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The Fifth Element, 1997, 62:56, composed by Eric Serra

The Fifth Element is an interesting but flawed movie, as I argued in my review. Luc Besson, the director of the movie, gathered a strong team for the effort, including Jean-Paul Gaultier for costumes and Eric Serra for music, but didn't seem to put enough work into melding all of these strong (read: eclectic) contributions into a workable whole. Serra's soundtrack on CD is a fair representation of how the soundtrack works during the movie, which might seem like an obvious thing to point out but some commercial soundtracks have little to do with the source movie. The Fifth Element stands or falls on its own traits, not on any pop songs added later.

During the movie, I only noticed the music when it was bothering me -- never a point in the composer's favour -- and at first listen, Eric Serra's music on this soundtrack did not appeal to me. The overall sound could be characterized as watered down industrial, mixed with atmospheric techno "space" noises, mixed with the occasional big orchestral sound. Some of the better tracks are undercut by association with less interesting parts of the movie. For example, "Protect Life," track 24, is almost listenable, except when you recall that it's from the preposterous scene near the end where we find out what the fifth element is. I didn't care that much for the opening track either, "Little Light of Love," sung by some Peter Gabriel sound-alike, whose name, as far as I can decipher it from the liner notes, is R.X.R.A. (a pseudonym for Serra himself perhaps). A couple of the tracks use Ruby Rhod, which is logical considering that he is a radio show host; like the movie, the soundtrack bets a lot on Ruby and the listeners' mileage will vary depending on their like or dislike of this flamboyant character. The bonus track, "Aknot! Wot?" is a pretentious series of samples from the movie, put to a beat, and passed off as music -- it could have worked but it doesn't quite have that zing that would make such effort catchy and interesting. In another disappointment, I was hoping for some contributions from Tricky, who has a small role in the movie, but the soundtrack doesn't include much from him.

On the whole, the soundtrack is not that great, but I would definitely recommend listening to tracks 14 and 15. The singer Inva Mulla Tchako, who performs the famous Donizetti aria known as "Lucia di Lammermoor" (a mad scene), has a wonderful voice, and a solid presence that carries into the next track: "The Diva Dance," where Eric Serra does a kind of postmodern riff on opera and the essentialism of music. That kind of bridge is necessary, because what Serra does needs to be grounded first in thorough knowledge and mastery of the classic operatic forms. I liked the visuals that Besson gave us in this scene, and I love the music. The two twine together in a way that only the best art can. It shows us clearly that movies can be art of the highest order, if only momentarily in this case.

As with The Fifth Element the movie, The Fifth Element the soundtrack will please its fans but not necessarily make new ones; eclectic, wacky, non-cohesive, ambitious, these all apply in nearly equal measure, so listener beware.


First posted: October 31, 1997; Last modified: February 18, 2004

Copyright © 1997-2004 by James Schellenberg (james@jschellenberg.com)


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