13 Futuristic Facts About The Fifth Element

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If The Fifth Element—which was released 20 years ago today—isn't the goofiest, most outlandish sci-fi action movie ever made, it's not for lack of trying. Luc Besson's 23rd-century spectacle features a breakout performance by Milla Jovovich, and had Bruce Willis saving Earth from a giant rock one year before Armageddon. You probably think it's either great or terrible—there's not much in-between on this one. If you're on the "yes" side, here's some knowledge to add to your multi-pass next time you watch it. 

1. Léon: The Professional helped it get made. 

Mad Frenchman Luc Besson had five features under his belt when he started working on The Fifth Element in 1992. But his respectable track record wasn't enough to pull in the kind of financial backing he needed for a futuristic sci-fi adventure. So after some pre-production work (including meeting with designers; see below), he put The Fifth Element aside and—in the course of 11 months—wrote and directed Léon: The Professional, starring Jean Reno, 13-year-old Natalie Portman, and future The Fifth Element villain Gary Oldman. Léon's strong showing ($45 million worldwide, on a $16 million budget) gave the people who controlled the purse strings more confidence in Besson's ability to make The Fifth Element a success, and the project was put back on track. 

2. Besson kind of wishes it had taken even longer to get it made. 

He explained to The Playlist: "I was a little bit frustrated because I made the film right before all the new effects arrived. So when I did the film it was all blue screen, six hours, dots on the wall, takes forever to do one shot. Now, basically, you put the camera on your shoulder and then you run and then you add a couple of dinosaurs and spaceships." He said he'd love the chance to make another futuristic sci-fi film—maybe even a sequel to The Fifth Element—now that technology has made it easier. 

3. It was inspired by French comic books. 

As a teenager in the 1970s, Besson devoured his countrymen's comics (called "bandes dessinées" there—"drawn strips"), especially the sci-fi titles by artists like Jean-Claude Mézières and Jean "Moebius" Giraud. Besson enlisted those two to head up the production design team for The Fifth Element, and used their sketches and storyboards extensively. Giraud and Alejandro Jodorowsky later sued Besson for plagiarizing their comic The Incal in The Fifth Element, but the case was dismissed. (Giraud had, after all, worked directly with Besson on on the film.) Jodorowsky later said it was the comic's editor who'd filed the lawsuit, not him and Giraud. 

4. It borrowed some ideas from Plato.

Maybe you knew this, but Luc Besson didn't. He conceived The Fifth Element as a teenager in the 1970s, taking the four classical elements (earth, water, wind, and fire) and combining them to make a fifth (life). Turns out that a lot of ancient people had already come up with the same basic concept, including the Greek philosopher. Besson said, “When my father came across Plato’s writings on the subject, he came to me with the book and said, ‘Do you know that your movie is a remake?’ I read it, and was amazed to see the similarities between what Plato had written and what I had put into the script”

5. Besson is a hands-on director. Literally.

Besson usually operates the camera himself, which means he's right there in the middle of things rather than off to the side. He doesn't call "cut" between takes (he doesn't like to stop the momentum), but will instead simply talk to the actors and tell them what he needs. And if an actor isn't quite where Besson needs him or her to be, he'll take the actor by the shoulders and move him or her manually. For the actors who hadn't worked with Besson before, this informality took some getting used to.

6. Chris Tucker's role was meant for Prince, who thought the costumes were too effeminate. 

According to costume designer Jean Paul Gaultier, Besson had lined up Mel Gibson, Julia Roberts, and Prince to play the leads in 1992, before financial problems delayed the project. (It's not clear whether any of them had officially signed on or were merely considering it.) Besson arranged for Gaultier to meet with Prince when the singer was in Paris so he could show him sketches of his designs. The meeting proved awkward (as one assumes many meetings with Prince are), and The Purple One later told Besson that he found the costumes "a bit too effeminate." It's entirely possible that the production delays would have prevented Prince from committing anyway, but it's fun to think about what Ruby Rhod would have been like in different hands. Quieter, probably.

7. At the time, it was the most expensive non-U.S. film in history.

It cost north of $70 million, or about the same as The Lost World: Jurassic Park, released the same year. 

8. Nobody can agree on what year it takes place in. 

The first scene is explicitly set in 1914. Everything after that is said to be "300 years later," which we understand is just an approximation. Korben Dallas's alarm clock says the year is 2263. But the notes on the 1997 DVD edition say 2257, and Besson says 2259 in his book The Story of The Fifth Element

9. The cast didn't know what the Diva looked like until they saw her onstage.

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Besson wanted to capture everyone's natural astonished reactions the first time they saw the Diva Plavalaguna. To achieve this, he simply kept the actress (his then-wife, Maïwenn Le Besco) hidden behind a curtain until the time came to film her entrance. So while the idea of an outlandish blue alien hanging around the craft services table with Bruce Willis is amusing, it didn't happen that way.

10. Some of Milla Jovovich's high kicks were performed by a "leg on a stick."

The actress trained for her fight scenes, but she was still mostly a novice. In particular, she couldn't kick very high. As she explained it, they worked around this by using a (presumably fake) leg on a stick, held just below the frame. She would move her body as if to kick, and the leg operators would swing the thing up into the frame. Movie magic! 

11. Gary Oldman doesn't like the movie.

In 2014, Oldman told Playboy that he "can't bear it." To be fair, he doesn't seem to have much fondness for most of the movies he's been in.

12. It offered Luc Besson the opportunity to ruin his second marriage and launch his third.

The director had been married to Maïwenn Le Besco, who plays the Diva Plavalaguna, since 1992 (when she was 16 and he was 33, but that's another story). She didn't want to be in the film, adhering to the old adage that married people shouldn't work together and co-workers shouldn't marry each other. But when the actress Besson had cast as the Diva dropped out, Le Besco took the part and gave a memorable performance. Alas, Besson didn't share his wife's policy of not mixing work with relationships. He left her during the production for Milla Jovovich, whom he married at the end of 1997 and divorced two years later. He was also married once before Le Besco and once (so far) after Jovovich.  

13. A famous fashion designer worked his fingers to the bone to get the costumes right. 

Jean Paul Gaultier, the enfant terrible of the fashion world who once gave Madonna conical breasts, designed the futuristic costumes for The Fifth Element—more than 1000 of them. He didn't just design them, either: For crowd scenes, where there might be hundreds of extras wearing his costumes, he'd go around making adjustments to ensure everyone looked right before the cameras rolled. So take a moment to appreciate the details next time you watch the movie, OK?

The Very Real Events That Inspired Game of Thrones's Red Wedding

Peter Graham's After the Massacre of Glencoe
Peter Graham's After the Massacre of Glencoe
Peter Graham, Google Cultural Institute, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Ask any Game of Thrones fan to cite a few of the show's most shocking moments, and the so-called "Red Wedding" from season 3's "The Rains of Castamere" episode will likely be at the top of their list. The events that unfolded during the episode shocked fans because of their brutality, but what might be even more surprising to know is that the episode was based on very real events.

Author George R.R. Martin has said that the inspiration for the matrimonial bloodbath is based on two dark events in Scottish history: the Black Dinner of 1440 and 1692's Massacre of Glencoe. “No matter how much I make up, there’s stuff in history that’s just as bad, or worse,” Martin told Entertainment Weekly in 2013. And he’s absolutely right. See for yourself.

The Massacre of Glencoe

The West Highland Way in 2005, view from the summit of the Devil's Staircase looking south over the east end of Glen Coe, towards Buachaille Etive Mòr with Creise and Meall a' Bhuiridh beyond
Colin Souza, Edited by Dave Souza, CC BY-SA 2.5, Wikimedia Commons

In 1691, all Scottish clans were called upon to renounce the deposed King of Scotland, James VII, and swear allegiance to King William of Orange (of William and Mary fame). The chief of each clan had until January 1, 1692, to provide a signed document swearing an oath to William. The Highland Clan MacDonald had two things working against them here. First of all, the Secretary of State, John Dalrymple, was a Lowlander who loathed Clan MacDonald. Secondly, Clan MacDonald had already sworn an oath to James VII and had to wait on him to send word that they were free to break that oath.

Unfortunately, it was December 28 before a messenger arrived with this all-important letter from the former king. That gave Maclain, the chief of the MacDonald clan, just three days to get the newly-signed oath to the Secretary of State.

Maclain was detained for days when he went through Inveraray, the town of the rival Clan Campbell, but still managed to deliver the oath, albeit several days late. The Secretary of State’s legal team wasn't interested in late documents. They rejected the MacDonalds's sworn allegiance to William, and set plans in place to cut the clan down, “root and branch.”

In late January or early February, 120 men under the command of Captain Robert Campbell arrived at the MacDonalds's in Glencoe, claiming to need shelter because a nearby fort was full. The MacDonalds offered their hospitality, as was custom, and the soldiers stayed there for nearly two weeks before Captain Drummond arrived with instructions to “put all to the sword under seventy.”

After playing cards with their victims and wishing them goodnight, the soldiers waited until the MacDonalds were asleep ... then murdered as many men as they could manage. In all, 38 people—some still in their beds—were killed. At least 40 women and children escaped, but fleeing into a blizzard blowing outside as their houses burned down meant that they all died of exposure.

The massacre was considered especially awful because it was “Slaughter Under Trust.” To this day, the door at Clachaig Inn in Glen Coe has a sign on the door that says "No hawkers or Campbells."

The Black Dinner

In November of 1440, the newly-appointed 6th Earl of Douglas, who was just 16, and his little brother David, were invited to join the 10-year-old King of Scotland, James II, for dinner at Edinburgh Castle. But it wasn’t the young King who had invited the Douglas brothers. The invitation had been issued by Sir William Crichton, Chancellor of Scotland, who feared that the Black Douglas (there was another clan called the Red Douglas) were growing too powerful.

As legend has it, the children were all getting along marvelously, enjoying food, entertainment and talking until the end of the dinner, when the head of a black bull was dropped on the table, symbolizing the death of the Black Douglas. The two young Douglases were dragged outside, given a mock trial, found guilty of high treason, and beheaded. It’s said that the Earl pleaded for his brother to be killed first so that the younger boy wouldn’t have to witness his older brother’s beheading.

Sir Walter Scott wrote this of the horrific event:

"Edinburgh Castle, toune and towre,
God grant thou sink for sin!
And that e'en for the black dinner
Earl Douglas gat therein."

This article has been updated for 2019.

15 Game of Thrones Products Every Fan Needs

Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Helen Sloan, HBO

Though Game of Thrones might be coming to its official end, that doesn’t mean that your fandom can’t—or won’t—carry on. Whether you’re a years-long defender of House Stark or have been rooting for House Targaryen since the beginning, there’s a candle, collectible pin, coffee mug, card game, and pretty much anything else you can imagine with your name (and preferred sigil) on it.

1. A Song of Ice and Fire Book Series; $46

Bantam's 'A Song of Ice and Fire' book series

Bantam, Amazon

If you’ve never read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series upon which the series is based, plenty more Westerosi drama awaits. And just because you’ve seen every episode of the series 10 times doesn’t mean you know which way the books will turn. (The TV show diverged from their narrative a long time ago—and dozens of the characters who have been killed off on your television screen are still alive and well in the books.) Plus, as Martin has yet to complete the series, you may just catch up in time for the newest book.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Map Marker Wine Stopper Set; $50

Nobody solves a problem like Tyrion Lannister … and his thought process usually includes copious amounts of wine (Dornish if you’ve got it). Something tells us you’re going need some vino yourself to get through the giant, hour-long hole left in your Sunday nights once Game of Thrones officially ends. Make sure you don’t let a drop of it go to waste by keeping one of these six wine stoppers—each one carved to represent the sigil of the most noble houses in the Seven Kingdoms—handy.

Buy it: HBO Shop or BoxLunch

3. Winterfell Coffee Mug; $25

If coffee is more your speed—we get it: the night is dark and full of terrors—this simple-yet-elegant Winterfell mug is an easy way to communicate to your co-workers why you’re typically a little bleary-eyed on Monday mornings.

Buy it: HBO Shop

4. Hodor Door Stop; $12

A 3D-printed Hodor door stop, inspired by 'Game of Thrones'

3D Cauldron, Amazon

An important part of being a Game of Thrones fan is accepting that showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff have no problem killing off your favorite characters, often in brutal ways. One of the series’ most memorable deaths was that of Hodor, Bran Stark’s personal mode of transport, who we loved despite the fact that the only word he ever uttered for six seasons was “Hodor”—and who we loved even more when, in the final moments of his life, we learned why that was the case. Pay tribute to the gentle giant, and his backstory, with this 3D-printed door stop.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Tarot Card Deck; $25

A 'Game of Thrones' tarot card deck, from Chronicle Books

Chronicle Books, Amazon

Channel your inner Maggy the Frog and see what the future holds for you and your loved ones (your enemies, too, if the mood strikes you) with Chronicle Books’s gorgeously packaged tarot card deck. The tarot tradition and Game of Thrones mythology blend seamlessly together in this box of goodies, which includes an instruction book and illustrated cards featuring your favorite characters and most beloved scenes from the show.

Buy it: Amazon or Chronicle Books

6. Fire and Blood Candle; $12

Mad Queen or not, show that you still stand behind the Mother of Dragons by filling your home with this House Targaryen-inspired votive candle. Best of all: Just wait to see the look on the faces of your guests when they ask “Mmmm … what’s that smell?” If you’d prefer not to answer with “fire and blood—doesn’t it smell delicious?,” there are other scents available: one called "Moon of My Life My Sun and Stars," another called "Be a Dragon," and one inspired by the Iron Throne itself (which must smell like victory).

Buy it: HBO Shop

7. Clue: Game of Thrones; $50

Margaery Tyrell with the battle axe in Cersei’s bedchambers. Rewrite the rules—and brutal deaths—of Game of Thrones with this special edition of the classic board game, which tasks you with figuring out who murdered whom, using what weapon, and where the incident took place. A double-sided playing board lets you choose whether you want to set the game in The Red Keep or Meereen.

Buy it: HBO Shop or BoxLunch

8. Game of Thrones Monopoly; $24

'Game of Thrones Monopoly' game board

Hasbro, Amazon

Who wants to be the Lord or Lady of Winterfell when you can become the preeminent real estate mogul of all the Seven Kingdoms? This special-edition Monopoly board puts a distinctly Westerosian twist on the classic game, with silver tokens to represent the sigils of each of the main houses and a card holder that plays the series’ haunting score whenever you press it.

Buy it: Amazon or Best Buy

9. House Stark Hoodie; $60

If you really wanted to dress like a Stark, you’d have a master blacksmith on hand to help customize your armor—or at least turn your IKEA rug into a luxurious cape. If you’re far less crafty, there’s always this full-zip hoodie featuring an embroidered direwolf on the front and an outlined illustration of the same on the back. The minimalist design is a way to show your fandom in a way that, to the untrained eye, might just look like you’re a fan of wolves. But the rest of us will know better. And approve.

Buy it: ThinkGeek

10. Deluxe Iron Throne Funko Pop! Set; $130

Funko's Iron Throne Pop! set of five

Funko, HBO Shop

Though it seems unlikely that a few of these characters will ever sit on the Iron Throne (either because they’re dead or have gone mad), a fan can always hope. And buying them as part of this five-piece set is an easy way to collect them all. If you don’t see your favorite character here, Amazon has got plenty more squat-headed figures to choose from, including Arya, Brienne of Tarth, Rhaegal (poor Rhaegal), and Ghost (poor Ghost). If you ever happen upon a headless Ned Stark Pop!, grab it; this hard-to-find figure can sell for more than $2000 on eBay.

Buy it: HBO Shop

11. Iron Throne Bookend; $60

After devoting more than eight years of your life to seeing Game of Thrones all the way through, maybe it’s you who deserves the Iron Throne. You can’t sit on this 7.5-inch replica, the base of which features sigils from all the noble houses, but you can show off your fancy George R.R. Martin book collection … or all that dragon fan fiction you’ve been working on.

Buy it: Best Buy or the HBO Shop

12. Game of Thrones Music Box; $13

'Game of Thrones' music box

Shenzhen Youtang Trade Co., Amazon

Channel your inner Arya by psyching yourself up with the iconic Game of Thrones theme song whenever you feel the need to hear it with this hand-cranked music box.

Buy it: Amazon

13. Iron Throne Tankard; $70

Show your guests who's boss at your next dinner party—or raucous feast—as you take your place at the head of the table and guzzle your mead (or giant's milk—we don't judge) from this Iron Throne-themed tankard, completed with sword handle.

Buy it: HBO Shop

14. Game of Thrones Socks; $8

It gets cold in the North. Keep your tootsies warm with this six-pack of stylish ankle-cut socks.

Buy it: Target

15. Living Language Dothraki; $16

A copy of the Living Language Dothraki language course

Living Language, Amazon

By now, you've surely learned at least a handful of common Dothraki words and phrases. But if you wan to become fluent in the (fictional) language, this language course is one way to do it. Now: Finne zhavvorsa anni?

Buy it: Amazon

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