21st century it shows a poster for a Rocky film. The poster depicts a geriatric Rocky. A cute sight gag at the time but here we are in the 21st century and Sylvester Stallone is still making Rocky movies.
Liz Westwood from UK on February 19, 2019:
This is an interesting review, looking back at a film, now that we have moved on 22 years. Modern technological developments give this review an interesting perspective.
Robert Sacchi (author) on February 18, 2019:
Thank you all for reading and commenting.
Heidi Thorne - Yes, the stylization made the movie what it is. Someone commenting on the show pointed out unlike most futuristic movies The Fifth Element makes the future fun.
FlourishAnyway - Yes, often times there are time gaps in seeing movies. The Fifth Element is one of those movies that tends to grow on people.
Peggy Woods - Yes, many of the scenes from this movie are classics. The opera singer is something else.
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on February 18, 2019:
One of my favorite sci-fi flicks! Very stylized which, I think, makes it what it is. The costumes by Jean Paul Gaultier are just wild and wonderful. Thanks for resurrecting this classic!
FlourishAnyway from USA on February 18, 2019:
I haven’t seen this movie but liked your review for its description of plot and characters. I was in grad school at the time so I was pretty checked out; no time for movies then.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 18, 2019:
Thanks for your movie review of The Fifth Element. I thought that I had seen it but must have only watched snippets of it when it was being publicized.