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Transformers (2007) August 28, 2007

Posted by gproject in : Cinema, Recently Viewed , trackback

Directed by: Michael Bay

The movie-toy tie-in is a lucrative part of Hollywood and one which can often end up generating a large proportion of the back-end revenue.  There’s almost no doubt that movies are produced, green lighted, even conceived because of the potential money to be made from the seemingly loose pockets of parents with whining children.  It’s an age-old process now, and one which we’re even seeing turned on its head by movies such as Bratz (a popular toy line, now turned into a live action kid’s movie).  But girly dolls aside, surely there’s a whole raft of popular toy material with potential for a big-screen outing?

Enter Transformers – a highly successful range of toys from Hasbro, which spawned equally successful animated television series and Marvel comic books during the 80’s, as well as occupying the floors of children’s bedrooms around the globe.  It’s taken twenty years to evolve into the live action form seen here, mainly due to the enormity of the challenge in producing the kind of wildly over-the-top action sequences that fans would demand.  Luckily, Hollywood already has a go-to guy for wildly over-the-top action: big budget maestro, Michael Bay.

The story opens with Sam Witwicky eagerly going out to buy his first car – a decision which turns out to be much bigger than he bargained for.  The car he ends up with seems to have a life of its own, but as Sam quickly finds out, that’s because it actually does have a life of its own.  His car is a transforming robot named Bumblebee - part of a team of robots from a distant planet called the Autobots.  They are on earth looking for the All-spark, an alien cube with infinite power to give life to inanimate objects.  Unfortunately for the Autobots, their fierce enemies the Decpeticons have arrived on earth too, lead by the evil Megatron.  Now the Autobots (and Sam) are caught in a race to find the All-spark first, or else face the possibility of Megatron using its power for the ultimate evil.

The plot is there, but as is often the case with summer blockbuster action flicks, it only serves as a device to put people in gunfights, car chases and, in this instance, amidst the long-standing war between two robotic races.  Quality of acting is another area the big budget action-er will sometimes forgo in favour of filling the screen with explosions.  This movie is helped by a strong central performance from Shia LaBeouf who doesn’t have to express much in the way of emotion, but does provide a witty aside from the frenzied pacing of the narrative.

In fact, if there’s one aspect of the film that really surprised me, it was how much focus there was on the humour.  Not that Michael Bay is averse to throwing banter into his movies (see: the Bad Boys series, for example), but while I knew actors like Anthony Anderson would be in there solely to provide humorous folly, I didn’t expect the robots themselves to be as sarcastic or conversational as they are.  Only Optimus Prime sticks to the ‘robotic’ dialect, delivering his trademark phrases with no hint of irony: “Autobots, roll out!”.

Given the current state of CG technology, it feels as if Transformers couldn’t have been made any earlier (in a live-action form at least) and it’s true that the effects are astounding, with the simple snap-and-click technology of the toys being replaced by the most elaborate transforming mechanisms ever seen.  There is almost endless detail in the robot designs, but maybe more importantly, they stand-up well next to the human characters and real-life settings.

Of course, any film that makes a play for this genre is setting itself up for a fall from over-observant viewers who will question the logic of every decision or action.  Transformers deals with a unique sense of scale – a car turns into a 4-storey robot – as well as numerous other examples of typical ridiculousness (the cube’s ‘travel mode’ gives a whole new meaning to compactness).  It’s mindless entertainment though, so you’ve got to be prepared to go along with it.  My main problem was with the way a youthful cast was shoehorned in, not really through LaBeouf who is legitimately involved, but certainly the signal analyst and computer hacker characters of Rachael Taylor and Anthony Anderson, who would never have been allowed to work on such a high-security Government assignment.

Taking into account the amount of concern that was expressed at Bay’s hiring, I can only hope that people reassess their knee-jerk reactions after the seeing the final product.  This film was never going to be a piece of deep emotional material – it works so much better as a loud, brash, rip-roaring action spectacular.  And it certainly lives up to that.  Give it the leeway it requires and this movie will provide you with a guaranteed visual spectacle and some suitably pitched humour.  It’s the very definition of a big-screen movie, so if you can stand the running time (an admittedly overlong 144 minutes), then get yourself to a cinema and enjoy some giant robots knocking ten bells out of each other.  Because how often do you get to see that?


1. paulwjm - August 30, 2007

Nice to read your take on the film, Mike (how did you resist including stills of Megan Fox?). As you mentioned, you definitely like it more than I do but we agree on a few things, for example the structural illogicalities of the vehicle-to-robot scales. Shia is probably much more bearable as a teen character than many modern day American youths so I think I can appreciate his presence more in retrospect.

2. gproject - September 2, 2007

Indeed, I think that Shia LaBeouf is a strong presence in this film - and I had my doubts during his first scene - but in a summer which he has decided to claim as his own (this, Disturbia, and the lead in Surf’s Up) there’s no denying his talent.

And Paul, I’m pretty sure you covered the Megan Fox angle sufficiently for both of us.

3. Shaun Rowland - September 24, 2007

First hour or so, OK. After that I was struggling to stay awake. How many times does anybody want to see a car turn into a robot and as for the finale; one anonymous robot beating up another anonymous robot. Who cares ?

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