Transformers: The Verdict.
Holywood in 2007 is all about repackaging nostalgia, in the latest in a long line of TV to FILM adaptations off the Summer Block buster conveyor belt comes the Transformers movie directed by Michael Bay. Never being ones to miss an opportunity to dissect the latest pop culture offerings, GIITTV sent not one, but two writers(Ewan Howsie and Daniel Smith) to give us their verdicts on the film version of those robots in disguise.
Directed by Michael Bay
Starring Shia Labeouf, Megan Fox, John Turturro, Josh Duhamel, Jon Voight, Peter Cullen
Here's Ewan Hosie's take on the film:
Transformers could have been disastrous. Being both an eighties pop culture staple and seminal kids toy line, a cinematic adaptation of the Transformers franchise in the wrong hands may well have collapsed under the weight of its own kitsch.
Luckily, director Michael Bay has managed to reign in his usual excesses and create a highly entertaining romp improved by the writers' decision that it shouldn't take itself too seriously.
Young Sam Witwicky (Labeouf) is a hormonally-charged teenager in possession of his first car - a beat up 1974
Chevrolet Camaro, which he hopes may win him affections from attractive classmate Mikaela (Megan Fox). Little does he know that the car is a sentient being called Bumblebee, sent as a scout to the planet Earth by his mechanical teammates, the benevolent Autobots.
The Autobots, led by Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen), are looking for a life-giving cube called the Allspark which crash landed on the planet thousands of years ago. Also in pursuit of this cube are the antagonistic, warlike Decepticons, a faction who have been at war with the Autobots for thousands of years. They plan to use the cube to create a vast army under the command of their lord Megatron (voiced by Hugo Weaving), who is kept in deep freeze at a secret government research facility inside the Hoover Dam.
The plot is ludicrous of course, but the focus is on comedy and action, and the CGI Transformers are visualized with impressive levels of empathy, courtesy of special effects giants Industrial Light and Magic.
Using principles of kinematics, the transformers have a realistic feeling of weight to them; the villainous tank Devestator looks slow and clumsy while the Autobot sports car Jazz is sleek and acrobatic for example.
The film's (many) set pieces are impressive, and edited at breakneck pace in the director's typical style (slow motion shots of helicopters, shots from helicopters, shots of helicopters exploding - in slow motion), which can occasionally prove confusing to follow, although the transformations themselves, particularly during the climatic battle in an LA district, capture an almost hypnotizing sense of motion and scale.
Labeouf holds the big-budget silliness together admirably, displaying an excellent sense of comic timing, while the supporting cast is unspectacular but dependable, including a bored Jon Voight and Coen brothers' stalwart John Turturro in a bizarre turn as an idiosyncratic secret agent.
In a summer of relative disappointments, including the staid sequels Spider-man 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, Transformers is a breath of fresh air that is screaming for franchise status. Given the box office success of the film, we can only hope the inevitable sequels won't prove a case of diminishing returns.
Daniel Smith takes a slightly different view:
Transformers is remembered with misty-eyed fondness by people of a certain age. It was that generations' Pokemon - beloved by thousands and worth millions. There's something about Japanese cartoons that captures western imaginations in a way efforts originating from a little closer to home often fail to. Curiously, the tagline for the franchise has always been (no, I'm not referring to 'robots in disguise') 'they're more than meets the eye'. Yet, in this latest re imagination, nothing could be further from the truth.
Sam Witwicky is your typical high-school teen, but all this changes when his dad buys him a new car that turns out to be, of all things, a transforming robot. 'Bumblebee,' (as its later named), leads Sam and love interest Mikeala Bane to Optimus Prime, the leader of a small group of transforming robots known as the Autobots. He explains that the Autobots are on Earth in search of the Allspark, a mystical artifact with the capacity to create life from inanimate, mechanical objects. Optimus also explains that a sinister faction of similar 'transformers', known as the Decepticons, are also after the item but wish to use it to create a limitless army and destroy the Earth. Sam has been chosen by the Autobots to help them in their search due to his lineage - his famous explorer grandfather's old glasses that he had been selling on Ebay to fund his car purchase, hold the key to the location of the Allspark, and the salvation of humanity.
It's at times like these that it dawns on you how Americo-centric the film industry is. The past five years have seen a massive influx of re-imaginations of old-franchises, of which this is just the latest. They are (for the most part) all subject to the same age old Hollywood trade-off of style over substance. Likewise, with this new 21st century Transformers you get to enjoy the beautiful CG and fantastic actions scenes that Michael Bay's undoubtedly huge budget allowed for, but then have to contend with a slow starting and lazy plot that is positively overflowing with Hollywood clichés. It's becoming increasingly frustrating prospect, seeing classic children's franchises such as Transformers cheapened by Hollywood's need to re-imagine them through an 'all American hero' narrative cataract. On that side of the Atlantic, such patriotism may have helped carry the film's predictable plot but over here in Blighty it just doesn't wash. A more imaginative approach could have yielded far better (and original) results given the versatile subject matter.
But luckily the breathtaking action scenes are Transformers' saving grace. They are exciting, well-thought out and expertly choreographed, but never self indulgent in that they never appear to be desperately grabbing for the 'wow factor'. This, in tandem with incredible (but still only almost seamless) CG means that Transformers manages to defy analysis and, by the time the credits roll, have been more than the sum of its parts. For every minute you spend recoiling in disgust as some square jawed GI Joe-alike rants on about the 'leading the free world', you'll spend five on the edge of your seat mouth wide open. Ultimately, you have a choice with Transformers. You can watch it with your critical, anti-American eyebrow firmly cocked and pick apart its below par plot and formulaic narrative, or you can overlook it's misgivings and enjoy some of the best action committed to celluloid so far this year. Your call.
What's your verdict on the big screen adaptation of Transformers?