World-Building 101: Details in ‘The Matrix’

The more minutiae, the more believable a universe.

If there’s one thing that separates good science fiction films from great science fiction films, it’s detail. Sci-fi in particular – which has to create its world from the ground up quickly and believably – is reliant on detail for verisimilitude, especially the wilder its universe. Think about Star Wars, 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Alien, all of which are loaded with carefully-crafted and innovative designs, practical effects, and details. Such movies aren’t just regular stories set in space, after all, they are alternative histories and future projections, they are composites of what we know and what we can imagine, and the more detailed they are, the easier it is for an audience to set their perspective in them, no matter how odd, alien, or mind-bending.

Take the Wachowskis’ The Matrix, for example, easily one of the greatest sci-fi films of all-time. In creating their world within “the world,” the Wachowski’s peppered nearly every scene with intricate details that when viewed as a big picture help to compose a fully-realized, seamless and functional universe.

In the following video from editor photobarin, all the minutiae of The Matrix are in the spotlight, from neck-ports and ankle restraints to a red pill, a blue pill, and the rainfall of binary sequences. The effect of seeing them assembled outside the context of their story illustrates how integral they are to our ability to suspend disbelief and accept the world presented to us as real and viable enough to support the film’s themes, characters, and plot.

Self-helpers like to tell you not to sweat the small stuff. While that might be true in life, in art it’s a cop-out. Always sweat the small stuff, in fact, the smaller it is the more you should sweat it, because in the details there is divinity, there is the spark that separates the contemporary from the immortal, and that’s the whole point of creating, right? To make something that outlives its maker.

This is how.