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The Fifth Element (1997), Milla Jovavich’s beloved sci-fi character Leeloo saves the Universe from darkness.

November 6, 2016

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MY CALL:  Easily one of my favorite movies…EVER!  It’s a zany, exhilarating, sci-fi adventure movie about hope, love and overcoming evil to save the Universe.  Featuring a slew of highly memorable and quotable characters, this is one of my Desert Island movies; I can happily watch it any time.  MORE MOVIES LIKE The Fifth ElementFor something newer try Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005), for something older maybe Total Recall (1990).

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Director Luc Besson (Leon: The Professional, La Femme Nikita) is an artist, and bonkers characters fill his pallet.  From the zany opening scenes we find a strangely divine character dynamic in Egypt, an evil planet attack loaded with sci-fi zest, and our graphic novel-esque antihero starts his day to one of the most cosmically cool soundtracks to emerge from the 90s.

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Corbin (Bruce Willis; A Good Day to Die Hard) is a has-been decorated military officer who now struggles to keep his cat fed and license to drive his hover-cab valid.  He awakens like a washed up John McClane after a rough night, expresses that he wishes he had a woman in his life, and dodges calls from his pestilent boss and mother.
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Despite the massive amount of looney transpiring on screen, we meet numerous memorable and substantial characters and all of them will make you smile.  Tiny “Zeus” Lister (Friday, No Holds Barred) is an intergalactic President.  Father Vito Cornelius (Ian Holm; Lord of the Rings, Alien) informs him that they have only 48 hours to stop a cosmic force of ancient evil which will wipe out all life in the Universe and only one thing can stop it: a mystical supreme being.

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After an attack, remnants of an engineered lifeform are recovered and reconstituted into a genetically “perfect” orange-haired woman. Clothed in the thermal bandages so beloved by Comic Con cosplayers around the world, Leeloo (Milla Jovavich; Resident Evil 1-7, Faces in the Crowd) escapes into a world that she clearly doesn’t understand and falls into Corbin’s cab babbling a dead language and being all sorts of indescribably adorable.

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When she asks Corbin for help, hardly understanding her own tear-soaked words, no one with a heart could say no. Although Corbin almost does. But in helping her, he earns her trust and becomes her antihero protector and the co-savior of the Universe.

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Peppering more crazy into the cast, Gary Oldman (Leon: The Professional, The Dark Knight) serves up his villainy deliciously as Zorg.  Despite being a super-rich evil mastermind, he makes a lot of poor decisions.  Rounding out all manner of plays and players, Chris Tucker (Rush Hour 1-3, Friday) is brilliantly idiosyncratic as the manic sex-addict Radio Host Ruby Rod, and Maïwenn (High Tension, Leon: The Professional) plays the mystical operatic Diva.

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The favorite scene of mine would have to be the Diva’s concert.  The Diva’s song is unlike anything you’ve heard, and its high notes score and punctuate the action of Leeloo’s awesome fight sequence on the Floston Paradise cruise ship.  There is nothing technically wowing about the fight choreography, which is clearly meant to be more amusingly dynamic than a demonstration of martial prowess, but with the music and Besson’s humorous approach I could watch it all day.  This scene steamrolls into a bigger, longer, more explosive action sequence full of Corbin’s cynicism, Ruby’s hysteria, and Leeloo’s endangerment.

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Now almost 20 years old, The Fifth Element’s special effects will not wow you. And whereas I feel they hold up more than well enough on their own, when combined with the score the scenes remain highly entertaining.  The music alone will ignite your attention.  This is especially evident during the taxi-police chase scene, during which I completely forgive the dated CGI as I watch Leeloo pinballing around the back seat to Cheb Khaled’s “Alech Taadi.”

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Most entertaining for me is how Leeloo (the supreme being) speeds through the internet learning 5000 years of history, culture and language, along with mastering Kung Fu in order to save all humanity much as Neo (“the one”) did in The Matrix (1999)…two years later, and now apparently less original.  Of course, The Fifth Element isn’t 100% original either—in fact, Ug in Critters (1986) did the same thing. You’ll find parallels and homages to loads of other sci-fi.  Many ships look like Empire Star Destroyers, there’s the Dark Side of the Force and Mr. Shadow coming to bring darkness to the Universe, and the Diva appears to be a cross between the Xenomorph and Jabba’s Twi’lek slave girl dancer Oola.  Oh, and Bruce Willis is basically playing Die Hard in Space—but in the best way possible!

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For all its awesome fun, it’s Leeloo that breathes life into this film.  Leeloo is among the most beloved characters in the Sci-Fi genre—making the ranks of Yoda, Luke and Han.  When Leeloo smiles it’s sincere emotion, naïve to the workings of the world around her, and she will infect your heart.  There is such purity to her goodness.  And when she says “multipass” it will brighten your day.

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I recommend this movie to everyone.  EVERYONE.  I was 16 when I saw it in theaters so I know this movie carries a lot of nostalgia for me.  But watching this just makes me feel good, satisfied, happy, hopeful, warm-fuzzy, awesome…all that.  I expect it to affect you the same.  Enjoy!

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