Movie Night with Eleanor
Let’s call them patient zero – the cars that first transmitted this incurable disease of infatuation with motor vehicles. I remember being exposed to muscle cars by finding a Plymouth ‘Cuda at a car show in Oregon. I can still hear the clatter of my dad’s first diesel pickup outside my school. In most cases, though, I met cars through movies. Sitting on the couch on a Friday night, belly full of pizza and root beer, I’d turn to my parents with wide eyes and ask, “What is that?”
Some of these scenes have stuck with me for years, shaping my passion for cars and movies alike. There are more famous cars, more exotic cars, and (let’s be honest) much better movies, but these made a lasting impression on me.
Join me as I expend an inordinate amount of effort attempting to break down one such scene.
Of all the cars to roar across the silver screen, few made a bigger splash than the 1967 Shelby GT500 from Gone in 60 Seconds. During high school, I even mounted fog lights on the middle of my Dodge Ram’s bumper as a tribute.
This car gets teased early in the movie, creating an aura before the audience ever gets to see it.
“Woah,” says car thief Donny Astricky, examining a list of to-be-stolen cars. “1967 Shelby GT500? You got Eleanor here?”
The decision to lay that foundation adds tension and creates another layer to the plot – not only do the protagonists have to steal 50 cars in 72 hours, their list includes the one car protagonist Memphis Raines seems incapable of catching.
The first time I watched this movie, I didn’t even know what a Shelby GT500 was. By the time I saw Eleanor for the first time, the anticipation had already been built up so high that my sixth-grade brain could hardly handle it.
What I Saw Then
The shadowy figure lurking in the parking garage was unfamiliar to me, but I knew it was special. It stood out from the other cars. The silver body communicated speed in a way only muscle cars can. Besides, race stripes meant it had to be fast, right?
To a child who had never been behind the wheel of anything, stat sheets were everything. More cylinders meant more power, newer was better, and muscle cars made people tough. I remember being a little confused about why the characters were so worked up about an old Ford, rather than the Ferraris and Lamborghinis on their list. Astricky’s explanation to a younger car thief presented me with a new concept. Could there be more to cars than numbers on a page? Could people have a relationship with a certain make and model?
I was hooked. By the time Memphis Raines led his crew out of that parking garage, I was dying to know what that car sounded like. How did it feel to drive something like that?
What I See Now
For starters, I do not see a great deal of effort being put into the script (no judgement, though). This movie’s dialogue does the trick, but don’t go looking for deeper meaning. This isn’t high cinema; this is a summer blockbuster from 2000.
I do think Eleanor’s introduction manages to pack quite a punch into 80 seconds. The scene begins with four characters walking into a below-ground parking garage. As is the case throughout the movie, lighting is deliberate and over-the-top. Only one wall is lit, creating a stark contrast between the bright blue light cast across it and the black shapes filling the rest of the frame. I can’t help but think of Beowulf entering the dragon’s den. Eleanor isn’t just another car on the list, she’s a primary character with a will of her own.
Sixteen seconds into the scene, we get our first real glimpse of Eleanor. No wonder I didn’t notice the other cars in the garage as a kid – none of them are lit. Even Eleanor is only partly visible. This is appropriate for a car in what is apparently the world’s darkest parking garage, and it creates a nice sense of mystery.
The music in this movie comes courtesy of Trevor Rabin, who also had a hand in Con Air and Armageddon. If you like the music in one, you’ll like the others – and I do. This scene starts with only the sound of footsteps echoing like water dripping in a cave. Music is introduced with a synthetic beat, tapping like a quickening pulse as Raines approaches Eleanor. The choir-like vocals that come next follow Eleanor throughout the movie. In scene after scene, voices without words give the car a human personality.
The scene’s closing view of Eleanor is clearly a placed glamor shot. I’m guessing it’s a nod to the car’s designer, the great Chip Foose. It also gets weirder the longer I look at it. The bright blue light is now coming from the back of the parking garage, rather than the entry. There’s a separate light source with a different hue aimed at the car from the opposite direction. The resulting color is a bit of a mess, which is uncharacteristic for a movie with so much commitment to each scene’s color palette. Half the wall is gray, the other half is blue; the pillars and background are green; half of the car gets neutral light and half gets a green hue. Throw in red taillights for good measure. I’m sure they knew this would become a poster, so I wish it were composed a little more carefully.
I still think this scene does a great job of introducing a car as a character. I’d also be lying if I said I don’t hear that music every time I approach certain cars. Say what you will about early-2000s action flicks, but we’d be missing an awful lot of car enthusiasts (and restored Mustangs) if it weren’t for Gone in 60 Seconds. If you ever get a chance to drive one of those Eleanor clones, just remember that the police fly A-Stars, not Apaches. Go baby go.
Scott is a lover of motorized fun, whether on four wheels or two. A child of the 90’s, he has a particular soft spot for hatchbacks and believes all aging cars deserve a second chance at life. Scott works as a freelance marketer for Dingo Productions in Fort Worth, Texas. If he’s not behind a camera or a computer, he’s probably chasing down new coffee shops with his wife or throwing a frisbee for his dog.
The views and opinions expressed here are his own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.