Review of The Love Bug (1968)
Seen in 2019.
Herbie, a temperamental self-driving car.
At least half an hour longer than it needed to be, with terrible special effects: Fast-motion photography and blue screens everywhere. Characters and story have no particular credibility and most of the comedy seems intended for seven-year-olds, except for a couple of sex jokes and one about Haight-Ashbury narcotics culture. This is all to be expected.
The only potential point of interest for me lies in the peculiar use of the supernatural, both in premise and execution. It’s explained by a meditative chrome bricolage artist played cross-eyed by comedian Buddy Hackett. He says: “Us human beings, we had a chance to make something out of this world. We blew it. OK. Another kind of civilization is gonna take a turn. [...] We take machines and we stuff them with information until they’re smarter than we are.” This sounds like science fiction: Real self-driving cars as they appeared 50 years later together with a notion of human replacement by our creations in a robot apocalypse. However, it turns out the artist sees it all as a spiritual development, loosely alluding to Helena Blavatsky’s occult Tibet.
In effect, the living car has no relationship with the artist’s explanations, whether technological or spiritual. It’s just anthropomorphization, as in funny-animal cartoons, but of one specific inanimate object and in live action. The car can’t talk, nor write, but it can read. It doesn’t seem to feel pain, judging by the artist doing some welding in the moving vehicle. It has a face of sorts, but the only emotion ever expressed by a shot of the face is fear, when the hood/mouth and headlights/eyes quake. People who witness the car’s living nature first hand are bizarrely resistant to accept it, something used in the film to explain the lack of public sensation.
This is the opposite of the elegance that tends to mark good SFF writing. It also seems inimical to the basics of film production: It’s obviously a lot cheaper than animation, but it looks boring throughout. In a reasonable society, this thing would have flopped. In reality, as of 2019, there have been five more films in the franchise.