7 Movies That Put Insane Work Into Details You Didn't Notice
Easter eggs are usually kind of a bum deal. Sure, when you finally find one it's like having a secret conversation with your favorite director ... but he's kind of a jerk, the conversation is one-sided and it's usually all about how much of a loser you are for spending a hundred hours sifting through the special features on your Firefly DVD just to find something Joss Whedon slapped together in five minutes.
What follows are the direct opposite of that: These are seven instances where the creators poured their blood, sweat and several other more unsavory fluids into creating something and put it right in front of your face ... and you didn't even notice.
Now who's the jerk, huh?
When making Se7en, David Fincher knew that the movie's strength relied on "John Doe" being as deeply unsettling as possible. He couldn't just be a character (since he doesn't even appear on screen until the final minutes); he had to be a presence that was felt not only in the pertinent dialogue during his screen time, but also in the very air itself.
There's something unsettling about that word scrawled in blood on the floor, but we can't put our finger on it.
No, John Doe wasn't originally a serial-killing Hawkman, no matter how much better the movie clearly would have been; we mean his presence had to be largely atmospheric. So Fincher hired designer John Sable to "crazy that bitch up." And crazy a bitch up he did: Sable spent $15,000 on old journals, ripped them up and sewed them back together by hand, then baked them to release that delicious tattered journal flavor. Sable found as many pictures of "mutilated limbs, decapitated people, people whose fingers had been sawn off" as he could, and then he started writing like a maniac.
No, seriously, like a total goddamn maniac.
Your sanity is grateful these aren't high resolution.
And you don't stop ...
'Cause you can't stop ...
Because you have mental problems.
Kyle Cooper, who created the film's title sequence, compared Sable to Dustin Hoffman's character in Rain Man. There were thousands upon thousands of pages of this stuff, almost all of which didn't the make the movie, beyond being scattered about in the background of John Doe's apartment. The most screen time this work saw was an eight-minute montage pocketed away on the DVD. But when Se7en ran out of money and couldn't shoot the title sequence they originally wanted, Kyle Cooper finally suggested using it.
"OK, jeez, I'll do it. Just stop trying to lick my eyeballs."
So sure, it all ultimately served some kind of purpose, but you could just as easily have outsourced the journal writing to heartbroken teenage girls and called it a day. Most fans would never have noticed the difference. It took a truly dedicated artisan to look all this crazy in the eye and say, "I want you inside me."
The Thief and the Cobbler
The Thief and the Cobbler is the most ambitious cartoon you've never heard of. Just take a look at this clip. That is some seriously impressive CGI, right? Isn't it amazing that they could do all that way back in the '70s?
Oh wait, they couldn't.
That was all drawn by hand, every frame of it. Due to creator Richard Williams' crazy attention to detail, legal issues and the fact that every scene has at least twice as many hand-drawn frames per second as any other cartoon you've ever seen, Thief holds the world record for longest production ... at more than 30 years.
To be fair, 29 of those years were spent chaining mescaline, PCP and drain cleaner.
So why didn't this movie change the world, spit right in Disney's eye and kick start Pixar three decades in advance? Why, Hollywood bullshit, of course! With his movie nearly 85 percent complete, some of Williams' investors suddenly got scared, took the rights away from him and replaced every animator involved in the project. He could only watch as his 24-year labor of love was hurriedly completed by a bunch of scabs with a harsh deadline and no budget. In the end, Williams' film was mangled into an incomprehensible mess and released right around the same time as Aladdin, where it was widely regarded as a cheap rip-off, because the two were so damn similar ...
Disney's contribution to the villain character: "Make him browner."
Except the opposite is true, of course: Williams did it decades earlier, all by hand, and uphill -- both ways.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Everybody knows Scott Pilgrim was as full of video game references as it was quirky women with inexplicable girl-boners for Canadians. What you may not have noticed, however, were the recurring number themes running throughout: Remember how Scott fights seven "evil exes," and progresses through their seven respective levels? Well, each one of those exes is himself a number, and everything about him reflects that fact. Scott is the exception, so he's zero: He gets called zero, he drinks Coke Zero and he wears a shirt with "zero" on it.
"It went to 0.5 when the girl changed her mind halfway through."
Matthew Patel, the first evil ex, has only one eye (or at least it appears that way, because of his haircut, which we'll call the Emo Combover). He poses by pointing in the air (with one hand) and gets called "that one guy." Lucas Lee, the second, stays in trailer #2 and says it'll take "two minutes to kick your ass" and that the staircase he grinds down has "like 200 steps." Todd Ingram is in a three-piece band and, like Scott, also wears his number on his shirt.
And we want to punch his smug face three (3) times.
The Roxy Richter fight happens in a club called "4," the Katayanagi twins (numbers 5 and 6) turn their music up to 11 and have five syllables in their last name (six with the first name) and the final, seventh boss is Gideon (whose name starts with G, the seventh letter of the alphabet). All right, you know what? This all seems like reaching. Even we're not buying it anymore. Nobody's that crazy about numbers, save for Rain Men and certain species of felted vampire.
This is probably all just weird coincidence.
Except director Edgar Wright verified every one of those claims; it was all his insane pet project during filming. It turned the corner from subtle to overt during the final showdown, starting from the moment Scott walks into the club:
Seven, seven, seven, seven.
Numbers are fun! Ah, ah, ah.
Stanley Kubrick's Entire Filmography
As we've mentioned before, Stanley Kubrick was kind of a tough guy to work with and/or be murdered by. His attention to detail is legendary, and even though it's hard to argue with his results (nine of his 12 movies appear in the IMDb top 250), sometimes the crazy ends don't justify the batshit means.
For example, a scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey takes place on the moon. No, they didn't film it on the moon, silly! They filmed it on Earth; it's just that nobody told Kubrick that. He insisted that all of the equipment on screen be built to actually work on the actual moon anyway.
Ask the Internet and it will provide: The full transcript of how to use a space toilet.
Likewise, the B-52 bomber he constructed as a set for Dr. Strangelove was described by some U.S. Air Force personnel as "absolutely correct," which worried them a bit, since the B-52 was still totally classified at that point.
"The bombs actually will not work without a cowboy."
But possibly the strangest and most unnecessary detail Kubrick ever insisted upon was the war room in Dr. Strangelove. While the set was being constructed, he decided (on what we'll call a Kubrickian whim) that the top of the table should be covered in green baize. "It should be like a poker table," he said, "there's the President, the generals and the Russian Ambassador playing a game of poker for the fate of the world."
Which would be totally reasonable and merely representative of his keen eye for detail and metaphor ... if the film weren't shot entirely in black and white.
That's a very green-looking black, though.
One of the first lessons we learn about the Matrix is that anybody can be an agent. Morpheus teaches this to Neo via a training program, wherein Keanu becomes distracted by a sexy woman in a red dress, who taps into our most primal wetmares by gender-morphing into Elrond and then shooting him in the face.
Your boner should have taken the blue pill.
But Neo, like every man, was predestined to fail this one: They're wandering through some kind of business district, and every pedestrian is in a boring, drab suit, save for that pretty girl. Of course he's going to focus on her and notice the agent. We, the audience, only passed the test because we were once removed, and could view the scene objectively.
Except we didn't pass, either. Not at all. Because we didn't notice that every person in that scene is a doppelganger:
A frumpy doppelganger.
We could write that off as repeating an extra for a different shot, if it weren't for this ...
Two blonde women on either side of Neo, two sailors in the back.
The truly crazy part is that this wasn't CGI: the Wachowski's spent two whole days in Sydney trying to hunt down and cast real identical twins just for this scene. The idea was to show the viewer that Mouse, who created the code, was a lazy programmer and copy/pasted a bunch of characters instead of designing unique people. But really, since basically nobody in the audience noticed the clone armies either, it just proved that God could've gotten away with a whole lot less work by simply palette-swapping humanity. Turns out we would've been mostly cool with it, so long as there were hot girls in red dresses strutting about.
Ghostbusters may be the perfect genre comedy. A ludicrous premise, great comedic actors and lots of improv -- those were the cornerstones of this classic. Except there are three things missing from that list: Research, realism and detail.
Wait, what, in Ghostbusters?
Do not stick marshmallow fluff in the microwave, kids.
Yep: As an audience, we all thought that Bill Murray and the rest of the cast were just making up gibberish for their supernatural scenes, but it turns out that most of the film is based on the actual paranormal research of comedian Dan Aykroyd.
According to the DVD commentary, Peter Venkman's treatment of Dana is actual advice for treating a possessed individual (it's all about maintaining control over the demon inside), and even the technobabble was real: The word "ectoplasm" predates the film, and was first coined by a Nobel Prize-winning physician. It referred to "a substance exuded from spiritual mediums to facilitate spirits' contact with the living world."
It's basically dimensional lubricant.
Why, in the book A History of Ghosts: The True Story of Seances, Mediums, Ghosts and Ghostbusters, written by Peter Aykroyd, you can learn about the history of the methods that the Ghostbusters use in the film, and keen eyes will also observe that holy shit Dan Aykroyd's father wrote a book about being an actual ghost buster.
With a cover cameo by a half melted Stay Puft man.
That's right: Dan Aykroyd, Blues Brother and Conehead, is actually a second-generation demon hunter, like a Van Helsing or a Simon Belmont or a real-life Dean Winchester from Supernatural.
Substantially less dreamy, of course, but we can't all have CW cheekbones, can we?
Akira Kurosawa's Entire Filmography
Legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa's strategy for filmmaking goes something like this: People can't just pretend to be something else; you need to trick them into thinking everything is real.
"I don't know what the fuck these 'actors' are, I just want them off my set."
Toward this end, in his movie Red Beard, Kurosawa had the hospital set fully stocked with medical supplies -- even the drawers and cupboards, which, despite never being opened on camera or even mentioned by the characters, were nonetheless expensively, thoroughly, authentically stocked with pills. Kurosawa once dyed an entire town's water supply black just so the rain would look better on camera. If you were featured in one of Kurosawa's movies, you could expect to shoot inside the real, period-appropriate houses he'd have built, wear the real, period-appropriate clothing (that you were expected to live in even while not actively filming) and memorize the complete dossier on your character's back story, even if you only had a couple of lines. Oh, and you should also be prepared to get shot at with real arrows.
"Of course he's dead. I'm a director, not a goddamn liar."
That part went without saying, right? It sure did to Toshiro Mifune, who, in the final scene of Throne of Blood, was shot at by real arrows that landed inches away from him.
It's like nobody told Kurosawa that movies were just pretend, and so he was attempting to travel through time via sheer earnestness.
"If only real life was as horrifying as film."
J. F. Sargent blogs, tweets and is the managing editor of the political website PCulpa.com, which you can write for if you fool him into thinking you're smart (which isn't hard).
For more details that you glossed over, check out 9 Video Game Easter Eggs That Took Years to Find and 10 Mind-Blowing Easter Eggs Hidden in Famous Albums.
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