Better Character Development courtesy of Bruce Willis…

2008 July 9
by Dante

Tonight I had the distinct pleasure of re-watching one of my favorite sci-fi movies: The Fifth Element. Stupid Ranger and I had the wonderful opportunity of introducing someone to this film for the first time (they loved it) and it was fun to watch someone experience it.

Great examples of developed characters

Without going into ultra-nerdly levels of detail, one of the aspects about this movie that I truly enjoy is the depth of the characters. Watching it this time around, I tried to identify some of the standard D&D related classes for the characters and how the interesting ways that they were being written relative to that role.

Take Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) for example. He is clearly a seasoned yet retired fighter, who reluctantly breaks the rules when given the proper motivation in Leeloo. I believe he plays a very convincing chaotic good character, willing to break the rules that he feels are unjust in order to serve the common (and ultimately his own) good.

The star of the show is clearly Leeloo herself (Milla Jovovich). Aside from awesome orange hair and a propensity for being topless (and bottomless, see Resident Evil for details), she is my gold standard for actual depth in an action-based character. As the Supreme Being, she is physically very strong and able to absorb information at an amazing rate, but this is tempered by her vulnerability and empathy that she feels for the human condition. Throughout this movie you see how her physical strength and her mental prowess continually get betrayed by her desire to find goodness in humanity. You even get a great example of D&D style language learning ability, as seen when she learns English while Dallas is boarding the flight. I don’t think I’ve seen the likes of that anywhere else!

Learn from examples like these!

There are two real lessons here. Player characters should take the opportunity to watch your favorite films and examine the journey that your favorite characters take throughout. Think about this as it relates to the decisions that you make as you roleplay your character. Do your best to filter out (or use sparingly) concepts that are schticky, unless you intend to temper them with actual character growth (or your DM is running an irreverent campaign on purpose).

Dungeon Masters can learn by watching the broader character interations and the story as it unfolds. Learn to engineer moments to let your characters explore their flaws or vulnerabilities, or get deeply engaged in what is happening on their own terms.

Take special care to allow your story to unfold in as many ways and across as many venues as needed. The Fifth Element covered many different sets and scenarios to get the level of depth and opulence to the futuristic world in which it was set, and in this depth comes opporunities for your characters to branch out and grow.

Finally, don’t be afraid to sprinkle in some colorful characters or fun action scenes to spice things up. The Fifth Element wouldn’t be what it is without Ruby Rhod (Chris Tucker) or that deaf guy that ended up throwing Dallas billiard balls when he needed a gun!

2 Responses leave one →
  1. Ben Pop permalink
    July 10, 2008

    This is one of my favorite movies, too! I really didn’t think about it before, but there is decent character development, and it does help the movie. Also, I happen to like most (all?) of the actors, and Gary Oldman’s performance was especially awesome.

    Deaf? I thought the guy was just hopped up on more drugs than the lovechild of Courtney Love and Rush Limbaugh.

    My own tendency would be toward the more irreverent, though I would want an undercurrent of seriousness. My experience at the table has shown me that irreverence can ruin scenes and feelings the DM is trying to evoke. So I can understand it’s a hard job to balance effectively, and something for me to think hard about as I prepare my own game.

    Thanks for the insight! And keep posting!

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