THE FIFTH ELEMENT: a book review by Kristen B., P.1

The Fifth Element book cover.

They used this movie poster for teh cover of the book, except without the actor's names.

I assume everyone has heard the stereotypical opinion that the book is way better than it’s movie counterpart. In this case, that is so wrong it’s hard to put it into words. “The Fifth Element (A Novel by Terry Bisson, From the Screenplay by Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamer, Based on a Story by Luc Besson)”, is not a good book. It’s a little hard to believe I even managed to get through it! Imagine how surprised I was, seeing as how the actual 1997 film starring Bruce Willis, Chris Tucker, Gary Oldman, Sir Ian Holm and Milla Jovovich is an amazing movie (and a family classic in my household).Yes, the book is truly and honestly bad; It pains me to say that this will be my first negative book critique.

The plot stayed much the same from movie to book, though some minor events were changed. The setting is thoroughly sci-fi, set in the 23rd century where Earth is the birthplace of “The United Federation,” which I suspect spans at least one galaxy and I know encompasses “200 billion souls, both human and otherwise”. New York City is jammed with layers of flying-car traffic, subway trains that go vertically up the sides of buildings, and the first few stories from the ground is nothing but a toxic garbage dump. It’s a strictly good vs. evil plot, where the ultimate being, the Fifth Element, must battle against the ultimate evil, a thing that wishes for nothing but the annihilation of all life. There are also good aliens, beings that protected the sacred elements and died for the cause, and bad aliens, who fight and kill for the thrill of it. The book jumps around mainly three settings; New York City, Phloston Paradise (a giant space vacation cruise ship), and Egypt (where the Fifth Element must be to defeat the darkness.) There is also a bit of romance thrown in, but talking too much about it would be giving one of the first and most important secrets away.

Now that we’ve covered that, let’s move on to why the book was bad. Keep in mind that the book was written AFTER the movie. I haven’t read many like this, but I suppose it’s generally like how this project turns out, where the book cannot live up to the cinematic experience (don’t get me wrong, it was written badly too, but I’ll get to that later). While doing a little background research on the author, I was shocked to discover that he is actually an acclaimed science-fiction writer, who’s won several awards! Reading further, it turns out his best stuff are short stories, and he’s well known for his “dialogue only” style. Here I went, “Aha.” Perhaps Mr. Bisson bit off more than he could chew when he decided to write this book?

There are small well-done bits, but they’re mostly descriptions of technology, like weapons, ships, or engines, and a few profound sentences scattered around. Probably one of the best examples of this was when the little group of protagonists, were floating through space in a small spaceship, after narrowly escaping a powerful explosion (think how Hans Solo’s ship barely cleared the blast range when the Death Star blew up). The new page starts off with this single sentence: “There is nowhere more peaceful than space.” It made me stop and think a bit.

For the most part, however, the writing seemed juvenile. The vocabulary was lacking, and he often used the same words over and over again. The people swung in and out of character, saying or doing things that didn’t seem to fit. They always used very simplistic, short sentences, except for the times where the author pretty much went word for word by the dialogue in the movie. There was also lots of onomatopoeia. I’m not saying that having onomatopoeia automatically means that it’s bad writing, but he used them a lot and it ended up more comical than I think it was meant to be. So in conclusion, I would recommend that you forgo the book in favor of the movie, which you should most definitely watch!


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