The Fifth Element
Starring Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich
My Rating:

A live-action futuristic cartoon with a lot of zap and pow.
Add 1/4 star if your home theater system cost between $1000 and $3000.
Add 1/2 star if your home theater system cost between $3000 and $10,000.
Add 3/4 stars if your home theater system cost over $10,000, and you really like this kind of film.

Bitable Bytes:
"Makes You Say 'Wow!'"
"Looks Good in High Definition!"
"Jovovich is the Hottie!"

What to do while watching:
Marvel at the current state of projection and home theater technology, or, if your system is decidedly "old school," fight the urge to run out and upgrade.

What to eat while watching:
Protein biscuits.

Last May, I found myself in Las Vegas at InfoComm, an international tradeshow of the latest and greatest in audio and video technologies. I saw demonstrations of DLP, DILA and TFT, all high-definition projection technologies. I stepped into a model home theater with 7.1 surround sound adjoining an eight-foot-wide projection screen with the sharpest picture I've ever seen. Later, I was in a structure the size of a small cinema, again totally immersed in sound, with my eyes filled with a movie-screen sized image in which I could see not a single trace of blur or pixelation. To my untrained eyes, the effect was impressive at the time, though forgettable in the long run. It's the kind of thing that makes you say "wow," but doesn't make you feel like the world has appreciably changed. You know what I mean?

Anyway, many of the demos at InfoComm were showing The Fifth Element, an FX-heavy DVD that looks good in high definition because there is a lot of computer animation and because of Milla Jovovich, who is playing for sex, rather than for power as she did in The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc. A technically savvy (and maybe a little lonely) kind of person, would have been blown away both by the home theater systems and by the movie; and many of this type of person was in attendance at InfoComm.

The Fifth Element has the same kind of appeal as Heavy Metal, the cartoon: they both have action, special effects, and sex appeal. In fact, the closeness between 5E and HM should not be missed: both use protagonists who are gruff but sensitive cab drivers who find themselves transporting sexy but dangerous fares. In 5E, the cabbie is Bruce Willis, a retired special ops soldier. His fare, Jovovich, is the hottie alien in human form.

The setting is the hover-craft future, brighter than Blade Runner, less depressing than in Brazil, more gritty than Star Wars II--though 5E's makers seem to have glanced over at all of these films in their decisions. In fact, there's a high-speed hover-chase that's frighteningly similar to the one in SWII. Could the same FX studio have created both scenes? They're getting pretty good at it!

The story has something to do with one purely evil alien race that wants to destroy the earth because they are purely evil and a purely good alien race that wants to protect the earth because they are purely good. Such bold lines make it very easy to keep track of which side you want to root for. George W. Bush has been influenced by this film.

Jovovich is the only creature in the universe that can enable the good aliens to defeat the bad aliens, and Bruce Willis is called out of retirement to deliver her to where she needs to be in order to do just that. Everyone else, from the evil aliens, to their industrialist pawn, to the mercenary aliens, to the frenetic talk-show host (Chris Tucker in a part that's so tangential, random, and annoying as to be nearly ground breaking) are chasing the couple across the galaxy.

The film's story has sort of a checks-and-balances dynamic happening: when too many plot holes seem to be opening up, the film suddenly becomes comic, nearly slapstick, pleasantly diverting the viewer's attention. When the comedy begins to flag or seem forced, an action or suspense sequence occurs to get the viewer tensed up. When the impetus for the action suddenly proves groundless, some special effects take center stage with a silvery flash. When the FX get too expensive, out comes a piece of storyline to shove the viewer along. Story, slapstick, suspense, and FX pass the viewer like a baton in a race toward the closing credits. And the fifth element is Jovovich, of course, whose athletic suppleness holds a viewer entranced until it's more interesting to see her helpless and pouting.

People who enjoy sitting on a couch with a beverage and a slack jaw will enjoy the buffeting hyper-speed ride though the future vision of 5E, especially if these people have the resource or the debt-management capabilities to have afforded a surround sound audio system and a high-definition, wide-screen display device.

People with a desire to participate more actively in the reception and processing of story, allegory, or characterization would be better advised to try The Fifth Sacred Thing, a novel by Starhawk. This book, also in the science fiction genre, bases its events on a plausible future. There are a few stretches in the plot. For instance, it takes armies in Los Angeles several days to make it to the San Francisco Bay; but Starhawk makes an attempt to close these holes, in this case by explaining that airplanes were scraped for metal once the mines were tapped. The small flaws are lost, though, in the larger allegory of the book, which is an engaging handbook on peacemaking and social activism. I liked it--even more than a scantily-clad woman in high definition video.

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For your collection: The Fifth Element (Superbit Collection) DVD, The Fifth Element (VHS).

Gooden's reading: The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk

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