Readers of The Lost Art

Transformers the Movie: Review

July 31st, 2007

Review by Will Lloyd.

Transformers is here! It’s big, it’s loud, and it’s blowing up EVERYTHING.

The best time to review a movie is often when you first walk out the cinema door- before the infectious comments of other filmgoers invade your mind and mangle up the vision you had of the movie in question, and after walking away from Transformers…wow. Did I just walk into this theatre and sit down ten minutes ago? No, it’s 16 hours into the day- you have definitely just watched a 2 hours and 20 minutes long movie, and you were never bored. And this, this is odd for me. I wanted to bash my skull in during the struggle that was Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, but here, for some reason, a movie about giant, colourful alien robots bashing the heck out of each other…well let’s just say I was entertained.

The plotline isn’t genius. Actually, I’d say the plotline of the robots’ origin and all the nifty 1980s ideas therein certainly required a hefty dose of creativity, but that entire mythos was there already, cook chilled and ripe for playing with. No, the production team had a different task ahead of them- how to update this into a story for a new generation of 21st century kids who probably came as close to the mythos as watching CGI animated Beast Wars, whilst they were bluetoothing the latest happy slap. But of course, fans are fans, and there’s definitely going to be a lot of hardcore Transformites going to see this, who played with the original toys and watched the original cartoon. In attempting to appeal to both they’ve toned it down a bit, making this movie slightly less laughable than the charmingly retro original. But they are certainly not unfaithful to it- keeping in largely the same robot designs but just stylised a little, same themes and robot plot, and Optimus Prime’s original 1986, wonderfully pleasing to the ears voice remains. They changed Bumblebee into a Camaro, Frenzy is not a tape recorder but a CD player, and a few other things were adjusted. One can only hope not too many people in the fanbase are angry about this. I sure as hell wouldn’t be.

The “human interest” story is of a teenager, Sam Witwicky, (Shia LaBeouf) bad at sports, a little nerdy, and frequently running into embarrassment. He’s the underdog who tries to save the planet, accompanied by the astronomically attractive seemingly-shallow high school love-object Mikaela Banes, who turns out to be far, far “more than meets the eye”. Yes, it’s a little cliché. But thinking about it, I just can’t decide whether I would have preferred it otherwise or not. It was Steven Spielberg’s (executive producer) original idea to make the film about “a boy and his car” which is reportedly what got director Michael Bay hooked on the job, and is an idea typical of the director famed for creating stories about the “everyman”. The whole thing is pulled off with such humour I really don’t find myself minding that it‘s derivative and obvious. With cliché ideas come cliché scenes, and unfortunately there are a few that will have you cringing in your seat.

There are a few other, smaller characters in the movie that deserve mention- a shocked president, a pretty computer hacker, a pair of middle class suburbanite parents, with most of them providing for consistent hilarity. This isn’t a straight comedy film, but there are some brilliant jokes in there, better than I’ve seen in other action movies.

Acting wise, Shia and Megan do everything very well, exactly as they are asked and exactly what we expect, making the best out of an already well crafted script. Okay, it’s not Shakespeare- but how much are you asking from a movie where the first opening credit is “In Association with Hasbro?”  Actors in smaller roles do equally well, such as Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson as the two front of screen soldiers (the film‘s standard “army troops pointlessly firing endless machine gun bullets at an indestructible robotic alien foe). And a particularly brilliant performance by John Turturro, as he plays Reggie Simpsons, the nasty Area 51-type. And may I just say- Well done Julie White! She does a hilarious job as Sam’s mother in a number of memorable scenes, including one very funny clip during the end credits. And what am I doing here, forgetting all the non-human roles? Peter Cullen voices Optimus Prime, reprising his role from the 1986 movie and does a lovely job, keeping the film similar in tone to the original. Hugo Weaving, now very popular for strong voice work, helms Prime’s arch nemesis and leader of the Decepticons Megatron. And I have to say I was genuinely creeped out with Jess Harnell’s Barricade voice, and I suppose a bit of fear is good for the younglings. Of course, I’m not a 5 year old and there were some annoying voices in the film- Jazz for one- but I’m not going to blame the film for engaging in childlike fun, because that’s kind of the point. 

The special effects are wonderful, definitely the best in any movie going today, providing a wide selection beautiful visuals that will explode out of the screen and embed themselves in your eyes so you can’t shake them off. You see a vending machine, you’ll think it’s a transformer, you see a ghetto blaster, you think it’s a transformer. Although, if you’ve been visiting all the big movies recently, you’re probably feeling a bit blasé. The shots themselves are not always brilliant- they are definitely nothing new, and very often were far too shaky and do not let us actually SEE this brilliant action we know is going on right before our eyes. The reveals of each transformer are not spectacular enough either, and definitely not slow enough. They were slow- but they should have been slower. 

But the action is good. And I’m not an action film fan, particularly. The film has a total of 22 set pieces, something clearly appropriate and for me, never detracts from the experience. I’m not going to go into them all very much apart from saying they’re probably what you expect. I will however mention a definite highlight which sees Mikaela chaining the now legless Bumblebee to the back of a truck and proclaiming “You drive, I’ll shoot!” She really is a trooper, and the influence of Sigourney Weaver is felt in scenes such as this. 

It often is a neglected subject, but this film is brilliantly scored. A far cry from the blandness of  Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix or Spiderman 3, in my opinion here you’ve got a score equaled at the moment only by the Pirates of the Caribbean. But you can forget about that AWFUL song at the end. GAAARGGH!

To conclude I’ll say that you can either take this movie one way or the other, and I very much doubt there are many people occupying a middle ground when it comes to this film. If you haven’t gone yet, please just do a little research into the original Transformers before you go- maybe watch the old movie, or an episode of the old cartoon. You’ll enjoy the film far more after that. What else is there to say? I’ll definitely be buying this on DVD and possibly the score if that’s released, and you can bet your bottom dollar they’ll attempt a sequel or two, which I gratefully welcome. And now, I must end this overly long review- I’m just off to please my soul with the potato head variant “Optimash Prime.” Adios!