6 Movies That Put Insane Work Into Stuff You Never Noticed

The weird thing about art is that you never notice the really important stuff. When you learn poetry in school, all the focus is on the technique, but when you actually hear a poem that really speaks to you, your first thought isn't "Wow, what a great use of metric irregularity!" It's "Yeah, man ... fuckin' plums. Right? That's what it's all about." Then you get laid, because understanding poetry gets you laid.

Movies are no different. We may not notice the really cool stuff that makes it great, but it's still there, and our brains notice. And sometimes it's a major pain in the ass.

#6. Gravity Is Even More Insane Than You Thought

Warner Bros.

Gravity winning the visual effects Oscar is one of the few totally uncontroversial Oscar wins in history. The only people surprised by that name getting announced were the people who thought the movie was actually filmed in space.

Warner Bros./Wikimedia Commons
Frankly, they can be forgiven.

But what does "incredible CGI" mean on an "actual work getting done" level? First of all, it meant that everything had to be meticulously planned from the beginning, so much so that they fully illustrated every scene before they started shooting. Director Alfonso Cuaron said that they could have released an animated version years before the movie was ever released, so just be thankful we never got our Treasure Planet version of Gravity. Second, it meant throwing the actors around on wires for really long takes, because that's Cuaron's jam. Sandra Bullock trained for five months to hang upside down without conveying the tension of the wires, and if that doesn't sound incredible to you, go hang upside down from a jungle gym for several hours while pretending to be weightless and let me know how your abs feel.

Warner Bros.
Abs are in your thighs, right? I have no idea what I'm talking about.

The most amazing part of that is, again, something you probably didn't even think about: Whenever you see one of the actors' faces inside their suits as they float through space, you probably assumed that they just "stuck the actors' face on their in post," because that's what they say all the time. In reality, getting that to work was such a complicated endeavor that they had to invent entirely new technology to create it. They called it "the light box," it involved a two-ton robot, and it killed a test dummy the day before they started shooting.

Warner Bros.
And the poor bastard didn't even get a dedication at the end.

#5. Wreck-It Ralph References Every Video Game Ever

Walt Disney Studios/Sega

Look, I know my audience: You guys aren't going to be surprised to learn that Wreck-It Ralph references video games. Hell, that was half the fun.

Walt Disney Studios
Even Zangief's presence at the "Bad Anon" meeting has an awesomely nerdy explanation.

But the jokes are so deeply ingrained that you just know that half of them were thrown in simply because they made the illustrators giggle. For example, when King Candy hacks the game Sugar Rush so he can keep Vannelope from racing (because Ralph wants to win a medal, but he accidentally releases a Cy-Bug after he goes "turbo" and ... look, there's no way to describe this plot in a way that'll make sense to people who haven't seen it), a quick glance at his notes reveals that the game-breaking cheat he uses is none other than the famous Konami Code:

Walt Disney Studios
The most unrealistic part is that he'd have to write that down.

Too obvious, you say? Fine! What about the references to Final Fantasy VII and Zero Wing on the walls of Game Central Station?

Walt Disney Studios
"Game Central Station" references, of course, the existence of trains.

Oh, you caught those too, eh? Well, how about this one, smart guy? "Sheng Long Was Here":

Walt Disney Studios

That's a reference to a mistranslation of the term "Dragon Punch" in the Street Fighter II instruction manual, which was later exploited by Electronic Gaming Monthly in 1992 as an April Fool's joke that convinced everyone that Sheng Long was a hidden character that could only be unlocked by playing through the game without taking any damage 10 times in a row, then dodging the final boss' attacks (but not actually hitting him) until the timer ran out. Because back in 1992, video game magazines had only two goals: breaking hearts and ruining kids' psychosocial development by planting the idea that they could grow up to write about video games.

Adherence to proper form (as listed in the AP Style Guide: Internet Listicle Edition) would dictate that I end this entry with the best reference in the movie -- but there are just so many (the Sugar Rush game references Mario Kart by including a Rainbow Road-style track and making the karts spin out in the exact same way; the wall in Tapper's Bar is covered with photographs of iconic video game characters), and "best" with this kind of thing just means "the one that references the game you like most," so I'm going to end with my favorite, because I'm in charge here: a blink-and-you'll-miss-it shot of Sonic the Hedgehog getting smacked down and vomiting gold rings all over everything, just like he did in Sonic the Hedgehog.

Walt Disney Studios
I recognize that! Yay!

#4. They Painted a Whole Set Sepia for The Wizard of Oz


There's a reason "We're not in Kansas anymore" is the most cliche way to announce that things have gotten freaky, and that's because the transition from sepia Kansas to Technicolor Oz in The Wizard of Oz is one of the raddest moments in movie history. I know it's weird for a straight 20-something guy to publicly ramble about the infectious wonder of a 1930s musical, but I don't care. It's still a great bit of cinema, a transition that wouldn't be possible in any other medium, simultaneously celebrating the magic of youthful imagination and cinema's constant technological march toward telling bigger and better stories.

"Also, the act of crushing people with houses and stealing their shit."

But ironically, the transition itself didn't use any kind of fancy technology at all: Instead of using clever editing techniques, the Wizard of Oz crew just painted an entire set sepia. Bobbie Koshay, Judy Garland's body double, stood in for Garland (again, completely covered in sepia paint) and allowed Garland to take her place after the camera moved into Oz by stepping out of frame for just a fraction of a second.

That's the thing about these old movies: They don't have that "How did they do that?" element -- we know that the Cowardly Lion is just an actor in a costume, the Tin Man and Wicked Witch are just actors covered in toxic paint, and the Scarecrow is just a guy trying to figure out his sexuality.

"Some people go "both ways!". We got you, Scarecrow.

And when I say "toxic paint," I'm not being cute: The first actor to play the Tin Man was replaced when he inhaled too much aluminum dust and almost died, and Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch, almost burned to death, but couldn't be treated until the copper-based paint was removed because it, quote, "would've killed the ever-loving shit out of her," unquote (that's not an actual quote). You think of filmmakers as working to figure out ways to use camera tricks to convince the audience things are happening, but back then we didn't have those tricks, so they just had to do it for real. Even if it meant people would almost die.

Thankfully, that kind of thing doesn't happen anymore.

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J.F. Sargent

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