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Now and Then – Babylon A.D. and The Fifth Element


     Now: Babylon A.D.(2008)
         Then: The Fifth Element (1997)
The Future Is Awful!
           The Future Is Awesome!

French director Mathieu Kassovitz’s new scifi epic Babylon A.D. revolves around a bald, burly bruiser (Vin Diesel) protecting a very special girl (Melanie Thierry) who may be the key to the future. If the setup reminds you of French director Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element , there’s a reason. That 1997 hit featured a buzz-cut bad boy (Bruce Willis) protecting another very special girl (Milla Jovovich) who was likewise the key to the future. What makes one film a flop and the other a success? Read on.

Quintessential Anti-Heroes
Babylon A.D.’s and The Fifth Element‘s tough guy saviors have, as mentioned above, a similar look. They’re also both ex-military men, trying to stay alive and make ends meet. The difference is that Diesel’s Toorop is a dreary hired gun given to pronouncements like “There’s no mercy for the weak!” while Willis’s Dallas is a smart-talking cabbie who helps his self-appointed charge out of the goodness of his heart. Ask yourself this: Which guy would you rather have a drink with?

Woman Is the Future of Man
In Babylon A.D., Melanie Thierry’s weird, witchy Aurora turns out to be psychic and pregnant with genetically-engineered twins hailed as messiahs by a religious cult; in The Fifth Element, Jovovitch’s Leeloo is a superhuman here to save humanity from an all-consuming evil. Poor Thierry doesn’t get to do much aside from ask questions then look sadly at the wicked world; Jovovitch’s Leeloo gets to play the innocent abroad, babble in an invented language, and kick ass while wearing Jean-Paul Gaultier. Once again, who would you rather have a drink with?

Over-the-Top Decor
Babylon A.D. feels dour. It takes place in a world ruined by polution, war and poverty. The Fifth Element feels optimistic. It takes place in a whiz-bang future of flying cars, alien sopranos and retro spaceships. With its half-hearted stabs at social commentary and its bone-crushing kill-or-be-killed action, Babylon A.D. fails as satire and action film. The Fifth Element in contrast is a bright, breezy space opera with no agenda beyond being glossy, gleaming entertainment. Director and co-writer Luc Besson came up with the idea for The Fifth Element while he was in high school. Tap into your inner teenager and you’ll love it.

The Verdict
Babylon A.D. is getting beaten up by the critics and the public alike; as I write this, it’s got a grim rating of 5% “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes; the other 95% say you should skip it. As AMC’s own Clayton Neuman has noted at SciFi Scanner, director Mathieu Kassovitz has already disowned the film. Compare that to The Fifth Element which remains Bresson’s crowning achievement in English. It’s no Nikita (his French-language smash) but with wisecracking Willis, wonderfully weird Jovovich and a shiny look that’s lost none of its gloss, it’s a campy classic.

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