Filmmakers beware: There's a new set of critics out there, sitting at home picking movies apart frame by frame, and then sharing the blunders with thousands of other nitpickers.
Not only have high-quality, at-home toys like DVD players made it easier to watch scenes from a movie over and over — slowing them down, freezing them and finding any mistakes — but that very activity has also spawned an Internet rage, with film buffs e-mailing their little hearts out.
Wrong Time Span
Gladiator earned five Academy Awards in 2000, but if there was an Oscar category for flubs, the mega-hit may have been a contender for that as well.
According to film flub expert Bill Givens and the people who visit his Web site devoted to movie mistakes, Gladiator has more than 100 glitches. One of Givens' favorites is a chariot racing scene where viewers get a glimpse of an attachment that couldn't possibly have existed in ancient Roman times.
"The chariot flips over and you can see this gas cartridge underneath the chariot that was used to flip it," said Givens, who has written five books about mistakes in movies.
Anachronisms like that are a common error, says Givens. For example, even though Titanic pocketed 12 Oscars, not everything about the blockbuster was exactly ship-shape.
In one scene, Jack, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, warns Rose, played by Kate Winslet, that if she were to jump off the ship, the water below would be awfully cold. He would know, he said, from his ice-fishing days in Wisconsin on Lake Wisota. Interesting, because the Titanic sank in 1912, and Lake Wisota, a manmade lake, wasn't built until 1917.
Errors in Continuity
Another typical type of mistake deals with continuity, when from one scene to the next, things are not consistent or the flow of the story is interrupted. In one Titanic scene, for example, Winslet has bangs on her forehead, then in the next frame, her hair is combed back, and then it's back to bangs.
In Saving Private Ryan, the platoon is made up of eight soldiers. Fairly early in the film, one of them gets killed, which would leave seven soldiers. But minutes later, the platoon is shown walking across the field — all eight of them.
Asked how mistakes like these can happen — especially because a script supervisor is usually hired to monitor continuity — Givens said simply that human beings make mistakes.
"I think what happens is when the movie comes out, they spot the flub, and there's nothing they can do about it," he said.
In some cases, said Givens, errors are spotted in the editing process, at which point it is too late to reshoot. "The sets are torn down and the actors have gone on to other things and they just sort of kind of grin and bear it and hope no one sees it."
Sometimes these mistakes occur, said Givens, when a film is shortened and dialogue is removed. In Pretty Woman, Julia Roberts starts her breakfast with Richard Gere by munching on a croissant. But moments later, the croissant has become a pancake.
Apparently, said Givens, some dialogue in which Roberts' character changes her order from a croissant to a pancake was removed in order to shorten the film. "I asked Garry Marshall about it one time," said Givens, referring to the film's director, "and he said, 'Continuity is for sissies.'"
‘It’s Just a Movie’
Givens' favorite flub is in North by Northwest, when Eva Marie Saint is about to shoot Cary Grant. The film scene obviously wasn't the first take.
"In the background there's a little kid, and just before she pulls out the gun, he sticks his fingers in his ears … He knows it's going to happen and he's ready," said Givens, who has seen it many times and still laughs at it.
Givens sees himself as a humorist, and he said he has made a career of this for fun. But he thinks some at-home movie detectives go too far. He once got a letter pointing out that in Dances With Wolves someone was eating a Red Delicious apple, which the viewer said didn't exist at the time.
"This person was irate," said Givens, "and I wanted to write back and say: 'It's just a movie!'"