I've learned something doing these articles, and that's that good movies don't just happen. You can't just pluck a good film off a movie tree and eat it right there on the soft mossy ground of your mind, cinematic juices dripping off your chin and pooling in your lap. You have to forage deep into the jungles of your own psychosis, to uncover the lost city of Mu-Vee. You have to sacrifice days, weeks, even months of your life working and sweating on the Altar of Czin-Emakh in order to earn his good graces. Passing into the next realm, you must chant a blood oath to the ancient ones of Ceel-ah-Lude. You have to smear feces all over your face. Then, and only then, can you unleash your armies upon the frail and unknowing innocents, claiming their mortal souls as your own time-slaves.
Or you can do the following stuff, which is arguably crazier.
#7. The Hobbit: Bilbo's Barely Glimpsed Contract Makes Perfect Sense
We've already covered how The Lord of the Rings trilogy put more effort into getting details of Tolkien's fictional fantasy world right than New Zealand puts into being a real country. But there's no way that detail carried over into the prequels, right? I mean, those movies couldn't be bothered to location scout when they could just green-screen stuff instead, and Peter Jackson maybe kinda probably spiritually died during the production, which is why for certain shots he just gave up and used a GoPro. Right? The whole production was just lazy as shit.
Well, no -- it turns out every bit as much care went into getting The Hobbit's details right as the original series. For example: Dwalin's tattoos ...
... are written in "real" Dwarvish (as in, the language Tolkien invented for his legendarium), and they read "Baruk Khazad! Khazad ai-menu!" or "Axes of the Dwarves, the Dwarves are upon you!" Which, according to The Return of the King's appendices, is an infamous Khuzdul (Dwarvish) battle cry. So it's the Dwarven equivalent of tattooing "Love" and "Hate" on your knuckles, which -- if I know my audience -- most of you have. Speaking of which, Bifur (the Dwarf with the ax in his head) speaks only in Dwarvish, due, presumably, to brain damage (and we know the Dwarves have a pretty solid understanding of neurology from the extended version of The Two Towers). Not crazy enough? Fine: let's talk about that contract Bilbo signs.
You know -- the one roughly 1/3 as awful as the one you signed with Verizon.
No one would've found out if Lord of the Rings geeks (do we have a word for ourselves yet? "Ringers"? No. Let's not do that one) hadn't meticulously screen-capped the movie and transcribed it, which is pretty crazy -- but not so crazy that no one anticipated this happening, since it turns out that the fake contract is actually a functioning legal document. James Daily, the lawyer over at Law and the Multiverse, went over the contract point by point and found out that, aside from some minor "drafting errors," it's totally sound. In fact, the biggest potential flaw would be that there's no clause specifying if the document exists under Shire law or Dwarven Kingdom law, which might create a "conflict of laws." But rather than being an error on the side of the filmmakers, that might have something to do with the fact that the contract was drafted by Thorin. And he's been too busy wandering the world and reclaiming his lost kingdom to brush up on his notes from Contracts class.
#6. Dark Shadows: Johnny Depp Never Blinks or Reflects
I mean that literally -- not that he never "blinks" at ridiculous job offers or that he never "reflects" on the actor he's become.
Though he should.
Dark Shadows is both a movie about a vampire and the most realistic Johnny Depp movie ever, in that every female character he meets is trying to fuck him. Even Helena Bonham Carter's Dana Scully impression goes down on him after a half-hearted compliment. Isn't that weird? But the craziest part of this movie wasn't just that they gave Depp supernatural sexual magnetism while making him look like a 14-year-old who's sweated off most of his juggalo makeup; it was that they digitally removed every one of his blinks and reflections from the whole movie.
This is sorta tough to prove through pictures, but notice that he is
not being reflected in anything in this image.
This doesn't just mean that they cut around Depp's blinks and did a camera trick whenever he went by a mirror -- the FX team was dedicated to making sure he wasn't reflected in anything, which is "a gross use of our visual-effects budget," according to the VFX supervisor. Also, they set up an entire special unit of the visual effects team just for removing Depp-blinks.
Especially difficult since Depp sleep-walked through the entire production.
And in the end it totally paid off, because Dark Shadows is the most nuanced, heartfelt, and believable depiction of vampires ever to- honestly I could put anything here and you'd believe it, right? Nobody saw this movie except me. But right now, because of Dark Shadows, someone out there has "digital Depp-blink remover" on his resume. That's a hell of a legacy.
#5. Das Boot: The Actors Were Imprisoned Indoors
Das Boot is a submarine war movie, and I know what you're thinking: "Woohoo! Sounds like a blast!" Hold your horses there, buddy. This isn't one of those fun, adventure war movies. This is one of the bummer war movies that ignores all the excitement and idle pleasures of war and instead chooses to focus on "the loss of innocence" and "human cost" or whatever. You know. Oscar bait.
Talk about first-world problems.
The movie begins with a team of idealistic, youthful sailors going off to be the heroes of World War II, and ends with a group of broken men returning home, wondering what they've lost. And when director Wolfgang Petersen decided that he wanted to explore the depths of human suffering and the darkness of the human soul or whatever, god, Wolfgang, cheer up, he decided that rather than simply trusting the ability of his actors to convey the spectrum of human suffering, he'd make it easier for them by filming the underwater parts chronologically. Over the course of a year.
The idea was to make sure the pallor of their skin and sense of crushing despair in their eyes reflected what an actual submarine crew would go through, but the craziest part of this isn't that Petersen did it -- it's that no one, in any of the videos I've found, seems to realize how crazy this is. Peterson just casually mentions that his actors weren't allowed to see the sun, with the kind of nonchalance normally reserved for picking between Skittles and M&M's. For perspective, they let prisoners in lockdown see the sun. Real-life murderers are allowed to frolic free in a comforting, cool breeze for at least an hour a day. The cast of Das Boot wasn't.
But I'm not faulting the guy, because the movie's super great and human lives are only worth so much, ya know? Maybe if Wolfgang had enforced similar rules on Air Force One and The Perfect Storm, we'd have way more classic Wolfgang movies.
#4. My Cousin Vinny: One of the Most Accurate Courtroom Movies Ever
20th Century Fox
We've mentioned before that movies don't seem capable of getting the legal system right, and it's easy to see why. Most of lawyering is paperwork and crazy jargon that they insist is Latin even though we all know they're just making it up as they go (seriously. We all know. Drop the act and quit embarrassing yourselves). But there is one movie that manages to get legal issues almost totally accurate, and it's not the one you'd expect. Unless you read the title of this entry, in which case you already know it's My Cousin Vinny.
And when I say "gets it accurate" I'm not just talking about little details from the procedure (though those are pretty on-point), I'm talking about the fact that the movie contains some seriously excellent lawyering, so much so that law professors actually use the movie in their curriculum. When Lane Smith (the prosecuting lawyer) describes the crime in his opening statements, he "varies his pace and modulation," he sticks to "concrete terms," and never uses the defendants' names -- all excellent prosecution techniques. Later, Vinny shows off his cross-examination skills by picking apart Mr. Crane's view of the crime -- he mentions each obstruction in his view one at a time, lingering on the details. In fact, aside from a minor quibble (Pesci couldn't really represent both defendants, but that's excusable as a storytelling technique), the biggest problem with the movie is when the prosecutor discloses evidence to Vinny -- not because that's not how the law works but because few courts follow the law that carefully.
20th Century Fox
That's right: Their depiction of the South is too sympathetic.
One error (it's unlikely that Marisa Tomei's surprise expert witness testimony would've been admitted in 1992) actually turned out to be prescient: A year after the movie was released, the Supreme Court changed the rules surrounding how expert witnesses are admitted, making it retroactively near-perfect.
My Cousin Vinny's script is so good that it could've gotten away with as much screwball bullshit as they wanted in the courtroom, but instead it nails trial procedure so well that a network of legal blogs did a 20th anniversary tribute to the movie back in 2012. So next time a lazy screenwriter tries to spice up his lawyer movie with Jack Nicholsonian screaming at a jar of crime-scene semen, just remember: it is possible to do better.