FIFTH ELEMENT (THE): DOOR BETWEEN DIMENSIONS
Selected as the opening film for the prestigious 50th
Annual Cannes Film Festival on May 7, The Fifth Element, the $70
million sci-fi film opens in US on May 9, and in Australia on May
15. Louise Keller compiles background data on the making of the
The title of The Fifth Element refers to the four elements of
alchemic Greek tradition - earth, air, fire and water. Four
elements gathered together to create the fifth one: life.
"The energy of life,
and this other, evil life-form, are opposites, like fire and
In The Fifth Element, which is set in the 23rd
century, provocative and acclaimed filmmaker, director Luc Besson
poses the question: what if an opposite form of life existed in
another dimension - one not made up of life-energy, but a dark,
cancerous embodiment of all that is evil? "The energy of
life, and this other, evil life-form, are opposites, like fire
and ice," Besson explains, "and the more of this
life-energy we create, the more it irritates and provokes this
other. Though Besson conceived the story while a teenager, he was
unaware that the concept of a fifth element - known in moorish
traditions as Akasha - is deeply rooted in ancient mythology.
"When I make a movie,
I want to transport people away from their everyday
lives," Luc Besson
Bessonís desire to show audiences a real city of the
future in convincing, photo-realistic detail led him to decide
against a pure digital solution for the visual effects of The
Fifth Element. Canvassing effects firms for a shop that could
seamlessly combine scale models with digital enhancements soon
narrowed the field, and Digital Domain won the contract.
somewhere that youíve never been before, someplace that
you would only dream of going.í
Complementing the look of the filmís futuristic
cityscapes and space sequences are the forward-looking costume
designs of designer Jean-Paul Gaultier, the "enfant
terrible" of haute couture, whose designs for film include
The Cook The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, The City of Lost
Children, and the stage sequences of the Madonna documentary
Truth or Dare.
"Itís that idea
of the dream, and escape, that draws me to these types of
While the element of fable runs strongly throughout
Bessonís work - with La Femma Nikita as a reversal of the
Pygmalion myth or The Professional, a gritty, modern take on
Beauty and The Beast, The Fifth Element is Bessonís return
to sci-fi, an area he first explored in his first feature, The
Last Combat. "When I make a movie, I want to transport
people away from their everyday lives," he says. "I say
ĎLetís go somewhere that youíve never been before,
someplace that you would only dream of going. Letís see the
subway in a way youíve never seen it before. letís go
to the bottom of the sea. Letís go out into space.í
Itís that idea of the dream, and escape, that draws me to
these types of films."
"I stared working on
this story when I was 16,"
The filmís story has its own history, originating before
the 37 year old filmmaker began his career. "I stared
working on this story when I was 16," Besson reveals,
"writing solely for the pleasure of it. Just to escape the
everyday, and to dream about the world. There was no way that I
could imagine someday filming it, and it grew to two or three
hundred pages of story. Then, years later, I began to think that
maybe I could make this story into a movie."
"There was no way that
I could imagine someday filming it,"
Only after the international critical and commercial success
of Bessonís features, The Big Blue, his first
English-language production, and La Femma Nikita was it possible
for Besson to consider undertaking a film of the immense scope of
The Fifth Element.
"The first draft was
400 pages and would have cost $145 million to shoot"
"The first draft was 400 pages and would have cost $145
million to shoot, but on my first draft I never think of
realistic needsÖI just put down on paper everything that
Iíd love to see. I just like to go for it, and I consider
the serious questions later."
"I looked at the
work of hundreds of designers,"
After taking his story through second and third drafts,
Besson, working with screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen, decided to
divide the epic story into two grand acts. "We had to do
that in order to make this film possible to shoot," he
explains. "So if there is any call for it, a sequel is
already written, though that didnít happen by plan.
"So if there is any
call for it, a sequel is already written, though that
didnít happen by plan."
"I looked at the work of hundreds of designers,"
says Besson, "and narrowed that downÖ We worked for a
year, designing all of this world. We made wonderful progress in
that year and everything was very good. But finally, some people
involved became a little scared of the size of the project and so
it couldnít happen at the time."
"I met Bruce for the
first time about five years ago"
It was at that point that, undaunted, Besson turned his
disappointment to a productive end and wrote The Professional
which greatly added to his worldwide reputation.
"I went off to do some
shopping, came back two hours later, and he said, ĎYes,
letís do itíÖ just like that." Luc Besson on offering the part to
Bessonís first choice for the role of Korben Dallas, the
New York cabbie who becomes an unlikely hero, was Bruce Willis.
"I met Bruce for the first time about five years ago, when
we were first developing this project," Besson recalls.
"We discussed the script, and had a lovely talk. Since then,
weíve stated in contact, but it was much later, after all
the financing for this picture was set up and the screenplay was
ready, that I met with him again in New York and gave him the
script. I went off to do some shopping, came back two hours
later, and he said, ĎYes, letís do itíÖ just
like that. That was great, it felt like it was already a movie
when he said that."