The Love Bug Review
The version of The Love Bug reviewed here is currently only available as part of The Herbie Collection (Limited Edition) that also features the subsequent Herbie movies: Herbie Rides Again, Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo and Herbie Goes Bananas. An individual release of The Love Bug is due in stores from 12th January 2004.
If you are in any doubt about the importance of the Herbie films, then you would do well to remember that without Herbie, it's doubtful that we would have got The Terminator. Everything alluded to in James Cameron’s' vision, such as machines being pumped with information until they become self-aware and the human race becoming obsolete as they create more and more complex machines are explicitly referred to in The Love Bug, and by Tennessee, the comedy sidekick mechanic, no less. And we won't even mention Stephen King's Christine who is little more than Herbie's more sinister daughter. Fortunately, though, Herbie, comes from a different era and, as alluded to in the title, there is nothing on Herbies’ mind apart from peace and love.
In case you have been living under a stone for the last thirty years, Herbie is a little Volkswagen Beatle with a mind of it's own. Ahh, bless. He's an endearing little character, who comes into the possession of a failing racing driver, Jim Douglas, by means that is as complicated as it is unlikely. Once this awkward plot point is, more or less, successfully negotiated, the real film gets under way. Of course, being a magic car, Herbie is able to win race after race but Jim is so wrapped up in his own ego he thinks the success is due to his driving. His sidekick, Tennessee is of more mystical bent, and at once realises something stange is afoot. The plot of the film revolves around Jim's realisation of Herbie's magical qualities and his attempts to gain final ownership of the car; negotiating traps and wagers set up by the principal villain of the piece, the evil, aristocratic Mr Thorndyke. Will Jim realise that Herbie is far more special than he looks? Will he win the final race, upon which Herbies final ownership depends? No spoilers here, you'll just have to go and see for yourself.
Performances in the film are, largely, wonderful. Dean Jones plays Jim Douglas with a nice, easy mix of gentleman and scoundrel that is reminiscent of Cary Grant, though not in the same league, obviously. The real star of the film (well, the real human star of the film) is David Tomlinson, who’s Mr Thorndyke is one of the great film villains. And like all the best villains, he has all the best lines; "Honesty?", He says, in clipped tones, "...well, it's not a quality necessarily to be despised." They just don't write 'em like that anymore. His performance is a a master class of comic acting. His expressions and his mannerisms are wonderfully realised and superbly timed and it's fair to say he steals the show whenever he is on screen. He is a cartoon character fully realised, and for this sort of film, there is no better compliment.
Of course, Herbie follows the conventions of Disney's animated fare, and at times it looks like a live action cartoon. Herbie jumps around, splits in two and even tries to throw himself off a bridge and none of it looks unbelievable. To add to the cartoon effect, matte shots are occasionally used to depict the fog bound landscape of San Francisco and these look breathtakingly beautiful and give the film a lovely, surrealist edge.
The Love Bug, it has to be said, has dated rather well. It's well paced, funny and has some quite good action sequences. Other elements, like a good script, never date and even today's sophisticated kids (of a certain age) will get a kick out of this. Of course, your tolerance is based on how well indulged your inner child is, if, however, your the sort of person for whom it's the inner adult that never gets a look in, then The Love Bug is highly recommended. And if you still need convincing of it's influence, have a look at the opening sequence; a car race in which the cars perform a complicated ballet to the strains of a swiss waltz, then, one of the cars spins into view - the car is named Crazy Hal.....
Presented in lovely anamorphic 1.85/1, the print used is in pristine condition. There's not a hint of damage throughout, and everything looks sparkly new. Colours are warm and true looking and it looks, in all honesty, as though it were shot last week. The matte shots during Herbie's disappearance in the middle of the film, look like works of art and will take your breath away. The level of detail is quite astonishing, given the films age, but there does seem to be some edge enhancement going on. Boo.
Sound is Stereo 2.0, and there's nothing to complain about. Nice, solid engine noise, and that irritatingly catchy theme will rattle around your head for weeks. It seems that the rerelease (on 12th January 2004) will have a full THX remastered soundtrack, so if this is an issue, it might be best to wait for that one....
There's a fair amount of extras on offer here, best is the commentary from Dean Jones, Michele Lee and Buddy Hacket. Dean Jones and Buddy Hacket (Jim Douglas and Tennessee) give a wonderful commentary; recorded together, they warm and interesting and still seem to remember, and enjoy recalling, the minutae of the film. Less impressive is Michele Lee's contribution. She has been recorded separately and seems unsure who she is speaking too, pointing out the obvious, ("See, when I am struggling to control the wheel there, it's all pretend, I could move the wheel if I really wanted to") and irritating at every point. A fairly good example of how not to do a commentary, but the others more than make up for it with their anecdotes and musings.
There's also some nice short pieces. Herbie Mania is something of a worry; did you know there are grown men (it's always men) who are still obsessed by the film? They dress as the characters and all own cars made up to look like Herbie. Here, if wish it so, you get to meet some of them. You will not be surprised to learn that the Internet has played a major part in the establishment of the cult. Rather more touching than most of the sad sacks paraded for our pleasure, is the dad who has made a Herbie for his disabled son. It's very cute, and is computer equipped to perform some of the tamer tricks that the real Herbie is capable of. It's excellent, and you will want one. Six minutes long, full screen and no subtitles.
Less worrying, is That Lovable Bug a contemporary piece looking back at the making of the film. There are anecdotes galore, behind the scenes photographs, mistakes are pointed out and there are some very interesting interviews with the cast and crew. A rare thing, it's neither gushing nor sickly, but is thoroughly enjoyable. Possibly shot for TV, as there seems to be some ad breaks, but that's not a bad thing. Forty-five minutes long, fullscreen and no subtitles.
It's rather depressing, this lack of subtitles on the extras. Even more so when the main film is blessed with two sets of subtitles; are Disney too cheap to extend this courtesy to the supplements? Or is it the case that it never occurred to them to bother, which would make it even more depressing? Let them hang their heads in shame.
The Deleted Scenes are something of a swindle, as there are no actual scenes. Instead, you get production photos and script extracts from two scenes that were not included in the actual film. One is a short scene in a car sales yard and the second shows Herbie playing with children. Interesting, but not essential. No subtitles necesary, as everything is written upon the screen.