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