The Canada National Post: “Transformers as the rock ‘n’ roll equivalent of heavy metal thunder.”
Only Michael Bay would have the creative nerve to re-boot the animated Transformers as a live-action motion picture. Sure, Batman and Spidey have fanatic followers, too, but Transformers trippers are multi-generational compulsives. Even in their quietest moments, they have been making lots of noise about how this latest cinema makeover will ruin this and/or mess up that.
All this for a movie about a cartoon originally created to sell toys. Uh-huh. Toys.
Giant robots in disguise all right. Way back in 1984, a toy line was promoted in what amounted to narrative advertising through a Marvel Comics series and a TV show. The commercial cloaking device continued with an animated feature in 1986 which contained more of the same product placement.
Since that time, Transformers has gone through many incarnations, re-configurations and re-designs, making it one of the most enduring and most multi-layered U.S. and Japanese franchises in the history of pop culture. Enough said on that, because trying to sort them all out would be mind-numbing.
Let’s cut to the chase, and the Friday night preview screening I attended for Bay’s mega-budgeted Transformers at the Mann Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. Bay even attended “to make sure the sound was loud enough.” It was. And with his cinema wisdom, previously showcased in Armageddon and The Rock and Bad Boys, the director conjures up a revival of the Transformers brand.
In the hyper-kinetic flick, Shia LaBeouf plays Sam Witwicky, a young man who befriends the space travelling Autobots, robots who are pitted against their evil counterparts, the Decepticons. Both are usually waging war on the planet Cybertron, but this time Earth gets to be the battleground. The car-like Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, find a friend in Sam based on some previous history with Sam’s granddad. This leaves the Decepticons, led by Megatron, really angry. A worldly face off is to be expected. Bay gets into it with the same kind of macho menace you might expect.
And there are, indeed, some powerful, head-spinning confrontations surpassing special effects scenes he’s done previously, including The Island. And that’s saying a lot. Think of Transformers as the rock ‘n’ roll equivalent of heavy metal thunder.
What non-robot highlights can you look for? Megan Fox plays Mikaela, Sam’s girlfriend. Josh Duhamel is a special ops team leader and survivor of an attack by the Decepticon Blackout. Tyrese Gibson is an Air Force combat-trained warrior who teams up with Duhamel. Then there is John Turturro doing his villainous best to get some solid laughs as the wacky leader of a secret government group. Jon Voight portrays the U.S. Secretary of State in his stately way. And, of course, comic relief comes briefly, but effectively from Bernie Mac’s car salesman.
On the controversy front, no controversy at all: Hugo Weaving is just fine as the voice of Megatron replacing TV series voice actor Frank Welker. Peter Cullen returns as the voice of Optimus Prime as he is in most of the Transformers shows on TV. And let us not be too concerned about this either: The Autobot Bumblebee, formerly a VW Bug, has been upgraded to a Camaro. And yes, Autobots Ironhide and Ratchet and Decepticons Blackout, Brawl and Bonecrusher are all included.
The climatic showdown is everything Bay and Transformers freaks would want it to be.
On Saturday, the Transformers brigade gathered at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons Hotel to put their thoughts on the film into perspective. It even included a confession by Bay.
“I was not a Transformers fan,” said the director who was brought in by executive producer Steven Spielberg to do the movie. Bay became a believer fast enough, especially after going to Transformers school.
Still, he knew that he was going to make “a more adult kind of live action movie.” Bay also said he understood he would have to trim back the number of robot characters in the picture, and highlight the human sub-plots. Spielberg helped him with that by describing the movie as the story of “a boy and his first car.”
“And the overall underlying theme is ‘no sacrifice, no victory,’ ” said Bay, who also pointed out that he received complete cooperation from the U.S. Armed Forces, which provided jet fighters, attack helicopters and some special forces units. All that hardware and manpower aided the director in his quest to make the film seem “more accessible and more acceptable.”
Generally, Bay was pleased with the result, which he believes re-fashions “a kids’ story” into an adult action-adventure picture children can enjoy.
“I liked the challenge of doing something that hadn’t been done and creating characters out of thin air,” he said.
Later on, Bay refused to confirm that he might be doing the same thing with his next project: a movie version of the popular video game, Prince Of Persia. Meanwhile, LaBeouf, who begins filming the fourth installment of Indiana Jones on Monday, said he applauds Bay for making Transformers more than just a special effects action flick.
“There’s a lot of heart in the movie,” said LaBeouf, who admitted he was a Transformers comic book and cartoon series fanatic growing up.
So is the actor ready for the attention coming his way when the film opens July 3? “I live a regular life,” he said. “I intend to keep it that way.” The joker in LaBeouf couldn’t resist a bit of fun when he was asked what he might have kept from the Transformers movie as a memory? “It was a lock of Michael Bay’s hair,” he said smiling.
Like LaBeouf, Tyrese Gibson’s a big Transformers follower. “Optimus Prime is my guy,” he said. And sure he agreed, “Michael Bay is intense at times” but he thinks it was worth the hard work.
So does Bay, who said some fans were worried about the makeovers and alterations. But Bay said it all came together. So will he do a Transformers sequel? “There is no script right now,” he said. “But I will leave that negotiation open.”