The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

The Time Traveling Reviewer: Transformers

Written by: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer

Image We here at CC2K enjoy reviewing and discussing movies from our past and present, but like any great visionaries, we strive for more.  So we’ve gone the extra mile, defied all the critics who said, “It can’t be done!” and did it.  We built a time machine.  It sounds incredible, but it’s true.  And the reason for all the time, money, and lab rats sacrificed in the name of science?  So we can send writers into the future to review movies BEFORE they’re released!  In this way, you can get first-hand insight, on what the blockbusters are going to be like, even before anyone has seen them. Later on, when the future has become the present, we will review these movies again, to see how accurate our time traveler has been.

In this piece, our brave pioneer travels into the humid climes of July 2007, to attend a fanboy-packed opening weekend performance of Transformers.

Greetings from the future!  BigRoss here, and first off I have to say that Al Gore may be on to something with that whole "global warming" theory.  The future is hot; I'm talking like triple digit temperatures hot!  But I braved the warping of time and space to bring you the very first review of Transformers.  This is the big-budget, live-action adaptation of the cartoon series based on the line of Hasbro toys of the same name first released back in the 1980's.  The storyline behind those toys (and the cartoons they inspired) was fairly simple, if a bit fantastical.  A race of sentient robots existed somewhere else in the galaxy, split into two factions: the good-natured Autobots, and the sinister Decepticons.  The leaders of these factions, the benevolent Optimus Prime & the evil Megatron, led their followers in on-going, epic battles – some that would be fought on our very planet!  Now here's the really cool part.  After arriving on Earth, venturing here in their search for a rare energy source to sustain their existence, they take on disguises to blend in and remain undetected, specifically they are able to TRANSFORM into innocuous vehicles like cars, trucks, jets, and helicopters. 

The awesomeness of the Transformers hinged upon that very concept, robots able to transform into vehicles.  It was a completely new concept that Hasbro capitalized on for years.  While actually manipulating the toys was never as fast or as smooth as depicted in the cartoons, it was still immensely cool that you could do it.  And considering that most of the young boys that were clamoring for Transformers toys back then are now in that highly sought-after demographic of men ages 18-34 (present company included), it was only a matter of time before Transformers got the big-screen, Hollywood treatment.  The real question is, is the movie worth a damn?

Transformers certainly has some great things going for it.  The special effects were handled by the wizards at Industrial Light & Magic, Steven Spielberg signed on as executive producer, and there are several big names like Jon Voight and John Turturro as well as up-and-coming stars such as Josh Duhamel, Shia LeBeouf, and Megan Fox in the cast.  They even got Peter Cullen, the voice of Optimus Prime in the original cartoon, to reprise his role as the Autobot leader.  But there is one little detail that has had fans worried since it was announced (and will continue to worry them as they line up for the premiere, which you guys will do in droves): Transformers was directed by Michael Bay .

If that last statement didn't send chills up and down your spine, then I bet you'll really enjoy Transformers.  But even if it did, I don't believe you're going to hate the movie, and you might not like to admit it, but you're probably going to enjoy it too.  That doesn't mean Bay has changed his style or avoided screwing up entirely, but the good definitely outweighs the bad.  More on that later, but first?

The movie opens with CG-shots of interstellar space and a narrator introducing the transformer race and their war for control of something called the "Allspark"- the source of energy that gives them life.  The war was so devastating that their home-planet (Cybertron) was destroyed and the Allspark was lost – flung into the far reaches of space and eventually coming to rest on Earth. 


Giant Robots + Big Explosions + Great Cleavage = Box Office Hit!

After this bit of introduction we see an old sailing vessel trapped in a large expanse of ice and are informed that the setting is the Arctic Circle, circa the late 1800's.  The captain of this little expedition is exploring the harsh surroundings when a fissure opens in the ice and he falls in.  Instead of plunging to his death, he lands in a large, out-stretched, robotic hand.  The rest of the robot is encased in ice, so the captain begins chipping away to reveal the familiar (to us) Decepticon logo on the robot's chest.  While the captain's curiosity doesn't kill him, it does result in activating the robot somehow, whereupon it releases a flash of laser-light from its eyes.  We learn later on that this is Megatron, and he has imprinted a map leading to the Allspark in the lenses of the captain's eyeglasses.

All that exposition out of the way, the movie cuts to present day and an army base in Qatar.  We meet Josh Duhamel & Tyrese Gibson (likely cast more for their looks than their acting ability) as members of the Special Forces, shooting the breeze with some other soldiers.  An army transport helicopter approach's under radio silence, which makes the flight controllers a bit nervous.  When the base learns its call sign belongs to a chopper confirmed shot down months earlier, the base goes on high alert.  Not that it does any good, because after landing the helicopter transforms into a giant Decepticon that launches an all-out assault on the base.  An awesome action sequence follows in true Michael Bay fashion: loud explosions, tanks and jeeps flying through the air, and lots of yelling and gunfire.  Amidst all the destruction & mayhem the Decepticon pauses long enough to get hold of a computer server and begins hacking into classified government files.  We get a brief glimpse of a file called "Project Ice Man" (I wonder what that could be?) before an officer cuts the server's hard line connection.  This only serves to piss off the Decepticon, and more destruction ensues (fans will note a hallmark of the 80's cartoon, but I won't spoil it here).  This is our first complete look at a transformation sequence and a Transformer in action, and it's stunning.  Say what you will about Michael Bay fucking up movies, the man knows how to shoot an action scene, and seeing the Transformers in photo-realistic action is what most fans are paying to see.  That said, you guys are going to get your money's worth.

After all that action we get something of a break, as the film moves to a typical, American suburb.  We meet Sam, the main human character of the movie (played by Shia LeBeouf).  Sam is your typical dorky teenager.  After his dad learns of his good grades, he takes Sam to buy his first car: a Chevy Camaro, which turns out to be the Autobot BumbleBee.  BumbleBee immediately befriends Sam, though he doesn't reveal his true identity, at least not yet.  Sam drives his new car to a park where he spots his crush, Mikaela (played by the incredibly hot Megan Fox) and watches as she gets into an argument with her jock boyfriend.  Left to walk home, Sam decides to do the chivalrous thing and offer her a ride.  Somehow having figured out the complex courting behavior of the human adolescent, BumbleBee decides to "help things along" by playing songs through his stereo that send not-so subliminal messages to Mikaela regarding Sam.  This is a fairly inventive idea and genuinely funny, if a bit cheesy at times.  One rather humorous selection is Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing".

Sam's romantic exploits aside, BumbleBee has a valid reason for befriending him.  Remember the captain of that Arctic expedition who unwittingly got a map to the Allspark engraved on his glasses?  Turns out he was Sam's great-great-grandfather and his glasses have been handed down as a family heirloom.  Sam soon learns the truth about his Camaro, as well as meeting Optimus Prime and the rest of the Autobots.  They need Sam to get those glasses, so they can find the Allspark. 

Sam and Mikaela agree to help the Autobots, but have not only the Decepticons but also Sector 7 in their way.  Sector 7 is a secret branch of the Pentagon that knows of the Transformers and views them either as a threat to be destroyed, a technology to be exploited, or both.  They have Megatron, and the Decepticons launch a massive assault/rescue mission to free him.    

There's plenty more transformations rendered in exquisite detail, loud explosions, and giant robots slugging it out.  The film's climax features (what else?) a battle royal between Optimus Prime and Megatron.  I won't tell you how it ends, or who winds up with the Allspark, but let's just say things are left WIDE open for a sequel.  Considering Dreamworks wants Transformers to be their tent-pole franchise, this is hardly surprising.

Image As I said before, regardless of your opinion of Michael Bay as a filmmaker, you're probably going to enjoy this movie.  For the non-Transformers fan, this is a great summer action movie with some amazing special effects of vehicles changing into giant robots that blow shit up (and that's likely more than enough for you).  For the true fan, the guys (and gals?) that couldn't get enough of those cartoons in the 80's and collected every Transformers toy they could get their hands on (myself included) I think you'll come out of the theater much like I did.  Reeling from all the explosions and action, giddy from seeing a childhood favorite brought to life in amazing realism, overall enjoying Transformers, but still a little disappointed. 

Bay doesn't avoid screwing up entirely (as I've already said).  Whether the fault lies with him, the screenwriters, or producers missteps are taken.  One is the casting of Bernie Mac as a completely unnecessary bit of comic relief; this film would have been better without him.  Another is the handling of Megatron.  I'm not talking about changing his appearance or what he transforms into, which they did and I for one actually liked the change, but that he appears so little in the movie.  His screen time is fleeting, and I was left wishing we had seen more of him.  Some die-hard fans may be disappointed that Hugo Weaving, rather than the original voice actor of Megatron was brought in on this film, but Weaving does a great job and really helps to infuse the Decepticon leader with malice and a sinister edge.   Personally there were elements of the movie's plot I had problems with, moments that induced groans I was hard-pressed to control, but let's be honest here.  This movie isn't as concerned with story as it is with visual effects.  This movie is about eye-candy, filled with hot actors in the human roles and giant robots causing fiery explosions.  Given the record-breaking opening of Transformers, audiences seem to be ok with that, and truth be told I can (grudgingly) accept it too.  I'm sure this isn't the last we'll see of the robots in disguise, and for this Transformers fan, that's definitely a good thing.