Excellence in Movie Set Design Details

Wow, some really great movies in this thread so far!

I’m a huge lover of period pieces, and detail is so important to a good work of historical fiction…I’ll just mention 3 of my favorites, since (imho) period films by necessity require excellent set design with great attention to detail to make a truly great period film.

Restoration, winner of both the Art Direction and Costume Oscars for 1996, The Madness of King George, nominee for 4 Oscars in 1995, winning for Art Direction, and Shakespeare In Love the winner/nominee of what was probably half the entire Oscars in 1998. :wink:

The Borrowers. An excellently stylised Anytown, partially influenced by America, England, France, and yet nowhere specific at all. With the images in a sort of storybook watercolour. My favourite part is that all the cars, every single one of them, are Morris Minors.

Though Peter Jackson used that joke in most, if not all, of his movies pre-LOTR.

Another addition:[ul][li] Batman[/li]
Yes, “Batman.” The original movie’s Gotham City backdrops were pretty stunning Art Deco fabrications. Sadly, the same couldn’t be said about the movie, especially the sequel with Danny de Vito as, The Penguin. That was the most miserable shambles of a plot since Aliens III.[/ul]

I wanted to nominate both The Fifth Element and The City of Lost Children, but I think I’m a touch late.

Crusoe, please feel free to post about what components of either film came to your notice.

Moulin Rouge- I thought the dance floor near the beginning (where we first see Satine), and the stage of Spectacular, Spectacular were gorgeous.

To be honest, I think you summed up The Fifth Element’s design appeal much better than I could. The streams of traffic and the buildings felt “real”; claustrophobic, functional and without frills, and they fitted my image of a future New York perfectly. I don’t know how much was owed to Blade Runner, but it steered away from being too distopian through the sheer colour and spots of tongue-in-cheek humour in the film.

City of Lost Children was altogether more downbeat. A nightmarish world of disconcerting colours, a lack of light and (again) a claustrophobic mess of buildings, yet without people. I liked the retro feel, which generally managed to steer away from items that might have associated the film with a particular “real world” place or time. I think both films were also helped by excellent costume design - was it Gaultier behind both?

I would add that I really like the set design in the second Batman film; I still enjoy it more than the first (not to stray too far off-topic, but Keaton was my favourite Batman, and Walken and Devito were a more interesting combination than Nicholson was on his own in the first film). Maybe it’s a bit of an obvious Tim Burton trademark by now, but I liked his usual semi-gothic style.

I’m not sure as I haven’t seen, “City of Lost Children.” However, Gaultier’s costume designs in “The Fifth Element” were excellent. They were definitely a part of the ambience that made the film so watchable. Good call.

[nitpick] Aren’t the dwarves’ instruments in Snow White props and not sets?[/nitpick]

I second Brazil for great design. I just love the way nothing really works - my favourite is Sam Lowry’s telephone that you have to figure out which jack to plug the reciever into in order to answer. Burton is, as mentioned, another master of stylized design. The scary way-too-clean suburbia of Edward Scissorhands springs to mind.

Interestingly, both Gilliam and Burton are animators. It’s fun to compare their early sketches to the end result.

David Fincher’s penal colony from Alien 3 is very believable, and Seven’s sets convey the mood of the film quite effectively.

Most science fiction films since Alien owe it a lot visually. Can’t find a cite right now but I once read that the early design involved pink costumes with cyan rank markings on them. Scott thankfully threw all that away when he got involved and got such masters as Giger and Moebius to design it instead. Prior to that design a la Star Trek dominated the genre.

Which reminds me of the top-secret underground lab of Andromeda Strain. So stylish (in that Star Trek manner) and impressive, and especially the disinfection sequence is beautifully done. When I first watched the subjects’ outer layers of skin get burned/radiated off I got an itchy feeling all over.

Ben Hur.

I think that’s about all that needs to be said.

A third mention for Harry Potter, particularly the scene where Harry and Ron are playing wizard chess in the Great Hall. They’re using reproduction Lewis men! Such excellent taste, such a subtle and tasteful nod to Scottish history.

Though there was no one detail I liked, overall, I loved the glass house in the “Thirteen Ghosts” remake. Gawd, it was beautiful. I’d love to have lived in it, minus the ghosts and death traps, of course. Though I’d probably spend a fortune in Windex and replacement panes…

I’ll nominate a couple of movies not yet mentioned;

**Crash : ** The metallic, cold feel of everything (including the music) fitted perfectly with the story

**Eyes Wide Shut : ** The opening party and the orgy sequence were beautifully designed and lit sets

**The Truman Show : ** This movie managed to capture the notion of a faux-real town superbly well

**Minority Report : ** Lots of very imaginitive ideas in this movie which you could quite easily see being reality in the near future. The personalized adverts were particularly clever.

sirtonyh, I’ve gotta agree with you about “Minority Report.” Although I am not fond of Tom Cruise (in the least), the movie was competently made and the advanced technology was quite good. The near continuous product placements for Nissan really tended to spoil the show for me. Especially so in the ending scene. I’m fully aware of how important to the plot the final personalized adverts were. It’s just that, by then, I was so fed up with the protracted car commercial that I’d reached my limit to appreciate anything more of the sort.

I’m insanely surprised no one has mentioned The Royal Tenenbaums. The games closet with monopoly piece light cord, the Javelina, the pictures of Margot, the life story drawn on Richie’s walls, the whole THING! Amazing, that house is a dream.

We’re talking about set design and not real places, right? The Truman Show was filmed on location in a real planned community - Seaside, Florida - where my elderly Aunt and Uncle actually live. It’s creepy.

As for the OP, I loved the set design in both Babe and Babe: Pig in the City. And I second The Royal Tennenbaums.


Shadow Of The Vampire had great sets. Authentic reproductions of Nosferatu sets, along with the stuff that bound them together. Very nice.

um, GuanoLad

When did Peter Jackson have anything to do with The Borrowers?

Did I miss something?

I don’t believe that anyone has mentioned:

The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari[ul]The skewed angles and often jumbled perspective of this early movie’s primative sets were a masterwork of minimalism and expression. I remember watching the film as a teenager and marveling at how well the Doctor’s twisted mind was reflected in the backdrops.[/ul]
From the Earth to the Moon[ul]This somewhat faithful interpretation of Jules Verne really deserves mention. Its “Son of Flubberesque” beginning aside, the shots of the selenite colony and its machinations were pretty good work for its time.[/ul]
2001 A Space Odyssey[ul]I really couldn’t let my favorite science fiction movie slip through the cracks. The film rightfully deserves its own discussion thread. Artisan level model making and precise star chart backgrounds combined with the supremely accurate technology mockups to create what remains a cinetography standard to this day. Considering that everything was done by hand and no computers were used, I find little work that possibly compares with it, even now.[/ul]
Satyricon[ul]For sheer visual splendor, this film merits mention. The intensely saturated colors, the feast scene, the really-odd-just-about-everything in the entire movie puts it in a class by itself. I need to watch it again sometime.[/ul]