We have heard the reports and rumours that there would be an 'official' movie made about the life and death of Dale Earnhardt. This past weekend I stumbled across this website promoting this movie. A pretty generic site, but you can see the movie trailer there. My first knee jerk reaction after visiting the site and watching the trailer was, 'are Nascar fans really ready for another movie about the driver of the 3'? After the ESPN's attempt at the Television Movie, "3: The Dale Earnhardt Story" and the criticism from the Nascar purists that followed, sometimes the expectations can grow into something much bigger than the reality or entertainment value of the production.
I guess I was in the 'short line', when it came to the ESPN production and depiction of Dale Sr's life. First off, I realized that it was not a 'true to life' drama or was going to be a 100% truthful biography. Second, I also understood the difficulty for film makers to re-create racing scenes realistic enough to be believable. Third, after all, it is Hollywood. But there were many of the Nascar faithful that for some reason felt this made for TeVee movie was going to be different, and after seeing it, they voiced their displeasure.
Time and time again the flaws in this movie were brought to our attention in some attempt to downplay the entertainment value or story line of this film. What they failed to realize that if this same scrutiny was given to 99% of the 'based on a true story films, their result would be similar.
One very vocal critic that I remember correctly pointed out many inaccuracies ofthe film, however made the mistake of claiming that the film should have been made with the diligence that was achieved in the movie 'Patton'. Now that gave me a chuckle especially considering that 'Patton' was a full length feature film, and '3' was an ESPN made for TeVee movie. (and ESPN's 'docudramas' were not known for the historical accuracy) I always thought it would be interesting to compare some of the criticisms of '3' to similar problems with other 'based on a true story' films, so lets compare a few.
Factual errors in both films:
"3": There was a shot of the RV park during a race identified as 1990. There was an orange Tony Stewart flag in that shot. Tony Stewart didn't start driving the #20 Home Depot Car in Winston Cup until 1999.
"Patton": Germany is already divided to East and West Germany in the map of Europe seen in the U.S. headquarters, and all other national borders are post WWII.
"3": Sunoco Gasoline is shown on the fuel tankers in the movie, but Union 76 fuel was used in the era. (Sunoco did not sign with NASCAR until the start of the 2004 season.)
"Patton": Patton is shown having read a book, "The Tank in Battle", by his adversary, Erwin Rommel. Rommel never wrote any book dealing with tanks or armored warfare.
Glaring Factual Errors:
"3": The death of Dale's father Ralph Earnhardt happened in the kitchen and he was found by his wife. In the film he died in the garage and was found by Dale.
"Patton": Early in the movie (after the Battle for the Kasserine Pass), it is mentioned that U.S. tanks used gasoline, the Germans used diesel. In fact all of Germany's World War II tanks used gasoline (petrol) except for some prototypes.
"3": At the end of the movie, where Dale Earnheardt is shown at his last race at Daytona, Bobby Labonte is shown driving a Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Labonte was, in fact, driving a Pontiac Grand Prix in that race, and did not drive the Monte Carlo until after Earnheardt's death. also in Earnhardt's first Daytona 500 start, the movie shows him driving a Chevrolet Monte Carlo. However, he actually drove a Buick.
"Patton": The 1948 Packard car in front of U.S. headquarters, and the tanks used in the major battle scene in North Africa are post-war tanks. On the German side the M48 tank (1953) was used and on the American side the M47 (1952).
"3": The February 23, 1986 incident at Richmond International Raceway was inaccurately depicted, where Earnhardt spun out Darrell Waltrip with three laps to go. In the film, Earnhardt's now-famous line "I didn't mean to wreck him, I just wanted to rattle his cage a little." was part of the post-race interview. That line, however, was not said at that time. Instead it was said at Bristol on August 29, 1999 after Earnhardt spun out Terry Labonte on the final lap to win the race.
"Patton": The prayer for good weather was actually put on the back of a small Christmas card that was printed for the troops on December 11th, five days before the Battle of the Bulge began and not a direct order from the General to a Chaplin. Also the actual prayer contained the words "these immoderate rains" while the movie version said "this immoderate weather."
Both these films were very good from an entertainment standpoint, although it appears that neither were historically very accurate, and it best a 'loose adaptation' of real life events or people. We can see a plethora of other films that fall unto this genre as well. Films like 'Rudy, 'Hoosiers', 'Friday Night Lights', 'Remember are the Titans', and even 'Miracle' (the story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team) all have many glaring historical inaccuracies, however the general public is led to believe that these films are 'true stories'.
From the trailer, this new film seems to be going in the direction of a 'docudrama', using contemporaneous audio and video accompanied by recent interviews and statements from others who had first person interaction with Dale Sr to tell it's story. Maybe a better name for the film might have been, 'Dale, the Docudrama'.