Monday, September 10, 2007

WAAYY Overdue Movie Review: Transformers


In Brief: What's Good

  • Awesome performance by Shia LaBeouf as Sam Witwicky. (I challenge anyone to say his last name in your head without it coming out, "Lehbooooff".) He made parts of the movie watchable & redeemable (some of which would not have been too watchable otherwise).

  • Occasionally great dialogue & one-liners, mostly spoken by Sam.

  • Great to hear Optimus Prime's voice (Peter Cullen), especially in the ending monologue (which was noble & profound enough to feel out of place with the rest of the movie).

  • Surprisingly good voicing & characterization of Ratchet.

  • Respectable & underused performance by Josh Duhamel as Captain Lennox.

  • Megan Fox's assets. She's healthy. No seriously, her character also has a respectable moment of heroism in the 3rd act that makes her more than just a hot damsel in distress.

  • Loved the *vehicle* forms of all five Autobots.

In Brief: What's Annoying or Frustrating

  • Excessive amount of--and bad utilization of--shaky-cam.

  • In general, badly edited. I often felt like I was watching the middle of fight scenes but rarely seeing the beginning or end of them.

  • The look & spastic nature of Frenzy.

  • The voice & personality of Jazz.

  • Absolutely zero character development for Bonecrusher or Brawl/Devastator (the toys & publicity have him named Brawl, but in the movie, he's still called by his early-development name, Devastator). Those two literally come out of nowhere when needed for battle.

  • The unbelievably campy, and yet unfunny, characters of Agent Simmons (John Turturro) and hacker Glenn Whitman (Anthony Anderson). Those two actors (usually excellent elsewhere) did what they could with the roles, but their characters were written & directed badly.

  • I felt that Megatron's backstory should have been told as a prologue rather than a flashback.

  • The Transformers' method of space travel--and landing--seems riddled with logic flaws (no interstellar travel explained, no controlled landing velocity, lucky they didn't hit civilians upon impact, etc.).

  • The Transformers' method of taking the shapes of Earth vehicles seems *way* too quick and easy. What's from keeping any one of them from deciding to be something else in an instant. If the Autobots needed to be jets and there were jets around, they could be jets; all of a sudden, Prime and Ironhide are Aerialbots. Whaa???

  • Some aspects of the "Allspark" didn't make sense, and the parts that did make sense, I didn't like.

  • The movie makers intentionally stayed away from mass shifting for the Transformers (robots changing their size for vehicle modes). And yet, there's one element of the movie that blatantly exhibits mass shifting capability. Make up your minds.

In Brief: What's Downright Tragic or Disheartening

  • Michael Bay's directing.

  • The story. Just in general, the story.

  • With the exception of Bumblebee, the Autobots don't even seem that heroic, noble, or protective in the beginning.

  • Thanks to massive amounts of shaky-cam and Transformers having thousands of moving parts, it's hard to get a good look at them in robot mode. If I saw a red & blue blur go by, I knew it was Optimus Prime. If I saw a yellow blur go by, I knew it was Bumblebee. If I saw a grey blur go by, I knew it was either Jazz, Starscream, Megatron, or Frenzy.

  • Horrible robot mode designs for Megatron, Starscream, and Frenzy. None of the other Decepticons looked great either.

  • The fates of several Transformers are badly filmed. They're shown either too far away, too blurry, or too quick for there to be any emotional impact.

D+ Story
B- Acting
F Directing
B- Visuals

Teenager Sam Witwicky (Shia Lebouf), in an effort to impress a girl named Mikaela (Megan Fox), buys a car. The car turns out to be a transformable alien robot named Bumblebee. Bumblebee's allies and enemies, from the planet Cybertron, are here on Earth in a race to find the much valued Allspark, a mechanical cube of un-matched power and confusing capabilities. Hackers, the military, the government, a secret agency, and even Sam's parents, all add un-needed plot complexity and help rob screen time from big fighting robots.

Michael Bay has taken a colossal crap on my childhood.

I actually walked out of the theater with the urge to smash something. If it weren't for a few redeeming qualities of the movie and a cooling off period during the end credits, I might have turned into the Incredible Hulk right there in the theater. I don't drink, but I felt like I may have needed one.

This movie confirms it. I definitely do not enjoy Michael Bay's style of directing. He seems to care more about blowing stuff up than telling a good story. Don't get me wrong, a movie about large alien robots at war should have stuff blowing up. But, there should also be a way of telling a good story and paying homage to the 1980s cartoon and toyline that "inspired" this movie. If you had to have a license or registration or certification to direct, Michael Bay should have his suspended from him long enough to have someone else direct the inevitable Transformers sequel.

Any time there was an action scene, I just kept thinking, "Please, please, please, let Sam Raimi or Peter Jackson direct Transformers 2." Upon thinking about it further, Christopher Nolan or Bryan Singer would be good too.

On the other hand, I can't blame Michael Bay entirely. The story itself is not great, and that blame goes to the writers, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. They spent too much time on too many human-driven plotlines and didn't focus enough on the robot characters. And the robots *are* characters, not just gyrating blobs of computer graphics. I feel we could have learned more about the personalities and histories of the robot characters, but most of the Transformers received little or no character development at all. The Transformer with the most screen time, Bumblebee, doesn't even have a voice. Orci and Kurtzman are also writing the screenplay for the 2008 Star Trek "re-boot," and that scares me a little.

The worst thing about it is that I already had reservations about this movie, so I thought my opinion had nowhere to go but up. I suspected I wouldn't totally like Bay's directing style. I had skimmed the graphic novel of the movie at Barnes & Noble, so I knew I wasn't in love with the plot. I had kept up with all the press releases and internet hype, so I knew I didn't like some of the robot designs. I mean, my expectations were somewhat low, and I still walked out of the movie angry.

I was hoping it would surprise me and *at least* be in the B range of quality. Shia "Lehbooooff," Peter Cullen as the voice of Optimus Prime, the realism of the computer graphics (no matter how fast & blurry), and the hotness of Megan Fox, were the saving graces of the movie, or else I would have graded it even lower.

If you're viewing this review from my FaceBook profile and if you can't see the table below, go here for the Blogspot version.

Autobots Optimus Prime A B B A A-
Bumblebee B D B n/a C+
Ironhide A C D B B-
Ratchet A C B B B
Jazz A A F F C
Decepticons Megatron F F B B D+
Starscream A F D D D+
Blackout A C B B B
Barricade B D A B B-
Brawl A D n/a n/a C+
Bonecrusher B C n/a n/a C+
Frenzy C F F F D-
Scorponok n/a D n/a n/a D

Fun Facts from Internet Movie Database

According to the screenwriters, there was to be more dialogue between Megatron and Starscream, but most of those lines had to be cut out (leaving them in may have helped). Josh Duhamel's character Captain Lennox first appeared in the comic book, "GI Joe vs. the Transformers." In her role as Mikaela Banes, Megan Fox gained ten pounds during filming (how skinny was she to begin with???). While the screenwriters experimented with additional characters, all versions of the script included Autobots Optimus Prime & Bumblebee and Decepticons Megatron & Starscream.

Fun Facts from Wikipedia

On 30 May 2007, more than a month before the film even came out, DreamWorks greenlit two sequels. Shia Lehbooooff, Megan {"appropriately-named"} Fox, and Peter Cullen are all signed on. Director Michael Bay has not officially signed on {thank goodness}. Writers Orci & Kutzman may be too busy with the Star Trek movie. Producer Tom DeSanto has envisioned a sequel storyline with Dinobots, Constructicons, and Soundwave. If Michael Bay does return to direct {please, no}, he has an idea for a transforming aircraft carrier.

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