The Love Bug (1968)

When I was little, I loved movies where stuff moved by itself. I loved animate inanimate objects like Herbie the VW Beetle, talking animals like the cat in The Cat from Outer Space, and people who could do telekinesis, like the siblings in Escape to Witch Mountain. These days I enjoy racing car movies, like the Fast and Furious series, Speed Racer, and even Death Race, despite how bloody it is. The Love Bug is a family comedy that features a racing car that moves by itself. What’s not to love?

I watched it with the audio commentary on this time, so rather than hearing the film’s dialog, I was hearing comments from the three main actors years after the filming.

One thing the commentators pointed out was the matte backgrounds. I tend to think of fake sets as being CGI and very artificial, but movies have been artificial a lot longer than computers have been around. The methods we use to trick the eyes have changed, but the effect is the same. A backdrop created with pixels isn’t necessarily more beautiful or realistic than a backdrop created with paint. The actor who was describing scenes set in foggy San Francisco couldn’t remember, and couldn’t reliably discern, which scenes were filmed on location and which locations had been painted in.

The movie is more impressive if you think about how many of the simple-looking special effects had to be done in real life with physical tools and props, such as the scene on the DVD cover where the car is bouncing across the surface of a pond. They had a plastic car on wires attached to poles on either side of the pond, and they bounced the car on the water. It’s much simpler, and much more complicated, than it looks!

Memorable moments in the movie: Herbie getting drunk on Irish coffee with whipped cream, which I don’t think I understood very well when I was a kid; a phone in a car, which must have been devilishly expensive at the time; diverted race cars zooming through a  mine, and then Herbie getting in an elevator sideways to exit the mine at the top of a hill.