- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © DreamWorks Pictures
Reviewed by David Medsker
n the Michael Bay universe, we hold the following truths to be self-evident: you can never have too many crane shots, even the most lightweight subject matter deserves to be treated with utmost seriousness, and it ain’t a movie unless a whole bunch of shit gets blow’d up. No movie in Bay’s filmography reinforces these truths as much as “Transformers,” and while that would normally be cause for concern, the deft touch of executive producer Steven Spielberg saves Bay from himself, but just barely. The movie is still much too long, and overreaches for laughs by about a mile, but the eye-popping special effects, not to mention an insanely high shit blow’d up-per-minute ratio, keep “Transformers” from collapsing under the weight of its own self-importance.
The movie begins with a military base in remote Qatar getting sucker punched when a helicopter, believed to be shot down, lands at the base, only to turn into a giant robot killing machine that lays waste to everything in sight, save a sergeant, a tech sergeant (Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson) and some other people who ultimately don’t live to see the credits. Back in America, awkward teen Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf, a.k.a. The Biggest Movie Star on the Planet) is about to get his first car. His thrifty father takes him to a used car lot that contains an old Camaro that even the dealer (Bernie Mac) doesn’t recognize. Sam buys it, and almost instantly has some strange “Christine”-like moments with the way it starts, stops, and plays the soundtrack of his life on the car stereo whenever lifelong crush Mikaela (Megan Fox) is around. Sam ultimately discovers that his car is an Autobot, a benevolent metal-based life form from another world that needs Sam’s help to find the Allspark, a device that the Decepticons (evil Autobots) plan to use to turn Earth’s technology against the humans.
First, the good points. The action sequences in “Spider-Man 3” may be better choreographed, but there is nothing in that movie that will send your jaw hurtling through the floor like the money shots in “Transformers.” The Qatar sequence is sweet, but it has nothing on the sneak attack that follows (the less you know, the better), not to mention the beyond-crazy grand finale. LaBeouf is about as likable an actor as you’ll find in this era or any other, and he makes up for some of the more one-note performances from actors who, frankly, should know better (ahem, Jon Voight and John Turturro). Megan Fox doesn’t really have to do anything but be gorgeous, a skill that is well within her grasp.
What to do, then, with the blind eyes the movie turns whenever it’s convenient to do so. Sam’s house is surrounded by a bunch of very loud and obvious Autobots, and no one captures it on film or calls the police. The FBI analysts that uncovered the Decepticons’ intentions (Anthony Anderson, Joss Whedon alumnus Tom Lenk and the lovely Aussie Rachael Taylor) disappear at the two-hour mark, and are never heard from again. No 142-minute movie – that’s right, they made a nearly two and a half-hour movie about toys – should leave story threads dangling like that, especially when half the characters, like Duhamel’s sergeant and his family, were superfluous in the first place. Lastly, there is Bay’s tendency to reuse the same tricks. The circular, perimeter-cam shot from “Bad Boys II” is here, along with a gaggle of moments from “Armageddon” (they even shoe-horned a reference to the movie in the dialogue), in particular the bit where the plucky hero demands that certain permanent records be expunged.
The biggest problem with “Transformers,” though, is how seriously it takes its subject matter. We’re talking about a movie based on a line of toys from Hasbro (the audience, rightfully, howled laughing when Hasbro’s name appeared in the opening credits). It’s a fantasy movie, guys; embrace the inherent nature of your source material. This is not to say that they should have gone all Joel Schumacher-era “Batman” silly on us, but would a tone similar to “The Incredibles” have been too hard to muster? It is possible to treat the subject matter with respect while still having fun with it, but Bay’s lack of perspective, combined with Steve Jablonsky’s overblown score, do everything they can to convince you that this is A Very Important Movie. It isn’t.
People in Hollywood have joked for years that Michael Bay is the devil, and his MTV-influenced, hyper-stylized method of filmmaking would mark the death of the auteur. But here’s the thing about Bay: he’s not the devil, at least not as long as Brett Ratner walks the earth. In fact, Bay is getting better – his last effort, “The Island,” did not deserve the heaping piles of scorn thrown upon it, in this writer’s mind – and “Transformers,” warts and all, is arguably his best work yet. But let’s put ‘best work yet’ into realistic terms: think of it as a greatest-hits album from a band that’s known for making killer singles. You get the perimeter-cam shot from “Bad Boys II” without actually having to watch “Bad Boys II,” and you get the whole Earth-hangs-in-the-balance aspect of “Armageddon” without having to deal with Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler and a box of animal crackers. If Brett Ratner is the Creed of filmmakers, Bay is Smash Mouth. He has limitless potential, and has made a decent living out of whipping up something fun and frothy, but his movies are not something to be taken seriously. Not yet, anyway.
Two-Disc Special Edition Blu-Ray Review:
Michael Bay promised us it was coming, and it’s finally here. The Blu-ray release of “Transformers” isn’t very different from its DVD and HD-DVD counterparts, but it does feature a few new extras along with the previously existing ones. Highlighting the first disc is a lively audio commentary with Bay, as well as a new picture-in-picture video commentary that includes a pop-up trivia track. Think Universal’s U-Control feature, but better. Disc two is where things get really interesting, with eight production featurettes that add up to over two hours of behind-the-scenes material. It’s like one big documentary on all things “Transformers” – from original conception, casting and actor boot camp to character design, CGI and stunt work. It’s titillating stuff, and hands down some of the best special features ever produced. In addition, Blu-ray owners also get exclusive access to viewable 3D models of six of the robots (three from each faction), and though it’s not quite as mind-blowing as the behind-the-scenes stuff, it’s definitely something for the hardcore fans to drool over. Rounding out the set is a storyboard-to-screen featurette for the Scorponok attack (“From Script to Screen”), a montage of concept art and trailers, and if you’re persistent enough, Easter eggs including Bay’s deleted cameo as a Decepticon victim. In the words of the man himself: awesome.