I love a good “universe”. Not like, our universe, though of course I do love that. I am talking about the “universes” created by collections of movies or books which are not directly in a “series” or correlation but which are all part of the same, overarching concept envisioned by the creator.
Let me provide you with an example – Quentin Tarantino’s “universe”. Quentin leaves a little treasure hunt of connections between his works within each individual film, like a trail of breadcrumbs, making his films quasi mystery-plots, we the audience becoming veritable detectives as well as gaping viewers watching a swashbuckling action thriller. For instance, did you ever pick up on the fact that Mia’s description of Fox Force Five (in Pulp Fiction) sounds an awful lot like the girls’ characters in Kill Bill, in which Uma Thurman also played the principle female lead? Leaving these clues defines each Tarantino film as “quintessentially Quentin’s” as you’ll always know it’s one of his, his brand left through the link.
Developing new creative works to fit a personal “universe” adds another layer of complexity to the writing process which I find completely admirable. I find it hard enough to write one book and to remember what I’ve written, let alone write several differing books whilst remembering the themes and motifs of my others, thereby modeling a “universe”. These creators need a different kind of discipline from the creator’s of series such as LOTR or Harry Potter – they have to conjure up new concepts and different plots each time to fit their standard, recognisable brand.
True, in making a “universe”, writers and concept-creators may somewhat be limiting themselves to the confines of that universe, film-makers probably more so, but I just love the idea that a director or author loves a concept so much that they don’t want any of their works to be outside of it. It is an adorable, complicated way of looking at a thought, keeping it as close to your chest as you would a child whilst simultaneously dealing with all its intricacies and complexities.
Wes Anderson is one of the best of these. You know for sure when you are watching a Wes Anderson film. Wes adopts a vintage, aloof feel to his movies that is not really to be found elsewhere in our modern cinema, as people tend to prefer the gun-slinging, brightly-coloured epics that go on for approximately 10 hours. If you are a Wes fan, you are probably already aware of his classic “movie palettes” – Wes has a palette of colour for each movie of a set of certain pastels, which will be the dominating colour scheme for that film, a technique put in place to ensure that it is recognisable as his work. His films have symmetry. Wes symmetry.
Wes uses pastel pinks and rich reds for the interior of the Grand Budapest in his 2014 release
Additionally, one of the most telling techniques he establishes to emblematize that you are in his universe is using the same actors over and over again. Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman… By marrying the same actors to different roles, Wes emphasizes that you are, when viewing one of his films, entering his “world”, the actors proving the link. You feel almost that you are privy to a somewhat exclusive society, watching the goings-on of Wes and his friends as they craft and play out intelligently narrated theatre. Symmetry between films, through using the same faces.
I also mentioned books. I was thinking, here, of the Terry Pratchett Discworld “universe”. Terry has done an incredible thing in that he has managed to, not only create many series of books, thus linking up characters and plots in the traditional manner, he has also implemented these chronologies further into a giant “universe” of his own design. “Universes within universes”, in a sense. How much mental and creative tailoring must that have required! Terry seems to have a completely inexhaustible foundation of ideas and his multi-layered “universe” compliments his genius in this.
Terry Pratchett’s Discworld teeters upon the back of a giant turtle
Tim Burton’s animated movies, in particular, are beloved as “universes”. You could watch The Corpse Bride and The Nightmare Before Christmas individually and recognise without being told that they were from the same source (or you might assume that they were from different directors, but still think that one director was sort-of plagiarizing the other, like the Energizer and Duracell battery companies.) Tim’s quirky world, then, just cannot be replicated – his style is so distinguishable that the only way you can enter into that “universe” is by appreciating his films. He’s branded it. Genius. Tim also uses the same actors in many of his live-action and voiced films, for instance Johnny Depp (as we all know.) However I’m not sure if this is a product of him trying to create symmetry within his films like Wes, or whether it’s because he secretly wants to adopt Johnny Depp and loves him like a son.
It’s all very well and good creating a singular movie, or a book. But to link up your movies and to make a pattern of your works where plots would otherwise desist, requires something else. It requires a dedication to your artistic voice. But the discipline, I think, is worth it – I am more committed to someone who’s created a “universe” than I am to a singular movie. You create a following that is committed to you and the wealth of your ideas, as opposed to the object, the product of your ideas. The “universe” detracts from singular appreciation.
If you want to know more about these “universes”, check these links:
Quentin Tarantino’s “universe”:
Wes Anderson’s “universe”: