Editors do their darndest to ensure that there are no errors in continuity, but does it really matter when a few slip through the cracks?
We've all seen them, whether it's Dorothy's ever-changing hair length in The Wizard of Oz or the already bullet-riddled wall during Pulp Fiction's "Divine Intervention" scene. Continuity errors are the easter eggs editors unintentionally leave in pretty much every film, but while some find them charming and unobtrusive, others claim these little mistakes are distracting at best and complete film-ruiners at worst.
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We all have our personal opinions about continuity errors. Some of us could care less about them; some of us pull our hair out when we spot them. However, the main point Pape points out is this: if a continuity error is distracting to the viewer, then either it's really, really big and apparent, or the film wasn't interesting enough to keep the viewer's attention.
Now, there are those that make it their mission to discover mistakes in continuity—they're the cinematic version of a Grammar Nazi and the happier version of an internet troll. But according to studies that explore human attention utilizing eye-tracking technology, most individuals are simply not going to notice the random crew member wandering in the background or the length of a cigarette in a character's hand. As viewers, we're more concerned with the faces on the screen, as well as the eye movements of each character. Catching most continuity errors means you have to go looking for them. (I say most because some are too obvious to ignore.)
So, do continuity errors matter? Yes and no. You should always try to watch for continuity to make your edit as free of errors as possible. But while some may slip through the cracks, most people aren't going to notice them, and most of those that do aren't going to care that much.
What do you think about continuity errors? How much energy should editors spend on trying to find them in their work? Let us know in the comments.