Home CultureMovies You’ve Gotta See The Fifth Element – Essential Cyberpunk Cinema

You’ve Gotta See The Fifth Element – Essential Cyberpunk Cinema

by Cory De La Guardia

Now considered a cult classic in the sci-fi genre, The Fifth Element is one of those fun to watch movies that every nerd worth their pocket protector knows.

Director Luc Besson reportedly started working on the first draft of The Fifth Element when he was sixteen years old. He developed and polished it over the years. In 1992, he began pre-production on the 400 page script. Production was looking to be so expensive that Besson first abandoned the project to film Leon: The Professional with Columbia Pictures. Besson’s relationship with Columbia, plus shaving $10 million from the proposed $100 million budget, is what inevitably paved the way for production to resume in late 1995.

The film is an exciting adventure following Korben Dallas, played by Bruce Willis exactly how he plays every other character. Dallas is a former special forces soldier who has moved on to lazily driving a taxicab in the 23rd century version of New York City.

An ancient evil has awakened and making its way towards Earth, destroying everything in its path.  Meanwhile, agents of evil search for the only thing that can stop it, magical stones and the mysterious fifth element.  Leeloo, portrayed by Milla Jovovich, is a mysterious traveler from the race of aliens who were meant to protect the mystical stones and the fifth element. She is now planted on Earth, struggling to understand her new surroundings. Once she crosses paths with Dallas, they go on an epic adventure as all great action movies do. In the end, they save the day. Shocker, I know. 

You've Gotta See The Fifth Element - Essential Cyberpunk Cinema

The Fifth Element has Fantastic World Building

There is so much to take in, The Fifth Element warrants multiple viewings just to pick up on all the great touches. Once you get past the opening scene set in 1914 Egypt, you’re launched into the fantastic future of 2263. Sure, it has similar characteristics to other films set in the future. Skyscrapers are too tall, cars fly and corporate advertisements are absurdly displayed, but this movie does it with its own sexy, sleek style. 

You absorb the future without drowning in it. It strays away from the typical noir-inspired cyberpunk look and puts it front and center in bright light. This way, you can see everything.

Gary Oldman Shows Off Futuristic Fire Power

If any scene in this movie was inspired by the cultural filmmaking tools of the 90s, it’s this scene. There is so much gun talk, all it needs is more absurd references to fall into tarantinoness. Zorg (Gary Oldman) is selling the evil aliens an exciting and daring new prototype weapon, the ZF-1. 

At first looking like a giant caterpillar cocoon from Operation: Desert Storm, the machine morphs into a beautiful butterfly of destruction. Basically, it’s every gun in one. The scene plays with Zorg performing a personal commercial for the device, with such fantastic features as a replay option (all bullets go in the same direction regardless of aim), rocket launchers and flamethrower.  

In true action flick fun, the scene doesn’t end the way either party intends, but the ending is entertaining.

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Sir Ian Holm. Bruce Willis and Mila Jovovich round out the cast of The Fifth Element
Sir Ian Holm. Bruce Willis and Mila Jovovich round out the cast of The Fifth Element

The Fifth Element has a Killer Cast of Characters

There are dozens of interesting characters in The Fifth Element. It’s a great ensemble that gels without anyone character overshadowing the other.  With a blazing breakout role from Chris Tucker as Ruby Rhod where he just eats up the screen. But it also has a slightly disappointing role from Oldman, one of his very few less than amazing performances. Of course, Sir Ian Holm plays subtlety better than most, whether he is subtly secretive or subtly comical.  This film manages to feature a lot of characters in great world building moments without a lot of exposition.

One interesting thing about the way the film is structured is that neither Korben Dallas or Leeloo and Oldman’s Zorg ever actually share the screen at all the whole movie.  Somehow essentially telling two separate stories that are intrinsically intertwined, an impressive feat in a film from the 90s.

The Fifth Element is Just a Blast to Watch

In The Fifth Element, Besson understands the importance of levity while still telling an interesting story of good versus evil. It’s cyberpunk Star Wars. The movie doesn’t get bogged down in preaching anything but a good time and that the good guy always does the right thing. Dallas isn’t Deckard but Han Solo. Zorg isn’t conflicted, just evil. Even though it may show some things not suitable for small children, small children would be able to get it. Also, it’s funny. Just plain funny.

While the film was a box office success raking in $263 million dollars against a $90 million dollar budget, there were critics around the world who had plenty of negative things to say about it.  Tucker’s character was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst New Star and Milla Jovovich was also nominated for Worst Supporting Actress. Tucker also made one critic’s 2011 list of “Characters Who Ruin A Movie”, coming in at number 20.  It wasn’t all bad news though as neither actor won their Raspberry Award and Director Luc Besson was nominated and won Best Director at both the Cesar and Lumieries Awards. Milla was nominated for Best Actress by both the Blockbuster and Saturn awards.  

Overall, The Fifth Element is a fun watch worth the slightly over two hour run time. Just sit back and enjoy a cult classic that is truly breathtaking in its unique design and approach to telling a story that in many ways isn’t all that original.

We know cyberpunk movies, so let us tell you what you’re missing. What’s timeless? What didn’t age so well? Share this article, and we’ll make the case for The Fifth Element

Did we miss something here? Was there an unforgettable scene or classic one-liner that just shouldn’t be left out? What are your favorite parts of this movie? Leave us a comment below, and we’ll try to update the article with your suggestions!

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