Published on July 3rd, 2007 | by Erich Becker0
The most eagerly anticipated film of the summer is finally here, the long in gestation Transformers film came to the big screen never shying away from the controversy fans bestowed upon it. The choice of Autobots and Decepticons to be included was derided from day one by Generation 1 fans who wanted Soundwave included in the film, or Megatron to transform into his original pistol form, or Bumblebee to remain a VW Beetle. The list goes on of what people wanted to see in the film, but without actually seeing it, could they really be disappointed?
The question still remains open, but after seeing Transformers for the first of many times, and after reading the quotes, listening to the sound bites, analyzing the trailers one thing is entirely certain, Michael Bay knows how to do action movies, and Transformers is both his greatest film and a nostalgic fanboys dream come true.
The gigantic robots, who started life as a toyline and a comic book in the mid-1980’s, come to the big screen in a very big way. From the moment we see Bumblebee transform for the first time, to the triumphant battle between Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) and Megatron (Hugo Weaving) your eyes are left in wonder at the spectacle before you. Transformers may be one of the single greatest achievements in visual effects on par with WETA Digital’s work on the Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong (2005). The robots’ new look is sure to cause even more controversy, but by aiming for the “scientific aspect” of the transforming process ILM and the producers have captured each character’s distinct look while making the way they transform as practical as it can be for a 40-foot robot to transform into a mid-size sports car.
As a movie Transformers is a flawed film, there’s not much to the story that finds Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) buying Bumblebee at a car dealership and eventually unraveling into a plot to obtain the location of the All Spark Cube which crashed on Earth thousands of years ago. Its all really lip service to string together the thin storyline with epic battles pitting man against machine and, more impressively, machine against machine.
The most surprising aspect of the film is its focus on the humans more than the namesake robots, but in the end it doesn’t matter too much. Megatron has a criminally little amount of screen time, never appearing until the film’s climax, but his battle with Optimus Prime and his characteristic disregard for life (robot or human) make up for any shortcomings. Even Megatron’s single line of banter to Starscream about failing his mission makes any fan feel right at home.
The filmmakers certainly know where the series has been and what the fans expect. Throughout the two-and-a-half hour running time there’s in-jokes, self-referential quips, and classic lines reborn for a new generation. The biggest standout is the casting of Peter Cullen to reprise his iconic role as the voice of Optimus Prime. From the moment he declares, “My name is Optimus Prime…” you know the film has you, no matter how bad you think it might be, in the end, that bit of fan-service was a major turning point in your opinion of the film.
Not enough can be said about Industrial Light and Magic’s work, its Oscar worthy stuff bringing the boxy animated toys from the 1980’s and infusing new life, ideas, and artistic care into them in an effort to modernize them for generations who both grew up on the series, and are being introduced to it for the first time.
Transformers as an experience is unrivaled by anything at the box office this year, it’s the epitome of popcorn pleasure with large set pieces, even larger robots doing battle on those sets, and a fan base who will wait four hours in line the day before the official opening date to be one of the many to see a semi-truck transform into a hero. There’s going to be things written about how the story won’t stand up, or how it’s all just eye candy and lip service to fans with disposable income, but as one of those fans, Transformers was so much more than a nostalgic $9 trip down memory lane. It’s the movie going experience of a theater packed with fans, decked out in T-Shirts bearing the familiar Autobot logo, and cheering the very first time that red and blue Peterbilt appears on screen with the ever familiar and soothing voice.
Transformers is an experience like no other, and until the inevitable sequel, we may not see one like it again.