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.
WorldbuildingTHE 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.
CharacterizationROOB-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, ActionTHE 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 ProtagonistsLeeLoo 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 VillainGary 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.
HumorI'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?