Great attention to detail is often an important part of what defines a great movie. It’s also the feature that separates the auteurs from the directors who just turn up on the set to get paid and abuse the catering budget.
In most cases, directors will spend as much time as the production schedule will allow them to imbue their movies with as many fine details as they possibly can. Whereas these directors are merely passionate, there are some directors who are completely insane – so much so, in fact, that they’re just as concerned with an object in the background of the frame that nobody will ever see as they are the opening credits.
They are perfectionists who will not stop shooting until they achieve exactly what they want. That’s why it takes some directors years to make a picture, and that’s why some of the greatest directors only made less than a dozen of films in their career. These directors are to be admired for their devotion.
To celebrate such delirious dedication on account of some of the world’s most beloved filmmakers, here’s 20 movies with insane details that you’ve probably never noticed…
20. The Last Of The Mohicans
The Movie: Michael Mann teams up with Daniel Day-Lewis for this brutal account of the French-Indian war. Day-Lewis might be a renowned method actor, but in working with Mann, he must have felt he’d met his match.
Attention To Detail: Having already spent six months bulking up and learning to use the weapons appropriate to his character, Day-Lewis reported back to Mann, only to be sent out to the nearest wilderness for a fortnight before filming. So keen was Mann to achieve the appropriate sense of realism, that he instructed his star only to eat what he could catch. Whatever you say, boss…
19. The Amazing Spider-Man
The Movie: Marc Webb’s Spidey reboot wasn’t universally loved by the fans, but there was plenty to enjoy, not least the sparky chemistry between leads Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield. And Webb himself had certainly done his homework when it came to the comic-books…
Attention To Detail: Several of the film’s scenes are loving recreations of specific panels from the comics. For example, Peter’s tinkering at his work-bench is lifted directly from the Ultimates book, and the first leap he takes from the bridge to go in pursuit of the Lizard assumes a body pose familiar to many of his on-page outings. Anyone can throw in obscure in-jokes, but getting movement and poses right takes a little more effort.
18. Back To The Future
The Movie: Robert Zemeckis’ time travel caper is a near perfect slice of family entertainment, boasting not one but two of cinema’s best-loved characters in the form of Marty McFly and Doc Brown. Great Scott!
Attention To Detail: The film is absolutely bursting with in-jokes and references. Examples? How about theme song practitioner Huey Lewis turning up on the judging panel of the school talent contest? Or the fact that Marty travels back to 1955, the year of Einstein’s death, after whom Doc’s dog is named? Or the name “Peabody” on the mailbox of the farmer Marty drops in on, who goes on to refer to his son as “Sherman”? The list goes on…
17. X-Men 2
The Movie: Brian Singer builds on his original X-Men movie with real gusto, liberating himself from origin story constraints to conjure up one of the best comic-book movies of recent years. We really wish he’d stuck around to see that Phoenix story arc through, mind…
Attention To Detail: When Mystique hacks into Stryker’s computer database, a whole host of X-Men trivia can be seen listed, including the names of such mutant luminaries as Gambit, Silver Samurai, Deadpool, Omega Red and many more. One for the pause button there…
The Movie: Chan-wook Park’s ultra-violent mystery story is currently being remade by Spike Lee, but the director will have to go some to top the macabre pleasures of the original. If you have’t seen it yet, be sure you see the original version first, preferably knowing as little as possible about how it turns out.
Attention To Detail: Luckless star Min-sik Choi performed that famous octopus-eating scene for real, gulping down four of the slippery blighters before the scene was in the can. A devout Buddhist, Choi spent several hours praying afterwards in atonement.
The Movie: Andrey Tarkovsky’s masterpiece of atmosphere and allegory, in which the mysterious Stalker leads a pair of thinkers to a room that can supposedly grant its occupants’ most heartfelt wishes.
Attention To Detail: Poor old Tarkovsky spent an entire year shooting the film’s various outdoor sequences, only to discover that shoddy developing had rendered it all unusable. Unfazed, he shot the entire thing for a second time, using a new cinematographer. That’s dedication for you.
14. Fellowship Of The Ring
The Movie: The first slice of Peter Jackson’s superlative Lord Of The Rings trilogy, which is so delightfully slavish in its attention to detail, we could have written an entire list drawing from these three films alone. Let it never be said that Jackson ever does things the easy way.
Attention To Detail: The Shire is a particularly good tribute to Jackson and his team’s eye for detail, a little corner of New Zealand transformed into Tolkien’s vision of pastoral heaven through years of hard work. Bag End was a particularly laborious creation, with two versions constructed: one for the Hobbits, and a smaller version for Gandalf, to accentuate his towering frame. All the contents were similarly shrunk, right down to the books on Bilbo’s shelves.
13. Iron Man
The Movie: Jon Favreau’s successful translation of Tony Stark from page to screen is full of little easter eggs and in-jokes (Captain America’s shield being the first hint of an Avengers tie-in), but not all of them would be immediately obvious to the untrained eye. Or indeed, the untrained ear…
Attention To Detail: When Tony is playing craps in the casino scene, the house band can be heard striking up a familiar tune. That’s right, it’s the theme from the Iron Man segment of ’60s TV show The Marvel Super Heroes. You can hear it again later in the film as the ringtone on Stark’s cellphone. Obscure.
The Movie: Jim Cameron’s game-changing sci-fi epic might be a bit taxing on the old gluteus maximus, but there’s no questioning the breathtaking visuals and the director’s mastery of the 3D technology. Whether or not he has lumbered mainstream filmmaking with a horrible three-dimensional albatross is up for debate, but his ambition can’t be faulted.
Attention To Detail: Pandora itself appears on the screen as a fully formed universe, plucked straight from Cameron’s imagination. However, an uncanny amount of blood, sweat and tears went into its creation, from the Na’vi themselves (characters first sketched by Cameron as a child), to their specifically devised language, via the planet’s intricately constructed ecosystem. He even hired a professor of plant physiology to construct Pandora’s varied plant life!
11. Apocalypse Now
The Movie: Francis Ford Coppola transposes Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness to napalm-scorched Cambodia, as the increasingly unhinged Captain Willard goes in search of renegade Green Beret, Colonel Kurtz.
Attention To Detail: You might have wondered how Coppola managed to pull off such a convincing special effect in that iconic opening scene of the burning palm trees. The answer is, he didn’t. Instead he poured around 1200 gallons of gasoline over the trees in question and sent them up in smoke. We’re not sure we should really be applauding this, but the effect is unquestionably impressive.
10. Throne Of Blood
The Movie: Kurosawa takes on Shakespeare in this gory reworking of Macbeth, in which Toshiro Mifune stars as an ambitious feudal lord scheming to worm his way into the position of Emperor.
Attention To Detail: Kurosawa could be described as something of a method director, never keen to resort to artifice if the real thing was available. So it was that during the climactic battle scene, he hired trained marksmen to fire real arrows just short of Mifune’s body. Health and safety can’t have been too impressed…
9. The Birds
The Movie: Alfred Hitchcock turns our feathered friends into squawking, clawing creatures of terror. Arguably his most frightening film after Psycho. And possibly Frenzy…
Attention To Detail: Poor Old Tippi Hedren. Seen here appearing in her big break, the actress was subject to the cruel whims of the notoriously mischievous Hitchcock. Determined that Hedren would not seem suitably terrified if she were reacting to mere props, Hitch insisted on setting live birds upon her, even tying some of them to her clothes. Hedren would go on to recount that one of them came a hair’s breadth from pecking her eye out, in a particularly frenzied attack scene. Still, she did look genuinely scared.
The Movie: Zack Snyder takes on the seemingly impossible task of translating Watchmen to the big screen, and pulls it off with considerable success. It might not be perfect, but it’s a very decent stab at the notoriously dense source material.
Attention To Detail: During the glorious opening montage, Snyder includes a wry reference to Batman, as Night Owl punches out an armed thug outside the stage door of a theatre. The signs in the background show the production in question to be Die Fledermaus (The Bat), the venue is Gotham Opera House and that couple emerging into the left of the frame are presumably Martha and Thomas Wayne. Still not convinced? There’s even a Batman poster thrown in for good measure!
The Movie: One of the seminal comedies of the ’80s, Ghostbusters remains a passion project for star Dan Aykroyd, who continues to battle for a third film to this day. He should probably let it go, but still… the first one really is great!
Attention To Detail: Yep, Dan sure did his homework on this one. Apparently, the way in which Venkman treats Dana after her possession is received advice for maintaining control of a possessed individual, while the term Ectoplasm had been coined by Nobel Prize Winner Charles Richet as a description for, “a substance exuded from spiritual mediums to facilitate spirits’ contact with the living world.” So now you know.
6. Toy Story 3
The Movie: Pixar’s films are always jam-packed with references to its previous work, and when factored in to the kind of attention to detail required to render its beautiful cast of characters, you get some idea of the herculean task each film represents.
Attention To Detail: According to a report from FirstShowing, Lots-o-Huggin Bear alone was comprised of 3,473,271 individually animated hairs. And he’s only one of a sizeable ensemble cast!
5. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
The Movie: Edgar Wright’s hyper-kinetic adaptation of the popular comic-book series, in which Michael Cera’s titular slacker finds himself forced into battle against a stream of evil ex-boyfriends of the girl he has his eye on.
Attention To Detail: Edgar Wright demonstrates an obsession with the number system of the ex boyfriends that hits terrifying levels of obscure detail. The first ex has one eye, the second says “it will take two minutes to kick your ass”, the third is in a three-piece band, the fourth fights Scott in a club called “4″, five and six have five syllables in their surname (six with their first names added in) and number seven is named Gideon, G being the seventh letter of the alphabet. Oh, and check out Scott’s t-shirt. He’s zero!
The Movie: David Fincher’s first crack at the serial killer genre is a disturbing pitch-black noir, with the grizzly twist ending to end all grisly twist endings. Poor old Gwynnie…
Attention To Detail: The bizarre diary seen in the opening credits was created by designer John Sable, who spent $15,000 on old journals, ripped them to pieces, sewed them back together, singed the edges and then filled them with pictures of corpses and his own frenzied writing. For a prop that would appear for the briefest of moments, that’s quite a bit of effort!
The Movie: Chris Nolan’s head-spinning action thriller takes the twisty-turny subject matter of malleable dreamscapes and proceeds to lead his audience down the rabbit hole in spectacularly entertaining style.
Attention To Detail: Edith Piaf’s Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien serves as the musical cue that “kicks” our heroes up through the various levels of consciousness, but also informs Hans Zimmer’s booming score in pleasingly subtle fashion. The instrumental theme Zimmer uses to build tension throughout the last hour of the film is actually a drastically slowed down arrangement of the very same song. As time moves slowly through dreams, this is how the characters would actually hear the music! Cool, no?
2. 2001: A Space Odyssey
The Movie: Stanley Kubrick takes on human evolution and mankind’s constant need to push back the frontiers of our experience with this beautiful, balletic take on the sci-fi genre.
Attention To Detail: The film’s many moon sequences were shot in a studio (not even Kubrick would insist on doing it on the moon), but Kubrick still demanded that the equipment used would work had they actually gone up there to do it. There’s authenticity, and then there’s mania…
1. The Ten Commandments
The Movie: Cecil B. De Mille’s notoriously lavish silent movie, in which the director allowed his total disregard for budget, studio demands and basic practicality full reign over this Biblical epic.
Attention To Detail: De Mille was desperate to ensure the film looked legit, and so commissioned a lifesize replica of an Ancient Egyptian city in the midst of the Californian desert. It included four 20 ton pharaoh statues, 21 sphinxes, 300 chariots and required some 1,000 labourers to construct. Once the film was finished? De Mille hired a job lot of builders to pile sand back on top of it, burying the whole enterprise. Beat that!