The alien integrated society where Korbin Dallas lives and loves is a total privacy-invaded State. His government forces him to undertake service or be marginalized. This is the identical arrangement placed upon Rick Deckard in “Blade Runner,” and also Sam Lowry in “Brazil.” Since their governments can’t inspire the protagonist to serve their interests, they leave them no other alternative.
The great prophetic science fiction writers of our times infiltrate our minds, with the help of movie machines, for our collective enlightenment. They are warning us about other kinds of machines that are invented to infiltrate our minds for the purpose of our collective enslavement.
It is sometimes best to dispel the oppressive overtones of serious subjects with a little humor before performing an autopsy on them with the tools of storytelling. Levity is the great gift of directors Charlie Chaplin and Terry Gilliam, and never more so than in their movies about man and the machine. With all the other titles in this series having been dramas, commenting on “Brazil” and “Modern Times” and “The Fifth Element” (1997) have brought welcome relief, sort of.
Luc Besson’s eleventh movie is an futuristic western adventure comedy with plenty of serious matters addressed. Korbin’s celestial hook-up begins in a cultural melting pot, divisively classed and pressed against the glass of heavy surveillance, suspended between aggressive, armed police and roving, ruthless gangs.
The lone wolf of tonight’s final frontier mystic chuckler is played by box office Buddha Bruce Willis. He falls for a sexy Supreme Being, Leeloo, a Manga-inspired orange crush Venus. Leeloo makes her entrance into the heart of space commando Korbin Dallas as a teenaged test tube Messiah in a state of the art genetic tech womb. From that cutting edge birth canal, twenty year old Mila Jovavich was rocketed into the universe of international movie stardom as well and “The Fifth Element” became the most financially successful French film of all time.
In contrast to the rest of the films in the series, one of the splendid enjoyments of watching “The Fifth Element” is how cute everything looks. Unlike the gloom that permeates the majority of the films in this series, the elemental character of Besson’s “Fifth” is imbued with candy gloss, glitter and pop.
Stewardesses on the ship to Flostun Paradise, wear cuddly shifts, topped in 1960’s inspired wigs and pillbox lids. Each one of them is a bonafide babe. They act in such a mechanically pre-programmed manner sometimes, you wonder if they’re dolls.
The virtual and the real swap places multiple ways in “The Fifth Element.” Good guys are hard to tell from crooks. Korbin encounters shape-shifting desperadoes and ubiquitous police posses, prowling for outlaws. Everywhere there’s cops and hoods fighting for turf.
I have intentionally put off, until now, discussing “The Fifth Element” because of its sheer silliness. But its overstatements are appropriate for the futuristic, slapstick, twitching hybrid that it turns out to be.
At the mid-point and onward, the role of Ruby Rod flips the proceedings into hilarious camped-out excess, courtesy of the hysterical Chris Tucker. Playing the part of a high-strung, omnisexual MC, he flaunts a voracious but vapid vivacity on the media mainstream, diddling the chicks like a rooster, oozing with greed for the phony next thrill, treating his fawning public like they make him ill. With a hollow hairstyle that resembles a loofah, Tucker goes about seducing every boy and girl on the ship, cavorting in a fabulous wardrobe by Jean Paul Gautier. My laughter generally goes uncontrollable at this point. Ruby’s hollowness is only surpassed by his shallowness.
For this segment, one might regard “The Fifth Element” as trivial compared to others in this series. I consider it serious science fiction, like “Modern Times”, just the same and just as prophetic. Even though its tone is calculated for laughs the subject and it’s treatment comments sincerely on some existential dead ends we find ourselves in today in the name of progress.
Time and again, the warning from the prophets seems to be about how technology can be used either for destruction or service. It all depends on the motive of the operator. In placing this assumption at the core of the story, “The Fifth Element” is updating a message from Fritz Lange’s “Metropolis” (1927). “The mediator between the head and the hands is the heart.” Fritz Lange later regretted his decision to flash this slogan both at the beginning and end of his story. He renounced the movie later as fairy tale oddly enough. It surprised me to find this out because I never thought of “Metropolis” as anything but a fairy tale. Ironic that, while Fritz Lange was evidently uncomfortable with it, what he achieved with that one fairy tale became a hallmark for every successive generation of prophetic film makers to follow.
His warnings are taken up again brilliantly in “District 9” (2009) which will surface this summer to round out this series on man and the machine, but we won’t conclude, either, without projecting “Metropolis” back up on screen once again.
With the marriage of motion pictures and telecomunications, we’ve stumbled upon a globally unifying storytelling device. This is an opportunity we cannot afford to pass up. I call upon the filmmaker’s of the world to tell stories that make us want to be our best and to wish the best to our fellow human beings.
Enlightened storytellers from all walks of life and every culture with motion pictures have been delving into the deepest and most complex subjects imaginable for over a century. It appears that storytelling and cinema stand to contribute more, by far, toward the survival of the human race, than anyone would have guessed when it was invented.