The Fifth Element: when insane scifi went mainstream (movie retrospective).

It’s arguable that The Fifth Element is both the most original and the most polarising science fiction film ever filmed. Watch as C.D. discusses the cult film directed by Luc Besson from 1997.

As CD explains, in the vast expanse of the sci-fi universe, few films have dared to venture as far out into the wacky wilderness as The Fifth Element. Directed by Luc Besson and released in 1997, this space-age romp blends together elements of action, comedy, romance, and pure, unadulterated weirdness in a way that’s hard to describe, let alone explain (but, let’s try anyway).

For starters, there’s the plot. Set in the 23rd century, the movie revolves around a cosmic threat that can only be thwarted by four elemental stones and a supreme being called the “fifth element.” Bruce Willis plays Korben Dallas, a former soldier turned taxi driver who gets swept up in the action when a beautiful, orange-haired woman named Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) crashes into his cab (literally). Leeloo, it turns out, is the fifth element, and she needs Korben’s help to save the world from an evil entity named Mr. Shadow, who’s bent on destroying all life.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Along the way, we meet a flamboyant, opera-singing alien (played with gusto by the late, great Ian Holm), a bumbling priest (played by the ever-hilarious John Hurt), and a smarmy businessman named Zorg (played by a scenery-chewing Gary Oldman, complete with bizarre accent and a hairdo that looks like it was styled with a weed-whacker). Oh, and did we mention there’s a race of cute, androgynous aliens who speak in high-pitched gibberish and are obsessed with McDonald’s?

Despite all this (or perhaps because of it), The Fifth Element somehow manages to be both entertaining and endearing. Willis and Jovovich have great chemistry, and their banter is full of one-liners and quips that would make even Han Solo proud. The action scenes are over-the-top, but thrilling, and the film’s special effects still hold up surprisingly well today. And while the movie may not make a lot of sense on a logical level (what is a “Mangalore,” anyway?), it more than makes up for it with sheer, unbridled imagination.

This is a film that defies categorization, logic, and perhaps even good taste. But it’s also a movie that’s impossible to forget, and that’s why, more than 20 years after its release, it still has a devoted fan base. As Korben himself might say: “Anybody else want to negotiate?”


Colonel Frog is a long time science fiction and fantasy fan. He loves reading novels in the field, and he also enjoys watching movies (as well as reading lots of other genre books).

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