by Stefan Delatovic [I make a brief comment below.]
In fiction I find myself drawn to the small touches, those little flourishes that bring a story to life.
They let you know a writer has thought about the universe they've created for their characters and aids in the willing suspension in disbelief.
When I occasionally rewatch The Matrix - which it seems everyone owns as it was the first effects-driven film released at the same time as DVD players - it's the small touches I appreciate. When a black cat crosses Neo's path for a second time he remarks, and I'm paraphrasing, 'whoa, deja vu, whoa'. The other characters, more familiar with the digital facsimile that is the Matrix, tell him that deja vu is in fact a glitch in the system, things are repeating like a scratched LP.
It's a nice touch. While it flags the appearance of the movie's villains, its ancillary to the thrust of the story. It's not important, but its one of those nice little flourishes that I enjoy so much.
I enjoy things like that for two reasons. Firstly, they make the world I'm watching feel lived in. Otherwise - much like a comic panel without a background - things feel a bit thin. Secondly, they strike me with the thought that the world's creator cares. They know this world and its mechanics, and they're letting me know with a wink. It helps me get involved.
Asides such as this can vary in importance and can foreshadow future events, lending them an integral role in the story, even if its not immediately recognizable.
In season three of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy shares a dream with her comatose counterpart Faith. As the girls make a bed and discuss the world in that dreamy-yet-weighty way our subconscious loves so much, Faith remarks that 'Dawn is coming', and that Ms Muffet is 'counting down from 730'. As the audience we write it off as dreamy nonsense, something to add to the atmosphere. But it is in two seasons - two years, or 730 days in the real world - that the character of Dawn will be introduced. There is never anything as dull as a 'this is like that dream I had' revelation from Buffy, and the dream is not mentioned again, but we as the audience make the connection, and the author winks to us that he has thought about this world, and he had a plan all along.
As a child I had glasses of such thickness that I appeared to have two highly-polished trashcan lids attached to my face, and a spine which was bent into the shape of an S. While I thought the spine thing was cool, as it was the first letter of my name, the whole arrangement added up to crippling migraines and quickly lost its luster. That situation however (the less said about the hair I was sporting at the time the better), allowed me to first find appreciation in these small flourishes of fiction. In an episode of Star Trek The Next Generation - which alongside Nintendo had formed a patchwork replacement for friends, sports and the opposite sex - Captain Picard is getting headaches. They eventually turn out to be the nefarious plan of some kind of almost-human-but-with-slightly-more-face alien, but before that revelation, Doctor Crusher gives him the once over. He complains, dismissing his condition as 'just headaches'. She remains worried though, explaining that headaches are no longer commonplace since the brain was mapped hundreds of years ago. It's clumsy exposition to be sure, but it's a nice touch from this future world. It also neatly encapsulates the thematic centre of Star Trek, and I'm paraphrasing again: The future will be shiny and great.
Anybody else love this stuff? Any favourites?
LOST doesn't count though, as their entire structure is built around the small details that may or may not gain importance sometime but could equally just be a polar bear but what if the island is in the past whoosh.
[I watch for these moments too -- but the key problem I raise is what to do with them in the evaluation of the thing as a whole. How many "bonus points" do I award for these perfect little details? If the movie is a B at best because of structure, pacing, acting, or whatever, do these little details push the thing into an A? Dark Knight had a lot of problems but a hundred little details around the Joker pushed that thing into a higher category -- for many people making a B movie into an A. But for me -- and I will admit I am a little inconsistent on this point -- the A has to go to movies that do not have flaws, rather than movies with flaws but great moments to make up for them. Otherwise you get in a position where you have to say, for example. that Phantom Menace is a great movie on the principle that the fight scenes are so good they make up for everything else.]
I have already mentioned some of my favorite throw-away details on this blog, but I will repeat one here: Cameron Frye in Ferris Buller's Day off wears both a belt and suspenders, perfectly capturing what his character is all about. ]