E Street Cinema’s Midnight Madness screenings show the best/worst in cult film. Fun cult films like The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) and Labyrinth (1986) have screened there recently. They sometimes even show films from the “so-bad-they’re-good” genre, like The Room (2003) and Forbidden Planet (1956). An upcoming September 2nd and 3rd screening of the film The Fifth Element (1997) falls thankfully more in the former category, with many dips into the latter.
The sci-fi action comedy has a story as off-the-wall as any in film history. We are set up with a quick scene in the early 20th century where aliens visit a temple in Egypt to claim a weapon that has the power to defeat pure evil. This weapon is made up of four stones and one tomb containing the fifth element, a human. The aliens promise to return before the great evil does, which happens every 5000 years like clockwork. The film then jumps to the year 2263, and we learn that the evil has returned to destroy the universe. This evil is in the shape of a planet, though it also uses phone calls and some sort of psychic energy to control the movie’s other villain, Zorg (Gary Oldman), a weapons manufacturer who is being used to hunt for the stones. And that set up is just half the story.
Aside from all this is the hero, a former military expert turned cab driver named Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis). You see, the fifth element, which Dallas dubbed “Leeloo” (Milla Jovovich), fell through the top of his cab one day and….just forget it. Any plot description of this film could end up going on for another 5000 years. Suffice it to say that Dallas is charged with obtaining the four stones and taking them, along with Leeloo, to the Egyptian temple in order to save the world. It’s hard to take the story seriously, and it never creates the kind of emotional relevance an end-of-the-world film should have because of that. It is, on the other hand, a whole lot of fun, and populated entirely by some of the most colorful characters seen on film.
The visual effects in the film, which were Oscar-nominated, are stunning and create a definite unique future view of the world. New York City looks a live-action episode of the show Futurama, populated by tall buildings and flying cars. Like many futuristic films, The Fifth Element gets its own play on the styles of hair, make-up, and clothing that are popular at the time. Along with the set design, these simple devices have a lot to do with success of the film. They create a fun and futuristic atmosphere that takes away some of the need for a serious storyline. The costume design by Jean-Paul Gaultier dominates sometimes more than the story does. It’s fun to look at every corner of the screen to see how some background element is coiffed. Even the future’s version of an opera is retrofitted, sung by an alien who swallowed a copy of Auto-Tunes.
Like some futuristic expressionist paining, The Fifth Element may be a mess, but it’s a beautiful one. Maybe not quite a cult film (it was a huge success), the film still has all the quirky charm it did when it was released, which probably gives it a little cred in the cult cannon. As sci-fi films where things “blow up real good” go, this one is a pleasurable surprise.
The Fifth Element will play for two screenings at E Street Cinema’s Midnight Madness on September 2 and 3. For more information on the theater, including upcoming screenings, you can visit Landmark Theatres’ site here. Click on the map to find directions to the theater. The film is also available on DVD and Blu-Ray. It’s official website is here.