We’ve mentioned before how film directors occasionally go a little bit crazy when it comes to certain minor details, including ones that 99 percent of the audience are never even going to see. A horrifying amount of time and work go into things that will be forever unnoticed by everyone except a few members of the crew. So let’s again take a moment to appreciate the awesomely obsessive …
#7. The Lord of the Rings: Each Piece of Armor Has a Backstory
For any sci-fi or fantasy film, it’s one thing to make the clothing and equipment look authentic onscreen, and another to add layers of detail that are physically impossible to notice, even if each frame of the movie is examined with a magnifying glass. For instance, in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, when you watched the massive Battle of Helm’s Deep and the tens of thousands of bad guys storming the fortress, did you notice the handcrafted chain mail they were wearing?
If Michael Bay had directed this film, all those Uruk-hai would be explosions, and Helm’s Deep would be a pair of tits.
What’s that? You didn’t, because it was a massive crowd and the entire scene was filmed at night, in the rain? And because the mail is what they were wearing under their armor, so that only a few inches of it shows even if you freeze-frame on an individual soldier?
Well, that chain mail that you didn’t notice, that you couldn’t have noticed, was created by the costume department by hand, link by link …
… working for two straight years, without stopping. They made 6 miles of the stuff (32,000 feet of it) this way, to lay unseen under the armor of the warriors of Middle-earth.
However, to truly appreciate the completely unreasonable level of detail director Peter Jackson insisted upon, you need to look at all of the armor and weapons featured in the films. Each race has specific traits and customs, and then within those races, each family has their own designs that are reflected in the equipment they wear. To quote the article sourced above:
Freeze on a scene in the Elf land of Rivendell and appreciate the bronze detailing of Legolas’ quiver, crafted with the lost-wax process. Pause in an Orc battle scene and notice the varieties of helmets, some representing a family’s standing within the Orcan culture, others illustrating that Orcs were scavengers who gathered armor and weapons that were dropped on battlefields. Stop on a closeup of a Dwarf and observe the belt buckles with squarish, angular designs that reflect Dwarven architecture.
All right, let’s just take a look and judge for ourselves. For starters, here’s Legolas’ quiver, which you might briefly have noticed during some blurry split-second shot of his back:
OK, that is admittedly a ton of detail, but that’s for a main character. Legolas probably has six hours of screen time in the entire trilogy, of course you would want his gear to look great. But the idea that the Orc armies all had different armor that represented “a family’s standing within the Orcan culture”? Why? Because Peter Jackson is insane, that’s why. Behold what the masses of anonymous arrow fodder were wearing:
More than 48,000 pieces just as detailed as these were made for the first film alone, to please the four people in the audience who would notice/care. And even crazier, each one of these helmets has a backstory like a G.I. Joe filecard — rough leather and cracked metal for Orcs of low standing, long and misshapen for Orcs with (more) physical deformities; light helmets for scouts, and heavy bladed ones for berserkers. All this effort just to be strapped onto an anonymous stuntman as he sprints toward a bludgeoning with prop swords.
They also crafted 10,000 hand-forged Orcish belt buckles that are virtually impossible to see in the middle of a sprawling CGI-enhanced melee. People don’t even notice belt buckles in real life unless they’re hanging out at the Double Deuce, so they can’t be serious about that “squarish, angular design” nonsense about Dwarf belts.
And here is where you find out that Hollywood costume people are out of their goddamned minds. Another example …
#6. Coraline: The Clothes Were Hand-Knitted With Tiny Needles
We know what you’re thinking: Of course stop-motion movies put insane effort into detail. Filming those things takes like 20 months, because you have to move each miniature by hand to shoot a single frame at a time, typically finishing an entire day with only a few seconds of the movie actually filmed.
And yes, you’re right, 2009’s Coraline was no less of a pain in the ass to make, but for many more reasons than just the simple tediousness of frame-by-frame animation. For instance, there’s the clothing. Sure, if you wanted a little sweater for the Coraline miniature to wear, you could, oh, go buy some doll clothes …
“Just glue some stars on a Barbie sweater, there’s a cocaine buffet at the craft service table!”
… or you could have the production staff hand-knit each individual stitch in each piece of clothing. And by “production staff” we mean a single person. Althea Crome made every article of clothing you see in the movie, using knitting needles as thin as human hair. You can watch the process if you want, because holy shit.
Althea Crome hand-made (fingertip-made?) every last costume change for every last character:
She even made undergarments, which generally speaking nobody can see:
If for some reason that doesn’t blow your mind, consider some of the more extravagantly dressed characters in the film, and realize that one solitary lady sat for hours in a room sewing fucking pockets onto a 10-inch doll’s jacket.
#5. V for Vendetta: The Letter “V” Is Hidden Everywhere
Last time, we mentioned Edgar Wright’s obsession with cramming numbers into the background of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. But he certainly didn’t invent the idea; the letter “V” and the number “5” (“V” being the Roman numeral for “5”) are hidden in almost every frame of V for Vendetta.
You probably noticed the more blatant ones:
But some of them are subtle. For example, when we first see them, the characters Creedy and Finch are separated by a “V,” foreshadowing what happens later in the film (Creedy wants to stop V, while Finch eventually decides to help V):
When Natalie Portman wakes up in V’s bachelor dungeon, she has a tiny cut on her head in the shape of a “V”:
The character Gordon has a contraband Quran lying open on a pedestal. When books are open on a dais, they’re typically flat, but not in this movie, sir:
There’s also a “V” prominently displayed in the hands of the clock behind the evil talk show host in every single frame of his program:
During the final fight, V throws two daggers at a time, which cross over each other in a “V” shape:
And then the daggers form five distinct “V” shapes while spinning through the air:
Then, Creedy fires exactly five shots at V, leaving a “V”-shaped bloodstain on the wall.
But, hey, you’re perceptive. You probably caught all of that the first time you saw it. OK, so let’s take it down to another level:
There’s Evey’s (Natalie Portman’s) name: “E” is the fifth letter of the alphabet, “V” is the fifth letter if you’re counting backward and “Y” is the 25th letter (five squared). Finch, who later helps V, has exactly five letters in his name. When V attacks the villain Creedy (whose name is also replete with “E”s and “Y”s), Beethoven’s 5th just happens to be playing in the background.
But wait, it gets even more obscure. V’s favorite phrase is “By the power of truth, I, while living, have conquered the universe,” which translates into Latin as “Vi veri veniversum vivus vici,” or “five goddamned words that all begin with ‘V’.”
Finally, in what is perhaps the most mind-blowing detail of all, one of the film’s major characters is actually named V.
#4. Shaun of the Dead: Full of Zombie Easter Eggs
Shaun of the Dead is an unapologetic homage to every zombie/horror movie and video game ever made. If you’ve seen it, you probably already know that there are hidden jokes throughout (for example, if you listen carefully to the news reports that play in the background, they mention things like the Rage virus from 28 Days Later and a crashed probe from Night of the Living Dead). But that’s barely scratching the surface, so let’s move past the obvious references and go straight for the “so impossibly obscure they shouldn’t have bothered” stuff.
There are 170 Easter eggs in this frame alone.
For instance, when Shaun walks into a local shop to buy an ice cream, you can faintly hear the DJ on an Indian music station announce that the dead are coming back to life … in Hindi.
And hey, remember the restaurant Shaun tries to book a table at, the one that you can’t read the name of unless you pause it like we did? It’s called Fulci’s, a reference to famed Italian horror director Lucio Fulci.
And Mary, the zombie in the garden that gets impaled on a pipe? If you freeze-frame at exactly the right moment, you can see from her name tag that she works at a place called Landis, which is a reference to An American Werewolf in London director John Landis.
Did you ever wonder why Shaun owned so many vinyl records and had such a predilection for techno music? Well wonder no more, because if you look over Shaun’s shoulder during this scene, you’ll see a poster that says “Shaun Smiley Riley” on it, alluding to the fact that Shaun used to be a DJ, as well as telling you his full name, something that is never mentioned in the film itself (although it is referenced in a deleted scene).
Throughout the scenes where the cast is holed up in the Winchester, you can hear zombies clawing steadily at the windows. Although this easily could have been done in the sound mix in postproduction, Edgar Wright had extras stand outside and actually paw at the windows for several days, because realism.
But the ultimate act of attention to detail comes in the very first scene: When Ed and Shaun are having a drunken conversation after Shaun gets dumped by his girlfriend, Ed actually reveals the entire plot of the film:
A bloody Mary [Mary the garden zombie] first thing, a bite at the King’s Head [Shaun’s stepfather is bitten], couple at the Little Princess [meeting David and Diana at Liz’s flat], stagger back here [pretend to be zombies] and bang … back to the bar for shots [the final scene at the Winchester, where they shoot their way out].