Monday, July 16, 2007


I don't go see movies much, as there is just not a lot out there that interests me at all, but of course I went to see Transformers when it came out last week. It's not often that something of this magnitude is made, and after having read other movie interviews, I think I can see what most adults are missing. The reviewer in the Rockdale Citizen made the statement that the TF toyline went out of "vogue" 20 years ago. It would be the same as saying that Star Wars went out of vogue as soon as ROTJ came out in 1983. He doesn't realize the magnitude of influence that TFs had on the children of the 80's. And of course the children of the 1980's are now 25-35 and have kids of their own. They are ready to spread the whole concept of TFs to another generation. The whole idea of imagining mechanical objects to become sentient beings capable of thought and feeling is amazing, and a clear step forward from the awe and wonder of seeing a train or a plane or the Space Shuttle as most kids did in the mid 80's. And now with computers interacting with us on a daily basis, it is not too far reached to imagine that robots could think and feel and interact with humans. Asimov came up with the same ideas back in the 1940's, and there were mentions of mechanical beings well before that.

It is almost second nature to imagine that you can fly, or that your car could simply do a Back to the Future move and fly into the sky like a plane. For children of the 1980's, it was impossible to look at a mechanical object and not think of it growing legs, arms, and a head and conversing with you, or taking you away from whatever it was that you were doing. A TF could take you to friends that had moved away, or to places warmer, or cooler, or just back home. It was the imagination that kept you safely away from whatever reality was throwing at you at the time. Tolkien would have talked about suspension of disbelief, but further than that, its the projection of the impossible that takes you away from the present. Staring out of the car window while going whatever and imagining yourself flying or whatever is a pleasant way to spend the time, or at least, that what we did before the days of Game Boys or PSPs.

The amazing part about TFs, and what makes them everything that would allow for escape, is what I am calling "mythos." In other words, the familiarity in which we process the TFs, the a priori knowledge that comes to us from the archetypes of good and evil so eloquently talked about by Jung, everything that results in Transformer-ness. Most successful entertaining ventures, if they are to be taken seriously, must have a "mythos" built in. Final Fantasy is one example. Each FF game has the same characterization, the same philosophies built into them. It matters little that most of the characters and plot lines change from game to game. As long as each Transformers show includes that "mythos," it is certain to be successful. (Of course, this is also why Beast Machines was so dreadful. The idea that Cybertron could become a biological planet. Silly producers. It is also the main reason that Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was so bad, and also why FF: Advent Children failed to live up to what it certainly could have been. They reduced the Final Fantasy "mythos" to bare mentioning, while making the plot no more than a series of battle scenes. There was no "glue" to bring it all together and make it as glorious as FFVII was.

So onto the movie review... Transformers takes everything that is the toy line and the mythology that has surrounded it and turns it into "reality" on the movie screen. The plot line is similar to most of the TF shows, usually with Bumblebee initiating human/Autobot contact, and follows with the battle between Optimus Prime and Megatron. Michael Bay did an excellent job of integrating the mythos of the original series and movie into this one so that the older audience members (me) recognized and emotionally registered them. One great move was the use of Cullen's voice as Optimus (Cullen has made a career of playing Optimus, and he does it well). Another was the amazing uses of key phrases by the human characters ("More than meets the eye"). It was an amazing movie, with special effects made only as Skywalker Light and Sound could do, as well as ILM. (It was ironic that Michael Bay's first job was a clerical position at Lucasfilm.)

However, the movie is not without its faults, and I would amiss not to mention them. Most Transformers fanatics will think this blasphemy, and the problems the movie had is not enough to take away from the brilliance of the directing, the special effects, the "mythos" of the Transformers which was so well embedded .

1) The comedic bits in the movie worked out for the most part, but, as the Rockdale Citizen reviewer put it, the comedy that goes on with the Sector Seven people needed to be cut. It just doesn't work. Also, it is interesting to note that all the African American actors (with the notable exception of the voice over of Jazz) are all comic relief, and very much stereotyped.

2) The Autobots are all very well characterized, but not all of the Decepticons are. They needed to be fleshed out just a little more. Sure, those who know who Devastator was (not the G1 gestalt team, but from Armada) will know his personality, but those who weren't familiar with this would need a little more from him, Blackout, and perhaps Starscream. It is worth noting that Alan Dean Foster does a wonderful job with this in the books he wrote for the movie.

3) The slo-mo scenes didn't do much for the movie. In particular, the scenes showing human soldiers getting into their F-22s. My suspicion is that these scenes were necessary to put in since most of the filming of the film took place on various US military bases. The pro-military scenes were put in to do a little product placement in the movie and recruit for the Air Force. It was probably in the permission forms someplace. And that's fine. I have no problem with that, except that Transformers needs to be about the robots as much as possible, and not the humans around them.

Overall, I give the movie an A-, and I can't wait for the DVD to come out, in what ever mega-super-collectors edition they deem fit, and I'm sure I'll get it at Borders. :)

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