| Monday, January 23, 2012
Today's Tune: When 'You're' Around

Let's talk about one of my favorite movies of all time: THE FIFTH ELEMENT.

I do a lot of comparisons between literature and film, which can be problematic for a number of reasons -- they're very different mediums with very different "rules" -- but at their core, they're both methods of storytelling. Studying one can certainly help you understand the other, or teach you to think outside the creative box. If you've been studying writing for a while, then you're probably aware of the three-act structure and how it relates to both film and writing.

And now I'd like to skip ahead and talk about WHY I LOVE THE FIFTH ELEMENT SO MUCH and how I think a lot of what they do right in this film can be studied and applied to our own storytelling. They certainly do some things wrong (ridiculous skimpy outfits for young females that make no sense for functionality and occupation WHHYYYYYY), but I'd like to focus on the "good" parts.


THE FIFTH ELEMENT knocks it out of the park here. "Worldbuilding" is one of those nebulous terms that's often thrown about in speculative fiction, and it can be difficult to nail. This film is a great example of how to do it right. We get a defined sense of how this futuristic world differs from our own socially, technologically, politically, economically, and more. The makers of this film considered everything from fashion and style to interracial (and interspecies) political relations and military practices. Granted they're often unrealistic and silly (AGAIN WITH THE LADIES' OUTFITS), but attention was paid in order to create a breathing world.


ROOB-EE ROOOODDDDDD. There are no two-dimensional or boring characters in this film. Everyone, no matter how small their part, is given a personality and quirks. Who can forget the thief wearing the hallway picture hat and his goofy little dance? Significant attention was paid to people's past, occupation, and culture when building their character. The priests are traditional and always try to do right. Ruby is the epitome of spoiled celebrity. Even Corbin's mother, who we never once see on screen, is given enough personality that we know what sort of person she is.

Action, Action, Action

THE FIFTH ELEMENT is non-stop entertainment from go. There's always something high-octane going on to propel the plot forward and entertain the audience. I'm not suggesting that everyone needs to write MOAR EXPLOSIONS into their manuscripts (although I'm rarely opposed to a good explosion), but there's a valuable lesson here. Never. Let. Your. Audience. Get. Bored.

Active Protagonists

LeeLoo is a quintessential Action Girl well-versed in the art of waif-fu, but she makes it work because there's more to her character than neat fight scenes. She's passionate. She's emotional. She cares and protects. She is literally the key element to this film. Without her, the universe would be engulfed in blackness. The plot doesn't happen to her -- she IS the plot. Corbin's a bit of a reluctant hero, but when he finally decides to step up, he really steps up.

Interesting Villain

Gary Oldman's character, Zorg, is anything but ho-hum. He's snide, he's funny, he's ruthless, he's pompous, he's afraid, he's greedy. He's motivated by something other than MWA HA HA HA. This is so, so important in building a villain that really works and doesn't make the audience want to roll their eyes. Villains who do evil things "cuz I can hurr hurr hurr" or "cuz i've lost my mind hurr hurr hurr" are boring and static. Give them a motivation. Hell, make them sort of LIKEABLE.


I'm one of those writers who believes that humor can be injected into even the bleakest and most tragic of situations. And humor is HARD to write. It's easy for me to write an emotional scene. It's much more difficult to write a funny scene. THE FIFTH ELEMENT is absolutely teeming with humor. These characters are facing the destruction of the entire universe. People die. Things seem hopeless. And yet the writers are never forget to keep humor up their sleeve.


We can never forget that in order to write (or film) a truly great story, we have to make our audience care. They have to be able to get behind our characters and want them to succeed. Sometimes the goal of saving THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE is big enough. And sometimes the thing the audience cares most about is that the characters are happy and loved. Whatever the heart of your story is, make sure you deliver.

What have you learned about storytelling from YOUR favorite films?


{ prerna pickett } at: January 23, 2012 at 7:43 AM said...

this is also one of my favorite movies of all time! And I agree with you on all points!

{ Lori M. Lee } at: January 23, 2012 at 7:49 AM said...

I love this movie so much. Great post! Zorg was such a quirky, strange villain. He also let the priest live for saving him from choking lol =P

{ Francesca Zappia } at: January 23, 2012 at 8:33 AM said...

I am going to show this post to everyone who doesn't understand why I adore the Fifth Element SO. MUCH. Seriously, awesome stuff.

{ TL Conway } at: January 23, 2012 at 9:12 AM said...

I feel like I just walked into a room of comrades. Inside this room, it's safe to love movies like The Fifth Element. Outside the room? Yeah, they don't get it. Thanks for making this "safe haven" where we can love movies like these!

And I agree--world building and characterization at it's FINEST.

{ Matthew MacNish } at: January 23, 2012 at 9:17 AM said...

This is so true. Well put. Although, there IS an excuse for Milla's outfit - she's hot!

{ Old Kitty } at: January 23, 2012 at 10:10 AM said...

Oh but there's so much sense in having Bruce Willis in his orange t-shirt...! And I do love the love story too - awwww!! And the monks! LOL! And I cared so much for LeeLoo!!! And Bruce. And the opera singing alien woman.

I guess in most of my fave films - I care deeply about the characters - that's so important!

Take care

{ Sarah Enni } at: January 23, 2012 at 10:37 AM said...

I LOVE this movie!! All your points are right on. There was such a great blend of character, plot, world-building, and everything else that I will never, ever get tired of watching this movie. (Another great thing about it? It was allowed to stand alone, though Bruce Willis and Milla J have both been known to do sequels to death.)

{ Perca Cappa } at: January 23, 2012 at 12:48 PM said...

I agree movies and literature are, though with certain reservations, comparabale at the least. The craft of storytelling governs them both.

When studying AV-tech, I was once given a "homework" of editing a 3-minute trailer from a movie of my choise. My choise was the Fifth Element. Needless to say, I had to dig pretty deep into the story. Besson sure was doing it right. I think some of the characters were in fact aggrevating, making the movie hard to watch at times.

Sth that aggrevates you, doesn't leave you cold. The Fifth Element is one of those movies I hate to love.

{ We Heart YA } at: January 23, 2012 at 6:42 PM said...

So true, and yes love this movie!!

Another of our favorite movies is Tangled. Again, humor, action, great characters (although perhaps the villain's motivation is weak). Plus, MANDY MOORE AND ZACH LEVI! What more do you need? ;P

{ Lindsay N. Currie } at: January 23, 2012 at 7:12 PM said...

Whoa, how have I never seen this? Great post - one I'll definitely have to pick up on apple tv soon!

{ Jen } at: January 24, 2012 at 4:20 AM said...

I love The Fifth Element! It's just a rollicking great ride, with so much to see on the way! It is seriously off the wall at times, but that just makes me love it more. :)

{ Shallee } at: January 24, 2012 at 8:41 AM said...

A-MEN! I love this movie like crazy, for all these reasons. I love how so many details build up the world and the characters while not overwhelming the plot.

And I love Bruce Willis. :)

{ DB Graves } at: February 22, 2012 at 11:47 AM said...


Post a Comment

Hi. You're so pretty. I like your hair. Let's be friends.


Copyright © 2010 maybe genius