Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Best Science Fiction Movie Of All Time...

Lots of people ask the question: What's the greatest science fiction movie of all time? There are many answers people have to that question. Alien, Aliens, Alien 3: The Aliening, Predator, Terminator, Terminator 2, Star Wars, 2001: A Space Odyssey, but all fall short of The Fifth Element. Especially 2001. 

2001 is shit.

It's a bad movie, and a waste of time, and it most definitely isn't the answer to that question. So if you thought that was were this was going, you were wrong. Sorry you had to find out this way, but the movie's just plain shit, fam. I should know, I wasted 2+ hours of my life sitting in a library watching it. 

ANYWAYS. That aside.

If you're wondering precisely why I'd be so audacious as to declare a one-off scifi comedy as the best scifi movie of all time, grab yourself a drink. We're gonna be here a minute. 

One of the big reasons is that there is no sequel to fuck it up. This is kind of a tangential point so I'll get it out of the way first. We all know of a great movie, of any genre, that was pure awesome and amazingness on its own. It needed no sequel, and when it finally got one, shit went downhill FAST. I could rattle off a ton of names like Nightmare on Elm Street, Predator, Terminator (the second was good, anything after that was shit), Alien (post Aliens, of course), Halloween, just about the only movie series I know of that didn't decrease in quality after the first is the Phantasm movies, and that's a serious achievement because they were filmed decades apart and one of the main actors was in a coma for the second movie. 

Sequels, far more often than not, are worse than the original movie, and add nothing to the series. Think about every single Disney movie out there that's great, but all the sequels are shit. Aladdin, The Lion King, etc, etc. Sequels shit things up and spoil the joy of the original just a little by their very existence and the original movie reminding us that they exist. Bad sequels kill franchises and tarnish the glory of the original good movie that didn't need no sequel in the first place.

Well fear not, because The Fifth Element has no sequel! It's a completely self-contained story, and what's more, the ending of the movie shuts out the possibility of one completely! It would be like making a sequel to Cabin in the Woods. [SPOILERS] The world ended at the end of that movie! What would you make the sequel about? [END SPOILERS] Much like the ending of Cabin, the ending of Element wraps up literally everything very neatly. They defeat the big baddie, take down the evil corporate overlord, Korben Dallas gets the girl, and everyone lives happily ever after! It's brilliant, and a sequel would only ruin that.

I know I'm going on about a tangential point, but it needs to be made clear. Part of what's killing science fiction and fantasy literature right now is the need for EVERYTHING to be this gigantic saga of epic proportions, with each installment more nail-biting and with higher stakes than the last. Well, that can lead to Dragonball Z Syndrome fairly damn quickly. Or Supernatural Syndrome, where they already beat the Devil back into Hell so in season 7 they're taking on The Devil's Roommate From College Who Wasn't Really All That Evil But His Dad Wants Him To Take Over The Family Business Oh And His Name Is Bob. Self-contained stories are superior, in my opinion. I'd much rather read something like Robert E. Howard's The Horror From The Mound and get a really good short, self-contained story than read something like Game of Thrones where I'm going to have to devote literal months of my time to going through these 800 page novels. 

Beginning, middle, and end, in a reasonable amount of time, please. I'm not sure if the law of diminishing returns that novels are subject to is a factor in film watching, but given how so many franchises died on the vine after the shit sequel came out and was shit while completely shitting up the place, I can imagine that it's pretty close to 1:1. Personally, I'd rather watch a hundred movies like The Fifth Element that are self-contained, relatively short, and action-packed, than watch the next interminable installment in The Terminator series, or Halloween, or the next Nightmare on Elm Street. If the story never has a definite end because people want to continue to milk it for money, the franchise will suffer and the quality will drop as the formula continues to repeat into a fractal pattern of never ending suck. 

Now that that's out of the way (and it only took me five god damned paragraphs), let's move on to the other points this movie has over others in its genre. And I'm talking science fiction as a whole, here. So yes, if you can think of a scifi movie, I can explain how Fifth Element is better, especially if I've watched the movie you think of. 

The first is the cast. The cast is top-notch, and all of them played their roles to the absolute hilt. You have Bruce Willis as the rascally, quick-quipping, sharp-witted hero with a heart of gold and a body of bronze. You have Milla Jovovich as the sexy but naive super-being, who doesn't speak a lick of English but she's the key to saving the world. You have Chris Tucker as the nasally radio host who knows how to make the ladies swoon who becomes Willis's second banana and adds a serious comedy shock to what was already a clever and funny movie. And most importantly you have Gary Oldman playing the evil corporate douche-lord, trying to find the sacred stones to serve his otherworldly master, and make a quick buck off some dumb mercenaries while he's at it. There are many other talented people in this movie, and all of them were acting like their lives depended on it. These actors, under the leadership of director Luc Besson, took the lean meat of the script and turned it into perfectly cooked steak that doesn't need any sauce because it's just that damned good.

And a quick note about Milla Jovovich, to give you guys an idea of how much effort she put into the character of Leeloo, and how I know way more about this film than is healthy. The language she's speaking? You know, the incomprehensible gibberish she was spouting the majority of her time on screen? That's an actual language invented by the director/writer specifically for this movie.  They would talk in it on set and nobody would have a fucking clue what they were saying. She had to learn that language, fluently, to be able to portray that character. And she did it, and did it well. The lengths they went to in order to make this world appear real and breathing are insane, and it definitely shows in the final product.

The music of the film is also top notch, and complements the various scenes perfectly. I like to say that there isn't a wasted second of film in this movie, and the music only adds to the effect. Of course the incidental music is great, but I know the scene you're all thinking of. Well, I have another bit of trivia for you about that scene. The opera singer they got to portray The Diva Plavalaguna, was hired because of her audition, in which she actually did the amazing singing featured in the film. And they didn't modulate her voice, and didn't give the actors any indication of what was going to happen in the concert scene. It's 100% organic, and its contribution to the overall effect of the movie is massive. There is no film I know of with a concert scene that can top it, except perhaps This Is Spinal Tap. But the rest of the music is an interesting mix of electronic, rock, pop, and even rarer styles thrown in for flavor, like industrial or even Arabic and Reggae. The soundtrack itself is well worth a listen in its own right.

So I mentioned the script, and that needs to be expanded on. As I said, there is not a wasted second in the movie, and the script is what facilitated this. That script is 100% lean angus steak, my dudes. To the point where I refuse to watch it if it comes on television, because I know that they cut things out for time, and cutting things out of this movie is a sin the magnitude of which is such that no man or devil has dreamt of committing it. Apart from television executives, of course, but we all know them to be creatures of some darker hell than even that spoken of in the pages of our most holy of religious texts. 

But with regard to the actual writing, the characters are very well fleshed out. They make it seem as if they had an existence before just coming on the screen. Even the incidental characters get this treatment, like the old Chinese man that runs the flying Chinese restaurant shaped like a boat. Let me say that again in case you couldn't take in the awesomeness of that sentence all at once. This movie has a FLYING CHINESE RESTAURANT SHAPED LIKE A BOAT. But even one-shot characters like this who have little bearing on the overall plot feel like real people rather than plot contrivances. There is an implied history to them that makes you feel as though they could have their own movie and it would be almost as interesting as the one you're currently watching.

The pacing is also superb. The story starts in Egypt with an Egyptologist and his coterie getting sort of jumped by Ancient Aliens™ who lock away the hope to defeat evil, giving the key to a monk who is apart of the order that serves their purpose on Earth. From there we go to the future, where Korben is an ex-military down-on-his-luck taxi driver who gets the biggest surprise of his life when Leeloo bursts through the roof of his cab. The story escalates at a reasonable pace from there which is very in line with Lester Dent's Pulp Story Method, wherein the hero keeps having trouble piled on his head over and over again, from the military wanting him to take another job after he vowed to be out, Ruby Rhod generally being an annoyance more than a help as a sidekick, to actual alien mercenaries showing up to the hotel he's at and turning the place into a complete hostage situation. It continues to get worse, and worse, and worse for them, with a few wins, it must be said, until the climax of the movie wherein they defeat the big bad guy by unlocking Leeloo's power and using her to destroy the giant planet of evil rushing towards Earth to destroy it. Really, this story has all the hallmarks of a great short pulp novel, if I may be so bold. 

Now let's talk about the action. This story has it in spades. And it even avoids the immersion-breaking problem of having an admittedly slightly malnourished-looking woman beating the absolute shit out of guys two to three times her size. She's not human, she's an alien, and what's more she's the perfect being (according to the in-movie lore, and several fanboys), so her going buck wild and defeating an entire squad of heavily armed and armored mercenaries with just her martial prowess is well within the film's boundaries of suspension of disbelief. But this movie has it all. Fist fights? Check. Gun fights and shootouts? Check. Car chases? Big checkamundo. It even has political conflict, although it's understated and doesn't detract from the overall story they're trying to tell, which is a science fiction action-comedy story. But if you're looking for a movie that has Bruce Willis using big guns to shoot bad guys while Milla Jovovich bashes on big alien mercenaries, you could do significantly worse than this movie, by watching literally any other movie. Because all other movies don't have that. This is part of what makes them inferior to The Fifth Element, you see. This is basic science, and you wouldn't want to be a science denier, would you? 

But the fights are quick, punchy, and leave you feeling very satisfied indeed. They not only serve the purpose of putting red meat in front of the slavering wolves which the audience should be, but also serve to advance the story. There is not a moment in the action sequences in the movie that doesn't advance the plot, which is what action sequences should fundamentally be about. If your action isn't advancing your story, it's mindless fluff to make things seem more exciting than they really are. But no worries when it comes to The Fifth Element, their action is fun to watch, harrowing, makes you feel as though the characters are in actual danger (even though they're not because, I mean come on, it's a Bruce Willis movie), and give the feeling that the characters actually did have to fight through hell and high water to accomplish their goal of saving life as we know it.

This film really does have it all, in spades. I know for a scientifically, empirically verifiable fact that it is the greatest science fiction movie of all time, and I have a hypothesis that it might just be the greatest movie ever put to film. Yes, that includes such classics as Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Full Metal Jacket, and Doctor Strangelove. It may even be greater than The Pink Panther...

But if you haven't seen this absolute monument to everything that is wonderful in film, I suggest that you immediately stop what you're doing, find a copy, plop your ass on your couch, and watch it. Turn off the lights, get your popcorn, beer, and other snacks beforehand, turn off the smartphone, laptop, social media, whatever, and sit your hind end down in the chair and WATCH THIS MOVIE. I would highly recommend picking up a DVD/Blu-Ray copy, which you can find linked below on Amazon via my affiliate account. But however you see it, this movie is required watching for every scifi enthusiast, and absolutely mandatory watching for people who want tips on how to write a good pulp story. And the DVD is under six dollars American. You can't beat that with a stick.

I would also say that this is a perfect family film. It's in the best tradition of G. K. Chesterton's statement that "Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon." This movie presents the evil, both in the world and outside of it. You have the existential threat of the giant planet of pure evil hurtling towards the Earth, and you have the very real and physical evil of the uncaring corporate businessman Zorg, along with their various ghouls and goblins. But while they seem all powerful and unassailable, Korben Dallas is our St. George, here to help Leeloo to kill the dragon and save the world.

And more importantly, there is no subversion happening here. This story takes these elements, mixes them into a potent brew, and then wallows in the consummation and sharing of it. There is no wink-and-nod here, no irony to the enjoyment that this movie has for its subject matter or the tropes found within. This is 100% balls out fun, and is, in my opinion, a master class in how NOT to do that not-so-subtle-as-you-think wink-and-nod. This movie is a Robert Howard story. An Edgar Rice Burroughs story. It is FUN before it is anything, and rightfully so.

And that, at the end of the day, is what makes this movie as great as it is. No pretentions, no wankery, no high-minded message that takes over the movie, none of that. It's a fun story about an ex-military cab driver, an alien woman, a priest, and a cowardly radio host saving the motherfucking world. And if that doesn't rev your engine then you might want to check your pulse, friend.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go and rewatch the greatest movie ever.


  1. Mr. Fear:

    Family film? With Ruby Rhodd going down on a waitress during lift off? Ah, no.

    Otherwise, I think I agree. It is a shame how badly Luc Besson messed up with his Valerian: City of a Thousand Planets disaster. I had been hoping for so much more after watching The Fifth Element, but maybe he's run dry.

    My Buckaroo Banzai-loving friends are going to give me hell for this, but I think the Fifth Element has better action, better direction and more attractive women. Time for a re-watch.

    1. You do have a point, and I should've rewatched the movie before writing this post, instead of after! I mean, my brother and I watched it when we were kids, and he turned out okay, at least. I'm a different story, but I don't think that's 5th Element's fault!
      And I've heard nothing but bad things about Valerian. I can't believe it's the same guy! I guess we all have some hits and misses, but from what I hear that was a pretty big miss.

    2. I wouldn't think of blaming the Fifth Element for the way you turned out. I would say that the root causes for your current condition are...varied. And quite possibly include extraterrestrial elements.

  2. I have tried a half dozen times to sit all the way through this movie and I've yet to manage it. It's getting to the point where I am wondering if maybe there are two films called "The Fifth Element" and I keep trying to watch the wrong one. Because it does nothing for me. Seriously, it's like watching paint dry. Everything is so absurd that I don't care what happens, from the Space Muppets in Egypt on.

    1. Different strokes for different folks, I suppose. I loved it because everything was so over the top absurd. It was just so much fun to me. Like they didn't care what anyone thought, they just wanted to make a fun ride. I think they accomplished it admirably, but not everyone is gonna think the same, which is okay.

    2. I'm not sure why I enjoy this film so much. I do know that I can sit down at any point in this film and just relax, and lose myself in what some friends consider to be mindless nonsense. This film and Big Trouble in Little China do this for me, and that probably says something bad about my taste in entertainment.

  3. 2001 is all right if you really like The Blue Danube and you think of it like a music video for The Blue Danube.

    1. Ha! That's about what I thought of it, to be honest. Like this song is really pretty and the effects are neat to see but when is the STORY going to happen? Are we just gonna have stuff floating through space for 2 1/2 hours with some incomprehensible scenes at the front and back? We are? Oh...okay then...

  4. Great movie, one of my favorites. One more thing that sets it apart from a lot of sci-fi: it wasn't based on an established franchise. Not only did it not have sequels, but it wasn't based on books or comic books.

    That surprised me a little when I discovered it, because the world feels so lived in. As you say, even bit characters like the Chinese restaurateur feel like they live there. It shows that you don't need extended universe materials and sequels and prequels to make a setting feel real; you can establish it right there in one movie.

    1. I think that's one of the reasons I love it so much, honestly. It's its own, self-contained story. No novel to compare it to, no sequel or series to ruin the magic by not living up to it. It's like a short story in movie format, and it just works so well.

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