Thursday, July 26, 2007


It’s curiously apt that Transformers is produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Michael Bay, as it feels like nothing so much as an attempt at a classic Popcorn Spielberg film, pumped up on adrenaline and testosterone.
Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf, recently seen in Disturbia and soon to be seen in Indiana Jones and the City of the Gods) is an American teen-ager seriously crushing on Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox, from Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen and TV’s Hope & Faith), a girl who doesn’t even know he exists. He’s got a bling-wearing Chihuahua called “Mojo,” who happens to be popping pain pills at the moment for a leg injury. He’s also busy selling some of his explorer grandfather’s stuff on eBay for his car fund.
But after he wrangles an A- from his History professor (one of his father’s conditions for getting Sam a car), he ends up taking an Internet-savvy alien robot home.
And though there are a couple of other plot threads that run through the first two-thirds of the film, the grand coming-of-age tale of a boy and his first car is the core of Bay’s Transformers, and it’s an effective and affecting hook that manages to hold all of the film’s other elements together, though just barely.

Considerable stretches of Transformers succeed admirably in the popcorn entertainment department; this film can move when it wants to. When Bay pulls out his standard bag of tricks (yes, lots of things go bang and boom here), aided as he is by impressive CGI courtesy of ILM and Digital Domain, you really do believe a vehicle can turn into a robot and piss on a man. Oh, and cause massive amounts of property damage too.
But it’s perhaps in the number of plot threads—survivors from a Decepticon attack on a US military base in Qatar; the efforts of the Pentagon to deal with the threat; the actions hacker Maggie Madsen (Rachael Taylor, soon to be seen in the English-language remake of Shutter) takes to decipher a signal used by the enemy—that the ride gets a tad wonky.
The film’s pacing is never quite as sharp as it should be, its rhythm mostly erratic, ultimately making it feel it really is as long as its running time indicates, always a no-no with movies that run over two hours.
Characters drop on and off the narrative’s radar like a Decepticon on buggered stealth mode, and some of the comedic aspects—particularly some of the Transformer hi-jinx, a borderline loony character played by John Turturro, and a hacker played by Anthony Anderson—though certainly not as blatantly off-key as those found in Spider-Man 3 (see review in Archive May 2007), still do manage to grate at certain points of the film.
And some of the dialogue, particularly from Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen, who gave voice to Prime in the cartoon; he’s also been Eeyore, the Red Skull, Captain Crabnasty from—heh—My Little Pony and Friends, and Glitterbot from—double heh—Rainbow Brite and the Star Stealer) tends to be clunky and awkward.

Clearly, the film could have done with some judicious editing and quite possibly, the deletion of a character here and there.
I have a feeling though that many will choose to overlook these problems in the film since the action set pieces do their work like gangbusters. And LeBeouf goes a long way in giving the audience a relatable protagonist, in making us care, not just about him, but about his car/guardian/friend too.
Yes, for a bunch of pixels that speaks in snatches of songs and sound bytes, Bumblebee is surprisingly an endearing fictional construct. Certainly not on the level of a Gizmo or an E.T., mind you, but affecting nevertheless.

Contrary to what its iconic theme song claims, there really isn’t much more than meets the eye with Transformers.
It’s a Michael Bay film. It’s got money shots aplenty, handsful of underwritten characters, and it’s got loads of stuff that blow up real good. It’s fun, manipulative, and ultimately disposable popcorn entertainment. (Allowing your brain cells to chill out during the 144-minute running time is advisable.)
What is surprising though, is that the Popcorn Movie King throne vacated by Spielberg and assaulted by would-be usurpers like Roland Emmerich, Stephen Sommers, and most recently, Gore Verbinski, could very well be snatched up by Bay, of all people.
He’s taken his patented action formula and applied it to the PG-13 family friendly film franchise template, and produced a flawed, yet crowd-pleasing hybrid, with the resultant boffo box office that all studio heads just love.
Watch carefully, kiddies, we’re watching Bay transform before our very eyes.

(Transformers OS courtesy of

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