TRANSFORMERS (2 DISC SE)
Reviewed by: Dave Murray
What's it about
Looking for the fabled All Spark that created them, a race of giant robots come to earth, disguising themselves as flashy vehicles and military weapons of death. While the Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, seek to work with mankind and protect them, the evil Decepticons (searching for their leader Megatron, lost on Earth 1000 years ago) are out to destroy the planet to get to the All Spark. It's the classic 80's cartoon and legendary toy line brought to the big screen again, but this time in glorious CG and live action!
Is it good movie?
I'm usually skeptical of anything that Michael Bay directs. Granted he is talented, ambitious and he has a visual style that, while a little too MTV for my tastes, is interesting and exciting in its own way. Simply put, he's a popcorn blockbuster director, an example of style over substance. Big, loud, brash, polished and with lots and lots of car chases, explosions and destruction. Since I've been a fan of the Transformers, in all of the incarnations, for about 23 years now, I was one of many who was groaning loudly when it was announced that Bay would be directing the long awaited live action adaptation of this beloved universe. When the initial designs for the Transformers started showing up, I was one of many who was horrified. The slick and cool Megatron that I remembered was being made to look he had been shat out of the wrong and ugly end of a large titanium cockroach! But then I heard that many of the effects guys from ILM who were creating the Transformers were hardcore G1 geeks themselves (G1 refers the first generation of Transformers, the ones that debuted in cartoons and toys here in North America in 1984). Hmm...things were looking up all of a sudden. Then the teaser trailers started hitting, and many who said they'd boycott the movie were seriously interested in what this monster was going to be.
Well, what it turned out to be is the perfect vehicle for Bay's popcorn blockbuster style of filmmaking. What it also turned out to be was a full bore, balls to the wall, extremely kick ass film despite some poor writing, shitty dialogue and paper thin characters. There is a little substance here, along with the style. And of course you have to have huge explosions and car chases when you have Transformers. They are bloody cars and tanks and shit, after all. But now we have a Michael Bay car chase where the sports car transforms into an 18-foot robot at 100 miles an hour! As well, Bay's hard and dirty shooting style that lies behind his polished on screen look really helped sell the concept, which could have been laughably bad in the hands of a less skilled director. I never thought I'd be praising Bay anytime soon, but the dude pulled it off with only a few f*ck ups, and in a big way. While the visuals reached out and throttled you senseless, the story engaged you as well, to a point. It was a simple story, but with just enough on hand to keep you interested. Bay and ILM even managed to make us care about CG robots in a way that we hadn't since the Transformers animated movie, despite the cardboard characterizations of the humans, the stereotypical personalities of the Transformers, and the giant gaps in story logic.
While I'm not totally hot on the new looks of the Transformers, some of them are impressive. Optimus Prime and Bumblebee are well done, and probably the only ones that couldn't be mistaken for another robot in the often jumbled action sequences. The transformations themselves are nicely done, especially after watching the extras in this DVD where they talk about eliminating "mass shifting" and having every part of the robot contain every part of the vehicle or object that they changed from. With their slick look, it's too bad that their characterizations were so painfully thin. Granted the whole thing with Bumblebee only speaking through the radio was kind of cool, the rest of the Transformers were victims of some of the worst dialogus writing in recent memory. Their characters were stereotypical (do I even have to mention Jazz's opening line of "What's Up, Bitches"....yep, we now have a token black Autobot, who coincidentally is the only one to die), and the comedy routines they engaged in were gratingly annoying. As well, the story, being as obviously product placement heavy as it was, fell flat in many areas (when the first line you hear on screen by a Transformer is a reference to E-bay, you know you are not getting A-Quality dialogue). There were just too many leaps of logic needed to go from point A to point B, and while it didn't weaken the visuals, it did make for less of a movie than this could have been.
Of note here is the great performance by Shia LaBeouf, who's come a long way since his wacky Even Stevens days. His character keeps the audience engaged with the story, and allows a connection to the often wooden robots themselves. While no means perfect, this movie could open the doors to other Transformers sequels with more substance and better writing. That I would love to see. Especially if they keep the character of Sam, because he (as well as the action) made this film work for me. Also, having Peter Cullen return as the original voice of Optimus Prime was nicely done, and balanced out Hugo Weaving's short lived and uneven performance as the voice of Megatron. It's too bad the humans are given too much impact in the story (being able to destroy Decepticons better than the Autobots can), and that the pop culture references dominate so much of the movie (no, Optimus Prime should not be saying "my bad"!). This could have been more than a good popcorn flick. But for what it is, it works.
Video / Audio
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen - 2.35:1.
Audio: English, French and Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1) and subtitles in English, French and Spanish.
Aside from the Audio Commentary by Michael Bay on the first disc (which is interesting if a little clinical; since I'm not a huge fan of his style or his insight into the process it didn't really interest me), the goods here are on the second disc and are divided into three sections:
Our World (50:00):
Here we hare four featurettes: The Story Sparks, which tells how they adapted the Transformers and wrote a crappy script; Human Allies, exploring the human characters, and the hotness of Megan Fox; I Fight Giant Robots which goes into Bay's heavy relationship with the U.S. Armed Forces and the boot camp training the actors went through; and Battleground, which looks at the locations (what is it wit Bay and his desert sand fetish, I'll never know). Most of this section is so heavy with the "we love Michael Bay" and "he's the messiah of the film industry" that it makes you want to hurl, but in between there are some cool peeks into the initial stages of the production. There is also a look at the controversy caused by Bay's involvement with the film, and with the robot designs. Funny shit.
Their War (62:00):
Here we are given four more featurettes, which feature the CG building of the transformers and the various characters that transform (wait, they had character...I must have missed that!). These are Rise of the Robots, Autobots Roll Out!, Decepticons Strike, and Inside the All Spark. Some pretty cool stuff here, as well as a look at some of the more practical effects involved with bringing giant photo-real robots to the screen (to see that exploding bus scene pulled off as a real stunt on a highway set was awesome!). I still think the Transformers needed more individualized designs to tell them apart, better characterizations, less popular humour, and of course there needed to be more Decepticons and more screen time for all the robots! At least have Megatron bitch slap Starscream as a nod to 20 years of established history that was not used in this flick. Jeez!
More Than Meets The Eye:
Here we have the odds and ends of the effects pile, with a look at the desert Skorponok attack in Script to Sand (again with the desert fetish!), a short animated Photo Gallery, and three Trailers for the movie. Not much here, but some of the designs are cool, and the trailers are awesome.
Opinions are mixed about this movie, and armchair critics have been all over it for months now. While not perfect, not completely what I was expecting, I was surprised and entertained. Big, flashy, realistic and entertaining, Michael Bay's updated entry into the Transformers mythos is one that stands on it's own merit, and deserved to be recognized and respected alongside the original cartoon itself, despite its many flaws. That is huge praise coming from a lifelong fan (yes, one who still owns some of the toys, and yes I mean the far superior ones with die-cast metal parts from the 80's that didn't fall apart after 10 transformations!). This two disc set, while having it's fair share of Bay-Blowing, manages to take a deeper look into the creation this new Transformer world, offering insight into the design, the robots themselves, giving us glimpses of what's to come in future movies, and showing us some of Bay's insane on-set practical effects. I can't wait for another movie, because a Bruckheimer-less Bay seems to be hitting some pretty fast balls out of the park. As long as The Shit that Bay brings doesn't get old and dumb as the sequels go along (you know, like the Matrix or Pirates sequels), and they manage to fix some of the massive problems that this movie admittedly had, I'll be rolling out to see them, because this one was seriously and undoubtedly impressive. Let's hope this holds me over until the next movie!