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FIFTH ELEMENT (THE) : DOOR BETWEEN DIMENSIONS

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 film.

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 ice,"

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

Besson’s 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.

‘Let’s go somewhere that you’ve never been before, someplace that you would only dream of going.’

Complementing the look of the film’s 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.

"It’s that idea of the dream, and escape, that draws me to these types of films."

While the element of fable runs strongly throughout Besson’s 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 Besson’s 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 ‘Let’s go somewhere that you’ve never been before, someplace that you would only dream of going. Let’s see the subway in a way you’ve never seen it before. let’s go to the bottom of the sea. Let’s go out into space.’ It’s 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 film’s 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 Besson’s 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 needs…I just put down on paper everything that I’d 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 didn’t happen by plan.

"So if there is any call for it, a sequel is already written, though that didn’t happen by plan."

"I looked at the work of hundreds of designers," says Besson, "and narrowed that down… 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 couldn’t 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, ‘Yes, let’s do it’… just like that." Luc Besson on offering the part to Bruce Willis

Besson’s 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, we’ve 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, ‘Yes, let’s do it’… just like that. That was great, it felt like it was already a movie when he said that."

 

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FIFTH ELEMENT, THE
(US)

CAST: Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman, Milla Jovovich, Ian Holm, Chris Tucker, Luke Perry, Brion James, Lee Evans, Tricky

DIRECTOR: Luc Besson

PRODUCER: Patrice LeDoux

SCRIPT: Robert Mark Kamen

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Thierry Arbogast

EDITOR: Sylvie Landra

MUSIC: Eric Serra

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Dan Weil

RUNNING TIME: 127 minutes

 

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 15, 1997

 

OPENING FILM: 50th CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 1997

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