Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Review of TRANSFORMERS

For well over a year now, I haven't heard much of anything at all about Transformers except for how it would suck donkey's balls to no end (my personal epithet for something that is as bad as possible and can't get any worse) when it came out.

Let's see, since early 2006 there's been: "Bumblebee is a Beetle not a Camaro", "this movie must have Soundwave", "Megatron should transform into a gun", "the script is lousy", "damn you Michael Bay!", and the ubiquitous "flames on Optimus equals rubber nipples on Batman" argument. Along with literally dozens of other reasons about why Transformers, the 2007 live-action movie, was doomed to fail. How it was T.I.N.O. ("Transformers In Name Only").

You know what? I don't want to hear another bloody word about how Transformers is supposed to be a crap-tacular waste of celluloid and computer-rendered carnage. Because I just spent two and a half hours watching Transformers, and this is the most absolute awesome movie experience that I’ve had in many, many summers!

Transformers is huge. It is epic. It will leave you stunned with wide-eyed wonder in ways you haven't felt since maybe even E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. It is twelve scoops of crazy with sprinkles on top. This is the movie that will bring out the kid in you like very little has ever done before.

And as a Transformers fan from the very beginning of the franchise, I will also say this: Transformers the 2007 movie is definitely the best depiction of the Transformers in any medium since the brand burst on the scene all the way back in 1984.

For those who still might cry foul about this not being true to "the Transformers of our youth", I will raise a mighty positive point in this movie's defense. Transformers, the 2007 live-action movie, does for its namesake saga what Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns did for Batman: it refines it, it re-defines it, and not only re-launches the story but for the first time ever perhaps gives the story the form it was always meant to have.

All of the classic elements of Transformers that we have come to know and expect are found in Transformers the (real) movie. But at last this feels like a serious mythology, and not merely something to sell gobs of toys.

And... well, what can I say: watching it with my wife Lisa and life-long friend Chad, I felt like a ten-year old kid all over again. I said a few days ago that Chad and I used to imagine what a live-action Transformers movie would be like. I have to say: during the scene where the Autobots come together for the first time and Optimus Prime does that magnificent transformation into his "upright" form, my eyes welled-up with tears. This was something I had never thought I would ever really behold, and there it was at last. I think Chad summed it up best when he said the experience of watching Transformers was "mesmerizing".

I defy anyone to tell me that this is not a good movie.

And finally, I feel like I can forgive Michael Bay after that abortion of a movie called Pearl Harbor. For six years I've been talking junk about Bay whenever I could and however hard I could muster it. You've no idea how much I loathed Pearl Harbor. It was one of the worst atrocities ever put on film. And I will admit to having that squeamish feeling when I heard that Michael Bay had been chosen to helm Transformers. Well guess what: Michael Bay proved me wrong. He pulled Transformers off almost perfectly. Not entirely perfect, but probably as perfect as anybody could do it. With Transformers, Michael Bay at last redeemed himself in my eyes.

Make no mistake, this is a Michael Bay movie: the man just can’t say "no" to shaky cinematography and those weird 360-degree revolving shots. I've heard some people say that his style is too hard to watch, especially with all the Industrial Light and Magic eye-candy going on just about every frame of the action scenes. I thought it was the perfect style for this movie. Think about it: a lot of the perspective in Transformers is from that of us humans. Now imagine us being suddenly thrust into the middle of this inter-stellar war, with no idea about what's really going on. In that sense, Michael Bay established this great sense of "fog of war" confusion and hysteria, especially in the later action sequences.

Okay, about the movie itself...

It starts off with the voice of Optimus Prime (voiced, as he was in the original cartoon, by Peter Cullen, sounding more majestic than ever before) giving a prologue about the war among the Transformers and Megatron's lust for the Allspark: the source of Transformer life and that of their home world. The Allspark was lost to the depths of space, and was thought gone forever... until it was detected to be on a planet known as Earth.

Cut to a U.S. military base in Qatar: while one soldier named Lennox (played by Josh Duhamel) is chatting on a video link to his wife and newborn baby, an MH-53 Pave Low helicopter is inbound and has sent the base scrambling. Seems that this particular chopper and its crew was destroyed in Afghanistan months ago. The copter lands on the base's pad... and then proceeds to transform into Blackout, a massive Decepticon who proceeds to lay down some smack bigtime on these pesky fleshlings. Lennox, Epps (Tyrese Gibson), and several other soldiers barely escape the mayhem, but not before being plagued by a nasty bug-eyed insectoid 'Con called Scorponok (who Blackout launched out of his back during the initial attack).

Meanwhile state-side, high school student Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is hocking his great-great-granddaddy's stuff – including a certain pair of eyeglasses – on eBay so that he can try to get a car. Sam's dad takes him to a car lot owned by Bobby Bolivia (a great performance by Bernie Mac). After a series of events which I won't ruin the fun by spoiling here, Sam ends up driving off the lot inside an old Chevy Camaro... which is, shall we say, "more than meets the eye". Suffice it to say, this is a particularly useful car to have, especially since it seems to know all the right moves in helping Sam score points with girl-of-his-dreams Mikaela (Megan Fox).

I'm not going to say anymore about the movie's plot. It's much like one that we would have come up with while playing with our Transformers toys back in the day. But about that plot: I didn't find anything wrong with it. It was actually a lot deeper than what I was expecting. And it didn't have many of the gaping holes that are found in some Michael Bay movies (or any of Steven Spielberg – an executive producer of Transformers – for that matter).

I thought the human acting was terrific. Jon Voight is great as the Secretary of Defense (and looking much better here than he did as Franklin Roosevelt in Pearl Harbor). John Turturro is over-the-top as Simmons, the head of Sector Seven: the group that is to the Transformers what Area 51 was to the aliens in Independence Day. I thought Turturro's character was the most "Bay-ish" of the humans in this movie (thinking mostly about the ones in Armageddon when I say that). The interaction between LeBeouf's Sam and Fox's Mikaela is sweet and cute and a lot of fun on its own.

But as good a presence as the humans have in Transformers, the big draw is gonna be the CGI-splendor of the Autobots and Decepticons going full-bore at it against each other. This may be Industrial Light and Magic's finest work to date: the computer-rendered Transformers blend in seamlessly with the real environments to such a degree, that you will honest-to-goodness swear that those massive metal behemoths are really there pounding the crap out of each other...

Which is part of why Transformers succeeds so well. The Transformers from the 1980s onward were called "robots in disguise". Let the word go out: Transformers in 2007 are not robots. A robot is a dumb automaton that follows its programming and nothing else. The battledroids in the Star Wars prequels were robots. Artoo-Detoo was not a robot: Artoo was a character with a unique personality all his own. Well, the Transformers in this movie are what they were always supposed to be: living alien organisms with an exotic physiology far beyond anything we can understand. That they are made up of steel and chrome instead of carbon and nitrogen matters not: they are alive, with souls as individual as yours or mine. In every scene that they are in - especially Optimus and Bumblebee and I loved Jazz - the Autobots and Decepticons show off their individuality in spades. And the success of that personification owes as much to the efforts by the ILM crew as it does to the Transformers voice actors, which includes Peter Cullen, and Hugo Weaving as Megatron.

(By the way, the Megatron of the 2007 Transformers movie is bar none the best incarnation of Megatron, ever! This Megatron is focused on a real, tangible goal: something that no other Megatron that I know of boasted of having.)

Even beyond the performances, Transformers brings a sense of realism that the basic story has never known before. When I say that the Transformers in this movie are "alien", I mean that in ever sense. They don't automatically know Earth languages: I thought the scene where Frenzy (I couldn't stand that little twerp... in a good way!) is jabbering to Barricade in "Transformer-ese" while we see the translation in subtitles, and later on as the Decepticons are doing their "roll-call" again in their own language, was a brilliant detail! And elsewhere in the story where this one computer specialist is talking about how this technology is based on quantum computing, something that is beyond anything known to man: I appreciated that little detail too, for a number of reasons.

And those action sequences? I've never heard an audience react with such exclamation before, as what happened this afternoon when we witnessed all of that "Bay-hem"-style destruction. Give it up for Michael Bay: the man knows how to blow stuff up real good!

I don't know what else to say at this point, except that I will probably see Transformers at least twice more while it's playing in theaters. And maybe even more times than that.

Transformers may be the best reboot of a fictional franchise that I've seen in my life so far. Heck, if Spielberg and Bay and DreamWorks and Paramount and Hasbro play this right, I could see this going from Transformers the movie and becoming Transformers the cinematic mythology, one standing tall on the same level as Star Wars and Indiana Jones and The Matrix and Pirates of the Caribbean. My only real fear at this point is that Transformers as a movie "franchise" might lose its way somewhat come the third sequel, as seems to be happening a lot lately.

But if they can keep that same sense of awestruck going, and keep us humans in jaw-dropped gawking wonder at this massive battle between good and evil that has come to our world, then I think Transformers as a film series could last another five or six movies, easily.

Transformers is the best movie of the 2007 summer season by far. I don't recommend something lightly... but I can't recommend Transformers as nearly enough as it deserves. And yes, if anyone's wondering: it did meet, and even surpass, anything that I ever envisioned a Transformers movie would be as a ten-year old kid.

(By the way, there’s a trailer for J.J. Abrams’s upcoming movie Cloverfield attached to Transformers that looks pretty darned wicked, too!)

I give Transformers, the 2007 live-action movie, a full five energon cubes (in spite of the one problem - a certain word - that I had with this movie). Prepare to roll out and go see it. Now!

And whatever you do, don't be so quick to leave the theater: there's a few quick scenes as the credits roll, including a shot of something headed toward the stars that screams out "sequel" in a huge way :-)

2 comments:

qemuel said...

My review of TRANSFORMERS will be posted later tonight!

"stars that screams..."
Heh.
:)

Anonymous said...

quantum computing isnt beyond whats known to man, its being developed right now as an answer to the problems associated with making processors with transistor chips with less than 50nm.

Look up quantum computers on wikipedia.