The Fifth Element is a 1997 English-language French Science FictionFilm. The brainchild of director Luc Besson, it stars Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman, Milla Jovovich, Chris Tucker and Ian Holm.The movie opens in 1914, in an Egyptian temple, where an archaeologist, assisted by a reporter, discovers hieroglyphs that report about a Great Evil that is unleashed and tries to destroy all life every five millennia and the weapons to defeat it: four stones representing water, fire, air and earth and a "perfect being" representing a fifth element sealed in a sarcophagus. A priest on site seems incredibly disturbed that the discovery is being made, going so far as to (unsuccessfully) poison the archaeologist to prevent the discovery. Just as the discovery is made, the Sufficiently Advanced Aliens who made the temple in the first place (and whom the priest, and all those who have come before him, have secretly served) arrive in a giant spaceship and take away the stones and the sarcophagus, explaining that they are unsafe with the imminent war on Earth. The aliens also order the priest to continue to take care of the temple and to pass on his knowledge, as it was passed on to him, to prepare for the Great Evil's incoming. The priest points out that they're leaving Earth defenseless, and the aliens reply that when the Great Evil returns, so shall they. Cut to...2263, where the Great Evil is starting to form itself. On their way to deliver the five elements back, the aliens are shot down by a ship of another race of proud warrior aliens, who steal the box which would contain the stones. The remains of the "fifth element" are found and Earth scientists reconstruct it, generating an orange-hairedMysterious Waif named Leeloominaï Lekatariba Lamina-Tchaï Ekbat De Sebat, or "Leeloo" for short, who breaks out of the lab and dives into a taxi driven by ex-soldier Korben Dallas. With the Great Evil getting closer, Korben has to help Leeloo save the planet.As shown by the outline above, part of the fun comes from taking basically every sci-fi and action cliché possible, and not using them all seriously. The stylized visuals resembling sci-fi comics also help. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction website calls the film out on its loony plot, but concedes that that doesn't necessarily make it a bad film.
This film provides examples of:
2-D Space: The border of the Federated Territories is a massive line of buoys (presumably scanners) which detect incoming ships and turn green to indicate that they may pass. There's not even multiple lines.
Badass Adorable: Leeloo is cute, innocent, has no social skills or nudity taboo and is perfectly capable of breaking every bone in your body without breaking a sweat. Which she will do if you cross her.
Ballistic Discount: Subverted, where Zorg shows the Mangalores all the fancy special features of the consignment of assault rifles they've ordered, and they walk off with them without completing their side of the bargain. Turns out his insurance policy was to show them all the fancy special features except explaining What That Little Red Button Does — it's a high-explosive self-destruct.
Benevolent Boss: Aside from a few minor jerkass moments, General Munro seems like a pretty nice guy.
Big Applesauce: Of all the places to bring a Supreme Being, it's of course New York City.
It's apparently the future capital of The Federation (since the president and military command seem in-residence there).
Big Eater: Likely a byproduct of the regeneration process, but holy HELL Leeloo was hungry!
Birthmark of Destiny: Leeloo carries the symbols of the four elements as a marking her wrist most identify as a tattoo.
When the Mangalores fail to deliver the stones to Zorg, he tricks them into blowing themselves up with the ZF-1's self-destruct function. Guess what happens to Zorg on the ship later? (See Karmic Death below.).
During one of the phone calls with Korben's mother (specifically, to the President because her son saves the Earth), she can be briefly heard alluding to previous scenes:
Korben's mother: I might as well throw myself into trafficnote (Happens to Leeloo during her lab escape.) or Saran Wrap myself to the bednote (Happens to Cornelius in Korben's apartment.) and pretend my child is suffocating me...
While talking to Finger at the beginning of the film, Korben says that he drives a cab now, not a Space Fighter. Then when they're stealing Zorg's fighter:
Rhod: Korben, you know how to fly this?! Korben: Like driving a cab!
Camera Spoofing: A thief at the beginning of the film does this to Korben's apartment camera by wearing a hat with a picture of the background on it. Thus, by tilting his head at the camera, it looks like everything's clear. Then he pops up and tries to mug Korben. Korben tricks him into turning the gun safety on, takes his gun, then compliments the Nice Hat.
Ruby Rhod and his entourage play every camp stereotype to the hilt, even though they're not gay. Just because Ruby's fabulous doesn't mean he doesn't love the ladies. A lot. According to the DVD Commentary, Ruby (originally named "Loc") is a combination of Prince and Lenny Kravitz. Ruby even oddly uses the female pronoun when referring to himself on radio calling himself Miss Ruby Rhod.
Also applies to Baby Ray, the deaf "star of stage and screen", who is surrounded by a gaggle of admiring ladies when we first meet him. If anything, it seems like this is the fashion of the future and Korben is the aberration as a manly man. Or it's a class thing, as they're both wealthy celebrities, and Korben is very much working class.
Car Cushion: Leeloo jumps from a building and falls into Korben Dallas' taxi.
Catapult Nightmare: Our introduction to the hero has Bruce Willis starting awake in his cubicle apartment. Interestingly there's no indication that he had a nightmare, but it's a direct cut from the scene where General Staedert's vessel has been attacked and presumably destroyed by the Great Evil, implying that he's had some sort of premonition.
Chekhov's Gun: If you want an example of how to use this trope well, look no further. Almost everything important in this movie is introduced in a previous scene. A partial list includes Korben's matchbook, Leeloo reading about martial arts, and the Mangalores being able to shapechange.
Clone Jesus: Leeloo, though she isn't really cloned per se.
Closet Shuffle: A rather spectacular example involving multiple people and a truly improbable selection of hiding places (including a freezer and a self-making pull-out bed). None of the people Korben hid enjoyed their hiding places very much. Leelo got wet and cold when the shower began its self-clean, the military guys got frozen, and the priest nearly suffocated under the plastic that the bed wraps itself in.
Coitus Uninterruptus: At the end, Korben and Leeloo are making love in the regeneration chamber when the President comes in to congratulate Korben.
Dude, She's Like in a Coma: Dallas kisses an unconscious Leeloo. He realizes this is a bad idea when in the next moment she's woken up and is pointing his own gun at his head while angrily saying something in an alien language. Fittingly, what she says is translated by the priest as, "Never without my permission."
Dulcinea Effect: Korben is moved enough by the shaky pleading of the unintelligible redhead that just fell through the roof of his cab, to get into a high-speed chase with the police. He's at least Genre Savvy enough to realize that he's getting into far more trouble than he can really afford.
Element Number Five: We would have just called it The Fifth Element if this movie hadn't beaten us there.
Eureka Moment: After David's Chance Activation of the Air Stone, it takes the others a few minutes to work out that he did so by breathing on it; from there it's a short step to "use each Element to activate its respective Stone".
Excessive Steam Syndrome: The airlock of the Mondoshawans' ship hisses steam and drips condensation when it first opens up at the Egyptian temple.
Evil Laugh: Zorg gets one, then breaks down in tears.
Evil Only Has to Win Once: Mr. Shadow comes back and attacks again every five thousand years. If he wins once, it's all over.
Evil Overlord List: Zorg practically quotes Number 68 as he lets Cornelius go after Cornelius saves his life.
Evil Sounds Deep: "Mr. Shadow" appears only as a voice on the telephone, and it's about as deep as you can get and still be comprehensible.
Fanservice with a Smile: The female staff of every non-governmental organization shown onscreen. Note the McDonald's drive-thru girls....
Food Pills: Leeloo pours a small amount of food pellets into a bowl, puts the bowl in a microwave-like device, closes the door, presses a button, and opens the door again, pulling out an instant roast chicken with all the trimmings. Forget faster-than-light travel; that is clearly the pinnacle of human achievement.
For Science!: Professor Mactilburgh sure does love the prospect of regrowing the supreme being in his lab.
Munro: Sounds like a freak of nature to me. Mactilburgh: Yeah, can't wait to meet 'im!
Doubles as a Crowning Moment of Funny when they pass through ultraviolet decontamination during the above dialog, and the (extremely numerous) pock-marks on both characters' faces glow.
Freeze-Frame Bonus: When Korben receives his letter telling him he's fired, you'd see the company he'd been working for was Zorg's.
Zorg: Life, which you so nobly serve, comes from destruction, disorder and chaos. Now take this empty glass. Here it is: peaceful, serene, boring. But if it is destroyed... (pushes the glass off the table; it shatters on the floor, and several small machines come out to clean it up) ...Look at all these little things! So busy now! Notice how each one is useful. A lovely ballet ensues, so full of form and color. Now, think about all those people that created them. Technicians, engineers, hundreds of people, who will be able to feed their children tonight, so those children can grow up big and strong and have little teeny children of their own, and so on and so forth. Thus, adding to the great chain of life. You see, father, by causing a little destruction, I am in fact encouraging life. In reality, you and I are in the same business.
Gratuitous Foreign Language: The Funny Foreigner noodle chef's interjection of "Aiya!" when Corben tells him about the time his wife left him (for their lawyer, hence him getting hosed in the divorce) is an authentic Mandarin exclamation that translates roughly as "Oh heavens!"
Harmless Freezing: General Munro and two of his men were stuffed in the freezer by Korben Dallas to hide them from the cops. He freed them after a couple of minutes when they were already frozen still. But later on the General seems to be OK again. note In the novelization, it's not so harmless: the General is later described to have had a couple of fingers amputated as a result.
Heroic BSOD: Leeloo descends into despair as she sees humans' inhumanity to their fellow humans, almost losing it completely when Diva is killed, and then decides to read up on the "WAR" section of the encyclopedia. This becomes an important plot point almost immediately afterward, as she initially refuses to save the Earth if war and violence are all it has to offer.
Much of the futuristic New York and the character of Korben Dallas pay homage to the Harry Canyon story from Heavy Metal.
The French comic series Valerian by Jean-Claude Mézières and Pierre Christin features a near-identical flying taxi in the album Circles of Power, though with driver whose personality has little in common with Korben's. Much of the costume inspirations also comes from this comic. Mézières was one of the film's Production Designers. The other was Jean Giraud, a.k.a. Moebius).
Honor Before Reason: The Mangarlores may have their own skewed concept of what is and isn't honorable, but they otherwise abide by this trope in spades.
Informed Attractiveness: The only way you could believe that Chris Tucker dressing like RuPaul is one of the sexiest media personalities in the universe is to have one or more of the female extras explicitly tell you they find him sexy.
Though that's really the point; we're clearly meant to share the viewpoint of Korben, who only finds Rhod silly and annoying.
Instant Expert: Leeloo learns English in the space of about a day, by speed-reading the 23rd century equivalent of the Encyclopedia Britannica. In the novelization, she learns all the languages of humanity.
Justified by the fact that her DNA contains 200,000 memo strands, which probably explains her inordinately fast learning time for everything, not just languages.
Interscene Diegetic: The Diva's aria is heard continuously over shots of her singing and of a fight scene happening elsewhere at the same time.
Zorg, who is bombed when one of his own mercenaries sets one off, mere seconds after disabling the one he himself triggered earlier. Further emphasized by the fact that earlier in the movie Zorg mocked the Mangalore's moral code of dying for honor only to become a victim of one of their "honorable" deaths.
Laser-Guided Tykebomb: Leeloo acts very naïve and flighty at times, but when it's time for business, just pray you're on her side and not her enemy.
Little Green Man in a Can: The Mondoshawan are only seen in shells that have really big waddling rears with tiny dog-like heads that give them a very odd Humpty Dumpty appearance. The clunkiness is reminiscent of practical space suits and the shell preserves a sense of mystery about their true form-maybe they're giant eggs, maybe they are octopuses piloting a walking tank.
Mayfly-December Romance: Leeloo and Korben. Hard to tell for sure though, it's possibly subverted. They never say if Leeloo is immortal or was just kept in stasis.
Mechanistic Alien Culture: The Mondoshawan. Are they beings wearing powered suits of armor, or are they Mechanical Lifeforms? It's pretty ambiguous. Then again, some of the dialog during Leeloo's reconstruction scene implies that the Mondoshawan have DNA (it's also implied that Leeloo, the titular "Fifth Element" and Living MacGuffin, had a form similar to a Mondoshawan prior to being reconstructed in human form, since the piece of her that they used to reconstruct her appeared to be a Mondoshawan hand).
Mood Whiplash: All in the space of a single opera song, we go from aching melancholy, to a fightscene overlaid with much happier (and rockier) music... and then suddenly Leeloo is in mortal danger, the Diva gets shot and all Hell breaks loose.
Nothing Can Stop Us Now: Munro is assured that Leeloo's containment vessel is unbreakable. Thirty seconds later, she breaks through the glass with her bare hands., no less! Also counts as Special Effects Failure, as the obviously whole glass has quite clearly been replaced with a visible breakaway circle for Leeloo to punch, and the timing is slow enough that you'll probably notice it without having to pause.
Not with the Safety on, You Won't: Dallas helpfully tells someone trying to rob him that the gun isn't loaded, and even gives him time to push the button, turning the safety on.
Police State: The Federated Territories, or at the very least New York, are like this. "This is not an exercise. This is a police control." You have to live with that in your own home, to say nothing of the spaceport. The police are extremely well-armed and can put hundreds of holes in your vehicle just based on suspicion of you being a car thief.
Poor Communication Kills: Or almost does, anyway. When Leeloo escapes, the police seem to arbitrarily take over and no one informs them of who or what Leeloo is. They even lose sight of this halfway through and just start shooting at the car she's in because they've deemed the occupant a car thief. "We made this chick in a lab, she's kinda important, retrieve her alive and unharmed" would have been a simple enough order to give.
The government, Dallas and the Priesthood are all on exactly the same side with the same honorable goal of saving the world for the same reason - but spend half the movie working against each other for the sake of Rule of Drama and Rule of Funny.
One would assume that this weapon and evil etc would have been explained to the government of Earth once it reached an interstellar technological level and became aware of the existence of the Mondoshawan race (assumed because when asking for entry into our space are permitted in without a single "who/what?"), and not when it is imminent.
Popcultural Osmosis: Flying cars in canyons from Blade Runner, but possibly also from the Métal Hurlant comics of which Luc Besson is inordinately fond. To the point of hiring Métal Hurlant artists as designers, as noted above.
Post-Historical Trauma: Leeloo's breakdown towards the end, once reading about the dreaded W for War in the encyclopedia.
The Power of Love: What with the discussion between Leeloo and Korben near the end, people thought this was what the title referred to. Word of God from director Luc Besson has clarified in an interview that the Fifth Element is actually sex.
Product Placement: McDonald's. Could that sign be any bigger? Maybe if the camera crashed into... oh nevermind.
Psychic Nosebleed: Happens twice - first to the commander of a battleship before Mr. Shadow destroys it, and then to Zorg when Mr. Shadow calls him on the phone. Oddly, the bleeding always starts somewhere at or above the hairline, begging the question as to just where exactly they are bleeding from.
Rather than blood it appears to be some kind of black ichor; Zorg wipes his forehead after the phonecall, and the fluid is thick and oily in appearance.
Rubber-Forehead Aliens: Both played somewhat straight with Plava Laguna and averted impressively with the Mondoshawans. The Mangalores are a bit of a subversion, in that they appear to be inspired by Star Trek-type humanoid aliens but have high-tec anamatronic complete facial prosthetics that make them seem very authentic.
According to the DVD trivia track, the makers required that any actor hired to play them actually have sloped foreheads in real life in order for the masks to work.
Rule of Fun: The movie is an intentionally over-the-top, off-the-wall pop epic, cheerfully embracing every sci-fi staple it can get its hands on and running with it.
Which is why things such as the passage of time in this film fall into the "don't think about it too much" category.
Samus Is a Girl: The professor in the prologue refers to "this man, this perfect being..." Professor Mactilburgh assumes likewise before reconstructing Leeloo, only to be find out that she's..."I told you, perfect." Vito Cornelius is also surprised to find out the supreme being is female.
Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale / Artistic License - Physics: If a planetary body the size of "Mr. Shadow" got as close to Earth as it does in the film, it would have caused catastrophic damage to the planet just through its gravity and the resulting tidal forces without even needing to impact the surface (remember, even as weak as its gravity is and as far as it is from Earth, the moon causes quite a bit of distortion to Earth's surface). And that's ignoring the fact that at the distance stated, the remains of Shadow would have actually already been partially inside Earth's atmosphere! Unless they took efforts to get rid of it, it would absolutely have hit Earth anyway, just a lot slower than it had been going at first.
Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: As the Dark Planet approaches the battleship at the beginning, while General Staedert, his captain, and the technicians are just staring at it, you can see some officers heading for the exit.
Shoot The Hostage Taker: After Korben takes out a few of his men, the lead Mangalore holds priest Cornelius hostage and threatens "One more shot, we start killing hostages! Send someone in to negotiate!" Korben's method of "negotiating" is to calmly walk in, Boom, Headshot the leader, then ask "anyone else want to negotiate?" while waving his gun around at the rest.
The Mongolores after their leader is killed. Korben lampshades that they won't fight without their leader and once Korben manages to find and kill him, the rest of them just bumble around impotently.
Skyscraper City: Manhattan is so high it seems bottomless. We barely get to see its ground, except when Korben escapes the police. In one shot of the spaceport we see why: the Hudson and East rivers have been completely drained◊.
Space Clothes: The film has a plethora of clothing made out of plastic and rubber.
The uniforms worn by the stewardesses, and McDonald's waitresses.
Zorg's male guards get in on the act, with tiny biker shorts.
The woman a Mangalore disguises as in the airport. She is wearing a see-through plastic skirt, over fishnet hose and a thong. In public. She fits right in.
Stupid Crooks: Aside from wearing a picture of Korben's hallway on his head, the mugger who held Korben had no idea what he was doing, and Korben easily and peacefully disarmed him and stored the gun among many other previously appropriated weapons, even bemusedly complimenting him on his "hat".
Summer Blockbuster: Whatever else the film has to offer, it was very successful as an exercise in spectacle and light entertainment.
Korben as he's funneled into the VIP lounge to appear on Ruby Rhod's radio show.
Korben:(to flight attendant fangirl) Yes, I'm sure you're very excited, but I'm on my vacation, and I don't want to be bothered. I'd like to remain anonymous. (cue massive fanfare, followed by Ruby Rhod sliding into the scene wearing a mic/headset) Ruby Rhod: KORBENDALLAAAAAAAAAAAAS!!! Here he is, the one and only winner of the Gemini Croquette contest!
Later, when Cornelius and Ruby Rhod find the bomb left by Zorg...
Cornelius: It's a — it's a — it's a — it's a — it's a — it's a... Ruby Rhod: No no no no no no. 'Cuz if it was a bomb, the alarms would go off 'cuz all these hotels have bomb detectors, right? (the alarms go off)
On the other hand, in his opening scene Korben wishes for one perfect woman. He gets her.
General Munro is told the glass Leeloo is behind is unbreakable. She punches her hand through it and slam-dunks him.
"We got lucky. If they don't chase you after a mile, they don't chase you." Cue three police flyers in New York on Korben's tail. "I think we're safe for a while." Cue half a dozen cop flyers waiting in ambush with More Dakka.
After General Staedert fires at the evil sphere, the President asks, "Did you destroy it?" to which Staedert replies "I'm about to, sir." Actually, it was the other way around.
Trash of the Titans: The airport has a mountain ridge of trash running through it due to the janitorial staff being on strike.
Traveling at the Speed of Plot: The movie as a whole doesn't pay a lot of attention to logical progression of time. When the 22nd century sequences begin, it's said that the "Evil" will arrive in only 48 hours, yet far more than 24 hours worth of activities take place (not the least of which is the recovery of Leeloo's remains) before Korben Dallas is assigned to go to Fhloston Paradise several hours after it is mentioned that the Diva will be performing "in four hours". Yet Fhloston is located in another solar system, so to travel there requires the passengers to be put to sleep for an unknown length of time, and it's later indicated that the actual concert takes place about a day after the flight. Oh, and we also have to factor in the flight back to Egypt and getting to the chamber. Did I mention all of this is supposed to have taken place in less than 48 hours?
It makes slightly more sense if you take the practice of putting passengers to sleep for a 20 second flight as a nested bundle of bureaucratic inefficiencies.
Treasure Chest Cavity: Plava Laguna keeps the stones inside her chest for safe keeping. Well, OK, not her chest, her stomach. There's a couple of things in the way for them to be in her chest.
Unflinching Walk: Though he actually stops just prior to the explosion, Zorg qualifies when he tricks the Mangalores into blowing themselves up. He doesn't even flinch at the big boom in the tunnels, while his assistant freaks out.
Updated Re-release: This movie has been re-released more than once because it is great for showing off new high-end TVs. It's nearly always kept prominently displayed as a result.
Vicious Cycle: An evil planet that comes to life every five thousand years attempts to collide with the Earth, causing a chain reaction that would destroy all life in the universe. This can only be prevented by the use of an ancient superweapon and, in the film, The Power of Love. The shot at the end when we see how close the planet got to colliding with Earth also has our eerily similarly-sized moon lingering in view as well, implying that its origins were from the last time this happened (and that it was also a very close call).
The novelisation confirms that the Moon is the remains of the previous evil planet.
Villainous Breakdown: Zorg has one surprisingly early when the Mangalores fail to deliver the stones. He then has an even bigger one when he himself fails, though this is justified as he knows what will happen if he fails Mr. Shadow.
The Voice: Korben Dallas's mother is heard but never seen.
Ditto for Finger, Korben's boss at the cab company. He doesn't seem unreasonable on the phone, but Dallas seems genuinely worried about crossing him.
Waif-Fu: And another Leeloo trope. We are not at home to Mr. Newton, no sir.
Wasn't That Fun?: Ruby Rhod proclaims the attack of Phloston Paradise as the "best show I ever did."
Right-Arm: Sorry, sir, this will never happen again. Zorg:I know. BOOM!
You Monster!: Priest Vito Cornelius tells Zorg "You're a monster", to which Zorg replies "I know."
You Were Trying Too Hard: After trying numerous ways to activate the four elemental stones, they all give up. David laments "We're not going to make it..." and sighs, inadvertently activating the wind stone. Turns out the stones need their classical element to activate (wind for wind, earth for earth, water for water, fire for fire).