Throughout popular culture, virtual Easter eggs work like inside jokes. Little hidden messages and references left lying around for fans to discover, blog about and argue over (and even name their bands after). Some are simple shout outs. Some are more elaborate. Like the Konami Code (up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, b, a, start), used in games like Contra, Castlevania and Gradius (and on websites like Facebook, Google Reader and Digg). And then there’s Star Wars, with enough virtual Easter Eggs to give even a wookie diabetes.
According to Atari, they coined the term in 1979, when Adventure programmer Warren Robinett popularised the idea using a grey pixel (on a grey background) to lead players into a secret room displaying the words “Created by Warren Robinett.” Obviously, others are laying claim as well.
Another aspect of virtual Easter eggs is hidden features on DVDs: an extra click here, a hidden treasure there. But enough jabbering, here’s a look at a few virtual Easter eggs we find particularly enjoyable.
Pixar movies are notoriously loaded with self-referential Easter eggs. From Pizza Planet and Dinoco, to the Luxo Ball. One of the most popular Pixar Easter eggs is A113, a reference to the graphic design and character animation classroom number at the California Institute of the Arts. To date, the number has turned up in animated shows like American Dad, Tiny Toons, South Park and The Simpsons. And live action films like The Phantom Menace and Terminator Salvation. Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille), who’s used the number in every one of his films and two episodes of The Simpsons, called A113 his “Nina.” A reference to caricaturist Al Hirschfeld, who hid his daughter’s name, Nina, in his drawings.
When it comes to Easter eggs, no one tops Quentin Tarantino (well, maybe George Lucas). Unlike most eager-to-cash-in, product-whoring directors, Tarantino has created an entire universe of fictitious brands for product placement. And he constantly refers back to them – even buddy Robert Rodriguez has left a few Tarantino eggs lying around for sweet-toothed film nuts to uncover. Tarantino universe brands include:
Red Apple Cigarettes (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Four Rooms, From Dusk Till Dawn, Kill Bill, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, Planet Terror and Inglourious Basterds).
Big Kahuna Burger (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, From Dusk Till Dawn, Four Rooms, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl, Death Proof).
Jack Rabbit Slims (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction).
Other Tarantino eggs include The Acuna Boys, the Vega brothers (Vincent and Victor), G.O. Juice, Fruit Brute Cereal, Teriyaki Donut, The McGraw family, a fetish for bare feet and a rumour that Rufus, the organist from Kill Bill: Volume 2, is in fact, Jules Winnfield (Pulp Fiction), freed from his material concerns and now wandering the earth.
David Fincher’s 1999 hit Fight Club is another film littered with Easter eggs. This time, Fincher has combined his tasty treats with a subliminal, mind fuck kind of feel that works perfectly with the film’s tone and overall message. For example, the DVD version includes a direct warning message from Tyler Durden, that you’d have to pause and no doubt break one of the sacred rules of Fight Club to read - "Nobody knows that they saw it, but they did". Interestingly, Fincher’s 2010 film The Social Network includes an Easter egg link back to Tyler Durden (whose profile gets hacked - you have to be quick to spot it).
In Spielberg’s 1982 film ET, Elliot plays with Star Wars action figures and ET passes a kid dressed as Yoda for Halloween. In Close Encounters of a Third Kind, the mothership features an upside down R2-D2. And C3P0 and R2D2 both appear in Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark. Returning the favour, during the vote of no confidence in the senate scene in Episode One: The Phantom Menace, a number of delegates from ET’s home planet can be seen in the bottom left corner of the screen.
Like I said earlier, the Star Wars series is loaded with inside joke Easter eggs (including A113) - try Googling the legendary floating tennis shoe blip from the asteroid chase scene in Empire Strikes Back. And the cross-referencing Lucas/Spielberg connection goes way deeper as well... So keep hunting!
From Kevin Smith’s fictitious Mooby’s franchise to cameos by Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick (in their own films) and Roderick Jaynes and the Coen brothers, the world of film (and media, really) is full of hidden Easter egg treasures. Let us know some of your favourite spots in the comments section below.