My favorite thing about The World’s End, which opened in wide release on Friday, is how it seems to be engineered for multiple viewings. A little over halfway into the film, I realized that the name of each bar the main characters visit alludes to some event that occurs there. (I won’t provide any examples here so as not to spoil the fun for readers who haven’t seen the movie.) And I’ve learned from IMDB that the film’s prologue serves as a secret map to everything that will happen afterwards. Director-cowriter Edgar Wright and cowriter-star Simon Pegg employ few details arbitrarily—everything ends up reinforcing the narrative structure or our understanding of the environment in which it takes place. As in the films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, even the most fantastic or ostentatious moments reflect a certain resourcefulness.
I suspect that World’s End will be a popular DVD release, as it invites spectators to revisit individual shots and lines of dialogue to hunt for clues. I worry, however, that the home-viewing experience might reduce the movie to a Where’s Waldo book. (On a related note: Does anyone else remember Nintendo’s ill-fated Where’s Waldo video game from the early 1990s? The “game” simply recreated pages from Martin Handford’s books in big, hard-to-read pixels, and you “played” it by choosing which part of the page you wanted to see on your screen. If anyone remembers a more inessential Nintendo game, let me know; I’ll be sure never to look for it.) The film seems best suited for a theater, where there’s room for the many details to recombine as a fully equipped little world.
Perhaps it’s just my inner Where’s Waldo fan speaking, but I wish more filmmakers aspired to make sacrosanct environments the way Wright and Pegg have. This sort of achievement isn’t limited to fantasy films or big-budget projects. One wanders through Powell and Pressburger’s realistic pictures (The 49th Parallel, I Know Where I’m Going!) as easily as their fantasies, and David Cronenberg managed this self-contained quality back in the days of his cheapo productions.
When I revisited David Gordon Green’s Prince Avalanche last week, I realized that it too has certain illustrated-storybook aspects. You know that ridiculous song Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch make up when they’re drunk on moonshine? You hear a “legit” version of it in one of the movie’s first scenes—it’s the song Hirsch plays on his boom box. Green and Rudd recently explained the song’s evolution in a piece for the New York Times website (where, as a bonus, you can stream both versions of the song), explaining how it went from being an inside joke to a part of the film’s historical reality. It’s details like these that make Avalanche such a distinctive experience. You don’t look at it in terms of character or setting or music, but as a construction that depends equally on all these things.