Monday, May 22, 2017

Le cinquième élément/The Fifth Element (1997)

The Fifth Element starts in Egypt in 1914.  A professor is on the verge of decoding some ancient text when a priest pays him a visit.  It seems that the professor is on the verge of unlocking one of the universe’s great secrets.  Before the priest can do anything about it, an alien ship lands.  The aliens are the Mondoshawans and they’re there to collect four stones and a sarcophagus.  The items are not safe on Earth any more.  When the time comes, the Mondoshawans will return the items to the pyramid.  The priest is to pass down his knowledge to the next priest as it was passed down to him so that Earth will be ready.

It’s never easy being tasked with saving all life in the universe.  It’s strange, then, that it should fall on Korben Dallas.  He’s just a simple taxi driver in South Brooklyn in 2263.  Yes, several hundred years have passed and it’s about time for the Mondoshawans to return with the stones and the sarcophagus.  The only hitch is that their ship is destroyed, but not all is lost.  Scientists are able to clone one of the occupants, a beautiful woman who promptly escapes and lands in Korben’s taxi.

Amazingly, the woman has some sort of genetic memory that allows her to know an ancient language that Korben can’t understand.  At least he recognizes a name and that name happens to belong to a priest similar to the one in 1914.  Korben brings the woman, who eventually identifies herself as Leeloo, to him.  The priest understands enough of the language to learn from Leeloo that the stones are safe and that they’re to meet a courier to get the stones and save Earth.

What does the Earth need saving from?  A large mass is forming in interstellar space.  It’s not moving, but it is getting larger.  The military can’t seem to do anything about it.  The current priest, Vito Cornelius, tells President Lindberg that the sphere is pure evil.  Trying to fight it in any conventional sense will only make it stronger.  Our only hope is to bring the four stones together with the Fifth Element.  If she stands in the center of the other elements, all life will be reaffirmed.

If True Evil, who goes by Mr. Shadow, stands at the center, all life will be destroyed.  Fortunately, Good has several people in their corner.  All Mr. Shadow has is Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg, who happens to employ Korben.  (Well, at least for the first part of the movie.)  Zorg has hired Mangalores, an alien race that seems to all be mercenaries.  They seem to be good at blowing things up, but not retrieving them.  (They get the case that’s supposed to contain the stones, but don’t bother to check the contents.  This is the same mistake that Zorg, himself, makes later in the movie.)

The only thing I found cliché about the movie is that evil is never allowed to hire good help.  Good is always on the ball.  Korben is former military and was apparently the best at what he did.  Leeloo is perfect to the point of being divine, or at least that’s what everyone keeps saying.  When they clone her from the smallest lump of cells, she’s reformed with what I would assume is her former knowledge. That’s pretty impressive, to say the least.

We even have Ruby Rhod, a talk-show host that finds himself along for the ride.  He provides a way for the president and the military to listen in on part of the mission.  Ruby seems to have luck on his side, both in attracting the affection of ladies and avoiding the destructiveness of the Mangalores.  When I first saw The Fifth Element, I thought he was more annoying than useful, but Ruby Rhod does seem to grow on you.  He does provide a comedic element that’s not so annoying now that I’ve seen the movie several times.  (It’s still understandable why Korben would prefer to minimize his contact with Ruby.)

Considering the nature of what’s at stake, it’s amazing that the movie comes across as not being overly serious.  Granted, the characters all have a sense of what’s at stake.  Cornelius has made it his life’s work to ensure everything goes right.  Leeloo exists to save all life.  I mean, no pressure.  Right?  Fortunately, Korben seems to be the one guy best suited to handle that kind of situation.

The movie does hold up for me.  I’m just as entertained by it today as I was when I saw it years ago.  I’d definitely recommend watching it.

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