Return to the Cinema
And... we're back. After a long hiatus, the Zeroplate THINK page is back and I'm bringing the Movie thoughts back from the dead and incorporating them here instead. In case you missed those, peep the link: Film Thoughts by Zeroplate With no futher Adu (who gets the nod for a hat trick against Poland--take that Poland!)
I did not cry when Optimus Prime handed the Matrix over to Hot Rod in 1986. This is likely due to the fact that I thought Rodimus Prime (name notwithstanding) was a much cooler design/toy than the boxy 18 wheeler Prime in the first place. It's probably also helped by the fact that the animated Transformers movie just wasn't worth getting too emotional about. I had plenty of Transformers like most kids I knew, but I never had most of the ones I really wanted--Soundwave, Megatron, Jetfire, Omega Supreme, Grimlock--those just never found their way to my house. I will always be grateful to my grandmother who somehow had Bluestreak and Jazz waiting for me under the tree in 1984 despite the fact that the toys were nowhere to be found on shelves--I still don't know how she did that.
I moved to Japan in the late 80's and found out quickly that Transformers was a little different over there. There were Battle Beasts and Micro Masters and lots of things that looked more and more dubious over time. Around then, just about the only Transformers being made anymore were sets of bots that built bigger bots that somehow never managed to be as cool as the original Devastator. As I got more into soccer, music, and fretting over girls, the Transformers took their rightful place in yard sales and trash bins. When I got old enough to start collecting toys again, I never really considered going back to get Transformers because they just didn't hold the magic for me that something like Star Wars or even X-Men comics did.
I point all of that out only to say that I'm not the world's biggest TransFan and in fact, I have no particular love for the property aside from memories of those toys that were waiting so unexpectedly for me in 1984. So, when I heard that Michael Bay was making a Transformers movie, my immediate reaction was 'that might be cool but it will probably be very dumb.' It took a while for info about the project to leak out but when the robot designs and casting rumors started hitting the web, the fan uproar was something I hadn't expected. So they were making Bumblebee a Camero instead of a Beetle--who cares? A lot of people, apparently, I just wasn't one of them.
There was a scene in the Japanese film The Returner where a commercial jumbo jet transformed into a robot looking thing and that was the first time I had seen an effect in a film that made me think "you know, the idea of transforming vehicle/robots in a live action movie might be really fun." In fact, it seemed like a no-brainer once CGI technology caught up to the ideas, but what threatened to ruin such a movie was the backstory of a glorified toy commercial cum cultural phenomenon that people were apparently far more attached to than I knew.
I'm happy to say that Michael Bay's Transformers is neither as stupid as I thought it would be, nor as beholden to the toy's shaky mythology as some fans wanted, meaning that in the end, it manages to be a hell of a fun movie. I don't know Blackout from a hole in the ground, but watching that thing transform and rip shit up was a lot of fun. The human characters (even though there were too many) didn't get in the way of the film's mammoth momentum, which was probably my biggest concern with the Michael Bay credit on the film. Bay manages to throw in a little something for everyone--there's a goofy boy who's the film's cipher; a hot (though somewhat plastic looking) love interest who actually does something more than just look pretty and need saving; there are the clueless but often funny parents that most parents who accompany 10 year olds will identify with; there are the macho and tough talking Army guys who don't steal the show from the robots but do give people like my dad someone to shout "hoo haa" to; there are funny black characters, a latino soldier who apparently said some funny stuff in Spanish without subtitles, and there's a voice from the original cartoon in Optimus Prime. I mean, this sort of thing almost sounds like it was focus-grouped together--the only thing missing is an Asian straight man who knows kung-fu and a laughably queeny fashion designer turned arms dealer. And as calculated as all of that sounds, it somehow works pretty well without really feeling like it's pandering (though the stepped off of MTV into the world of advanced cryptology crew was a stretch.)
What I hope this film does is show people in Hollywood that you can blow a lot of shit up without insulting everyone's intelligence (too much). While Bay's version of the military is a bit idealistic and fetishized, it's better than the usually hapless, one-dimensional military portrayed in so many other films. The utterly unbelievable computer hackers are silly, but for the 13 year olds in the audience, they are probably relatable and I'd rather them be cool and smart than completely socially inept, greasy, and taping their glasses together to prove they know how to work a computer. I hope that people realize you need human characters with some charisma to carry all of the battling ones and zeros, but you don't have to make them overly cute or bring all of the action in the film to a stop long enough for them to drop a one-liner in order to entertain. It's very unlikely that anyone in Hollywood will learn anything from the success of Transformers beyond "lets greenlight He-Man, Sectaurs, and Thundercats triolgies right now!" but I can always hope.