Mr Shadow / The Sixth Element / The Fifth Element Part 2

Since The Fifth Element’s release in 1997, there has been talk of a follow up. Publications at the time of release referred to a sequel, Cinefex 70 mentioned a “long script”, and Empire Magazine #97 had a short quote from Besson in a preview discussing if a sequel is a possibility:

Given his exhaustion, talk of a sequel appears inappropriate. But there are, as Spock would have it, always “possibilities”.

“I’ve written 400 pages, so there’s enough for another,” he admits, pausing, before perking up. “Look what drives me is the pleasure. Let’s say the movie goes around the world and people really enjoy it and have fun and they says it was cool. That’s the only thing that could drive me into making another one. If people just try to attack me then okay. Don’t worry…” He looks up and smiles. “I’ll just stay home.”

An answer in Premiere Magazine reinterated the 400 page script:

“I finally finished the script for Fifth Element on a boat during the six months filming Atlantis. I came back to France with a 400-page version. It was enormous, but clearly divided into two parts. I showed it Patrice Ledoux. The first budget bordered on $140 million.”

This snippet backs up the information from The Story of the Fifth Element (Page 9), in which Besson describes in detail how he wrote the script, partnered with Gaumont and endeavoured to get the film financed in North America.

“The result: a four-hundred-page script in two parts, two films. Written without any concession to financial reality, just to please myself. This flight of fancy has done me a power of good. I have got a great kick out of it, though I am aware that the film I have in mind will be too expensive to make, and not necessarily the most suitable. The actual production will have to be more concise, better constructed, and of course cheaper!

We are now entering totally unknown territory: the big science-fiction movie. We edge our way forward. The first step is the budget: almost one hundred and forty million dollars for a film in two parts. Impossible to fund.

Three things are soon obvious: we have to make the first part – then the second if the film is a success – because no one is going to stick their neck out that far. Nor will they commit themselves unless a celebrity takes on the leading role.”

Clearly Besson believed he had enough material for two films, but realised significant changes were required to finance the project.

For Pathe’s Two Disc Special Edition UK DVD set released in 2003, a text essay was included on the second disc, titled “The Sixth Element”. Probably the most fascinating information is the claim that the sequel was provisionally titled “Mr Shadow”, but without any reference to where this originated.

Ultimately this isn’t anything new or revealing to add to the sequel debate, and the feature was dropped from the Blu-ray disc release in 2011.

The full text has been copied below:

“Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element is a film packed with imagination and spectacle, often almost overwhelming the audience with its brilliant imagery and unearthly characters, but this vibrant cinematic adventure is actually only half the original story dreamed up by its talented writer/director.

Back in 1975, Besson was just another teenager who wanted to become a film-maker, and had no idea how to write a movie script. Instead, he began a sprawling science-fiction novel entitled “Zaltman Bleros”, named after its central character, an apparent nobody in the year 2300 who wins a holiday in an intergalactic lottery. Years later, this would become The Fifth Element.

“I started working on this story when I was 16,” says Besson, “writing solely for the pleasure of it – just to escape the everyday, and to dream about this world. There was no way that I could imagine someday filming it, and it grew to two or three hundred pages of story.”

Over a decade later, Besson, now a successful film director, decided to revisit the products of his teenage imagination as he oversaw the release of Nikita, and began the gruelling underwater shoots for Atlantis. His unpublished novel would be gradually transformed into a lengthy movie script for a proposed two part science fiction film.

“The first draft was 400 pages and would have cost $145 million to shoot, but on my first draft I never think of realistic needs” says Besson. “I just put down on paper everything that I’d love to see. I just like to go for it, and I consider the serious questions later.”

A collaboration followed with Hollywood screenwriter Robert Kamen and together they managed to reduce Besson’s four hour epic to a more manageable one hundred and sixty-five pages. This writing partnership would continue with Kiss of the Dragon (2001) and The Transporter (2002).

Their revised feature script attracted enough financial backing for extensive preproduction and eventually The Fifth Element would burst onto cinema screens across the world in 1996.

But what about the second half of Besson’s colossal original script, apparently entitled “Mr Shadow” after the evil presence which dominates events in The Fifth Element? In 1997, Besson was asked if audiences could look forward to seeing a sequel to The Fifth Element following its international success.

His reply was tantalisingly vague: “Yeah, maybe. I was so in love with Leeloo and Korben and Zorg and all these characters, maybe I’m going to miss them. We will see.”

Thanks to his conceptual design team on The Fifth Element – including artists Jean Claude Mezieres and Moebius – Besson possessed the blueprints to recreate his future world whenever he desired, plus he already had a script, but despite persistent rumours, “Mr. Shadow” failed to see the light of day.

Now in 2003, Besson is established as a international movie producer with a series of profitable action films to his name. Given the success of epic fantasy works such as The Lord of the Rings, The Matrix Trilogy, and the Star Wars Prequels, surely the moment is ripe for him to revisit the world of The Fifth Element…

However, it seems that only time will tell if Luc Besson will ever finish the story he first imagined as a teenager desperate to break into the movie business.

The now two plus decades since the film and Luc Besson’s lack of interest in returning to the world of The Fifth Element make a direct sequel now a near impossibility. It would be fascinating to see what the original 400 page script contained, how Besson originally planned to split into two films and ultimately what was used in the final film. It’s very likely that the film used pages form both halves of the script, and not simply the first 200 pages being cut down to 120 pages.