Bent Car, Heal Thyself!

Shortly after buying a ratty $680.00 BMW 535i, I rubbed the front fender against a concrete pillar. I was watching a Land Rover instead of the immovable object. The fender was pretty well mooshed. Strangely, it did not heal itself.

Other cars I’ve driven into animate and inanimate objects have similarly stayed crushed and crumpled. The Honda Prelude I stuffed into a Grand Cherokee? The Audi 5000S I put into a stone wall? The VW Rabbit with which I attacked a fat raccoon? All required trips to either the body shop or the junkyard.

Which made no sense whatsoever. Growing up I was led to believe cars healed themselves. After every flying lesson Bo and Luke gave the General Lee the car looked showroom fresh. Mini Coopers could bounce around Italy and emerge unscathed, if not a little dirty. B.A. Baracus could flatten buildings and military police while taking machine gun fire and yet his black GMC van was always clean and mean.

This myth was perpetuated into my adult life. Indeed, relatively recently even lovely Eleanor has displayed the General Lee’s powers of self-reconstruction.

The basic failure here is something I now describe as “automotive continuity.” It’s an umbrella term for everything and anything automotively wrong on television and in the movies. And it doesn’t limit itself to the descendants of Christine, the grande dame of “I’ll fix myself, thank you very much.”

Ever seen an allegedly moving vehicle with the gear selector in Park? Ever noticed a detail in a closeup shot, like a wheel or a badge, didn’t match the rest of the car? We’ve all seen one make or model switched willy-nilly with another because, well, production wonks who make movies and television shows don’t pay attention.

Which didn’t used to be true. I still watch the credits at the end of movies and I no longer see “Continuity” of any kind credited. Aside from watching where Nicolas Cage put the Pepsi can, or what cowboy hat Burt Reynolds is wearing, who’s watching the store? This important position has disappeared, despite credit run times stretching out long enough to run two Randy Newman songs.

A viewer ignorant of the finer automotive details would overlook such things. And in most non-car-enthusiast pictures the production team can get away with it. In “Sweet Home Alabama” my wife did not notice Jake’s pickup was in Park while driving down Main Street. She probably only pretended to care when I pointed it out, fixated as she was on Patrick Dempsey.

And she probably doesn’t care every other time during every other TV show or movie when I say, “Car’s in park.”

But automotive continuity flaws happen time and again in shows which are supposed to be targeted toward the real car geeks, or at least dudes who pay attention. Sometimes the weirdness is so blatant you wonder how they thought they could pass it off.

Take “Ronin” for example. This is a guy’s movie, filled with cars, guns, and Robert De Niro. The most serious automotive continuity failings occur during the Audi S8 and Citroen XM chase sequence. At various times the nitrous-fueled Audi S8: loses and regains pieces such as headlights and mirrors; fixes its own dents and holes; and replaces its own shot-out windows.

Further, any BMW nutjob worth his Zundfolge knows those craptastic metric TRX wheels, prominently displayed when the M5’s passenger side rear tire gets pierced by a bullet, were never offered on an E34 5-Series.

Repeated use of the same background cars in different scenes is another red flag in the eye of the car geek. “Bullitt” contains one of the best car chases ever put to film. 1968 Mustang? Charger? Check and roll. But look closely and you’ll see the same cars lining different streets all around San Francisco. You’ll also see the same action filmed from different viewpoints. “The Bourne Identity” is guilty of this as well; several generic French boxes die over and over, from different vantage points, all over Paris.

I realize some liberties must be taken during production. Nods toward things like budgets and logistics are necessary. However, some of these things, like the car in Park, are just not that hard to remember.

Good automotive continuity? It exists! When we watch Jake and Elwood bombing around Chicago, not only is the gear lever in drive but bits and pieces of debris are rolling back and forth across the dashboard. The “Dukes of Hazzard” movie did pretty well at keeping the General honest, especially with scenes not involving long-range flight plans. The bright folks at Pixar kept a close eye on “Cars.”

Today I’m calling on you, the automotive-educated cognoscenti, to put a stop to this mayhem. No more model switching, no more detail screwups, no more moving cars in Park. Write letters to the studios. Call Robert Rodriguez. Burn a Cutlass Ciera on the Wachowski brothers front yard.

Or maybe just start a blog.

~ Jonathan

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