Sunday, June 28, 2009

Archive: "Transformers"

So everybody but me is apparently seeing "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" this weekend; frankly, I won't make the same mistake twice. The original "Transformers" was my pick for 2007's worst movie (and there was some stiff competition for that title). Here's what I wrote about it at the time.

I’ll tell you this much about Transformers—I kept waiting for it to transform itself into a watchable movie. It doesn’t happen. Michael Bay’s latest opus is one long miscalculation—a thuddingly serious, bloated, overlong (it’s fucking endless at two and a half hours), loud, obnoxious boor. This reviewer couldn’t wait for it to end. I seriously, actively hated this movie.

You can tell that it’s going down the tubes from its opening frames—from before then, actually, when the pre-title credits inform us that the film is presented “In Association with Hasbro”. It’s a nice reminder that, as with the animated series and movie of twenty plus years ago, Transformers really is little more than a toy commercial. Next we have the deep, nearly Biblical tones of Optimus Prime on the soundtrack, and his voice-over begins, no exaggeration, “From the beginning of time…” and those of us in the audience who were less polite (and there were several of us) burst into laughter.

You see, you have in those two moments the basic problem with Transformers—it’s an utterly ridiculous story about cars that turn into giant fucking robots and blow shit up, and it’s based on a toy line, for Chrissakes, but the entire enterprise in invested with a tone that is only slightly less somber than that of United 93. Everything is taken dreadfully seriously, with special reverential treatment reserved for the Secretary of Defense and fellow military higher-ups; the jingoism is hardly surprising from a director schooled under the hand of Jerry Bruckheimer, if at little at odds with the current political climate. Important, serious white men say dire things direly, while most of a base in Qatar is attacked and killed by the Decepticons (in bloodless, off-screen, PG-13 fashion, of course), but everything’s okay since the group of clich├ęd soldier types that we met at the beginning of the film make it out okay, especially the one who has a baby daughter back home (attention K-Mart shoppers: cheap, easy sentiment on aisle three).

Meanwhile, throughout the first hour, there is seemingly an entire other movie going on—the story of Sam (Shia LaBeouf), a goofy high-school kid who’s trying desperately to get his first car, and to get into the pants of the hottest girl in school (Megan Fox). Fox is an attractive girl, no doubt, though the degree to which Bay lets his camera ogle her ladyparts like a 13-year old boy is a little embarrassing for her, for us, and especially for him. Anyhoo, there’s two entire sequences here that work—Sam’s visit to a used car lot (run by the invaluable Bernie Mac) and his attempts to talk to his dream girl, assisted by the (seemingly) random songs blasted from his car radio. These sequences provide a tantalizing glimpse of the movie that Transformers could have been—a little goofy, a little charming, and (for God’s sake) with a slight sense of humor. No prizes for guessing which approach to the material ends up taking over the movie.

And look, I know that a big part of the appeal of the cartoons was that the Transformers had personalities and talked, but Jesus Christ, this is the most ham-fisted dialogue you’re likely to hear in a major motion picture. When archenemies Optimus Prime and Megatron face off in the (I guess) big climax, they charge at each other and scream, in their robot voices, “MEGATRON!” and “PRIME!”. And then, “IT’S JUST YOU AND ME NOW, MEGATRON!”, which prompts the retort, “THEN IT’S JUST ME, PRIME!” I’m saying it ain’t exactly Hawksian interplay. Oh, and when they introduced “Jazz”, who uses what I guess is supposed to be a “street” dialect (although it’s apparently the streets of 1993), I threw up in mouth a little.

(Sidebar: If you’re keeping track, the film does not violate the Tyrese Law. It’s not that complicated—basically, any movie Tyrese Gibson is in, blows. Look it up!)

Anyway. It’s all loud and dumb and just as serious as cancer, and my only explanation for its enjoyment by otherwise smart people is misplaced nostalgia. It happens. If I’m flipping around on TV and Over the Top is on, fuck it, I’ll watch. But that doesn’t mean that they should do a big summer blockbuster remake of it, either.

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