I have, of late been reading the webcomic, "Least I Could Do" by Ryan Sohmer and Lar DeSouza. It is quite funny and really hits the spot especially if you are a twenty-something who has grown up in an urban environment. I had particular reason to think back about one recent strip as I was heading off to watch the "Transformers" movie by Michael Bay...
My thoughts exactly! Having watched a lot of the Transformers cartoon series when I was young, I was really apprehensive about the movie, especially since the trailers didn't seem to be really very interesting. And the part that I was most worried about - it's being directed by Michael Bay! Come on, he has Armageddon and Pearl Harbor to his credit! Even though the former was a huge hit and collected millions in the box office, I found it to be a dismal joke. So while expectations were not very high, I was hoping that my pre-analysis would prove to be wrong and that the movie would blow me out of my seat, and luckily for me, that did turn out to be the case.
First off, let me say that the movie is an out and out action blockbuster - the action hardly ever lets up and makes for one thrilling joy ride after another. It starts with a bang and then keeps up a fast breakneck pace. So, the only reason you would get bored, is if your idea of a night at the movies is sitting at home watching a Freddie Prince Jr. movie marathon in your pink pajamas with a batch of tissue paper!
I was pleasantly surprised by this movie because it has all the ingredients for a great summer blockbuster -- great action, fantastic special effects, fast storytelling, nostalgic memories of weekends spent watching the Transformers cartoons in our childhood, hot women, great cars and a bit of wit! Yes, that's right - they have some intentionally funny moments, at least in the first half of the movie. Most of the funny incidents and one-liners come from the unwilling protagonist played by Shia LaBeouf. He's a bumbling idiot who is always picked on by the jocks and can't seem to make women notice him, even if he spent many years studying in the same classroom with them. He gains centerstage attention because he unwittingly obtains the directions to a source of great power - something that two robot armies, who have been waging war for millennia, have been seeking for a long time.
The "Automatons" and the "Decepticons" are the good and bad guys, respectively. The former are trying to prevent the latter from achieving their goals - of taking over the Universe, presumably. Earth becomes the staging point for their battle, because "Megatron", the leader of the Decepticons has crashed here thousands of years ago and him and a vital instrument are missing and are the central objects of an intense struggle and search by the others. They have the ability to transform themselves at will and take on the looks and behaviour of any machinery -- from cars to stereos to army vehicles to aircraft to even cell phones. Some of these robots have been on Earth for many years, trying to understand the nuances of human civilization all the while searching for their objective. One, "Bumblebee" in particular, has the mission of protecting our hero.
So this is the perfect setup for Robot armies to invade the Earth and then start pounding each other without any regard for human life or property. What results is a carnage of intense violence and breathtaking action and special effects sequences. The camera work is also a delight to watch and some of the slow-motion sequences add a nice touch to the movie. There is one particular scene, shot in slow motion, of a car transforming itself into a robot while jumping over a shocked woman and at the same time trying to avoid missiles being fired at it. The scream of the woman, slowed down while still retaining a high pitch brings in a touch of humour to the entire situation.
The second half of the movie starts to become a bit cliched though - while the action still remains at a top level, the storyline and dialogues seem to take a serious nosedive, often times bordering on the nonsensical. The dialogues between "Optimums Prime" (the leader of the good guys, Automatons) and "Megatron" (the leader of the Decepticons) become cheesier and cheesier as the action seems to get hotter. Its look as though the scriptwriters and directors got caught up in planning and writing up all the action sequences that they seemed to have forgotten that a movies must also have dialogues and at the last minute patched in cliched, typical dialogues from various disaster movies. Lines akin to "these fragile humans do not deserve to exist", and "they must make their own choice", or even the spiel about how we are a "young race" who must "find our own way" and "our way of life needs protecting", etc. are uttered far too often.
Then there seems to be the whole idea of all the bad guys disguising themselves as authoritarian vehicles - either police cars of military vehicles (helicopters, tanks, military trucks, etc.) while the good guys get to be cool sports cars, road trucks, pickups, etc. In fact, most of the bad guys are military vehicles. Is Michael Bay trying to send "subliminal" messages about the current war and political situation? Is he trying to state that the military and the government are bad? Is this a dig on the military-industrial complex, perhaps? Oh, the subtlety! Surely no one noticed this as it was not thrown on their face a few hundred times! While directing good action sequences seems to be Bay's forte, subtlety and smartness surely doesn't seem to be.
Of course, the cast and their so-called acting wasn't very great either. Except for Labeouf, everyone else seemed to be labouring through their roles and acting in a bemused sort of way - since they must now act with non-existent actors all around them (the special effects, robots, etc.), they seem to be finding it difficult to adjust eye and body movements to obtain a natural effect. What results is a loss of sync between the live actors and the CGI. While Megan Fox was the eye-candy for the movie, she did have a decent role and performed admirably well. Rachel Taylor, with her thick Australian accent, was a bit irritating as the "special advisor" to the defense secretary. She doesn't seem to know anything about the tech stuff that she was talking about, which kind of lets her off the hot seat a bit, as much of the tech stuff didn't make sense anyways! Ok, ok, I agree - in a movie about self-transforming robotic aliens waging war on Earth, technical correctness may not always be the thing to look for -- but lines like, "can you hotwire this computer to connect it to that ancient morse code generator so that it could send morse code" and then pointing to and picking up the computer monitor was not even funny - it was plain pathetic!
There were also definite gaps in the storyline and it seemed like they were in some sort of a rush to get the movie done and out this summer. Seems like they couldn't "transform" a bad script into a good one.
Of course, the most glaring point of the movie was the garish product placement - from the Panasonic SD card to all of the GM vehicles. Phew! It was in-your-face and hard to ignore. I'm not against product placement if it is done in style. Hey, they need money to make the movies and if companies will shell out money so that they get a couple of seconds of showtime, then let that be the case. But there must be some limits -- in once scene, Rachel Taylor's character removes the SD card from a computer and holds it for a second while showing it to the camera instead of doing whatever she intended to do with it. Oh, then there was the over-abundance of GM vehicles. One would think that the only vehicles that the world ever had were made by GM! But the plus side of this was all the cool cars that were shown - especially the new Chevy Camaro and the Pontiac Solstice. Both transform into some really cool robots, and the transformations are as much fun to watch as the action sequences.
Well, I could say that this movie is worth a watch and it does provide sheer entertainment - at least for the guys and geeks everywhere. If you were a fan of the original cartoon series and action figures, then it is a must watch, but be prepared to switch your brains off for a while, and ignore the bad acting. Apart from that, you might enjoy it, thoroughly.