1997 was a great year; you had Titanic, Good Will Hunting, Starship Troopers and of course The Fifth Element. The Fifth Element is a huge favorite here at Devious Advocacy and 20 years later it still looks amazing, so this week BD takes a look at what made 1997 so great!
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What’s up everybody, welcome back to The Devil’s in The Details, I’m BD, and thank God it’s Friday.
Today I will be looking at Director Luc Besson, and one of my favourite sci-fi films of all time. The Fifth element.
The 1950s and 60s of France was the birthplace of French new wave cinema. It was a trend that led to experimentation with editing, narratives and visual style which later became known as “cinema du look”.
“Cinema du look” was an 80’s French film movement which classified certain directors, Besson included, as directors which favoured style over substance, spectacle over narrative.
It referred to films that had a slick, gorgeous visual style and a focus on young, alienated characters who were said to represent the marginalized youth of France.
Themes that run through many of the films produced at the time included, doomed love affairs, young people more affiliated to peer groups rather than families,
a cynical view of the police, and symbolism of an alternative, underground society.
Some of these themes are present in Besson’s script of The 5th Element, a script he started writing when he was 16.
An evident influence and inspiration to Besson in the 5th Element was the artwork created by artists, comic strip writers, and illustrators Jean-Claude Mézières and Jean Giraud, Giraud also known as “Moebius”.
Both Moebius and Mézières contributed storyboards and concept designs for the film and if your a fan of their work, you can clearly see their influence throughout the film.
Both artists, along with designer Patrice Garcia were tasked with envisioning a futuristic New York City.
What would New York City be like without taxicabs. Mézières originally created flying taxis in his comic strip “Valerian”.
When Besson saw those, he then asked Mézières “can you draw flying police cars?”
Two of the main races for the film, the Mondoshawans and the Mangalores took several months of exploration to evolve into the final creatures seen in the film.
Fhloston Paradise, practically a character on its own, was another concept that took years to evolve into its final iteration.
It’s described as a colossal vacation centre, a gigantic, strange yet functional vehicle, it needed to look at home be it in the water, above it or even in space.
The movie is filled with striking images. In particular, The enigmatic and captivating, Diva Plavalaguna.
Besson requested that all artists submit their own version of the diva before deciding on a final design.
And all artists agreed that the concept submitted by Garcia Celestial Singer was the best one.
Movies are expensive to make, to say the least, and always need solid financial backing.
“Zaltman Bleros”, The original title, before it was renamed “The Fifth Element”, was stopped halfway through its production for lack of being able to secure an American co producer.
But that wasn’t the only reason that Besson halted production. The special-effects house that he was dealing with for some of the effects in the film had told him that they weren’t there yet, and although technology was moving very quickly, they still needed a year or two to be able to produce the effects envisioned by the director.
Besson then left the production and went to the United States to film The Professional, or Leon, as its known outside of the U.S.
This did two things for Besson, it gave his career an international boost, and it gave technology the couple of years it needed to catch up.
Leon was such an enormous international success that Besson was able to prove to American producers that he was very capable of creating a spectacular and profitable movie,
and once he was able secure the budget he needed to continue working on The Fifth Element, the entire production was moved to London’s Pinewood Studios, home of the 007 Bond films.
The Fifth Element was not only one of the largest productions ever filmed at Pinewood studios, utilizing 9 out of the 12 sound stages,
not including of course, London’s Royal Opera House, it was, at the time, the most expensive production in the history of French cinema, boasting the largest special effects budget of all time.
When the Fifth Element premiered in 1997 it was loved by audiences but panned by most critics. But what do they know?
The films budget was a little over 90 million, and grossed over 263 million dollars at the worldwide box office. This obviously not including DVD and Blu-ray sales. Now that’s an impact!
Besson worked very closely with the set designers. He requested that they remain absolutely faithful in set construction to the designs he had chosen created by the artists.
Jean Paul Gauthier, the costume designer on the film, did an outstanding job creating designs that fit right into the 23rd century. He was also the designer that created this.
A key ingredient responsible for any successful film is chemistry, you have to feel some type of chemistry between the actors up on the screen because without it, you’re audience will not be going along for the ride.
For the talent, Besson went to New York, handed the script to Bruce Willis, went shopping for two hours, returned to see Willis, and Willis said : “it’s great, I’ll do it”.
Willis wanted to work with someone as passionate and artistically literate as Besson.
And so Besson cast him as Korben Dallas, the former special forces Major turned cabdriver.
Gary Oldman, Who had costarred with Jean Reno in Leon was the directors first choice to play the evil Zorg.
Oldman actually had no idea what he was getting into, when he first saw the costumes for Zorg, he was quite shocked and confused,
but quickly realized that if he gave in and surrendered to the world created by the filmmaker, that his performance would be that much the better for it. And that hair piece.
After an extensive search of over 5000 girls worldwide, Besson finally chose Ukrainian born model, Milla Jovovich as the perfect Leeloo.
Milla threw herself into the role, training three hours a day, pulling muscles she didn’t even know she had.
Her language and dialogue was kept hidden from Bruce Willis, which only added to his surprised reactions to what she was saying once the camera was rolling.
Ian Holm, cast to play the pivotal role of the priest from a secret order, Vito Cornelius. Holm played the stressed out but gentle priest perfectly.
And comedian Chris Tucker, who arguably would steel the show.
His performance alone is worth the price of admission to the film.
His portrayal of the loud, arrogant and flamboyant Ruby Rhod was simply unbelievable. He embodied the nature of that character, wore the skin like a glove.
He borrowed mannerisms from Prince and Michael Jackson to bring the character to life.
The remaining of the cast was also very well chosen, it was as eccentric as it was eclectic.
Diva Plavalaguna, played by Maiwenn. Although Maiwenn wasn’t the voice behind the diva, that was Albanian opera singer and soprano Inva Mula.
The films composer, Eric Sera said that “For the scene to work, they needed the Diva to sound like an alien, therefore they had to create notes that no human could sing.
So He purposely wrote un-singable things, some too low, some too high, sentences that were too fast, that he would then arrange with a sampler.”
And on a side note, The song is singable, as proven by Jane Zhang.
Honourable mentions include British comedian Lee Evans as Fog.
Former Beverly Hills 90210 star, Luke Perry as Billy.
Tiny Lister as President Lindberg.
John Neville as General Staedart.
And of course Matthieu Kassovitz as the mugger.
When asked to describe the Director, Milla Jovovich related the following:
Besson is the writer, the cameraman, the cinematographer, the actor, the acting coach, he’s everything, and through that, he gains so much respect and inspires the actors to push themselves even further.
With the combination of talent, inspiration and imagination. Luc Besson was able to create a relatable 23rd century Society with a story centered around humanity, love and hope.
I truly enjoyed diving back into this film, I love it as much today as I did when I first saw it.
I’d appreciate any comments you’d like to share on the Fifth Element and as always thank you so much for tuning in, liking, sharing and Subscribing. And tip of the hat to our Patreon subscribers.
Today’s show was brought to you by The Stylist.
Not that one, but most definitely that one!
I’ll see you guys next Friday.