There will never be another summer like the one in which the 5th Element came out.
It was 1997. I had just graduated from high school, and was working at Cross County 8 in West Palm Beach. Cross County has since been torn down, but when it was still standing (briefly, it was the only thing in that mall still standing, as the rest of the mall had been torn down) it was known to be one of the most ghetto theaters in which to see a movie. Most of my friends wouldn’t come see me, even if I promised to get them in for free, mostly because the police were at that theater every weekend and some weeknights, too. My manager was doing (I suspect, no proof of course) mountains of coke as well as a concessionist, and I know the latter to be true because she shwoed me the fancy nighty he bought her. Maybe in another universe platonic friends give each other gifts intended to be worn over their naughty bits, but not in the universe in which Cross County 8 existed.
Used condoms on the floor, rats in the concession, most of the staff stoned, and a homeless Vietnam vet who would pay his 2.75 admission and watch movies all day. The cokefiend manager would give him a drink and a bag of popcorn and let him be, and at the end of every day he would hobble out on his crutches. One leg ended below the knee in a gnarled stump, and his pants sometimes slid down until you could see his junk, but otherwise he was a perfect gentleman.
The rest of the mall was mostly derelict; there was a gift shop of some kind, and an abandoned marionette theater, but otherwise all the storefronts were vacant. The whole thing looked like a level in Silent Hill, and it would not have shocked me to have run across an anthropomorphic vagina wandering around, stalking the hallways on chicken legs that end in giant steel claws.
It was such a shitty theater that we didn’t even get big new movies; we got a lot of second runs, some film festival stuff, and a lot of detritus, but otherwise the big expensive action pictures went to the theater down the road, that had a decent sound system. Which is where I took some friends to see The 5th Element on opening weekend.
If you haven’t seen the movie, imagine something along the lines of a bigass fashion show/music video in space, with monsters and laser beams and beautiful people running around doing things. There’s not a lot of coherence to it, storywise, which isn’t much of a drawback. I know almost NO ONE who watches the movie for the climactic scene at the end, when Leeloo must summon the will to care about the human race in order to save the universe; we watch it for the costumes, the effects, the music (especially the music) and for a batshit loony performance from Gary Oldman, and a brilliant comedic turn by Ian Holm.
Seriously. You just don’t think of him being that funny, but Iam Holm is wonderful as the priest Vito Cornelius, who recognizes Leeloo as the savior of humankind and fumbles his way into helping her.
Another underappreciated performance is Bruce Willis as the standard action foil; his working-class hero amusement at the ridiculous situations in which he finds himself carry the movie for me now, but at the time I remember thinking he just seemed like a smartass. Now I realize he was just having as much fun as a straight man in an orange rubber vest can while pretending to fly a bulbous space taxicab. The story is so overwritten there’s even a sub-subplot in which his mother calls and complains to him about what an ungrateful child he is. No idea why that was necessary, but it was fun.
I did find myself wondering though, in terms of cinematic spectrum, does Bruce Willis consider The 5th Element to be his Zardoz?
I certainly hope not.
Like many other excellent sci-fi films with an abundance of effects and a cast of actors eager to make their last payment on houses and cars, The Fifth Element does not begin with a giant stone head flying through the air spouting gibberish and vomiting assault rifles. Or brutal rapes.
I guess I’m just picky and weird about that.
The non-formulaic but familiar story has enough twists to keep things interesting, and honestly the plot is such a goofy mess in places it doesn’t really matter.
The late nineties saw a small explosion in movies with an overabundance of CG, pretty much because a lot of scripts were being greenlighted purely on their reliance on effects (Wild Wild West, I am definitely looking at you). Although the 5th Element does its share of leaning on effects and spectacle, Luc Besson had the sense to keep them mostly in the background and focus on practical effects and foreground activity. Filling out the cast with recognizable faces from the fashion world du jour helps as well, and their outfits and makeup would have inspired me to new heights with Barbie modifications had I seen the movie as a child.
But the shining moment of the movie, which will always be what I associate with it and the scene that I watch over and over again, is the Diva Plavalaguna’s performance.
Check it, y’all.
Makes me want to get up and DANCE.
When I am by myself and listening to it, I do my best to sing along, but, well, you can imagine how that sounds: a cat and a drum machine in a blender.
A friend in high school who was an opera singer declared it one of the greatest things she’d ever heard, and I wish I wish I WISH there was a whole album of this. I mean I have the 5th element soundtrack, but I need MOAR than just one song. Anyone have any suggestions, please post them below. I’ve got a lot of Die Form, but it’s just not the same–Inva Mulla Tchaka’s voice is so joyful, the notes and tones don’t just resonate, they soar. I love the joyfulness the song brings, especially when contrasted to the morose excerpt from Lucia Di Lammermoor that precedes it.
And it provides a suitable brain-rinse to the mildly disturbing image up above. I mean it’s not horrifying, Connery’s a good-looking dude; but to me that picture is the equivalent of seeing a good friend reduced to selling off all their possessions in order to make rent.
The 5th Element is available on Instant Watch, and there is no better way to spend an evening, I promise.