Stories Of Nerdy Adventures (Now With 100% More Cetaceans)
Monday, July 2, 2007
Ever since I was a kid, I loved Transformers. I think every Transformers fan has wondered at one point if they would ever make a live-action Transformers movie, and how much it would rock if they did. So here we are, in July 2007, and the first Transformers live-action movie rolling out into the theatres. The only problem is, it was directed by Michael Bay.
There are spoilers for the movie ahead. If you don't want to know anything about the story, stop reading here.
Now the movie was entertaining enough, and the giant robots were impressive. I liked the new character designs with their intricate detail and fluid movements, which was (in my opinion) an improvement over the boxy squarish robots we had back in the 80's. However, the whole experience was rather lacking. The plot was ludicrous, the supporting characters were forgettable and the cinematography was clumsy. Such is to be expected from a Michael Bay movie of course, but I think even he could do better.
The first half of the movie begins promisingly enough. The story begins with a Decepticon attack on a US military base in the desert, with a giant helicopter dude (Blackout) tossing tanks around and shooting at random things. There we meet our first forgettable stock character, the Macho Marine. He has a wife and baby girl back home (like every good movie marine should), and he leads a band of surviving soldiers out into the desert.
We then meet Sam Witwicky (Spike from the cartoon, though they don't call him by his nickname in the movie), a nerdy kid who really, really wants a car. His dad (Sparkplug, but called 'Ron' in the movie) takes him to a used-car dealer and gets a junky '74 Camaro for him. The Camaro turns out to be none other than Bumblebee in disguise, who helps Sam woo the girl he fancies. The object of Sam's affection is a pretty classmate named Mikaela, and in a cheesy but cute sequence Bumblebee plays back music and pretends to break down as a hapless Sam tries to figure out what's wrong with his car and at the same time impress Mikaela.
In the night, Bumblebee sneaks out, transforms and calls up Optimus Prime and his friends with a Batsignal-like thing. Sam sees this, and become terrified of it, but when he gets embroiled in the Autobot-Decepticon war to find a MacGuffin called the "Allspark" (kind of like Vector Sigma, only... squarer), he decides to help out.
It turns out Sam's great-great-grandpa was an explorer who discovered a frozen Megatron in the North Pole years ago, and the coordinates to the Allspark were etched on his glasses (you have to see it to understand). Optimus Prime gets hold of the glasses, but Sam, Mikaela and his parents get kidnapped by a shady government organisation called Sector 7. This is where the plot disintegrates, with a lot of very painful attemnpts at 'humour' from the Section 7 bureaucrat. Optimus Prime and the rest of the Autobots rescue Sam and Mikaela, but the potential coolness of this scene was totally taken away by the goofy portrayal of their captors.
The Autobots have a run-in with Sector 7, Sam and Mikaela get captured again together with Bumblebee, Sam and the rest of the stock characters (an Important Government Official, a Nerdy Hacker, the Macho Marine from the opening sequence) converge at the Hoover dam where the government is secretly holding both Megatron and the Allspark in a secret base. The Autobots (using the grandpa glasses) track down the Allspark to the Hoover dam. However, the Decepticon spy Frenzy (who looks like a little metal gremlin) leads the bad guys there too.
Sam convinces Important Government Official and Macho Marine to help the Autobots, so they release Bumblebee and take the Allspark, but robot gremlin infiltrates the base and revives Megatron. Then, the Autobots take the Allspark to a highly populated urban area for no apparent reason other than to set up the final confrontation where Michael Bay can blow up buildings and show the terrified human populace running for their lives.
The final battle isn't too bad to watch, if you can ignore the logical flaws in the story. However, the enjoyment is again marred by Michael Bay's poor direction. The camerawork is awful, and it is frequently shaky and the use of zoom is always at odd and inappropriate times.
I commend the special effects guys on making cool-looking robots and transformation sequences. The director and scriptwriters don't do much justice to it though. Shia LaBeouf gives an earnest performance as Sam, but the rest of the human cast fails to stand out as they were reduced to stock character roles. The addition of the fat hacker nerd was completely unnecessary, as were the Sector 7 and 'hacking' plotlines. Peter Cullen's return to the Optimus Prime role provided a comfortingly familiar voice, and thus Prime is the most recognisable of the Transformers. Otherwise, there isn't much for nostalgia-seekers. Most of the robots had only a few lines each, and did not get much to say. It's as if the filmmakers didn't care at all about the robot characters, and just used them as they would the other special effects.
The potential for this film to be awesome was there, if only there had been a different director and scriptwriting team. How amazing would it have been if it were directed by Sam Raimi or Brad Bird or even Steven Spielberg himself (he is the executive producer of this movie).
The producers have indicated that they are making sequels to Transformers. If they get rid of Michael Bay and hire a director that cared about our beloved robot characters, perhaps then there'd be a worthy movie that will light our darkest hour.