PARIS, 25 July 1997 - If the French
film director Luc Besson has done much to turn his back on his own
cultural roots and to prostrate himself in front of his new American
masters, his latest offering shows that he has at least been able to
transport one Gallic concept across the Atlantic: that of "déjà
A science fiction film? Evil aliens attacking the
inter-galactic Federation of good-guys? The search for the mystical
objects that can save the universe from total destruction? Hardly the
most original of themes. Rather - at a time when NASA's Pathfinder has
just touched down on Mars - a demonstration that fact can be far more
interesting than fiction.
A city of the future with levitating vehicles and sinister
policemen, à la Bladerunner? A hint of Middle Eastern
mysticism, à la Indiana Jones? Endless mindless
battles, à la Terminator? A rapid inter-cutting of
scenes - between a copulating couple, an explosion, and a plane
taking-off - à la Delicatessen? Hardly the most fresh
of cinematic inspiration, even if the final example is at least
borrowed from a French film.
A politically-correct cast? One
in which all the top-ranking goodies are humans and those who help
them assume a palatable human form? And the scenes on Earth take place
mainly in assorted parts of New York? Hardly the most adventurous,
untested territory for a sci-fi film, albeit one targetted at a
certain middle-American market.
It is true that Besson has provided some useful introductions in the
film for his French friends. The director-actor-writer Mathieu
Kassowitz has a walk-on part. Jean-Paul Gaultier dresses up all the
characters as far as outrageously possible. Even the rai singer Khaled
gets a place on the sound-track.
They at least benefit from a form of plugging of their wares, which
is a little more useful and subtle than the unashamed use of
commercial product placement from which McDonald's has benefited, with
lengthy and no doubt highly profitable screen time.
hardly be destroying The Fifth Element to reveal what happens.
After all, not much does, and even that in a rather predictable way.
It is the action that counts. And yet that has also been rather better
All our hopes are pinned on one man (Bruce Willis) who has a harder
time saying "I love you" than he does killing dozens of ugly
monsters, but who manages to ultimately do both, emerging with
scarcely a scratch on his cheek to earn at the climax of the film a
naked night with a super-human red-head in a "regeneration
His enemies include the ubiquitous Gary Oldman, whose principal (and
unattained) artistic challenge in the film seems to be the battle
between glottal stops and drawled vowels as he tries to reconcile his
uncertain grasp of cockney and deep American south accents. And who
wields a weapon of such absurd ugliness and cumbersomeness that it
easily out-guns the vile aliens against whom it is used.
are some bursts of freshness, not least the high-camp inter-galactic
television show hosted by Ruby Rhod (ho, ho) played by Chris Tucker,
or the bizarre flying boot in which friendly aliens who promise to
save Life from Evil bounce around the universe.
generally, if our descendants and those on other, yet uncharted,
planets look back on this work in the 23rd century, they are likely to
be struck above all by a rather staid, Americo- and comtemporo-centric
view of the future, in a film in danger of disappearing up its own
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