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Film Flubs 

The fun of catching movie mistakes

It's possibly the most exciting sequence you've ever had the pleasure of witnessing in a motion picture. The runaway stagecoach is cruising along at top speed, the injured hero is trying to leap onto the back of the closest horse pulling it, and the outlaws are riding right alongside the coach, firing at the good guy from all angles. Then suddenly, appearing for a split second there on the right corner of the screen, you spot it... Say, isn't that a '57 Chevy barreling across the landscape in the background?

Ah, those precious film flubs -- you gotta love "em. It doesn't matter how many millions upon millions of dollars a major studio tosses at its latest extravaganza -- it's guaranteed that there will be at least one gaffe in the movie, and equally guaranteed that at least one eagle-eyed filmgoer will spot it immediately.

Movie mistakes come in all sizes and forms. I'm not even talking about old reliable: the boom mike that's clearly visible in the frame. Besides, there's always back-and-forth chatter about whether that's actually the fault of the filmmakers or the fault of the theater projectionist who didn't properly frame the picture (regardless, it draws plenty of titters; just ask the audience at the Gothika screening I attended last fall). So spotting this sort of gaffe isn't that big a deal, not when there are more interesting fish to fry.

And speaking of fish, not even an animated effort like Finding Nemo is free of errors. That film, in fact, contains one of the most common types of mistakes founds in movies: the factual faux pas. In this case, it's the fact that Nigel, the pelican who helps out our heroes, belongs to a class of pelican that doesn't actually live anywhere near Australia (where his scenes take place).

Nitpicking? Sure. But that's the fun of spotting flubs in films -- they're usually so inconsequential that they don't detract from the enjoyment of the film, and they allow the attentive viewer to momentarily feel superior to the zillionaires who put the thing out in the first place.

Of course, catching a factual faux pas generally requires some knowledge of whatever subject is being misrepresented on the big screen -- which is why it's even more fun (and common) to catch a visual gaffe. For instance, the top moneymaking film of all time, 1997's Titanic, includes numerous scenes in which the shadows or reflections of crew members can be spotted. The 1990 Chinatown sequel The Two Jakes includes a screw-up that has gained its own measure of notoriety: Despite being set in the late 1940s, there's a shot in which star Jack Nicholson strolls past an ATM.

Costume spectacles belong in a category all their own. The tire tracks created by the camera truck on the sand can be seen during Ben-Hur's chariot race, while an airplane can briefly be spotted flying the friendly skies in the Elizabeth Taylor version of Cleopatra. And though I wasn't astute enough to catch this one, it's been reported that in 1961's King of Kings, Jesus Christ (Jeffrey Hunter) can be spotted wearing tennis shoes and a wristwatch.

Of course, don't take my word for any of this: Check out the films themselves. Or you can always venture onto the Internet, where there are a handful of sites dedicated to pointing out film flubs. Some are more reliable than others, but all seem to contain their share of verifiable examples. Here, then, is a look at a half-dozen such sites. - Not surprisingly, the International Movie Database, the Web's premiere movie information site, devotes plenty of space to film errors. And whereas some sites just post whatever info is sent to them without verifying it, the administrators at IMDb apparently check out the claims for themselves. I once e-mailed them a gaffe regarding Only Angels Have Wings (see side article), and it took close to a year before it was posted on their site, presumably because of the enormous amount of reader submissions they have to wade through on a daily basis. But their listings are as thorough as any you'll find out there: They tag their gaffes with such headings as "Continuity," "Crew or equipment visible," and "Anachronisms," and they even take the extra step of having a category called "Incorrectly regarded as goofs," apparent errors that are in fact correct. One example, from Saving Private Ryan: "In the latter part of the movie, Capt. Miller uses the phrase "let's lock and load.' Some have misheard this as "rock and roll,' which would be anachronistic." - Subtitled "Hollywood's Big Brother," this large site -- the best of the ones primarily devoted to tracking film flubs -- presently boasts of 33,370 mistakes found in 3,392 films. While the site does offer membership for $10 a year (among the benefits are a reduction in ads and an increase in photos), all the good stuff is free. There's a page for "Best mistakes of all time," as determined by the site's viewers (a stormtrooper scene from Star Wars currently ranks at #1) and another for "The 20 most mistake-filled movies" (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl takes this honor, with a whopping 270 mentions). The site's creator, a chap living in the UK, admits that he doesn't have time to verify all viewer submissions but encourages others to weigh in if they see something listed that's bogus. - Not as compre-hensive as some of the other sites, this one deserves mention because in addition to movie mistakes, it also lists gaffes in television and books, as well as dopey or incorrect quotes attributed to famous people (needless to say, George W. Bush leads this field, with Dan Quayle placing second). The main benefit here is that viewers are allowed to post comments to either confirm or reject each individual listing. But approach many of the postings on this site with a healthy amount of skepticism -- after all, did Christina Aguilera really say to Tiger Woods, "Sorry, I don't follow tennis so I don't know much about you"? - This site is well-designed and has earned a handful of Internet awards, but while it's fun to browse, it's hard to take much stock in many of its listings. Most postings are followed by the sentence, "This blooper IS NOT verified," and some of the submissions are simply absurd; e.g. the guy who claims that the little monkey in Disney's Aladdin can be heard yelling, "Oh, shit!" during one tense sequence. - Author Bill Givens has made a career out of writing "movie mistake" books; he's produced at least five titles, including Film Flubs and Roman Soldiers Don't Wear Watches. Unfortunately, his web page doesn't list any film mistakes (otherwise, who'd buy his books if the information is posted for free?); instead, this is primarily a link to articles about his books and links to sites (like that sell them. - This is a site run by a guy in Finland who goes by the nicknames "Butthole-Bandit" and "Bad-Bee." That right there should shoot all credibility, but compiling movie mistakes (and soliciting them from others) is obviously this guy's major passion: He presently lists errors from over 1,200 flicks. Unfortunately, a visit to his web page resulted in pop-up HELL; I spent more time closing windows, declining software upgrade offers and trying to make my way back to his home page than I did actually looking at the text. Seems this site is a film flub in its own right.

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