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Fans of the earlier film and TV series will be thrilled at this cutting-edge incarnation, but this version should please all fans of high-adrenaline action. Director Bay gleefully salts the movie with homages to pop-culture touchstones like Raiders of the Lost Ark, King Kong, and the early technothriller WarGames. The actors, though clearly all supporting those kickass robots, are uniformly on-target, including the dashing Josh Duhamel as a U.S. Army sergeant fighting an enemy he never anticipated; Jon Voight, as a tough yet sympathetic Secretary of Defense in over his head; and John Turturro, whose special agent manages to be confidently unctuous, even stripped to his undies. But the film belongs to Bumblebee, Optimus Prime, and the dastardly Megatron--and the wicked stunts they collide in all over the globe. Long live Transformers! --A.T. Hurley
More Than Meets the Eye
The Original Movie
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After the awesome introduction, the first part of the movie deals mainly with Shia LaBeouf's Sam purchasing a Camaro that actually turns out to be the Autobot Bumblebee (in the cartoon, originally a VW Bug. I think the yellow VW Bug in the car lot next to Bumblebee was a homage.) Sam unknowingly uses his alien car to impress a girl. Of course she actually is impressed when they find out it's an alien. There are some pretty funny scenes in this part of the movie as well as some action scenes that are very well done.
Soon comes the arrival of the other Autobots and they reveal to Sam their true purpose, which is to locate the Allspark -a powerful device capable of transforming a planet- before the Decepticons get a hold of it. I thought at this point that the slow parts of the movie were over, but not quite. From here we go into a few too many scenes dealing with side characters, from video game playing computer experts to goofy secret agents whose quirks border slapstick comedy. Too many of these characters could be chalked up as comic relief, and most of what they attributed was not very funny. There was a slightly funny but overly long scene where Sam was trying to hide the autobots while he searched through his house for a relic they needed. And then arrived John Turtorro (playing the said goofy secret agent) whom I love, but who severely overstayed him welcome in this. Other performances, namely John Voight's, were just plain campy and the cookie cutter dialogue was cringe inducing at times.
Luckily, I forgot most of that by the time the movie got to its last act. Once the Decepticons arrive in force the movie is a non stop ride of action and jaw dropping effects. While someone who's not familiar with the characters and story might not care what the outcome is, I found myself with memories as a kid, watching the 1986 movie for the first time. I forgot about the humans and their ho-hum sotrylines as my favorite characters and toys from my childhood crashed and shot and ripped each other apart. I forgot that I was watching CG effects as the transformers look as real as the environment they're destroying. The action scenes are larger than life and I'm amazed at how well the battles of the cartoons translated onto big screen. The transformers themselves were all very well done, applying actual physics to their transformations and robot appearances. They look real and modern but don't lose the heart of what the fanboys loved about them from back in the day. And Hugo Weaving as Megatron was genius. I missed hearing the original Starcream, but the original voice actor died many years ago, and the two or three lines Starcream had in this sounded suitable.
Despite the great flaws in acting, dialogue and script, I left this movie with that rare itch to want to go straight back inside and watch it again. From the previews, it looked like the movie was going to take a realistic perspective and show the warring alien machines from a human point of view. But that's really not the case at all. In every other Michael Bay movie, the corny dialogue and overdramatic characters ruin an otherwise good premise. But Transformers is based on a cartoon, so why shouldn't the movie feel like one? Here it works. It's big, dumb nostalgic fun that the kid in me has been after for 20 years.
In 1986 the first Transformers movie (animated) came out and pretty much scarred every kid who was ever a fan of the show for life as their beloved characters actually died on-screen to make way for a new generation of Transformers. Let's just say that as much as I enjoyed the original movie I also hated it. It is now 2007 and Michael Bay, Steven Spielberg and ILM have concocted a live-action version of Transformers. To say that this movie has erased some of the bad taste left by the first animated film is quite an understatement. What we have in this live-action Transformers is nothing less than pure robot-versus-robot carnage and mayhem done so well that it more than makes up for the weak story and the uneven performances from the cast.
The movie revolves around the search by both the Autobots and the Decepticons for the all-powerful AllSpark which would grant it's owner the power to rebuild the dying Cybertron (home world of the Transformers) or remake any planet into a new home. It's not too difficult to figure out what the Decepticons and their leader Megatron would do once they have it in their possession. As one of the Decepticons would have stencilled on its vehicle mode says: "To punish and enslave". The AllSpark is really just a MacGuffin which helps tie in the Transformers with the human aspect of the story and that's the time tested tale of a boy and his car. In this case, it's Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) and his newly acquired 1974 Camaro who also happens to be the Autobot Bumblebee unbeknownst to him.
The first third of the film is where this boy and his car theme gets the most laugh as Sam tries to use his new car to get the attention of one Mikaela (played by the ridiculously hot and appropriately named Megan Fox). The laughs come from Bumblebee playing just the right song over the radio to try and bring the two kids together. Usually Michael Bay's handle on comedy is a tad more cynical and ham-handed which tell me the first third of this film had Steven Spielberg's influence all over it. One could just substitute E.T. for Bumblebee and Elliott for Sam and it's not difficult to see.
This first third also solidifies Shia LaBeouf as the foundation which keeps the movie from just becoming one long robot-on-robot action scene. This kid has some major talent and charisma which shows from the moment he steps on to the screen right up to the final scene with the sun setting in the background. It's no wonder Spielberg chose him to be in the next Indiana Jones movie. LaBeouf actually makes Sam Witwicky more than the awkward, geeky teen geek and instead makes it believable that he has a weird, charming chance to land the hot Mikaela. It's LaBeouf's performance as Saw which pretty much saves the very uneven performance by the rest of the cast.
Even with LaBeouf's performance and the funny and cute boy meets car meets girl first reel, people really went to see this movie for one thing and one thing only and that's the battle between the Autobots and the Decepticons. The humans are there to ground the story in a semblance of reality. But once the two sides begin to arrive and find their Earth forms the movie shifts into nitrous-injected overdrive and doesn't let up until the very end. People cheered wildly once Optimus Prime appears for the first time with the rest of his crew (Ironhide, Jazz, Ratchet). The cheering went especially wild once optimus spoke for the first time and the original voice was heard (Peter Cullen did the voice for the original cartoon and was hired to do the same for the moive). That scene really brought myself and, most likely, every male in the audience of the same age back 20 years. The Decepticons make their entrance soon after with Megatron (voiced by Hugo Weaving) being the final Transformer to hit the screen. The rest of the movie became one long action sequence after sequence with destruction being the norm.
This is where Michael Bay's hand truly shows as his handle on the sturm und drang he's well-known for matches well with the premise of giant alien robots fighting each other with no thought for collateral damage to populace and property. Unlike, his previous films he actually holds himself back from using his usual tricks of using low-angled slo-mo scenes too much and the ultra quick editing style which makes his movies sometimes difficult to keep up with. Again, it might be Spielberg's influence in addition to Bay actually growing as a filmmaker to thank for this. The action scenes wouldn't be as great as it was if it wasn't for the work of ILM and its team of computer animators. The Autobots and Decepticons look so real that they join Gollum and Davey Jones as fully-realized CGI-characters who blend into the scene as if they're made of real flesh and blood. In the case of the Transformers made of steel, oil and rubber. Their battles from the Hoover Dam all the way to the nearby Mission City didn't look artificial. There's a sense of weight and depth to the battle. It atually looked like the city with it's small humans was actually being ripped apart by these giant robots. Industrial, Light and Magic truly deserve every award they'll get come awards time. In the past it was said that a live-action Transformers would come off as cheesy and fake, but technology and the expert use of it by ILM's team of artisans has made it a reality.
Transformers really brings the word blockbuster and brings it like storm and thunder. There's no other way to say it than this was a movie which was a kickass rollercoaster ride with just enough human interaction to keep it from becoming cartoonish. It's not a perfect film as the weak script and uneven performances by most of the cast would show, but it's all balanced out by the work put in by Shia LaBeouf and the action scenes with the Transformers that this movie marks the highlight of the 2007 summer blockbuster season. Michael Bay has finally found the one film he looks to be tailor-made to do.
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