The Fifth Element (1997) from Tuna and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Tuna's comments in white:

The Fifth Element (1997) is another in the Columbia Tristar Superbit collection, and again is a stunning transfer. It is beginning to look like I will need to own 2 copies of several films, superbit to watch, and other versions for special features. In fact, I had seen this film before, but didn't even try to cap the brief exposure from Milla Jovovich (breasts, and buns in a skimpy costume. The higher quality of this release made the project worth the effort.

A quick recap of the plot. Bruce Willis is a former special forces soldier who is now driving a cab, and Milla is "the perfect woman, and the fifth element" on Earth to save the world from ultimate evil. The setting is the distant future. The story is like something out of Indiana Jones. IMDB lists the genre as Action/Sci-Fi/Comedy/Drama/Romance/Fantasy/(more), I say comedy in a Sci-Fi setting.

I found it very imaginative, and thought the performances, while intentionally a little over the top, were very good, especially that of Jovovich, who was able to speak a convincing alien tongue without hesitation at an amazing clip.  


see Tuna's comments (in white)
 Scoop's comments in yellow:

I like The Fifth Element, but the film sort of ran afoul of those who like their earth-threatening situations to be dark and somber. Luc Besson's future world is light-hearted, some of the aliens look like lumbering muppets, Bruce Willis and Chris Tucker are their usual wisecrackin' selves, and the world can only be saved by a really hot babe (Milla Jovovich, then the director's wife). There is not much gravitas here. The tone of the film is more like Raiders or Star Wars than Blade Runner. There isn't any hint of "film noir" in sight, despite the world's imminent end.

I have often excoriated European filmmakers for wanting to make art before they learned how to light a scene. Luc Besson is exempt from this criticism. He is not arty, he has a great sense of humor, and this film is lit and photographed with an absolute technical virtuosity. It's also filled with a campy, ironic, sorta shallow view of the future. In other words, if you didn't know better, you'd think Besson was an American director.

Besson wrote the first draft of this film when he was a young teen, but waited decades to film it. In between, he established his competence with such films as La Femme Nikita and Leon (The Professional), earning enough credibility that a Hollywood studio was willing to invest $90 million on this film.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 2.35:1

  • full screen version also available

Superbit DVD info from Amazon.


They got their money back. Besson isn't one of those Frenchmen who wants to make arty, money-losing films. He knows how to please the audience. He's Spielberg smoking Galoises. The American market didn't respond as well as hoped ($63 million gross), but it was a monster hit across the world, and paid out.

American critics were divided on the film. The average palookas like me and Tuna liked it. Some of the more cerebral critics were not so impressed.

As for me - I say great images, great fun, great imagination, Milla nearly naked. More than enough for this guy.

Besson's only film since this was that completely awful Joan of Arc film, which cost more than $50 million, received razzberries from the critics, and amassed a box office only about 20% as much as The Fifth Element. (Only $14 million in the USA, despite a 2000 screen rollout). This, in conjunction with his split from Milla,  seems to have distracted Besson temporarily. He has directed no films in the past two years, and seems to have no current directing project in the pipeline. 

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: two and a half stars. Ebert 3/4, Maltin 3/4, Berardinelli 2/4

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. Although 73% of the reviews were positive, only 33% of the top group gave it a positive review. I have never before seen a gap that large, but the elite group if only one for three, so it is statistically insignificant.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 7.0 
  • With their dollars ... it wasn't a smash hit in the USA, but was a megahit overseas. $63 million USA gross, but $185 million elsewhere. It took in about the same amount of box in France as in the USA, despite France having 1/5 the population. The budget was $90 million.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, both reviewers call it a B-.

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