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View From The Couch


THE FIFTH ELEMENT (1997). This gonzo sci-fi outing, set in 2259, proves to be a messy amalgam - a motion picture with the body of a mainstream blockbuster but the spirit of a trendy cult flick. And yet, for all its narrative incoherencies, visual excesses and shifting moods (it whiplashes between drama and comedy with light-speed abandon), the movie works. The plot - initially incomprehensible, but easier to figure out once it gets rolling - posits that only an alien known as Leeloo (Milla Jovovich in the film's most affecting performance) has the power to save our world from being destroyed by an approaching fireball of pure evil. The insane Zorg (a weak Gary Oldman) opposes her at every turn, but she receives invaluable assistance from Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis, appropriately gruff), a former government agent who now works as a New York cab driver. It's not exactly a revelation to discover that then-37-year-old writer-director Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita) came up with the idea for The Fifth Element when he was 16: Few creatures on this planet are as familiar with the principles of the science fiction form as teenage boys with overactive imaginations. Besides, it helps us understand why, in the movie, the only being with the power to save the planet is a lithe model whose wardrobe chiefly consists of strategically placed strips of masking tape. The Fifth Element has long been available in a bare-bones DVD, but this is the real thing: a two-disc set that's being billed as the "Ultimate Edition." The picture and sound quality are superb, and extras include a trivia track, screen tests, various making-of pieces and several short features devoted to the memorable blue-skinned diva.

SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW (2004). There was never any reason to believe this movie would be a theatrical success, and Paramount's ill-advised decision to move it from a high-profile summer slot into the off-month of September all but guaranteed its fate. But it still counts as a nice try by all concerned, and one gets the sneaky suspicion that this could turn into a home video sleeper somewhere down the line. A large-scale achievement that manages to seem retro and futuristic, Sky Captain features cutting-edge technology in the service of a storyline that harkens back to the days of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. While the actors are flesh-and-blood - or, in the case of Angelina Jolie, fleshy-and-bloody-hot - practically everything around them was created on computers by debuting writer-director Kerry Conran and his team. The result is a visual marvel, the obvious work of someone deeply immersed in both cinematic and sci-fi lore. I wish that Conran's script and direction exhibited a bit more pizzazz, but they're serviceable enough, with heroic aviator Sky Captain (Jude Law) and spunky reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) trying to unravel a mystery whose ingredients include the disappearance of prominent scientists, the destruction of New York City by gigantic robots, and the emergence of a mysterious figure known as Dr. Totenkopf. From German Expressionism to screwball comedy, from The Wizard of Oz to Raiders of the Lost Ark, Conran's influences often make Sky Captain seem like the fever dream of a hopeless film buff - it may be derivative, but it's never dull. Jolie's character, feisty fighter Franky Cook, holds promise, but unfortunately she's only in the movie for 10 minutes, tops. DVD extras include audio commentary by Conran and his FX crew, a pair of deleted scenes, and the original 6-minute short that Conran used to sell the studio on the idea of a full-length feature.
Extras: 1/2

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