I understand how important suspension of disbelief is in fiction, and I’m generally a willing participant. That said, I have my limits. For example, I’m absolutely willing to believe that there is life in the universe besides us, and some of that life is comprised of machines given life via a quasi-religious entity and/or force known as the AllSpark, and that these machines can, via a mind-bleedingly complex mechanical design, transform from a vaguely humanoid or zoomorphic form into a fully functional vehicle like an automobile or big rig truck or forklift or something. That’s fine, I’m willing to accept all of these difficult concepts for the sake of being entertained or for spiritual reasons, whichever is applicable. What I cannot accept, though, is the concept that a major motion picture, from a major studio, with a budget of $200 million flapjacking American dollars and more computing resources than the entire world a couple decades ago, is somehow incapable of modeling and rendering an accurate model of a Volkswagen Type 2 bus. And yet, that’s exactly what is happening right now.
Here, look, let me show you what I’m talking about in this trailer for Transformers: Rise of the Beasts:
While I’m glad to see a classic, air-cooled VW in a Transformers movie after the series’ shameful switch of Bumblebee from a VW Beetle to a Camaro, I just can’t understand how they’d get this so wrong. So, the old VW Bus seen in that trailer must be a Transformer named Wheeljack, who seems to be some sort of scientist/inventor and has had several automotive guises, including a Mercedes-Benz E550, and now, for this new movie, is a repair van for a small television repair shop for a place called Frank’s T.V. Repair. That’s all fine.
The problem is the VW Type 2 cargo van model used in the movie is just, well, wrong.
Let me explain what I mean by wrong: the problem is the van, as it is shown, never existed. I can’t tell you what year the Bus is supposed to be because the model in the movie is so screwed up it’s actually a hybrid of two very different models, bridging one of the biggest changes in VW Type 2 design history. Let’s look at the bus in the clips:
Now, at first glance, this looks a lot like the classic pre-’68 Type 2 Bus design, with the prominent V-shaped front end graphic and the old-style double-glass headlamps, and bumper with overriders. But there’s something – well, lots of somethings – that feel off about it. The bumper shape, the location of the lights, but all of those are details when you realize that the whole upper half is from the ’68 and up T2 version of the Bus, known as the “bay window” buses because of the large, one-piece windshield instead of the old “splittie” style two-piece windshield.
This was one of the most significant changes in VW Bus evolution, and a strange half-and-half hybrid like what is seen in these trailers never existed. I mean, I’m sure at some point in the many, many decades of VW Buses being around someone has customized a ’68 or later bus to look mostly like an earlier bus while keeping the big panoramic windshield, but that’s not how we’ve really seen Transformers work, is it? The other cars in the movie seem to match their real-world counterparts pretty exactly, like the Camaro or the Porsche 911:
…so why did they screw up the VW Bus so badly? It doesn’t make any sense, especially because there’s toys of Wheeljack available right now that get it right:
That’s correct! That’s what a proper 1967 or earlier Volkswagen Type 2 cargo van would look like! The bullet-shaped front indicators on this toy suggest a 1956 to 1960 model, but the weird version in the movie uses the later ’61 to ’67 flatter oval ones, but who knows. Still, this toy represents an actual bus that was built and sold pretty well, unlike the movie version.
By the way, a commenter already noted the sliding door on Wheeljack there, too. That part is actually okay! Even though sliding doors weren’t standard until 1968, they were an option from 1962:
These weren’t exactly common, but they at least did exist.
I don’t think this is some attempt to get around VW’s intellectual property protections or anything, because the VW logo is right there, all front and center and huge, and there was a version of Wheeljack as a VW bus that was very much designed to skirt VW’s IP, and it looked like this:
That’s very clearly not what we’re dealing with here. That also has a combination of pre- and post-’68 characteristics, but also a whole bunch of made-up stuff so they can reasonably claim, what, no, we never meant this to be a Volkswagen! The movie is definitely not taking this route, and therefore does not get to use this excuse.
I’m just baffled. They had all the resources in the world to do this, so why do it wrong? They had to know some geek like me would notice, right? Was that the plan all along? With the lack of a split windshield factor into the plot in some clever way? Or were people just being lazy?
What makes this especially ironic is that such a strange Frankenstinian mix of Bay Window and Splittie buses did actually exist, but in the opposite way, and in Brazil:
In Brazil, Type 2 Kombis were built with post-’68 bay window front ends but with ’67 and earlier rear ends, from the end of the front doors back. This doesn’t make the Transformers fictional Type 2 any more accurate, but it’s worth noting that if, for some unknowable reason, they really needed to have a Bus with characteristics from both generations, they could have done that, and done it accurately.
But, they didn’t, and the result is a glaring error that just didn’t have to happen. I suppose in the grand scheme of things, this is hardly a big deal, but, consider this: what if I make it a big deal? That’s more fun, anyway. In all of the time the animators spent looking at these 3D models on their screens, did nobody notice this? Did no one say anything? Are the animators so unfamiliar with what the real cars look like? They can’t be, right? They’re professionals!
Who the hell knows. Maybe I’m the only one who cares. It’s times like these that make me question my basic belief in the glory and power of the Allspark, I can tell you that much.
UPDATE: The Frankenstein bus is real! The very same super-sleuth reader named Erik who discovered the secret of the 1970s Honda brochure/Universal Studios lot also found this amazing bit of video from Peru, where the movie was shot:
The video gives a great look at the Bus, which shows the interior, revealing that it seems to be a ’70s Bus with the old ’67 and earlier face grafted on, Hannibal the Cannibal-style. Who knows Spanish? My dad was Cuban, but never taught me, so if anyone wants to lend a translation hand, that’d be great. Also, Look at that roll cage in there. And is that a nitrous tank? Are the doors motorized?