Thursday, March 21, 2013

Big Grasshoppers, Fake Driving, Other Stuff

Today’s post is one that I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but I’ve been trying and trying to think of something interesting to say, or some kind of larger context to put around it. I’ve never been able to think of anything to do with this little bit of fluff, but this trivial little thing is still interesting to me so I’m just going to do this post on its own.


I like monster stories, and I like monster movies and I don’t even mind if they are low-budget monster movies if the filmmakers at least make an attempt to be interesting and exciting. For instance the giant scorpion movie called “The Black Scorpion” is often held up by film buffs as an example of really bad special effects. And the effects are pretty awful. But I still enjoy watching the movie. Beyond the effects, the story itself has a beginning, a middle and an end, and the whole process of getting from the beginning to the end moves along at a nice pace and the actors do okay. It’s not a great film, but I singled it out once in a post as an example of a really bad film that I enjoy watching: Big Clouds, Big Scorpions, Doing Stuff

I’ve also talked about the giant grasshopper film “Beginning of the End” more than once,

Pop Music: Woman As Reporter

Phone Calls From Far Away

These days special effects can be almost perfect because computers can manipulate image elements smaller than the resolution of any projection method. You still occasionally see something odd and there is even a website called “Movie Mistakes” that collects some pretty blunt errors in some pretty big budget films. But many of the mistakes nowadays are called “continuity errors”—for instance, in a chase scene a window might be knocked out of a car from one camera angle but still be in place from another angle. These really aren’t special effects problems, but are more like editing errors, where the producer or director didn’t notice some little bit of business, or wasn’t inclined to spend any budget on re-shooting a scene to fix some little bit of business.

Today I’m going to describe a film mistake that is a little something of both, a special effects error and a continuity error. But the filmmakers almost certainly did this on purpose for budget reasons. So from the point of view of someone watching the film, it is a “mistake,” but it was almost certainly not an oversight or production error, but rather a filmmaker’s choice, a way of saving a little money.

This is the very first film mistake I ever noticed myself.

I noticed this back in the days of only TV, I mean before videotapes. It’s an example of how many times I watched a movie, and how carefully I watched the movie.

This didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the movie. And still today—probably something like forty years after I first noticed this—it still makes me smile when I see it. So, in a way, this may have added to my enjoyment of the movie.

The only larger context I have for this is the observation that now, with special effects that can be almost perfect, probably no young people are ever going to notice something like this ever again. So the excitement—it’s exciting for a film buff to see something like this—the excitement of noticing something like this has disappeared from the movie-watching process. I don’t know if that’s really a great loss, but it seems a little sad to me that kids probably won’t be engaging as closely with film nowadays because they won’t have this kind of silly error to catch.

Anyway, in the giant grasshopper movie “Beginning of the End,” there are a number of scenes where characters drive from place to place. They’re quick, incidental moments. Filmmakers almost never film people in cars actually driving. They put actors in a mock-up of a car on a stage and project scenery moving along behind them on a screen. Rear-projection. Even Hitchcock used the process a lot.

In the movie “Beginning of the End,” right about at the 2:12 mark, there is a scene of two policemen driving along. They’re about to find the first victims of the giant grasshoppers. This is what they look like driving. Notice the dark car in the background:

Just a few scenes later in the film, right about at 20:12, the brave woman reporter is driving along with a soldier. Look at the car in the background:

It’s the same car!

And it is more than just the same car. The road and other cars coming up are the same, too.

In fact, the entire background scene is exactly the same and it’s like twenty seconds of movie time in both scenes!

The filmmakers used the same driving footage for both scenes of rear-projection.

So in the first scene with the policemen in the background the dark car drives past, then some empty road moves past, then a light car drives past.

In the second scene with the reporter and the soldier the exact same footage plays, the dark car drives past, then some empty road, then the light car drives past.

It still makes me laugh.

I love stuff like this.

Nowadays filmmakers can spend hundreds of millions of dollars to make a movie. I’ve seen rumors that the recent Disney prequel to “The Wizard of Oz” eventually ended up costing Disney more than three hundred million dollars.

But what’s it all worth? (Twenty-Four Hundred Man-Years For What?)

After forty years I still enjoy watching “Beginning of the End.” And the film was so low-budget that the filmmakers recycled background footage and how much can it cost to go out and film a car driving along a deserted road?

Since it is possible to make entertaining films that don’t involve spending hundreds of millions of dollars, you have to wonder what business or political or cultural ends are being served by having more and more movies cost so much to create.

I don’t know what the answer is. But I find this kind of stuff very interesting.

And I wish there were more fun and exciting movies where the focus was on the fun and excitement—like “The Black Scorpion” or “Beginning of the End”—rather than on the incidentals of film production.

(As I type this, it occurs to me today’s post might be a little related to the second half of my post, Amateurs, Professionals And Magic. Like modern music production, modern movies are slick and super-professional, but is slick and super-professional necessary? Or even always desirable? Or does slick and super-professional serve mostly to cover up the emptiness underneath, the loss of real human content?)

I wish there were more fun and exciting movies where the focus was on the fun and excitement rather than on the incidentals of film production. Not only would I enjoy watching the fun and exciting movies, but I suspect if filmmakers concentrated more on the story content of films there would be more work for, umm, writers.

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