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Is that a bug in popcorn? The nits that ruin movies

Published May 13, 2003

While watching the comedy hit Anger Management, I was suddenly jarred out of my willing suspension of disbelief when a Buddhist monk refers to Buddha as his "god."

Buddhists do not see Buddha as god but only as an enlightened human being.

Okay, Maybe Adam Sandler comedies aren't the best place in the world for anyone to suddenly become a stickler for reality.

But sometimes, when films are striving to be taken as reality, it jars harder.

I knew A Few Good Men hadn't been filmed where it is set, at the Marine barracks at Guantanamo Bay, but the opening scenes showed a close enough approximation that I wasn't distracted. Then, suddenly, the naval officer played by Tom Cruise suddenly snaps something like, "Don't you know you are supposed to salute an officer?" while he is interviewing a Marine prisoner in a brig.

I have to say he said "something like" because the dialogue doesn't appear in published copies of the script and was probably added on the set.

The problem is that the two other characters in the room, both brig prisoners, weren't supposed to salute. Marine and naval prisoners do not salute, and Marines and sailors, in general, do not when they are indoors and "uncovered," which means when they are not wearing hats. The only exception to that rule is if they are "under arms," meaning they are either carrying a sidearm or sword or wearing a belt symbolic of doing so - but most brigs don't give their prisoners weapons.

The faux pas distracted me so that I really couldn't enjoy the movie, right up to the ending scene when one of the prisoners, after the court-martial and, indoors, salutes. He had, however, just been handed a dishonorable discharge, so I guess the point was moot.

I have always prided myself on noticing the ever-changing lengths of cigarettes being smoked by actors in scenes pieced together from numerous retakes, doors that are open in one scene and shut in another without anyone having come through them - things like that. I even remember, as a kid, catching a reference to time being measured "o'clock" in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar when clocks had not been invented in Caesar's time.

Such observations, over the years, have earned me the nickname of, well, nitpicker, but that is okay. Some of us must stand for cinematic and dramatic purity even if the rest of the world is okay with scenes of jet contrails in the skies in Hercules movies, television antennas in westerns and Demi Moore's and Patrick Swayze's hands becoming miraculously clean after having been coated with clay in Ghost.

I began to wonder if I was the only person bothered by such things.

Apparently not.

There are some people who apparently live to find movie mistakes, and they have Web sites. And, yes, one of the Web sites is named the Nitpickers Site.

I was humbled to learn that I am small potatoes in the field of movie nitpicking.

Some of my fellow nitpickers noticed the saluting thing in A Few Good Men, but another noticed that a ribbon had fallen off of the display on the chest of one Marine in a scene, and even figured out from its placement what medal it would have represented.

Five of the top 20 mistakes listed on one Web site are in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and people who make a hobby of such things say they picked out someone wearing blue jeans in a scene from Gladiator, and even one of my all-time favorites, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, contains a classic with the narrator setting events as taking place on a November evening before the scene fades to Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick riding in a car and listening to Nixon's resignation speech - which was made in August 1974.

Okay, I admit, fine technical points in a movie about a transvestite mad scientist whose entire house is a space vehicle aren't all that important, but using stock footage out of King Kong in Citizen Kane and showing prehistoric pterodactyls flying outside a restaurant (as noted at was just tacky.

And don't even ask me about the cardboard airplane and the little people in Casablanca.

It would ruin the movie for you.

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