Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Movies of Moebius: The Fifth Element (1997)

When thinking about all the movies that the artist Jean Giraud -- known mostly to us in the U.S. as Moebius -- The Fifth Element is as good of a place to start as any.

Moebius, along with fellow French comic creator Jean-Claude Mézières, did the production design for Luc Besson's ridiculous attempt at a sci-fi epic. As dumb as this movie often is, the aesthetic at least means it looks really good.

Probably the most obvious thing about The Fifth Element is how shamelessly it steals from every popular sci-fi movie that came before it. Maybe I wouldn't go quite as far to say it rips them off, but there's some of that. Still, that's what makes this movie fun, despite its many flaws. After all, most of those movies stole elements from Moebius' work anyway.

(Hilariously enough, so did this one. Publisher Humanoids sued over similarities to The Incal by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Moebius.)

Bruce Willis plays Korben Dallas, a Bruce Willis-type whose tough-guy exterior hides a wounded soul. Milla Jovovich plays Leeloo, the supreme being who is essential to saving earth and can kick your ass, but is also innocent and vulnerable. These aren't so much characters as they are action figures. Both our leads make the mistake of playing these parts very straightforward and seriously instead of campy. Jovovich's oft-quoted, loopy take on "Leeloo Dallas Multipass" does come close to capturing the right tone for the film.

Only Gary Oldman, who plays villain Zorg as a broad parody of a Texas oilman, seems to realize he's in a movie where henchmen are wearing leather short-shorts (the costumes by French fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier are incredible and one of the things I do love is that absolutely not attempt was made to tone his looks down). Zorg is ultimately inconsequential but at least Oldman seems to be having fun.

The plot is fairly standard -- earth is in peril, stuff blows up, Chris Tucker appears and the movie screeches to a halt with his shrieking, and then everyone is saved -- but I realize expecting this movie to make sense or actually be good is maybe wanting too much from it.

Is it pretty? Yes. This is a beautifully stylish movie -- it looks good whether on a small screen or big. Individual scenes are dazzling and colorful (if a little bit reliant on orange) and parts of it go very far to evoking an intriguing future. It's just too bad that the story around those parts aren't very interesting.

Still, this is probably as close as we have to a live-action adaptation of Moebius' science fiction work -- at least visually, anyway. Even if I, personally, never need to sit through this movie of my own free will again, I think I will always have some affection for it on that account.


  1. The Fifth Element is the best science fiction movie ever made, for all the reasons you cite. The work of the science fiction writer, movie-maker and illustrator is to create the alternate world and "the air that blows in the country (JRR Tolkien, On Fairy Stories"). That's why they work. Then the Fifth Element adds humor, sensuality, and an awesome music score including a great aria by a giant blue alien. What more can there be?

  2. I have always loved this movie, I can see the points you are making, Chris Tucker did put a hamper on the movie, but look past that part of it, at the screen play, how many different scenes all coincide at the same time. Like Zorg stopping the bomb at 5 seconds just as another bomb is turned at exactly 5 seconds on it. They did have a definite affection for the color orange in the movie, we can only hope the future doesn't hold the orange in it, but once again, its the way the movie is put together that makes it stand out in my mind, one thing always leads into another. Reading this article last week, I wanted to go through the movie again to make sure that I wasn't relying on a mind that isn't as sharp as it used to be, so I figured better to be safe then sorry. I will say this though, I never thought a mail DVD program would work for me, but working at DISH I decided I would take a stab at Blockbuster online, and I put the movie in queue on Friday and I had it yesterday, so I didn't have to watch the 3000 streaming movies for to long before I got to watch what I consider to be a very good movie, that would have been better without Chris Tucker screaming like a girl in it.