Transformers

2007. Michael Bay

I made a minor pact with myself a few weeks ago that I wasn’t going to go see any sequels or remakes released this summer. I talk enough shit about it bothering me that I felt I needed to lead by example and actually do something about changing it, even if it just means keeping my $10 away. Well there’s an exception to every rule and I simply had to see Transformers on the big screen. The cartoon series and movie were my absolute favorite thing when I was growing up and I had all the toys from every incarnation, not to mention that the trailers have been fantastic, so my seat at the theater was already booked. I went last night with Keegan, Sean, Andy and Leslye and was glad to be among a rowdy group of fellow fans that cheered from the credits on.

Only thing is that the movie is terrible. It’s just a wretched film through and through with inept dialogue, confusing action sequences and a fundamental misunderstanding of how this movie should have been handled. Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg have ripped a page out of every great sci-fi/adventure movie from Jurassic Park to Independence Day by spending the bulk of the first hour introducing the humans and not the machines. We have to sit through insufferably bad plotting and staging and meet a half dozen uninteresting characters before Optimus Prime and the rest of the robots finally make themselves known as characters. While this technique is totally essential in a film like Jurassic Park, where we need to care about the humans being chased by the dinosaurs, it’s not necessary here because the transformers can be characters on their own. They can speak, they can emote and they can drive the story themselves so there’s no reason for them to be relegated to the background for as long as they do. By the time the get around to fighting each other, the movie is almost over and we don’t know a thing about them and aside from a somewhat stirring speech by Optimus Prime, they don’t really say or do much at all. It wouldn’t be so bad if the script was any good and the humans were worth investing time in, but it’s really trashy, B-movie stuff that’s coming out of everyone’s mouth and Michael Bay’s idea of a joke is maybe the most unfunny stuff I’ve ever heard in my life. We’re talking about a guy who references his own past movies in a joke here.

The fact of the matter is the movie is called Transformers and it could have used a little more of the title characters in the action. But speaking of the action, while it is sometimes staged impressively and nobody does visceral camera angles and lens flares quite like Bay, I found a lot of it to be so convoluted and frenetic that I just couldn’t tell what was going on. It didn’t help that the robots are designed to look like a million different pieces of metal jolting out everywhere and when they are entangled with each other, there’s no feasible way of telling any of them apart. I’m sure this has to do with the fact that it took 38 hours to render one frame, but I also felt like the climactic Transformers battle in the end was resolved pretty quickly. It’s only about a five minute sequence and it mostly involves shots of LaBeouf running. But like I said, it was already a massive special effects job and that’s where the real positives in the film lie. This film has far and away, the most impressive special effects since Jurassic Park and should easily stomp away with the Academy Award next year. In terms of marrying computer generated beings with real life backgrounds and actors, it might be the best work ever done. Bravo to the people at Industrial, Light & Magic for making these robots feel like they could exist in our world.

If the effects are amazing then it’s no surprise that Steven Spielberg was involved as a producer. He’s been quoted as describing this as a film about “a boy and his car”, which is vintage Spielberg. Except I didn’t see that movie. There’s a scene where Shia and Bumblebee get separated and Bay films it as if two lovers are being sent to different concentration camps and I realized then that I was supposed to notice a bond between the two, but I couldn’t for the life of me remember anything close to it. Still, the scene somewhat works thanks to the score, which is uniformly excellent.

But none of it can save the bad acting and plot holes. Shia does the same performance he gave in Disturbia and I’m pretty sure he has no range outside of the “I can quickly talk my way out of anything because I’m so charming but dorky” teen rebel. John Turturro hams it up like there’s no tomorrow and every female cast in the movie is a 33DD with bleached hair and perfect mascara (including the scientists and computer programmers). And then there’s the somewhat disturbing fact that, not one but, two totally separate black characters have the same tired gag where they yell offscreen at their overprotective mother or grandmother.

True to Michael Bay form, there’s also a group of military characters who do nothing but run around and make the armed forces look attractive and appealing. Theirs is easily the most boring and unneccesary subplot to a film filled with many. How come the little robot can survive endless thrashings and beheadings, but the big robot gets his head cut off by Prime on the highway and he’s done? How is it that every robot can get to Earth just fine except Megatron, the one who supposedly is the most powerful and smart? Why does Prime give Shia the cube to take to the top of the building when he could do it himself in infinitely less time? Why do they decide to take the cube to the middle of downtown L.A. to hide instead of the desert where they already were? Why was there a Mountain Dew transformer for a couple seconds and then never seen again? Why are there automatic shotguns in the archive room at the dam facility? When exactly did these two characters fall in love? I give up.

I ultimately believe that the Transformers are an amazing concept and one ripe for an amazing film some day, but Michael Bay did not make it.

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