Film Score Friday Retro Edition: ‘The Fifth Element’ by Eric Serra

When I started writing the weekly film score review, one of the things I wanted to do was shine a light on some of my favorite scores from the past. Now that I have just passed my one-year anniversary on The Flickcast I feel now is a great time to go retro and talk about one of my favorite scores of all time, The Fifth Element.

The film is one of my five favorite of all time, and it is one of those pesky films that I can’t watch more than five minutes of it without needing to stay put and finish the rest. A huge part of that attraction comes from the score. Eric Serra crafted a unique, original and forward thinking score that lays beautifully over the top of Luc Besson’s imaginative world.

Eric Serra is a french composer who often works with Luc Besson, crafting modern and non-traditional scores that can be very polarizing. The most famous example of this was his highest profile job in America scoring the excellent Goldeneye. The film was all about making Bond relevant to a 90s audience, and for the score, that meant getting a guy who would break away from the John Barry mold. This caused quite the stir among Bond fans, and ultimately lead to an innovative score that probably just didn’t work for the movie it was made for.

On the other hand, with The Fifth Element, he created what I personally consider his pinnacle work. The music in this movie is so eclectic, so alive, and so very, very good. One of the great achievements of this music is that it plays beautifully in or out of context.

Unlike a great score from John Williams that will always feel tied to the film it represents, The Fifth Element soundtrack works almost as well as a stand alone music album with no ties to the film at all. The music is as varied as any great album, with many tracks that play more like songs than portions of a film score.

One of the many strengths of this score is the emotion and beauty of certain themes. There is a longing and a since of tragedy in the music tied to LeeLoo, especially as she comes to grips with what humanity it capable of. The heartfelt theme touches on a lot of the same places Areis’ Theme from Final Fantasy VII goes, only much more grand, in both production and in context.

One of the things that always puzzled me was why The Fifth Element would play so often on HBO Comedy or even Comedy Central. I know the movie is pretty fun in places, but no more so than a lot of other action or sci-fi movies. A possible explanation for that could be found in the score. There is a very clear comedy aspect to portions of the soundtrack, in fact it is really among the best comedy music of the decade. This probably cemented for some program director somewhere that this film has enough comedy DNA to warrant playing next to Kingpin or Mallrats.

So I have already told you about the beautiful themes and the quality comedy music, but wait, there’s more!

The Fifth Element also boosts excellent action music that is both terrifying and exciting. I would have thought the juxtaposition of all these different musical types would create a bit of a muddy mess, but that is truly where Serra’s music soars. The variety of sounds gives this score the same layered, complex tone that the movie nails without giving you a sonic beat for beat version of the film. And the music doesn’t just stop at action, comedy and emotional music. It also boosts tracks that are better defined as reggae, pop, opera and even dance.

The soundtrack is one of the greatest examples of a unique approach to film music done to perfection. It is different in a lot of ways to traditional film scores, but it has just enough of that DNA to not feel like Serra is just experimenting away with no regard to the film itself.

Three Favorite Tracks:

Little Light of Love by Eric Serra – This is the “pop” song if the album, the end credit’s song that plays you out of the theater. It is first and foremost a good song, managing to not be to sappy for being a love anthem for a sci-fi action film. It also opens the album and does a wonderful job of setting a tone for what to expect in the tracks to follow. There is a shorter version of the track at the end of the album too, which is actually the version that appears in the film, but the full song at track 1 is the better of the two. I often thought to myself that when Bryan Adams sings in the shower, this is what he thinks he sounds like.

Heat by Eric Serra – This reggae inspired track is the quintessential song I use to describe the album. It has such a great feel to it, I can’t help but moving every time I hear it. The song is infectious and of all the instrumental tracks that I could see being a single in and of itself, this is one that I bet could actually be a hit. If you listened to this cold, with no knowledge of the movie or the context of the song I am willing to bet you would be shocked to find it cam from a film score. Especially a film score from a sci-fi action extravaganza movie starring Bruce Willis and Gary Oldman.

The Diva Dance by Eric Serra – Ahh the lovely vocal stylings of the Diva Plavalaguna. This track is the second part of two tracks that merge from a traditional operatic piece to this dance infused pleasure. The transition into this track is one of the better things Serra did on this whole album. It is such a statement to go to something traditional in the middle of his crazy eclectic score, then to morph that sound into one of his most off the wall pieces. It really puts an exclamation point on the whole score, and is one of the cooler film score moments I have ever heard.

There will be no least favorite tracks in these retro editions, mostly because any score I choose to focus on will be one of my all time favorite.

At the end of the day The Fifth Element‘s score is one of the best, most adventurous scores I have ever heard. If you are unfamiliar with the music and/or the movie, do yourself a great service and seek both out. If a single person can be turned onto this wonderful music from these twelve hundred words than I consider it a worthwhile endeavor.

Final Score for The Fifth Element:

5 out of 5

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