Analysis video game logic in The Fifth Element

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Just as the filmic image is a hybrid between the photographic and the digital, the narrative in The Fifth Element is a hybrid between the classical (psychologically motivated cause-effect) narrative logic and digital (video game) logic. In the following we shall focus on those moments in the film when video logic becomes apparent.

What is significant about The Fifth Element is the way the banal story and its transparent moral are structured and conveyed to spectators. In his discussion of the film in his essay 'Infinite City' Nigel Floyd (1997) mentions the influence of graphic' artists on the film's visual design. But what is more significant than this is the influence of the rules of video games on the way the film is structured.

It is easy to look at the content of the film and begin identifying the rules of video game logic metaphorically: for example, we could argue that the cityscape metaphorically represents the film's different levels of play, or that the scene where the mangalores shoot down the spaceship carrying the fifth element is a metaphorical representation of the game user's interactivity. However, we do not intend to read the film's content in such metaphorical terms. We are primarily interested in the way that content is literally organized according to video game logic.

The first half of the film sets up the characters, their relationship, and their aim - to obtain the four stones and save/destroy the earth. Korben is the primary protagonist, although he is aided by Cornelius, Leeloo, and 'the Federation'. Zorg is the main antagonist who works directly for 'Mr Shadow', and is initially aided by the mangalores, who later set out on their own quest to obtain the stones. There are a few video game moments in the first half of the film: for example, like a video game character, Leeloo is magically reconstructed/transformed (she gains another life); the mangalores seem to have 'won the game' early on by stealing the case of stones (the four elements)

for Zorg; however, when Zorg opens the case, it is empty, which then initiates a serialized repetition of the action to capture the stones; as immediate punishment, Zorg blows up the mangalore leader (or allows him to blow himself up). The mangalores and Zorg have not mastered the rules of the game at this stage, and so they are punished (Zorg is empty-handed, the mangalore leader blows himself up).

Once the characters and their aim have been established, more prominent elements of video game logic become apparent. Approximately 50 minutes into the film, we find out that the stones are with the Diva on the paradise planet. This planet represents the film's next level of adventure, and the immediate aim is for the protagonists and antagonists to get on the crowded flight that goes to the next level. A competition to win two tickets to the planet is rigged by the Federation so that Dallas wins. Upon hearing this news on the radio, Cornelius and Leeloo visit Dallas at his apartment. Leeloo removes Dallas's name-tag from his door and puts it on the neighbour's door. Soon afterwards the police, acting under Zorg's instructions, attempt to arrest Dallas (Zorg has obviously found out as well that Dallas has two tickets to the planet). But because Leeloo put Dallas's name-tag on the neighbour's door, the neighbour is arrested. The mangalores in turn kidnap 'Dallas' from police custody. Soon afterwards, Cornelius steals the tickets from the real Dallas, goes to the airport and gives the tickets to his assistant David, and to Leeloo. David pretends to be Dallas, but Dallas turns up at the airport to take his rightful place. A mangalore then turns up at the airport and pretends to be Dallas. Significantly, he has changed his appearance, and looks like Dallas's neighbour. The mangalore has disguised himself - but as the wrong person! He fails to get onto the plane and has to run from the police (who presumably think he is Dallas). Then Zorg's helper turns up at the ticket desk and also pretends to be Dallas. The flight assistant, who by this time is becoming a little weary of this serialized repetition of action and disguises, prevents Zorg's helper from getting onto the plane. Upon hearing this news Zorg immediately punishes him by killing him. Meanwhile, Cornelius becomes a stowaway on the plane. The plane takes off, transporting Dallas, Leeloo (both disguised as tourists), and Cornelius at the speed of light to the next level of the game.'

These scenes in the film are then dominated by the following rules of video game logic: serialized repetition, disguises, the attempt to move up to the next level, a feedback loop (in which unsuccessful characters are immediately eliminated and successful ones rewarded), and a space warp. However, once at this new level, we discover that the mangalores are there already (the leader, who blew himself up earlier, is now disguised as a waiter). Zorg also travels to the planet in his own ship. The same quest that took place on the previous level (locate the four stones) now takes place on the new level. How the mangalores get there, how the mangalore leader survived the explosion earlier in the film, why Zorg has Dallas arrested when Zorg can make his own way to the paradise planet, why Leeloo changes the name-tag on Dallas's door, and why there was such a fuss at the airport is only of concern to those who read the film in classical narrative terms. Within video game logic, the film makes sense. The game play on the first level is going to be repeated on the next level with essentially the same characters - except that now it is going to be played at a faster pace.

Only one narrative event takes place on the paradise planet - the protagonists retrieve the stones and return to earth (the film's final level). But this event is subordinated to the action sequences and to the Diva's singing. Furthermore, those unsuccessful at retrieving the stones are killed before the next level is played out.

Zorg suddenly turns up and steals the box from the Diva's room as she is singing. He plants a bomb, departs the planet, and opens the box to find it empty. This is a repetition of action performed earlier, when the mangalores delivered the (empty) box to Zorg. Zorg returns to the planet again, but this time is punished for his lack of success - although he switches off his own bomb, he is killed by a bomb left by the mangalores (which presumably kills all the mangalores as well).

The film ends in a conventional narrative manner - the formation of a heterosexual couple. But the ultimate objective of the narrative is not the transformation of characters, but survival - as is the case with video games. Character identification is achieved primarily by means of action - again, as in video games - rather than narrative development (there are few enigmas in the film once the identity of the fifth element is disclosed). Dallas does not so much develop as a character; he masters the rules of the game and proceeds to the next level, cashes in his points, and wins the ultimate prize - the perfect woman.

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