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Monday, October 8, 2012

Transformers (2007)

I’ve not seen a single episode of the Transformers cartoon, and having only just recently seen the animated Transformers: The Movie so my review of this incarnation will be quite free of comparisons. How Michael Bay has created a bastardized version of a generation’s childhood will be up to another reviewer. What I will say is that we do get another big, loud and fairly unintelligent film that one has come to expect from Michael Bay. That said I’ll have to admit that it does have it’s entertaining moments, and if your desire is to simply see giant robots kicking the crap out of each other in an urban setting you won’t be disappointed (though the shaky-cam frenetic photography does take some of the joy out of a couple of the action sequences).

The first forty minutes of the film, before the Autobots make them self known, I found myself really digging the story. We get a little opening narration from Optimus Prime (voiced by the original actor Peter Cullen) informing us how there was a war on their home world of Cybertron between the Autobots and the evil Decepticons over a powerful cosmic cube called the Allspark (a device that apparently can turn any machine into a Transformer). Their planet is destroyed and the Allspark ends up on good ole planet Earth where it lies dormant. Megatron, leader of the Decepticons, followed it to earth but ended up frozen in ice for his troubles. In 1850 his ice-covered body is found by Captain Archibald Witwicky, and it’s this Artic explorer who provides the films primary maguffin.
The films human hero, well one of them as this films got plenty, is Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBoef) who is the great grandson of the Captain Archibald Witwicky, and when he puts his great grandfather’s glasses on EBay things starting getting strange for our poor hapless teen-ager. The used car he buys turns out to be a robot, a cop car that chases after him turns out to be a robot, and the hottie he has a crush on turns out to be a robot…no just kidding, but that would have been more believable. It seems both the Autobots and the Decepticons want those glasses as they have the location of the Allspark imbedded in them. That’s all of the plot I’ll get into (actually that’s really all the plot Michael Bay gets into), but just know that wackiness does ensue. And that is when the film started to lose me.

What will determine your level of enjoyment will depend heavily on how you can handle Bay’s attempts at humor. From Bernie Mac as a slick used car salesman to an Autobot taking “a leak” on John Turturro we get plenty of scenes that are played strictly for laughs, and most definitely aimed at the younger audience members. Having not seen the cartoon series I can’t say how accurate the movie depicts their original characters, but what I came to conclude is that Michael Bay saw Small Soldiers and liked the goofy dynamic used in that film and so what we get are a lot of one-liners and slap-stick humor from these giant robots. This caused me to roll my eyes more than a few times, but I guess I’m not really the target audience here.
The other problem with this film is the lack of focus. It really should have been about Sam Witwicky and the Autobots, but we get a really useless side story about a computer language expert (Rachel Taylor) and her hacker friend (Anthony Andersen) who aside from a few expository lines of dialogue add nothing to the story. We also have a group of soldiers, who survived an early attack by the Decepticons, lead by standard hero sergeant (Josh Duhamel), and who are not even as fleshed out as your average G.I Joe characters. Also added to the pot (simmer until flavorless) is the Secretary of Defense (Jon Voight) giving a performance so wooden they most likely had to spray the set for termites, and a looney toon Sector Seven Agent (John Turturro) whose seemingly sole job is to be goofy and be piddled on by a robot.

What is truly sad is the amount of lifted material to be found in the 144 minute running time; aside from the aforementioned Small Soldiers Michael Bay has ripped off elements from Independence Day, Jurassic Park: Lost World, Men in Black and the Mighty Joe Young remake. And I’m sure there are others. That Steven Spielberg was one of the early names attached to this project is a bit distressing, and when he hired Michael Bay I thought maybe he’d slipped a gear or two, but the result is a true hybrid as you have your typical boy and his dog elements found in many Speilberg films, and they are tossed into the hyper-kinetic mixing bowl of Michael “King of the two second edit” Bay.

Like Live Free or Die Hard I can’t give the film a harsh thumbs down because I did have a lot of fun. The robot action was well handled and as expected the effects were amazing, and the early scenes with Shia LaBoef, his girlfriend, and his family were really quite good. I only wish they had toned down the jokes and tried to make a good ole fashioned sci-fi adventure film instead of an overblown “Family Film” because there really good have been a good movie here.

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