It's the year 1914 somewhere in Egypt. Archeologist, Professor Pacoli (John Bluthal: DARK CITY) is studying hieroglyphics in a remote temple in the middle of nowhere desert. Deep within the temple and without artificial light, he'd be in the dark even during daylight outside, were it not for a small child named Aziz (Said Talidi), who holds a large reflective hunk of metal to shine the daylight within.
Pacoli is accompanied by an artist named Billy (Luke Perry: BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER), who sketches out the interior, as in 1914 cameras were heavy, unwieldy objects, film was at a premium, and paper and pencil or charcoal stick were relatively cheap.
Apparently Professor Pacoli is making discoveries the locals would rather keep secret, as a worried priest (John Bennett: HELL COMES TO FROG TOWN, MINORITY REPORT), apparently trusted by all, comes rushing in with murder on his mind.
Before the priest can carry out his treacherous act, a massive alien ship lands over the desolate temple and excruciatingly slow robots - or perhaps aliens in spacesuits built like giant copper bagels - waddle out of the craft and into the temple. They open a door and gain entrance to a hidden room. These are the Mondoshawans and they are there to retrieve 5 sacred stones which form a weapon that will destroy the Great Evil.
The priest immediately begins apologizing, the professor is out like a light, and Billy is scared out of his wits. The creatures reassure the priest that he has not failed them. They take the stones and slowly make their way back. All except for the last alien. At the height of his panic, Billy fires his pistol, which has the unintended consequence of slowly closing the stone door. Unfortunately the alien still waddling toward the door is even slower and is crushed, but not before it delivers a "key" to the priest.
Meanwhile, the achingly slow aliens are in such a rush to hide the stones/weapons from whatever is coming to find them, they leave their comrade behind. As the massive alien spaceship slowly ascends, the priest below, holding the key aloft, promises that he will be a faithful keeper of their trust.
From the point of view of seeing an alien life-form, this entire scene is rife with What The Hell? But hey, who can figure out an alien logic? We don't know their whole story, only what little they left with their trusted human.
It's a damn good thing we don't know and weren't given any preamble, because the story we don't know is the entire plot!
Okay enough of that. Now we skip ahead to the year 2263 and you will not believe how slowly human technology advanced from the year this movie was released (1997). However, we soon see the problem in both the constant of primitive human nature and a powerful world government being strangled by its own bureaucracy.
We see this enacted when a fleet of military ships face down a seemingly living planet - or something resembling a planet.
Back on earth, President Lindberg (Tommy 'Tiny' Lister), attempts to give the orders upon conferring with his experts and advisors. However, the captain of the fleet is rather glib about his Commander in Chief and belays his orders to take matters into his own hands.
That does not go well and launches the living planet into attack mode, sending it heading toward earth for reasons that likely aren't good for us.
As the living planet hurdles toward earth, the Mondoshawans, after centuries of relative silence, spring into action as quickly as they are able. Contacting their current earth-based "priest", Father Vito Cornelius (Ian Holm: ALIEN, TIME BANDITS, BRAZIL, Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN, eXistenZ, BLESS THE CHILD, THE LORD OF THE RINGS, THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW, THE HOBBIT), they give him a message to deliver to the president.
Through a combination of Vito's naivety and ineffectual government security and regulations, the priest actually does wind up in the presence of the president to deliver the good news. Earth's only hope are on their way to save the day.
That is, until their spacecraft is shot out of space by marauding space pirates, known as Mangalores, and our would-be saviors crash onto a planetoid, killing everyone onboard.
Hoping to salvage something from the wreckage that may help, earth retrieves a single glove holding a single hand of one of the aliens. Analysis reveals that the genetic ladder of the alien is remarkably like human DNA or GATC. That is, with one important difference. Compared to our own single twining ladder of deoxyribonucleic acid, the Mondoshawans have over 20 multiples of information on the same ladder. Even though earth is facing almost certain doom, Scientist, Mactilburgh (Christopher Fairbank: BATMAN , ALIEN3, THE BUNKER, BELOW, Wallace & Gromit: THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY) is so amazed by the alieness of something so familiar that he is positively giddy with reconstituting a complete Mondoshawan out of the alien DNA and that's how we get Leeloo (Milla Jovovich: RESIDENT EVIL [all]).
Still, that doesn't stop everything from going to hell in a basket so the earth's military calls out of retirement their second best soldier (their best was killed already) and that's how we get Dallas (Bruce Willis: DEATH BECOMES HER, PULP FICTION, TWELVE MONKEYS, THE SIXTH SENSE, UNBREAKABLE, SIN CITY, PLANET TERROR, THE EXPENDABLES).
THE FIFTH ELEMENT is SciFi Action Thriller, not Science Fiction and by that I mean comic book-style Space Opera over hardcore Science Fiction like FORBIDDEN PLANET, ALIEN, or John Carpenter's THE THING. That said, THE FIFTH ELEMENT is rollicking fun with plenty of aliens, evil, monsters, and Luc Besson at the height of his madcap inventiveness.
Along the way we'll meet General Munro (Brion James: BLUE SUNSHINE, BLADE RUNNER), Zorg (Gary Oldman: Bram Stoker's DRACULA, HANNIBAL, HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN, BATMAN BEGINS, HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE, HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX, THE DARK KNIGHT, THE UNBORN, THE BOOK OF ELI), and the unforgettable Ruby Rhod (Chris Tucker).
Fun, quotable, and visionary, THE FIFTH ELEMENT remains relevant on its 20 birthday.
Five Shriek Girls.
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