A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 280 – Transformers (2007)

Transformers – December 5th, 2010

As a child I was a casual viewer of the cartoons this movie was based on. I liked them fine, but they weren’t my favorite (that would have been Dungeons & Dragons, which I loved and which got moved around so much it was nearly impossible to find on a regular basis), so I can’t say that this movie was something I was dying to see. I don’t know the cartoon canon and I can’t name more than a small handful of characters. I’m not really in the target audience for this movie. I’m the right age, but probably not the gender they were going for. Granted, I know a number of women in my age range who were massive Transformers fans, so I could give Michael Bay some credit and hope I’m wrong, but when you get down to it? No, this was a movie made for all the men who loved their Transformers as boys.

Just look at the casting. Now, let me preface this by saying that I do have somewhat unconventional taste in physical attributes when it comes to men. I don’t go for big and muscular or underwear model-esque. But Shia LaBeouf was not cast to be a draw for the ladies. Josh Duhamel, maybe, but he’s got a much smaller role. Shia LaBeouf is comic relief, really. Sure, he put on twenty-odd pounds of muscle for this role. He’s still the naive klutz who gets yanked into the whole plot by dint of his great grandfather having discovered Megatron. Megan Fox, on the other hand, was clearly cast to look pretty. The camera lingers, with LaBeouf’s Sam, on her curves and skin and tiny little skirt. No, I’m pretty sure I’m not the one being catered to here. But the funny thing is? I liked Fox’s Mikaela a lot. Like, way more than I expected to. For one, she’s quite capable on her own and has more useful skills to bring to a car-based plot than Sam does. For another, she pulls her hair back.

Why yes, I am going to obsess over this. It’s a frequent issue I have with female characters in action movies. They always have their hair down, whipping around their faces and in their eyes, getting in the way and looking all pretty and crap, but being totally ridiculous in whatever situation is going on. Mikaela has her hair pulled back through the vast majority of the movie. Come the climax? She’s got herself a ponytail, keeping her hair neatly out of the way because it’s all well and good to look pretty, but when you’re driving through a battle you need to be able to see. I don’t know who made that call. I don’t know if it was Michael Bay, the costume people, an assistant director or even Fox herself. I don’t know. And I don’t care. I care that it’s rare enough that I noticed it and I really rather appreciate that a character who’s obviously largely in the movie as eye candy got to do important actiony things and look capable while doing them.

All that being said? This is a ridiculous movie. It truly is a Michael Bay explosion extravaganza. I’m a little worried, after tonight, about what tomorrow will bring. This was a lot of explodiness and I’m told the sequel is bigger. It’s just plain full of machines making things go boom. It’s big, it’s loud, it’s shiny. There are the Transformers themselves, yes, and they are very pretty examples of the current level of computer effects. And then there’s all the stuff the humans fire at the Transformers. Also computer graphics, yes, but it hardly matters. Things go up in balls of flames, bullets zip through the air, people scream, metal screeches, explosions rock the entire set. There are plot holes all over the place, likely caused by more explosions and bullets. It was bound to happen, really.

Right. Plot. There was some introductory voice-over at the beginning, but I don’t really remember the specifics. Too many explosions. The Autobots and the Decepticons both came from a planet called Cybertron, but it was destroyed and eventually they all ended up on Earth, looking for a cube called the All Spark which could restore life to their planet. Or something. Obviously the bad guys (that would be the Decepticons, if you couldn’t tell by the name) want it for their own aims and the Autobots want to stop them. Enter Sam Witwicky, a high school student who has a talent for embarrassing himself and a new car that has a habit of turning itself on. And why is Sam our hero? Because his great great grandfather discovered a frozen Decepticon in the Arctic several decades back and the coordinates of the All Spark somehow got imprinted on his glasses, which Sam has and is trying to sell on eBay to get some cash so he can ask a girl on a date. Our hero, ladies and gentlemen! The Autobots fixate on him to get the glasses, as do the Decepticons. And so the movie goes, with the two groups of robots battling it out over the glasses at first, and then the All Spark. Oh, and there’s a secret US government agency that gets involved too and provides some impressive scenery chewing from John Turturro.

See, the thing about the plot is that it’s all just a means to an end, and that end is giant robot battles and explosions. This is a movie that is well aware of its own scale, too, and Michael Bay wasn’t shy about that. His ego seems to be growing quite large, really. Not only are there apparently numerous references to his name and possessions throughout the movie (his dog is in it, one of the helicopters has the same registration as his private jet and IMDB claims that ‘Mikaela Banes’ is a reference to his name), but references to at least one of his other movies. “This is at least a hundred times cooler than Armageddon,” screams a young man as he tries to catch the landings of the Autobots on his camera. That’s not subtle.

Nothing about this movie is subtle. That’s the point. This is a movie made to bash you over the head. It’s a movie for people who have fond memories of the cartoon but aren’t hung up on its canon. There’s at least one really obvious scene where all of the Autobots are showing themselves to Sam and Mikaela and Optimus Prime introduces them all and it’s tailor made for folks who watched the cartoon. You’re supposed to see that scene and be brought back to your childhood and then get ready for some action. That’s the whole point. And if that’s how you go into this movie? Ready for action and some callbacks to the source material? It’s fine. Just ignore the ‘comedic’ human performances and enjoy the effects and explosions.

December 5, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Transformers (2007)

December 5, 2010

Transformers (2007)

Transformers were a part of my childhood. I remember distinctly going with my father one day to a toy store in search of some Go-Bots. Because Go-Bots were the coolest thing ever of course. The owner of the shop was there that day and explained to us that he didn’t have any Go-Bots left. He did, however, have a big glossy pamphlet that he showed us featuring a line of toys that would, he said, blow Go-Bots out of the water when they came out next year. There was a big truck that transformed, a big pistol, and a tape recorder. The truth was that that shop-keeper was entirely right. That first line of Transformers did totally kick ass. Well, most of them did, anyhow. There were some that were tiny plastic toys that were kind of cheap like the Go-Bots were (Bumblebee for example.) But most of the Transformers that I remember best were the ones like Jazz that were on a much larger scale than the Go-Bots and were much more complex, well made, and cool. Hasbo also did a great job marketing the Transformers line, with the whole cartoon, and the comic books (with their Spider Man crossover) and the stats listed on their boxes. My friend Randy had all but one of the entire first line of Transformer toys, and we spent many an hour playing with those things. We even used the stats on their packaging to design a kind of RPG, rolling dice to determine the outcomes of their battles.

I say all this so that you can understand that even though I never owned a single Transformer I do consider myself a Transformers fan. I enjoyed the cartoon. One of the more traumatic moments of my youth was tuning in to season three of the Transformers cartoon after missing the movie in the theaters and discovering that every character I cared about was dead. I am much less of a fan of Michael Bay. Sure, I enjoyed The Rock, but that’s about it. Armageddon is a complete mess, Pearl Harbor is infamously bad (see the song in Team America) and The Island is notable to a fan of MST3K like myself primarily for the fact that it took its concept from the creepy seventies movie Parts – the Clonus Horror. So I had pretty low expectations for this big budget explody live-action Transformers movie.

This was one of those movies I first saw over multiple showings at Blockbuster. We threw it in the Blu-Ray player and put it on infinite loop around the time that the movie came out and over the course of a week or so I saw the whole film in bits and parts. I honestly don’t remember why I bought it – perhaps just because I was in the habit of pre-ordering and buying three to five movies a week, and this was one of them. The thing is that I really can’t make up my mind what my opinion of this movie is.

The story it tells is fairly similar to the TV series and comic books. After warring for years on their home planet of Cybertron two clans of giant robots come to Earth. The evil Decepticons want to dominate all life and the kindly Autobots befriend the human locals and attempt to save lives whenever they can. This movie adds in a whole bunch of stuff about a mystical cube called the All-spark that it the origin of all Cybertornian mechanical life, but that’s just so there’s something to center all the action around.

The human hero of our movie is Shia LaBeauf, here portraying Sam Witwicky, whose ancestor once discovered evidence of alien mechanical life under the ice in the arctic circle. Sam is an unpopular nervous high-school student who has just gathered enough money to buy his first car – which turns out to be Bumblebee, here disguised as a fairly beat up Camero. Really Monsieur The Beef is the perfect nerdly every-boy. Over the course of the movie he gets caught up in the war between the Autobots and the Decepticons and manages to also get the hottest girl in school. So a little bit of wish-fulfilment there.

There are some things this movie does well. It cleverly re-frames the well known Transformers mythos into an alien invasion story with lots of military tech, a secret government organization and the secretary for defense shouting a lot as things go wrong for the humans. In that regard it’s perfectly watchable – as a big budget summer action movie with a ton of computer generated special effects and such. There are a number of different groups the movie follows such as the team of marines who survive the initial Decepticon attack on a base in Qatar and the NSA agent who thinks she understands what is behind the attempt to hack into the US military databases. Of course all of these people are inevitably going to end up together as humanity battles for its very existence. All of that is part of a fairly descent movie.

But then there are the “comic relief” bits. I don’t particularly mind Shia or his character, but it’s hard to sit through an entire movie worth of him having panic attacks and talking to himself. There’s a fifteen minute portion of the movie where the Autobots are hiding outside his house while he’s trying to find a pair of glasses his great grandfather left to him and his parents are being painfully clueless. Those fifteen minutes are pure torture. From when his pet dog urinates on one of the robots to when his parents ask him if he locked his door because he was masturbating to every shot of the Autobots awkwardly stumbling around the house attempting to hide – it’s in poor taste, it’s not funny, and it seems to go on for hours.

Did I mention that at one point Bumblebee squirts lubrication from his crotch onto the head of well respected character actor John Turturro? Yeah, it’s that kind of movie. My favorite character from the old Transformers cartoon, the mute and extremely cool Soundwave, is reduced to a gibbering bumbling series of pratfalls and rude gestures. Michael Bay should never, ever be allowed to make attempts at comedy.

The transformers themselves are simultaneously awe inspiring for being probably some of the most complex machines ever rendered by CGI artists and completely bewildering in that they appear, when in robot form, to be big piles of scrap metal slapped together and waling around. I understand that during the unbelievably complex transformation sequences the animators made very few “cheats” and that all the bits that make up the robots are the same bits that made up the automobiles. I just wish that their robot forms were less visually cluttered. Often during the climactic fight scenes I had trouble figuring out which jagged collection of metal bits I was supposed to be rooting for.

Perhaps strangest of all is that in a movie full of giant intelligent robots from space and crazy firefights involving aliens and soldiers and helicopters and planes the thing I had the most trouble believing in in this movie was Megan Fox. She plays Sam’s high-school crush and sorta-kinda almost girlfriend. I can fully understand that a summer action blockbuster needs some eye-candy in the form of a gorgeous woman, and I respect that the movie tried to give her some character with her past stealing and fixing cars with her father, but the way the movie tries to get her mixed up with Sam never quite works for me. It’s part of the fantasy of the movie I suppose that this girl who is more perfect than can be reasonably expected from a human being would think that maybe Sam is not such a bad kid. I just never bought it.

I do appreciate some of the nods to the show and such. Right from the beginning it’s great to hear Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime and that goes a long way towards building some credibility for the movie in my mind. But there is too much in this film I want to erase from my memory to really call it good. It’s acceptable at best – an okay attempt that doesn’t completely ruin the Transformers franchise in my mind. We’ll have to see if tomorrow’s viewing of the inevitable sequel changes that impression.

December 5, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment