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Exactly What Meets the Eye

July 5th, 2007

I’m going to post about the new Transformers movie. That’s not because I have a burning desire to discuss the new Transformers movie, but because my browser defaults to this page and right now the first thing that pops up is a picture of Cupid as a kitten.

I went to the Monday night premiere of Transformers for similar reasons, hoping that the sight of 30-foot robots ripping the shit out of each other would allow me to numb the sadness I was feeling. It didn’t quite work.

That’s not to say that the movie wasn’t entertaining. It had some pleasant humor, a ridiculously hot “high school” girl, and, of course, robots ripping the shit out of each other.

The highest praise I can give it is that it’s a Michael Bay movie that doesn’t suck. There’s a scene in the film in which a Transformer crashes, meteor-like, to the Earth, and a kid says, “This is 100 times better than Armageddon!” I had to wonder whether that was meant to imply that Armageddon was a good thing or a bad one. The average episode of Meet the Press is also 100 times better than Armageddon. That said, Michael Bay did an adequate job this time out. And I’ll give the man this: he knows how to blow up shit. Transformers is among the most shit-blowing-up movies I’ve seen.

The film itself is a curious beast. A lot of it plays like Independence Day: big action set pieces, military strategy sessions set in high-tech government facilities, and quirky tech-heads researching ways to counter an alien menace. But at the end of the day, this is a movie based on a toy line, which requires the actors to pretend that proper nouns like “Megatron,” “Allspark” and “Decepticon” can be used in serious dialogue.

The effects are wonderful, and Industrial Light & Magic design staff did an excellent job making it seem plausible that a giant robot could turn into a tank or a Dodge Camaro. (Many of the actual toys, fettered by actual Earth engineering, look clunky in either their robot or “transformed” modes.) The only complaint I have about the effects is that the hyperactive camera work sometimes made it difficult to fully appreciate the battle scenes.

One other criticism I have is that Megatron didn’t cut it as the film’s primary villain. He didn’t show up until the final act, and had little opportunity to demonstrate a personality outside of “Crush! Kill! Destroy!” And, most importantly in a film about transforming robots, he didn’t turn into anything cool. While the other Decepticons were becoming tanks, helicopters and police cars with holographically-projected “drivers” (a nice touch, I thought), Megatron’s other mode was a flying whatzit. I would’ve preferred the giant pistol from the old cartoons.

As I mentioned, there’s some appealing humor, most especially in a rather silly scene in which the Autobots (who, again, are about thirty feet tall) attempt to “hide” in the main character’s back yard. It’s absurd, but at least the movie recognizes the absurdity and runs with it.

While I’m sure that some diehard Transformers will have many other nits to pick, from my perspective as someone who watched a great many episodes of the original cartoon back in college BECAUSE THERE WAS NOTHING ELSE ON, I found it to be as good a movie as one was likely to derive from the concept.

Update: I failed to mention the other notable aspect of my Monday night movie trip: a look at the mysterious trailer for J.J. Abrams’ latest project. All anyone officially knows about it is that it’s coming out on January 18. No title, no nothing. I hadn’t even heard that much prior to Monday. However, it appears to be nothing less than a cross between The Blair Witch Project and Godzilla, with shaky camcorder footage of people at a party in New York witnessing explosions and monstrous sounds coming from far across the cityscape, not to mention a rather surprising decapitation. Consider me intrigued.

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