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Posted October 16, 2007

 

"Transformers" On DVD

By

Bill Kallay

Michael Bay makes big, dumb, stupid movies. He makes a lot of money making those big, dumb, stupid movies.

"Transformers" is no exception.

Don't get me wrong about Bay's movies. They can be totally spectacular to look at. They are loud, proud and eager to burst your eardrums. They are slick. As far as home theater demo DVDs are concerned, pop in a Bay movie and you're almost guaranteed to get people to gather around your television set. No matter how many "fanboys" and movie critics bash Mr. Bay's filmmaking talents, he still manages to fleece their wallets to get them to see his movies. I can say that even Bay has made at least one good action movie, 1995's "The Rock." Somehow, some way, he managed to get the elements lined up. How in the world did he get "The Rock" to work? The movie had humor, lots of action, good acting and heart. I'd hazard to say that somewhere deep in that Bay subconscious, there is a quality filmmaker who can make a good movie.

I recall reading about the moans and groans on the Internet that Bay was to direct the live action version of "Transformers." I moaned, too. I was past the age when Transformers took over America in the 1980s. I could care less if a live action movie was made about the "robots in disguise." Yet hearing that Bay was taking the helm, it wasn't all that difficult to contain my own disdain for his directorial capabilities. The idea of cars and trucks morphing into gigantic metallic beasts who thrash each other is cool. The story of a boy and his first car was ideal. But Michael Bay? Bay and Transformers? Would this combination work?

The 2007 blockbuster, as directed by Bay, is both exciting and completely frustrating. It has all the trademarks of a Bay movie. Slow motion photography mixed with normal speed photography. Check. Slick camera moves. Check. Phony emotional shots of wives waiting at home. Check. Super fast edits. Yep, got it. Lack of focus on story and character development. Bingo.

The film starts off promising with an epic shot of outer space, the "Cube" and a deep voice over by Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen). Then some of the bad Transformers (Decepticons) attack the military and blow up lots of people and vehicles. Great start to a movie. Then we get into the story of Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf) and his troubles with school, girls and getting his first car, a beat-up yellow Camaro. Therein lies the problem. Blame it on the screenwriters or Bay, it doesn't matter. This film tries to tackle too much at one time. Three different storylines, or more if you really look closer, numbers of characters and so many good and bad Transformers, it's hard to keep track of what's going on. We should be focusing on LaBeouf's character and his teenage problems, but then we're thrust into how the military is handling the Decepticons, and how hot Aussie babe, Maddie Madsen (Rachael Taylor) is deciphering the robotic code. I'm sorry, but I found it difficult to believe that this girl could be so smart. Not impossible. Taylor is probably very smart in real life. But come on! Didn't Bay see Denise Richards in "The World Is Not Enough?" There's also the fact that most of the Transformers are interchangeable with one another. You become confused, unless you're Transformers geek, of who is who.

I'm getting as jumpy as this film. Focus...

As Sam, a guy who is supposed to be nerdish (but doesn't come off that way) and is infatuated with the hottest girl in school, LaBeouf doesn't elicit much sympathy for his plight. He's surrounded by stereotypical film jocks. We've seen their boneheaded, cocky personalities before in a thousand other teenage movies. The hot chick he's after, Meagan Fox, doesn't give him much of a chase. LaBeouf plays Sam as a pretty cool and self confident guy. I didn't get the sense that his heart would be broken if Fox didn't like him, or if his car didn't end up morphing into a gigantic Hasbro toy. Life would go on for Sam.

LaBeouf is a very good actor, though after seeing him in "Disturbia" and hearing his voice talent in "Surf's Up," I've begun to see his range. He comes from the "I'm an intense ACTOR and don't you forget it" school that Leonardo DiCapprio and Sean Penn no doubt came from. Give the guy credit though. LaBeouf puts his heart and soul into his roles, and he is likable. I thought, since he's supposedly the lead in the film (Duhamel could've been the lead, too, had the story had focus), he could've been more shy, more geeky, more mellow. Blame it on the Bay, or the screenwriters. But "Transformers" should have, and effectively, borrowed some cues from Brad Bird's masterwork, "The Iron Giant" (1999). Because that's what the plot of "Transformers" reminded me of. Either film amounts to a boy-and-his-dog story. One worked well, the other didn't. Put a geeky teenager in trouble at school or home, give him a loyal friend in a giant robot, POW! You've got a story! LaBeouf is too confident and too brave for us to really care for him. Meagan Fox is too hot (like most of Bay's females) for us to identify with. His parents aren't really that bad, so we can't sympathize with Sam's home life. He lives in a pretty spacious house with a pretty spacious room. Life's not bad! And once Optimus Prime and his buddies arrive, it's hard to tell who's really Sam's buddy. Is it Bumblebee (his Camaro), or is it Optimus Prime? Sam also seems under whelmed that these gigantic robotics have come to Earth in the first place.

"Transformers" has many faces. You've got the war between the Transformers. You've got the boy and his problems story. You've got a super hot babe trying to crack the robotic code story. You've got the military aspect. You've got not one, but a number of heroes in the story. The bad Decepticons aren't really that menacing, especially when they're spouting off ridiculous dialogue that should've stayed on the cartoon version of "Transformers." There's just too much going on.

You never feel that the heroes, LaBeouf or Duhamel, are really in danger. Part of the problem I had with "Transformers" is that the story goes from one group of characters to another. Who are we supposed to root for? The Autobots? LaBeouf? Duhamel? The Decepticons? Voight? Who? Duhamel and his crew of roughnecks are straight out of every modern day science fiction Marine mold we've seen since "Aliens," or "Predator," or "Independence Day," or "Stargate," or "Starship Troopers." Slaying bugs? Done that. Slaying aliens? Been there. Robots? Bring 'em on!

The action is exciting, but not intense. There are lots of quick Bay-type cuts and lots of booms on the soundtrack. The visual effects are very good, though it seems with CGI getting better and better, there's nothing that can't be done. The designs of the Transformers are cool, but they started meshing together for me.

"Transformers" could've really made for a good, exciting movie. Maybe I'm putting too much pressure on the filmmakers. They're making nice bucks and could care less about any critical views of their work. After all, this film was based on a toy, which spawned a mediocre cartoon series. It's not like Bay and Company were trying their hand at adapting Shakespeare for the big screen. However, it would've made for a better movie had Bay and Company concentrated on one event and one character at a time. Since "Transformers" made so much hay, maybe Bay will settle down a bit for part "II." Just because you're making a big summer movie, it doesn't mean it has to be dumbed down. Maybe we can all have a little bit more fun next time around.


 

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