Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Jason watches Michael Bay's "Transformers"

And I say it that way because it damn sure isn't my Transformers.

Okay, I'm afraid this review is going to have to be mostly explanation and context. First off, I'm not a knee-jerk Michael Bay hater. I liked "Bad Boys". "The Rock" is possibly in my top 10 favorite action movies. I...actually missed "The Island". But whatever, I'll even defend "Armageddon" as the natural evolution of big eye-candy explosion movies. The point is you, I, he, and all of Hollywood know what he's good at and what he's bad at. Haters just want him to make different movies. Whatever. I'm not defending Michael Bay as a genius, or even an artist, I'm just saying that he knows how to make the kind of movie he likes, and I can respect him for sticking to his comically over-sized guns.

With that said, I shuddered when I heard he was making "Transformers". You see, as much as it might seem that my childhood is still alive and well, in 1986 it was at least grievously wounded, because "Transformers: the Movie" came out and freakin' killed Optimus Prime! And that forced me to grow up and put away my toys (sometimes). Sure, I kept watching the new series where they were in space and had crazy robots that transformed into nothing even close to a recognizable vehicle, but my heart wasn't in it that much. And I certainly didn't follow it much later into "Transformers: Beast Wars". So what I'm saying is, I'm a classic Transformers guy. Optimus Prime is my leader, not Rodimus Prime or whoever they have now. And as such, Bumblebee is a Beetle, not a Camaro; Optimus Prime does not have lips, and Megatron transforms into a gun, not some sort of futuristic jet (And yeah, I know there were always scale problems with the size of him as a robot and the size of him as a gun. There are also scaling problems with a car transforming into a robot that's taller than a house). And I really hate to be the guy who gets hung up on those details. I didn't mind it when Spiderman's webbing was organic instead of his invention. I didn't mind the absorbing man being the Hulk's father. I didn't mind Superman having a son with Lois Lane (although there was plenty more to mind about that movie). But this is just an indication of how much Transformers meant to my childhood that I still carry these hang-ups around 20 years later. In fact, pretty much none of the Destructicons looked right--all too pointy. I guess that's supposed to look scary, but I just kept thinking all those pieces would break off way too easily.

And for that matter, Optimus Prime with flames painted on the sides--what the hell? In retrospect at least, what I really loved about Optimus Prime is that the semi truck is an icon of good old hard-working blue-collar American values. I wonder how much of my respect for the mythical blue-collar American work ethic comes from Optimus Prime. But if you paint flames on the side and it becomes the symbol of a poser--a truck driver pretending to be racecar driver. And that's just wrong--Optimus Prime is no poser. In fact, in retrospect his lack of lips in the cartoon gave him a wonderful sense of stoicism (that and Peter Cullen's voice, who thankfully reprises his role).

And a third point. For me, the Transformers were toys first and a cartoon show second. Looking back, the cartoons were actually pretty cheesy. Although I do still like to use the line "Autobots, transform and roll out!" on occasion--and they got that wrong in the movie, he just said "Autobots, roll out!" The point is, I'm kind of a geek, and I liked playing with the toys just to figure out how they put something together that will actually transform from a robot into whatever. They were actually for the most part very clever toys. In the cartoon, the transformations were pretty silly, they'd hover in mid-air and parts would swing around and they'd make the iconic sound and then they were transformed. So I was looking forward to seeing how they'd bring the best special effects technology to the transformations. And the new answer is...it's way too complicated. Instead of a dozen moving parts, these guys have thousands. Sure, it looks cool the first time, but pretty quickly it becomes overwhelming. Bumblebee the toy was just about as simple as you can get, but in the movie it's still a thousand moves to transform him. Just once, I'd like to see a transformation that's strictly according to the Hasbro toys, because the guys who designed those toys were pretty damn smart.

Oh yeah, and along the lines of the toys, pretty much none of the Decepticons looked right--all were too pointy. I guess that's supposed to look scary and less human/more monstrous, but I just kept thinking all those pieces would break off way too easily.

Okay, so that's enough context. I think you can understand the parts that bugged me that really say more about me than about the movie. So how does it actually work as a movie? It works exactly like a Michael Bay movie, for better or worse. Things blow up real good. There are big transforming robots running around and fighting. There are some half-clever gags (the "Armageddon" reference, the "more than meets the eye" line, etc.). There's a couple political bits that I smiled at--you don't see the President's face, but you see his socks and hear a George W. Bush impersonator ask for ho-hos. The humans are basically there to watch the robots fight, only Shia LeBouf is given enough to do to really even be called a character, and it's a matter of personal taste whether you find him sympathetic or just annoying--I thought he was okay. The plot is the thinnest of McGuffins--we have to get the blahblahblah before the Descepticons do because it has the power to yadda yadda yadda...and that would be bad! And the moral that all sentient life deserves a chance and there's more than meets the eye with everyone is at best, blandly inoffensive.

So in the end, it was 2.5 hours of silly dumb near-fun that kinda stomped on my childhood a little. But hell, I survived the Go-Bots, I'll be fine with this.


baceman007 said...

I'm going to see this tomorrow. As someone who owns 40 of the original comics, has read all of the original comics and many since then, owns the whole original series and most of Beast Wars, etc. I am a huge fan. That said I am very disturbed with the GM conspiracy that already overshadows this whole movie. I mean really. Teletran1 is the most advance computer in existence as far as we know when we first meet the Transformers. It would not pick a shitty Camaro with head gasket problems for Bumblebee or a super inefficient, unfunctional H2 for their medic, Ratchet. Sigh, anyway more to come after I see this. Until then I won't read your commentary.

puppymeat said...

Baceman, I already figured you're a bigger Transformers geek than I am. I can't wait to hear your commentary.

BTW, I've heard that part of the whole 'Bumblebee isn't a Beetle' thing comes from Volkswagen not wanting to be associated with such a violent movie. But personally, I'd rather he changed into a 'Shmolkswagon Shmeetle', or if he transforms into a Camaro, name him something other than Bumblebee.

baceman007 said...

Transformers - aka Michael Bay takes a shit on my youth for no good reason.

I've been a Transformers fan for a long time. Many people say that makes me a big geek, but those people are usually stupid meatheads who like Van Damme movies and man were they in for a treat with this pile of shit. Before I start getting into everything that is wrong with this movie let me say that the effects were very good and for once the Transformers seemed as powerful as they did in some of the comic books. Now on to what is wrong. I also stopped watching the cartoons after Beast Machines and only read a handful of the DW releases and newer IDW stuff. I've watched the entire original series, the original movie, and have read all of the American Marvel comics, and most of the Marvel UK comics in some way shape or form.

In order to understand why Michael Bay disregarded 25 plus years of Transformers history we need to understand that in many ways non-comic book stories of the Transformers have largely been commercials to sell toys. Michael Bay is a whore that will sell himself out to all bidders at once if possible. In this case GM and the government, although the amount of product placement from other companies, in the movie, is disgusting to say the least.

So please allow me to begin to isolate where the problems were in this Michael Bay tragedy. Let's start with the writing since this is where the core of the Transformers comics, etc. received their largest dump. The cube that the movie starts out with is actually representative of the Matrix of Leadership and Vector Sigma. The Matrix, probably the most important item in the Transformers universe, isn't even being carried around by Optimus Prime in Michael Bay's Transformers (referred to as MBTF from here on). Not only that, but the cockbag took it upon himself to decide that Cybertron is a dead world that can only be rebuilt by this lame cube. He goes even further to say that the reason that the reason the Transformers are on Earth is to find the cube for various reasons, like the Decepticons wanting to use it to transform the planet for their own uses. The problem is that up until now at it's core Transformers has always been about the struggle between both sides to obtain the fuel necessary from Earth for various reasons. In general both sides want to gain enough fuel, aka energon, to control Cybertron. The autobots to rebuild it and the decepticons to rule the universe from it. That's the whole fucking point of the series. A classic good versus evil story with Earth, or some other fragile world hanging in the balance. I guess when you're being a corporate whore to the most wasteful car company out there you don't want to talk about fuel. Especially when you're movie is a recruitment movie for the military who is loosing men every month to secure that fuel. Bay also took it on himself to end the series at the end of the movie.

Of course it gets worse when we move on to vehicle selections. Now Jazz getting killed, that makes sense, he's a Pontiac Solstice. He had it coming. Seriously though, the vehicle selections were awful. Even if the rumors about VW not wanting to be involved with violence are true there were many better cars to choose from than shitty GM's. This is most apparent with Bumblebee and Ratchet. Bumblebee could have been a cooper maxx, or even a powerful motorcycle, but oh yeah I forgot that the whole point was to whore out to GM. At any rate that was fine until they found it necessary for Bumblebee's old Comaro form to beat up a beetle sitting next to it. Still he starts out as a cool old Comaro that at least could have been modified into something that didn't suck. For some reason he has an automatic transmission which as we all know real sports cars don't have. It gets worse when he trades his old form for a shitty new Comaro form. The point is that a white trash lightning car like the Comaro doesn't make sense for Bumblebee's size or power throughout the whole Transformers universe. Ratchet, a medic and according to the movie's website pacifist, spends little or no time talking about peace, but is happy to stick his super wasteful H2 hand mounted gattling gun, into the face of an enemy and blow it away. What's really sad about Ratchet's form is that he's a modified Hummer H2, a shitty choice to start with, but exceptionally inappropriate in this case since GM builds real ambulances. Funny that one of the vehicles that's killing the planet was saving it, but I guess we shouldn't underestimate the extent of whoring out that Bay and Spielberg are willing participate in.

It gets better with the governmental brainwashing for the marine corp and Airforce, but before I get into that let me just say that there was way too much comic relief in the movie overall. At least 20 minutes of the movie was spent on the robots sneaking around and not transforming. Much more of the film was spent on juvenile sexual humor about the boy's pheromone levels in general. Probably the biggest tragedy was that they didn't even make the cliche sound when they transformed all of the time. The advertising was also a huge rip off of the Chronicles of Riddick advertising with the whole Protect and Destroy selection instead of the original Convert or Fight choices given to us on the Chronicles of Riddick DVD. In fact I'd be very surprised if the Transformers DVD doesn't use a similar menu system. Hopefully the choices will give us alternate endings like one where Megatron wins and has wasteful hummer owners SUVs turn on them.

Now on to brainwashing. With a unpopular war still raging in the middle east it's important to make kids, the public, and soldiers think that we're not just killing people over oil. Again the whole original fuel issue that was the basis for all things Transformers in the past was totally ignored. The marines were brave enough to fight giant robots, and let's be honest they are some very brave people in reality, but let's not kid ourselves about what is going on currently. At this point we all know that we're not at war to protect anyone except rich people from loosing money over oil. Still shooting and killing is not where real strength comes from. However, since we need more cannon fodder for the current war and Michael Bay is a big whore that likes money, the government took it's opportunity to give us a huge military advertisement to the detailed point of discussing shell sizes and saber rounds. Those guys really saved the day by recommending that the best rounds be used against the greatest threat that earth has ever seen. It reminded me of the recruitment movie that Beavis and Butthead watched when the army tried to pick them up except Bay was serious, and it went on for many hours.

Now on to the characters themselves. Spike and sparkplug are punk fuckos from the burbs and not mechanics and they're not even named Spike and Sparkplug. They're Sam and Mr. Whitwicky. Spike has a mom? WTF, and when did Spike's dad give a shit about how his yard looked. He was a brilliant mechanic busy fixing Autobots. Again, the teen romance shit made me want to vomit. To sum up some of the quotes that were made in the movie, well more so paraphrase half of the human dialogue. "My dad used to steal cars, touch my pussy.... blah blah blah. Sector 7, the cube, saber rounds, F-22 raptor, you're a family man soldier with a cool motorcycle now son. Are you masterbating in there son. No, mom that never existed, I'm not. I'm blowing my load all over the 25 years of Transformers history instead." If I wanted to see a romantic movie I would have gone to see a romantic comedy, etc. but not Transformers. Again, this leads us to many wasted CGI scenes of Autobots trying to sneak around the yard and threatening to kill small dogs instead of bashing Decepticon heads.

Megatron isn't even introduced until the end of the movie. Spike's, excuse me Sam's, grandfather found him in the ice. Bullshit, Megatron is the most powerful Decepticon there was. In an age when humans would have had no surface to air capabilities he would not have navigated his brilliant ass to the bottom of the arctic circle. At least Bay's depiction of small town cops seemed to be a bit accurate. Considering the amount of smack he must have done to make this movie he may have personal experience. Seriously though, the good GCI that there was was very brief. The story made little or no sense and ignored pervious stories all together. I've said this before about comic book movies and I'll say it again. Why do directors ignore comic books when they're making a movie about one. Spawn is the only comic book movie that I'm pleased with for accuracy. I just don't understand why directors choose to ignore the books when there was tons of cool material to draw from. They could have honored the books and still make a movie that was awesome in this case. The humans were way too important overall. Man I could go on and on, but you really have to see this one to believe how awful it is. Still I can't recommend that you pay any money to do so. You see very little of the robots other than Bumblebee in general. They stay Transformed most of the time. Anyway, I did pay to see it and I feel like I deserve a refund and apology from Bay for taking a decent series that he could have made a great movie from and taking a shit on it instead. Fuck you Michael Bay. You're so awful. Why do you keep getting to make movies? Oh yeah you're a whore. Honestly even if the 1985 movie was just redone with CGI and live action it would have done a lot better than this pile of shit, but then shitty failing, wasteful car companies wouldn't get to brainwash kids not to mention rich folk that need cannon fodder to protect their investments. Again, up your ass Michael Bay, you should be ashamed of yourself. The didn't even get a believeable voice for Megatron and Soundwave was replaced by one of his lesser, annoying tapes, Frenzy.

baceman007 said...

By the way Vector Sigma is the computer that gives Transformers their personalities on Cybertron. There are 3 origin stories for the planet itself. Again, the struggle has always been to reclaim Cybertron by both sides and they both need to obtain enough fuel to do it. Not so they can transform another planet, but so they can rebuild Cybertron. Both sides love Cybertron.

baceman007 said...

Also, it's important for me to say that when Optimus Prime and Megatron are still around, meaning the two depicted in this movie, they both have much larger armies at their disposal. Say at least 10 on each side. With that in mind the robot battles were sad to say the least. The movie almost has more of a Jurrasic Park instead of Sci-Fi action movie feel to it. Especially when Megatron stalk Sam like a dinosaur. As I hinted to before they ignored many of the original characters that were popular in the original series.

baceman007 said...

One other thing that I forgot to mention is that it wasn't until about the 13th issue that the humans had weapons even close to capable of damaging the Transformers. They actually created a special forces team called RAAT to deal with the Transformers. Also, a human that was injured in an autobot/decepticon struggle, who was also a brilliant scientist, reconstructs herself as Circuit Breaker. So the marine corp, airforce, etc. actually being able to hurt any of the robots in this movie is just stupid. I know it was a recruitment commercial, but it really destroyed the sense of how powerful the robots are. Also, the plasma energy chamber destorys robotic life when it's energy is released in its raw form, not the martix or vector sigma, so I guess bay decided that the cube was the plasma energy chamber too. So now that I think about it the totally lame cube was all 3 of the most important locations/items in the Transformers universe. God damn you Michael Bay. I'm willing to forgive Spielberg a bit, since all of his movies didn't suck, but still what the hell was he thinking...

baceman007 said...

I just finished reading the Wired article on Transformers. It was pretty sad. Michael Bay admitted that it was a recruitment movie from the government's point of view. The government admitted that they have to approve the script to such movies to provide funding. The most disappointing thing was that Bay basically blew off old school Transformers fans and basically said "I'll do whatever the hell I want because what do the old fans know anyway." I don't like ignorant meat heads in the first place and to have Bay look at it as a directing style is disturbing to say the least. You really have to read the article to believe it. How come the Baldwins get so much flack for being ignorant assholes, but Bay is allowed to keep making movies?

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