Emulating Metropolis In The Fifth Element

Emulating Metropolis In The Fifth Element

Static Mass Rating: 4/5
20th Century Fox Home Ent.

Release date: June 6th, 2011
Certificate (UK): PG
Running time: 121 minutes

Year of production: 1996

Director: Luc Besson
Writers: Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen

Cast: Bruce Willis, Gary Oldman, Ian Holm, Chris Tucker, Milla Jovovich, Luke Perry

By the mid 1990’s Luc Besson had become one of my favourite writers and directors with cinematic masterpieces such as The Big Blue (1988), Nikita (1990) and Léon (1994).

His visual style combined with an astounding ability to merge action and dialogue to create something affecting made him a filmmaker to keep an eye on. With The Fifth Element I had no idea what to expect but the unexpected.

The film opens with a prologue that tells of an alien race, the Mondoshawan, who build an ancient temple on Earth to house mystic stones that represent the elements of Earth, Water, Air, and Fire. There’s also a Fifth Element, a Supreme Being. When all five elements are combined they form Divine Light which can be used to defeat Great Evil.

The Mondoshawan race return to Earth in 1914 and remove Fifth Element but promise the humans who guard the elements that they will return it.

The Fifth Element

From there the story then shifts to the 23rd century where Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) is going about his daily business until Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) falls onto his flying taxi after leaping off the ledge of a building where she was being held. Leeloo is none other than the Fifth Element in human form, retrieved after the Mondoshawan ship that was bringing her back to Earth was destroyed during an ambush by shape-shifting Mangalores working for the insane and creepy Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg (Gary Oldman). He in turn is working for the Great Evil.

Rather reluctantly, Korben agrees to help Leeloo find the guardians of the remaining elements and the key that unlocks their power. But it was never going to be as easy as handing her over and then getting on with his day because with Zorg out to create chaos in the universe each step Leeloo takes to accomplish her task brings her closer to him.

With its zany cast of characters, including Chris Tucker as Ruby Rhod, a colourful talk show host with a weakness for the ladies who makes Prince look pale by comparison; The Fifth Element mixes sci-fi, adventure, action and comedy with a dash of romance and mysticism. Along with Roland Emmerich’s Stargate (1994) it really science fiction movies into a different realm although it’s clear to see it draws on visuals from Metropolis (1927) the same way Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) did.


  • Discovering The Fifth Element
  • Imagining The Fifth Element (05:10)
  • The Art of Jean-Claude Mezieres (05:28)
  • An Audience with Diva Plavalaguna (05:09)
  • Elements of Style (05:06)
  • MTV Cannes Premiere (46:16)
  • Visual Effects Commentary
  • Theatrical Trailer

The sprawling futuristic city depicted in The Fifth Element isn’t the only homage to Fritz Lang’s expressionist classic. Author and screenwriter Dominique Mainon makes an interesting comparison to Metropolis in one of The Fifth Element’s most memorable scenes:

“The scene where a machine reconstructs Leeloo underneath a plastic dome, using her perfect cells to replicate her body into its complete form, is visually reminiscent of the famous twenties silent fiction film Metropolis, where Maria (Brigitte Helm) is encased under a similar dome while being transformed. She is even depicted wearing similar “thermal bandages”.”(1)

  • (1) Dominique Mainon, James Ursini, The Modern Amazons: Warrior Women on Screen (2006) Limelight Editions

Indeed the scenes do bear similarities but while Metropolis has endured as a classic for its visual style and Marxist themes, The Fifth Element has gone on to become a cult classic for its action, special effects and in some circles, its feminist angle where Leeloo defies expectations that a vessel of immense power would take the form of a man.

It’s truly an impressive film with many moments that stand out, including The Diva Dance segment. As for Besson, this was the last of the films he directed that I really enjoyed, but one that I still hugely admire for the way it mixes the old with the new.

The Fifth Element

About Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.