Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
July 2007

What's that loud banging noise?

Forget '80s nostalgia - Bay gives 'Transformers' the shlock treatment

Dreamworks SKG and Paramount Pictures
Director: Michael Bay
Screenplay: Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Tyrese Gibson, Josh Duhamel, Kevin Dunn, Rachael Taylor, Anthony Anderson, John Turturro and Jon Voight
Rated PG-13 / 2 hours, 24 minutes
Opened July 3, 2007
(out of four)

Transformers is kind of like a really cool video game - no, not actually playing one. It's more like watching someone else play it. For two-and-a-half hours. You marvel at the impressive gameplay, the impeccable graphics, the technical wizardry. And after a little while, you say to yourself, OK . . . well that's enough of that.

But it is cool-looking. You might even want to play that video game sometime. Except you can't, because it's actually a movie, only the director has found no way to involve you in what's going on, no matter how sleek it looks.

But then, Michael Bay has always known how to make things look slick. Whether he can actually breathe life into his films is a different story. At this point, I'm through waiting for Bay to get it together and prove he's anything more than a very talented but shallow, empty-headed hack. The amount of his own talent he's wasted on this (and Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, Bad Boys II and The Island) is truly astounding. Transformers is his biggest, loudest blockbuster yet. And not only does he have a built-in audience full of people (myself included) that played with these things throughout childhood, but legitimately exceptional special effects and a talented cast to boot.

But instead of crafting even a halfway-intelligent action thriller, he gives us another full-scale hack job . . . which just happens to have a bit of visual flare. Sure, it's eye candy, but of the cotton variety. I think I might have a cavity.

Bay doesn't seem concerned with what he's putting up on the screen - just as long as it's big, loud and expensive.

We have two competing storylines in Transformers: First, the basic good vs. evil between the Decepticons - who are looking for the Allspark (which would give them virtually unlimited power) and will destroy Earth and humankind to get it - and the noble Autobots, who must protect the humans and thwart - yes, thwart! - the plans of the Decepticons and their cunning leader, Megatron.

Then there's the human angle involving high-school student Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), the hot chick he has a crush on (Megan Fox) and his brand-new "vintage" Camaro, which is in fact a Transformer (named Bumblebee) in disguise.

Fine. On paper, I can go with that. Except the two storylines have absolutely nothing to do with each other. The human characters are incidental to the Transformers - and to the plot, for that matter. Either the screenwriters don't notice this or they don't care, but they come up with flimsy excuses to tie the fates of the two species together, and hope we won't notice just how lame every aspect of the story is. The "connection" is that, a hundred or so years ago, Sam's great-grandfather caught sight of Megatron frozen in the Arctic Circle, and the location of the all-important Allspark was imprinted on his eyeglasses, which are now being sold, by Sam, on eBay. That's the entire reason why Sam Witwicky is the main character of this film. The Decepticons can find Sam easily, but for some reason or another can't find out where he lives . . . which is where the glasses are, of course.

That's the best the screenplay can come up with. That, and the Camaro/Bumblebee thing - but that's used mostly for comic relief.

What would be much more interesting is if Sam was actually involved in the plot of the film - say, by causing something that brings about a conflict, or something else more creative than "he accidentally has the thing we're looking for" - and thus thrust into a story in which his actions actually meant something, and in which his redemption or personal welfare was at stake.

Instead, his chances of getting laid are at stake (a common theme in Bay's work . . . it always seems the fate of the world is secondary to whether or not boy and girl get to kiss at the end), while the Autubots - led by the heroic Optimus Prime, he who insists on repeatedly, unnecessarily foreshadowing the climax of the movie - fight the Decepticons in a series of increasingly messy action sequences. Like I said, Transformers is a showcase for some tremendous special effects. The robots themselves are a triumph of design and digital artistry, but Bay's direction hardly does them justice. Many scenes intended to be major setpieces of the movie end up petering out or losing interest, as Bay strips them of any sense of shot composition or coherence.

Mostly, it's just a lot of loud noise and unintelligible movement.

Stuck in the middle of all this is Shia LaBeouf, who injects some much-needed energy into the film, creating a formidable protagonist that the audience can actually connect with when it's not being bombarded with poorly choreographed action. It's a performance that deserves better than this movie.

Playing alongside him is the out-of-place hotness of his love interest, Mikaela (Megan Fox), who is more of a distraction than a character. I remember high school quite well, and I don't remember anyone who looked anything like that. She looks like she's made of plastic - real people don't look like that, and this "character" certainly doesn't look like a real person. She looks like something else.

That you pay for.

Sure, a movie like this is supposed to be cheap, sexy, adventurous fun, but at a certain point it just becomes on out-and-out attack on all five senses. Transformers may look the part of a slick action movie, but it's a slight piece of pop entertainment, even by action-movie standards - just more of the same shallow carelessness we've come to expect from Bay. I give up.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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