The Fifth Element

DVD Rating: ****

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Read Angus Wolfe Murray's film review of The Fifth Element
The Fifth Element

It would have been an act of cynical laziness to produce run-of-the-mill DVD extras to accompany a film of such imaginative audacity. Needless to say, time and money has been spent on them and the result is informative, entertaining and surprising. It's always good to come away from a double disc package feeling that you understand a whole lot more about the filmmaking process.

The emphasis here is on the creator, writer and director, Luc Besson. He tells of being a lonely child, who conceived the idea of what would eventually become The Fifth Element at the age of 16. "I invent this world to escape mine," he confesses. He wrote a novel, which wasn't published. Years later, he turned it into a 400 page script.

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The extras are collated from Behind The Scenes episodes and specific interviews, broken up into five chapters. Three things become immediately apparent - the scale, the dedication and the energy.

Statistics can prove anything and are, in themselves, dry and boring, but in 1997 The Fifth Element was the most expensive French film ever produced ("Over 1000 people on the pay roll") and the largest ever made at Pinewood Studios - bigger than the Bonds. Besson said it took nine years to write and prepare. Eleven artists and designers spent 12 months creating a concept of New York in the 23rd century. "Everything is designed - every pencil, cigarette, door handle." $8million had been spent before filming actually started.

It is obvious that it meant a great deal to those who worked on the film. Bruce Willis says he tries to chose roles that are going to stretch him beyond a point where he feels safe. He likes Besson because "he is a natural storyteller." He's also 100% hands-on as a director and you can see this. Ex-Ukranian model Milla Jovovich calls him crazy, like a genius. For her, the experience was unforgettable. Nothing is mentioned of the affair they were supposed to have been having.

The charm of Jean-Claude Mezieres, France's most famous comic book artist, who helped create the futuristic look, matches that of Jean-Paul Gaultier, the flamboyant Parisian couturier, who designed the clothes. Talking of Bruce's tee shirt, he grins. "Mine was a bit more sexy than Die Hard." The glint in his eye reflects his effervescent personality. "I love it!" he squeals. "I think it a very beautiful movie." He helped make it so.

Gary Oldman, who is partially dressed in rubber and has the most bizarre haircut, spent most of the time giggling with the director. He and Besson went off before The Fifth Element had reached pre-production - they had to wait for special effects techniques to catch up with them - and made Leon, with Jean Reno and a 13-year-olf Natalie Portman.

The dedication of the effects teams - some in America, others in England - is heartening. They enjoyed the challenge of such a mammoth endevour - all this before CGI. The explosion at the end was for real ("It took 26 minutes to put the fires out") and the dogheads were made from experimental new material that no-one had tried before. It seems only right that they won a BAFTA above Titanic that year and the film made over $300million worldwide.

These DVD extras are a delight. Besson comes across as a child in a toy shop. He's having so much fun, who can call this work?

The final word goes to Oldman: "We were always laughing."

Reviewed on: 08 Dec 2003
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The Fifth Element packshot
A futuristic cabbie battles to save the world.
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Product Code: P8920CDVD

Region: 2

Ratio: 2.35 Anamorphic Wide

Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1

Extras: Discovering The Fifth Element documentary; Imaging The Fifth Element featurette; The Art of The Fifth Element with Jean-Claude Mezieres featurette; An Audience with Diva Plavalaguna featurette; Elements of Style - Jean-Paul Gaultier featurette; Audio commentary with Mark Stetson, Karen E Goulekas, Bill Neil, Ron Gass; Trailers and TV spots; Launching The Fifth Element - Cannes opening night party; Storyboard and production notes.

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