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wherein Matthew the movie buff argues with himself about The Fifth Element - The Literary Exhibitionist
wherein Matthew the movie buff argues with himself about The Fifth Element

-- चार हजार और नब्बे-पांच --

So I took myself to the 20th anniversary screening of The Fifth Element last night, at the Regal Thornton Cinemas in Northgate. I was a little annoyed they weren't playing it anywhere downtown, but whatever.

Shobhit wasn't interested in going. He was sure he had seen it recently, but if he had, he would likely have seen it with me. Even I was thinking I had a vague memory of having seen it sometime within, say, the past five years -- but it's nowhere in my Netflix rental history. I suppose it's possible I watched it once via HBO Go or Hulu or Amazon Prime, but those accounts are far too difficult to find and/or search through viewing histories.

It did finally occur to me to check my actual Google Calendar last night. And guess what? I actually saw it three years ago this month -- and in a theatre! Not quite a conventional theatre, though, as it was at Central Cinema, which is a dinner theatre. I very nearly went to see it with either Claudia or Sara from work, but neither wound up being available and I guess I just went by myself -- a rather rare thing for me to do at that theatre in particular.

And I went back and re-read my May 8, 2014 journal entry about it, from which I want to share an exceprt here:

I've seen this movie a few times, as I used to own it on VHS. It's been several years, though, since I got a DVD player, and no longer even kept the VHS player hooked up to my TV. I never replaced the movie on DVD. So, it had been quite a few years since I last watched it. It may even be something close to ten years.

The Fifth Element didn't look nearly as dated the last time I watched it as it did last night, just in terms of visual effects, and in some cases the so-called "futuristic" ideas contained in it. Digital effects, while cutting edge at the time, were very much in their infancy in 1997. This movie was visually stunning then; not so much now -- and the wide shots of 23rd-century New York City are used frustratingly sparingly in the movie, presumably because they were very expensive to render. You watch it now and you can see on screen how they were conscientiously saving money. (I just checked Wikipedia: the budget was $90 million -- or $132 million in 2014 dollars. That's actually pretty high; it turned in a nice worldwide profit with nearly $264 million in box office.) In a way, it was amusing to watch -- if you look at the 1990 version of Total Recall, for example, it looks ridiculously dated; from the 2014 vantage point The Fifth Element is not particularly more advanced.

And you would think they would have had the foresight to incorporate digital technology into their rendering of a futuristic world, and still their "computers" come across as almost laughably analog, such as the globe-grid they look at on a screen representing the "evil sphere" that expands when they shoot missiles at it in space. Those shots look closer to the "future technology" featured in, say, Alien (1979) than it does to anything we see today. To a degree, it comes across as weirdly naïve.

One thing I got a little stuck on: the "supreme being" that turns out to be Leeloo is genetically regenerated from just a hand, recovered from a crash. They're all surprised when it turns out to be a woman. They can regenerate an entire body from a body part in a matter of minutes, but they can't tell from the recovered hand that it's a woman?? That seems laughably implausible even by 1997 standards.

That said, the movie holds up surprisingly well in spite of its dated effects (and costuming: the "Diva" singer's alien head just looks like an inflated silver balloon); it was thoroughly entertaining, and is a delightfully engaging story. It was fun to watch with a fanboy (and fangirl) audience, which burst into applause at the introduction of favorite characters -- particularly Ruby Rod, played as a wonderfully fey (but straight) interstellar DJ by Chris Tucker. He's pretty funny in this movie.

After seeing it again in a more proper, conventional theatre last night, I've decided I must have been smoking crack in 2014. So now I'm going to argue with myself about a movie for a few minutes. 2017 Matthew has a few counter-points to make with 2014 Matthew.

*The digital effects: I did not have nearly the same thought process about them this time around as I did then, and I think I know at least a little bit why. Central Cinema may be technically a theatre, but they do not project on film -- they literally play DVDs (or Blu-Rays) and project those onto a screen. This makes a real difference, as a movie that was 17 years old in 2014 would by definition have a less clean look to it, both due to its age and due to being projected from a source other than film -- the high visual quality of DVDs notwithstanding. (Unless it's been remastered, DVDs often retain the somewhat degraded digital quality of the film used to make the transfer to begin with.) In any case, in a conventional movie theatre, on a far larger screen, even in spite of clearly somewhat dated effects, The Fifth Element looked fantastic.

*Dovetailing on that point: the surround sound. I don't often think about this, but I very much noticed it last night. Central Cinema's sound is nowhere near as high in quality. There's one moment when Chris Tucker as Ruby Rhod plays a recording of a woman sex-moaning, and the sound quickly bounces from side to side in the room. Audio effects like this, even when subtle (as this example clearly was not), actually enhance the experience -- and unless you have a seriously state of the art surround sound stereo system attached to your TV at home, your local multiplex is the only place you're going to get it. It sure as hell doesn't happen at Central Cinema, which I love as a place to order dinner while watching fun movies, but as a movie theatre specifically, is pretty ghetto.

*I don't know what the hell I was thinking when I said The Fifth Element was not particularly more advanced when it came to special effects than the 1990 Total Recall had been. Both are very primitive by today's standards, obviously, but The Fifth Element came out seven years later, right as digital effects were really beginning to explode. It's far advanced compared to Total Recall. I did think of another curious connection between these two movies, though: both have a scene in which a receptionist is instantly changing her fingernail colors with a simple device rather than actual nail polish.

*My point about their almost laughably analog renderings of computer graphics still stands. Nothing looks like that anymore in the early 21st century; nothing would look even remotely like that in the 23rd.

*What I wrote in 2014 about what I thought was a plot hole regarding Leeloo's genetic regeneration was actually the result of my simply not paying attention. Luc Besson's script, over simplified and preposterous as it is (which is to be expected of a movie like this; I'm not complaining), actually covers that point. When they are taking the severed hand in to be regrown into the full person, someone actually says something about trying to identify it, but they couldn't because the readings were too far "off the charts." That's why they don't realize it's a woman until Leeloo has been regenerated as a grown person. Now, that said, the chamber in which they put her and the robotic arms used to stitch her together like she's a car on an assembly line -- that's legitimately bizarre in its "futuristic" conceptualization. Everything about it lacks efficiency, but I guess it made for fun visuals in 1997.

*I wasn't quite as distracted by the "Diva's" obviously fake costuming this time, which is almost strange, because that was the first thing that ever started to take me out of the movie upon repeat viewings, even back when I had it on VHS. I guess I'm just used to it now. I still love the sequence of her singing and her opera voice turning into synthesizer notes, intercut with Leeloo fighting the Mangalores. The music makes the scene.

*I still don't begrudge this movie almost pointedly making Chris Tucker's overtly effeminate Ruby Rhod a straight guy, and he still cracks me up. I do wonder, though, if he could more easily have been made an actually gay man were the movie made today. Probably.

-- चार हजार और नब्बे-पांच --


-- चार हजार और नब्बे-पांच --

Before the movie started, there was a featurette with director Luc Besson about his upcoming film that is clearly most like The Fifth Element than any other movie he's made since, called Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. I probably would not be much interested in this if it were made by any other director, but knowing it's by the same director as The Fifth Element increases my interest. If it's at least as good as that one, then I'm there. It probably won't be, I realized. I mean, the promotion push for this movie says it's by the "legendary director" of The Professional, The Fifth Element and . . . Lucy. The first two are good movies and the third --and most recent -- is a steaming pile of shit.

In the featurette, Besson is seen saying The Fifth Element contained 188 effects shots, and by comparison, Valerian has 2,734. I'm not sure that this alone is the greatest selling point; we saw the new full trailer last night, and the effects are not as convincing as many over the last ten years in other movies have been, and look like they may look dated as quickly as those in the Star Wars prequel trilogy. But, that fact would be rendered incidental if the script is good enough. It's honestly hard to say from the trailer alone, and I guess we'll just have to wait until the reviews start coming in. If it's poorly received, I won't waste my time with it. I already made that mistake once with Lucy -- the worst movie I saw in 2014 -- and don't want to make it again.

Getting back to The Fifth Element, I almost changed my mind about going, after I read what I had written about seeing it for the first time in probably a decade in 2014. But then I thought about seeing it on an even bigger screen than Central Cinema has, and after looking again at other movie theatre options and still finding nothing better, I decided to stick with the plan. Shobhit certainly would have liked me to stay home, but I wanted to go to a movie, and wanted to go to this one in particular.

I had told Shobhit it would not cost me anything extra, because I still had a discounted AMC Theatres ticket purchased fronm Costco some time ago. When I got there, though, I looked a the outside of the theatre and was reminded the Thornton theatre in Northgate is actually a Regal Cinemas. I even had done several Google searches for "Regal Thornton," so why I kept thinking I could use the AMC ticket, I have no idea. But! When I got up to the window, I was told my Regal Crown Club card indicated I had a free ticket on it and did I want to use it? Nice! Of course I did -- but then the kid (who was super cute) realized that this was a special event screening the free ticket could not be used for. Shit! But whatever, my next Regal movie will be free and it'll balance out anyway.

It was just past 10:00 when I got home, having walked up the hill from the Convention Place bus station because there was no #11 coming soon enough, and waiting for the two other buses that would only get me as close as six blocks away would have saved me less than five minutes at best. And I pretty much immediately got ready for bed.

-- चार हजार और नब्बे-पांच --




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