It could not make more sense that Saturday’s screening of The Fifth Element is part of the Brattle’s Reel Weird series. What is surprising is that Luc Besson’s 1997 science fiction flick more than made back its $90 million budget and grossed about $263.9 million internationally—most movies with ambitions this grandiose and, frankly, ridiculous tend to be epic flops (see: John Carter). I mean, sure, an action flick starring Bruce Willis and a supermodel with Gary Oldman as the industrialist villain sounds promising enough, but adjust your expectations when you realize that the plot takes place 250-some years in the future; one of the main characters—the supermodel, natch—doesn’t speak any earthly language; and the evil Zorg would later provide inspiration for frickin’ Mugatu. Who could have predicted that would provide a return on investment, let alone a respectable one?
The more you learn about this movie, the weirder it gets. At no point while watching will you think “oh, I see, this makes sense now.” Instead, it’s just a continual spiral of (really loud, in more ways than one) WTF-ness, helped along by Jean-Paul Gaultier’s vision of 23rd-century clothing and Chris Tucker’s Ruby Rhod (either a breakout role or the most annoying character in film, depending on whom you ask) and culminating in a philosophical quandary about human existence. And this was the 1997 Cannes opening film! (In a precedent-setting move, production company Gaumont threw a major opening night shindig, giving guests themed Swatches as tickets and making them privy to what Variety described as a “futuristic ballet.”)
All this outrageousness does mean that there’s something for everyone, whether you’re a production geek, a fashion snob, nostalgic for the ’90s, or just on the lookout for a good Halloween costume. Sit back and enjoy the ride—it’s a weird one.
The Fifth Element
dir. Luc Besson
Part of the ongoing series: Reel Weird Brattle: Camp Sci-Fi Camp