Herbie was today. I saw it at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood. This guy sums it up with more pictures than I could.
So, how was it? Well, rationally or not, this was probably the most eagerly anticipated movie of my entire life. Since getting my virtual hands on a pdf of the first draft of the script over a year ago, I’ve spent a significant portion of time tracking the progress of the film on the Herbie fans message board. Constantly absorbing information about the appearance of the cars, watching any available clips and promotional footage and speculating on how the film would turn out. Every time I’ve seen a movie in a theater for the past six months, I’ve spent at least a few moments imagining how, one day soon, I would be watching Herbie on such a screen. For many years, I have literally had recurring dreams about discovering long-lost Herbie movies in obscure video stores, each time waking up before I get a chance to watch them.
So you could say this was kind of a big deal for me.
Did it live up to the expectations?
Well, in spite of everything, I was trying to keep my expectations in check. Other fans who have seen the movie have raved about it. The critical reviews have ranged from harsh to forgiving. Kenneth Turan of the LA Times sums up the positive reaction well. Essentially, it’s good-natured and innocent and Herbie is so likable you go with it in spite of yourself. Harsher critics with hearts of stone find various stupid reasons to dismiss it, but even the classic original Love Bug was bashed by critics (ironically, the New York Times review of Fully Loaded is much more positive than their review of the original).
How is it? About as good as I expected. It neither exceeded nor fell short of what I had prepared for. I did enjoy it a lot, though I think hearing the other fans rave about it first, as well as knowing as much about the movie as I did, prevented me from having as strong an emotional reaction as I would have. Also, there are a couple of things wrong with it. Not disastrous, but a bit off.
The feel is not quite the feel of the old movies, but that’s to be expected. It's a modern movie, after all, but there is a sincere effort to come as close as possible to the old feel and it mostly succeeds. It is miles better than the first draft of the script that I read a year ago. The biggest problem is Herbie’s excessive expressiveness. The animatronic eyelids and bumper smiles are regrettable but tolerable. More obnoxious are the CGI-enhanced expressions, as though the filmmakers got in the editing room and found themselves inexplicably thinking, “Herbie doesn’t blink enough.”
The travesty that was the extreme “scary face” from the trailer is no more. Instead, it’s been replaced by another CGI freak-out even more bizarre, unreal, and horrifying. I can’t even describe it. Suffice to say it doesn’t fit in this movie, nor any movie, and sticks out as a prominent sore spot in an otherwise very enjoyable movie, like a gorgeous girl with a hideous scar. Or, for those of you who value “personality,” let’s say a nice girl with a deeply buried psychotic streak. Sure, you could ignore it, but should you?
On the upside, this new freak-out is very brief. In fact, it is so brief, and yet so insanely nonsensical and wrong, that it is actually impossible for your brain to fully process it in the time it’s onscreen. I barely remember what it looked like. It’s a jarring flicker, like a nightmare flashback in a movie. I just know that it was bad. The fact that you are unable to process it allows you to banish it from the continuity of the movie. Maybe it was a projection error, a stray obscene frame spliced in by Tyler Durden. Yet, like the children exposed to Tyler’s mischief in Fight Club, we are scarred, knowing we’ve seen something very wrong, even if we’re not sure what. Where was I? Yes, we can repress it. It’s only a moment.
Also on the upside, unlike the other “scary face,” this one happens when Matt Dillon’s back is turned, which means his character doesn’t see it, which means we, and the movie, can go on like it never happened. If Matt Dillon’s character, Trip Murphy, saw this thing happen he would immediately question the nature of reality, check into a mental hospital, and soon kill himself. But he does not, and the story can continue relatively undisturbed.
We can rationalize it. Perhaps this shot was not meant to be taken literally, as an empirical view of physical reality. Perhaps it’s meant to represent Trip’s feelings, or paranoia, or an expression of Herbie’s feelings or desires in appropriate 1960s fashion, which is to say, using the visual language of a bad LSD trip.
Aside from that, my only other major problem was the SPROINGG!! sound effect accompanying Herbie’s wagging, erect antenna whenever he cast his lustful gaze upon the nubile yellow New Beetle. Not once, but twice. Does this mean we officially have a dick joke in a Herbie movie? Because I really could have lived without that. Especially the second time. The kids in the theater loved it, though. I guess that springy noise is pretty funny.
After the movie I got Stephanie a Herbie T-shirt and a hat, and a T-shirt and another, bigger Herbie RC car for me.
Oh, and you better believe I’m going to see it again. Cynthia?