Sunday, September 4, 2011

"The Fifth Element" in Print

There are three official books pertaining to The Fifth Element in print.  Two of these books are rare, and in this post I hope to address these books and give fans an idea of what they are all about, as well as post some images for you.  Please keep in mind my scanner is too small for the two rarer books, which are coffee table sized tomes, so, I have photographs instead.

The first book is the one most commonly found, and it is The Fifth Element, A Novel by Terry Bisson.  This is the novelization of the film, but depending on your tastes, it's either a good thing or it's terrible:

In the "it's good" case, the novel is written from the 1995 draft of the script, which showcases Ruby Rhod in his former ego, Loc Rhod.  There are also scenes which were not present in the film as well as some more clarification on the relationship between the Diva and Leeloo, though not what you might think.  Leeloo, apparently, also has more "power" which we are not shown in the film.  There are also snippets of the Divine Language, and that pesky "Lekarariba" spelling of Leeloo's 2nd name that makes me crazy.

In the "it's terrible" case, the writing is, at best, something you'd probably expect from a somewhat decent fan-fiction - written by a 4th grader.  Also, it's written from the 1995 draft of the script, which radically defers from the film in some points, as I mentioned above, especially somewhat near the end of the book.  It is easy reading, however - if it's the film you're after, you're not going to get it here except in spurts.  The 1995 screenplay is available to view online, but it's the only draft I have seen available whatsoever on the web.

Personally I enjoy it if only for some of the story changes.  I'm not saying I prefer those differences over the film - not at all - just that I think it's neat to read what could have been.

I won't, however, spoil the details of the novelization if you're interested in reading it.  You can find here:  The Fifth Element, a Novel.  Prices are pretty decent, but I kind of wrinkled my nose at one seller offering it for $91 in "collectible" condition.

The second book is The Adventure and Discovery of a Film:  The Story of The Fifth Element, by Luc Besson.  This book is difficult to come by, but it is still available here in used and new copies (expensive in either format):  The Story of The Fifth Element

This book is Luc Besson's production diary from the of the film.  It ranges from explanations of Besson's earliest incarnation of Leeloo (a 2,000 years-old "sand girl" from the beach of Fhloston!  Who lays eggs every 400 years or so and with whom our hero, Zaltman Bleros, falls crazy in love with!), to short interviews with the designers and artists of the film, among them, costume designer Jean-Paul Gaultier, production designer Dan Weil, and artists Mezieres and Moebius, who are well-established comics creators in and of themselves. Also included in this book are plenty of prop pictures, artworks, poster variations, and perhaps the most fascinating of all, "Leeloo's Glossary," the hundreds-words long dictionary to "the Divine Language."  Besson reports in his diary that Milla Jovovich learned her lines in English first, before transposing them to the Divine Language.

Besson reveals he began writing this story in 1975, but it's obvious from his words that it went through several incarnations before it began production in 1991 and was prepared before Warner Brothers, who were hesitant to take the film on because of its scope and proposed budget and lack of a big action hero name attached, despite early interest from Bruce Willis.  They then courted Mel Gibson, who finally declined the project.  Eventually the film was put aside, and Columbia Studios took on Besson's new film Leon:  The Professional.  With this success under their hat, they were happy to take on The Fifth Element in 1995 - and Bruce Willis was ready to take the film on as was Gary Oldman - script unseen at that.  However, Besson would see thousands of girls before choosing Milla Jovovich for the role of the Supreme Being.

Like Luc Besson's other film diaries, this book is also available in French and as an added aside, there is a "variant" cover edition which came with the special edition VHS cassette set.  The difference between my edition and the variant cover is that some of the images of the characters on the front cover are switched around.  To my knowledge, this is the only one of his film diaries to also be published in English, because of the film's nature of bridging the gap between French cinema and Hollywoood extravagances.

The third, and also rare book is Valerian: Les Extras De Mezieres tome 2:  Mon Cinquieme Element Decours Pour Le Film Du Luc Besson, by Jean-Claude Mezieres.  This titles translates to The Extras of Mezieres Volume 2:  My Fifth Element Sets for the film by Luc Besson. 

It is written entirely in French and while I have translated some of it, I haven't gotten around to all of it yet.  I can tell you that the unseen-in-the-film ship which transport's Leeloo's hand to the Nucleo-lab was designed and called "Eliot," and that Zaltman Belros was supposed to live with his father in Brooklyn, if my reading and translations are serving me correctly at this time.  The book contains production pieces of artwork for the ships and atmospheres of the film, and showcases some of Meziere's Valerian comic designs which were used in some of the scenes during the trip to Fhloston Paradise.

You can find this book for sale here:  Mon Cinquieme Element

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