Monday, 1 August 2011

Transformers - More just beats the eye

I'm back! I've noticed many people have found this site during the summer while googling Michael Bay. And seeing as my Director Michael Bay post was a lame April Fools' Day joke, they no doubt became disappointed. Well, I happened to see the auteur's latest film this summer (I guess I'm a masochist), so I thought this would be a proper time to take a look at the whole Transformers franchise.

What I knew about Transformers in my childhood

I spent the crucial years of my childhood at a time when He-Man and Ghostbusters were just going out of style and the Great Global Turtlemania started. Transformers were a bit older stuff. I saw some toys in Kindergarten but was really not that into them. I never saw a single episode of the cartoon, but seeing as many geeks even today perach by the mythology created by it – and judge Bay's films according to it – I owed myself the chance to get a passing knowledge of what Transformers should be.

Transformers – The Movie (1986)
Director: Nelson Shin

Sadly, the film version of the popular animated series doesn't go into depths in explaining what's it all about and who's who in Transformers. But it really isn't rocket science – after all, these are toys fighting each other. The actual Transformer mythology migh have as well been written by a five-year-old. There are these two races of robots, Autobots and Decepticons, and they've been fighting for generations in the planet Cybertron. Both can turn into various items, such as cars, trucks, jets, or, um, guns or boom boxes. You know the Autobots are good because they hang out with humans, go fishing, admire views and pull pranks on each other. The Decepticons spend their time either planning on an attack on Autobots or squabbling over who gets to be their leader. 

One devastating attack leaves both races' leaders – Optimus Prime and Megatron – fatally wounded. Prime passes on his magical Matrix of Leadership to his friend Ultra Magnus (voiced by Robert Stack). The young hotshot Hot Rod (voiced by Judd Apatow) would seem interested in the item as well, as it increases one's powers. Meanwhile, the Decepticons abandon the Not-Yet-Dead Megatron into space, where he stumbles upon a planet named Unicron (voiced by Orson Welles in one of his final roles with amazing gravity for such a thin role). Unicron needs the Matrix of Leadership to destroy Cybertron. I guess, he's a sort of Galactus-like devourer of worlds or something. But anyway, he rebuilds Megatron as Galvatron (voiced by Leonard Nimoy) and sends him off to kill the Autobots. So, the robots do more fighting over that MacGuffin.

"Hey, you! Let's fight!" "Them's fighting words!"

I'm probably almost 20 years too old to fully appreciate this sort of film. But I just got bored when the film is nothing but fighting and teaming up to do more fighting. There are so many characters, that it's impossible to keep track on whether they have any development at all. The exception being Hot Rod, as he learns responsibilty during the course of the film and by the end becomes the Leader of the Autobots. The arc is pure 80's popcorn movie, and so is the incredible heavy metal/new wave soundtrack. The best scene is the incredibly stupid out-of-nowhere robot hoedown, where they all dance to Weird Al Yankovich's "Dare to Be Stupid". They dare.

The film is nicely animated, and doesn't feel like a quick cash-grab like the He-Man movie. There is some funny enough humour, mostly provided by the retarded T-Rex robot Grimlock (voiced by Gregg Berger). "Me, Grimlock, no bozo. Me king!"

★★ 1/2

Transformers (2007)
Director: Michael Bay

After Bad Boys II – the most fun, biggest, craziest and explodion-filledest of Michael Bay's films, it seemd like a good idea for Michael Bay to leave the limiting clutches of Jerry Bruckheimer and do a string of films produced by the golden touch of Steven Spieberg himself. Maybe the subsequent films would have a heart as well as big bangs. But the horrendous The Island proved these hopes wrong. The film tried to be a ponderous sci-fi adventure but was really an exercise in how many car chases can Bay pull out from his ass. The outlook for a live-action version of Transformers was not good, and Bay did deliver a pretty shitty film. Unlike the later ones, the first one has some smart people as fans, and even I must admit it has a few decent action scenes. The problem is, that the viewer doesn't care one bit of anything that goes on with a story. And as 70's George Lucas knows, special effects without a story are boring.

The first offence is that it's always clear that Michael Bay would like to make a film that's only about huge explosions and dick jokes. And military types looking at a radar and getting ready for battle, of course (such scenes are featured dozens of times during the trilogy). But probably because the executive producer Steven Spieberg has insisted, the film has to have a human lead for viewers to identify. Enter Shia LeBouf's Sam Witwicky, a whiny, annoying, insecure little snotnosed punk, who's probably the last person in the world anyone would ever want to identify with. His major problem in life is how to get some tail from the various supermodels he runs into on a weekly basis. His parents are the same sorts of jerks grown up. They are colorfully disappointed with their offspring if he doesn't score with floozies often enough. Sam's favorite floozy is Megan Fox's best Olive Oyl impression as Mikaela. She only initially likes even bigger douchebags than Sam, but changes her mind when she is rescued enough from the clutches of death.

Bay isn't that interested in the films robot characters, either. They get very few establishing scenes and people unfamiliar with the toy franchise will probably only learn to know three robots: Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen), the heroic wise leader of the good Autobots, Bumblebee, the mute but friendly retard (voiced by various sound bytes), and Megatron, leader of the evil Decepticons (voiced in this first one by Hugo Weaving). These are as deep as the characterizations go in these films, the rest are established by clichés, or racial stereotypes, usually both.

The trouble with the robots here is that it's literally nauseating to just watch them. The iconic blocky but symphatic forms have been switched to CGI monstrosities in which even the tiniest parts move in opposite directions all the time. It's really hard to tell which part represents which piece of anatomy. Bay himself doesn't know, as in his film robots are capable for such feats as peeing on a US agent, played by John Turturro. Bay clerly has some sort of beef with the Coen brothers as he keeps humiliating their most trusted actors in his films.

I miss the blocky toys that looked like toys. These look like a choking hazard.

So, the story is that Sam Witwicky buys a car to score with ladies. He's disappointed to only get a shiny Chevrolet Camaro instead of I guess a Ferrari. But then it's revealed that the car is actually the Autobot Bumblebee in disguise. It turns out Witwicky's grandfather had hid the powerful magical item Allspark somewhere on earth and, um, left some glasses that allow one to interpret robot signs and stuff. The Decepticons arrive to Earth and attemot to kill Sam, but unfortunatelly Bumblebee protects them. When the other Autobots arrive, the story keeps on being as uninteresting, and retarded, but THE EXPLOSIONS GET BIGGER AND LOUDER, SO YOU WON'T KNOW THE DIFFERENCE.

I've tended to give this only one star, but seeing as how much worse things went from here, I suppose it earns one extra star for the cool highway chase at least.

Transformers: The Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
Director: Michael Bay

The first sequel to Transformers is the worst major big-budget blockbuster ever made. It's loads worse than Batman & Robin, for instance. It's actually so bad, it's on par with Uwe Böll's films in wretchedness. In both, the action scenes are so badly edited and poorly shot, that it's impossible to tell what's happening. And in both, the scenes in between the action are excruciatingly horrible to sit through. The difference is that Bay, in addition to the biggest budget in history, also has plenty of dick jokes in the mix, and a running time of 2,5 fucking hours.

Bay attempts to build the mythology around toy robots with mighty enthusiasm, but is left only confusing the audience and getting himself caught in a corner every five minutes. The bad solutions provided by the script reek of contempt towards the audience, as facts presented only five minutes ago are are constantly forgotten and characters flow in and out of scenes with little to no explanation. Add this to the fact that most robots look exactly alike, and all action scenes are shot VERY CLOSE and one can't even beging to get a clue of what this clusterfuck is about. I try to summarize the films so-called plot with the help of IMDb and Wikipedia.

Sam Witwicky is going to college while the Autobots are in hiding waiting to see if the Decepticons will try to make another attack on human race. They are also assisting the military (in various search and destroy missions). For some reason the Cube that killed the evil Megatron in the previous film is now used to bring him back to life and so the Decepticon team is as dangerous as ever. The new demmycrat president Obama initially looks for a peaceful solution in the conflict, but when the Decepticons do their initial attack, he is said to have ran away like a coward. The Decepticons also awaken and ancient murder-robot named The Fallen and seek to destroy the Earth's sun with his help. But they need an ancient item to start the machine that does so. And conviniently Sam has just found the item everyone wants by dumb luck, which makes him once again hunted by the baddies. But what he really wants is to get some more of that sweet, sweet pussy, first from a new girl he meets at college, and then when she is revealed to be a robot, from Megan Fox again. There is an outrageous time spent on various college hijinks, including Witwicky's asshole mother accidentally eating a hash brownie and becoming an even bigger asshole.

What is usually remembered of the film is it's blatant sexism and racism. Bay actually began his career as a director for various Playboy's Playmate interviews, and he utilizes the same technique in shooting Megan Fox (and Rosie Huntington-Whitley in the next one). Every shot is of ther composed so that either her ass or boobs are the centre of attention. Also the character in film react to her by ogling at her curves at all times. One robot even humps Fox's leg in a rush of passion. Fox may act terribly, but I suppose the only direction she must have gotten from bay must've been along the lines "run the way your boobs jiggle a little more". It's no wonder she called her director Hitler in the film's promotion tour.

If Megan Fox would've bent over just a bit more, she would've snapped like a twig.
The sexism extends to the humour, which is blatantly cruel for a film directed at children to buy toys. Thus, along the way we get to see a robot's balls, a robot ejaculating on a beautiful woman, and of course, the most traumatizing of all, John Turturro's hairy butt. FOR NO REASON AT ALL.

Even worse is the film's racism. Bay's characterization of some of the robots makes George Lucas look subtle. Some of the comic sidekicks include two jive-talking robot twins that are pimp-green and orange in car form. In robot form they look like monkeys with huge ears and big arms. They are depicted as stupid, lazy and all-around unpleasant. They can't stop talking and the other has a gold tooth in his mouth. Oh, and they tell Sam that "reading is for suckers". All that's missing is them craving for watermelon or fried chicken. With all the violence, sex, fascism, xenophobia, and messages such as these, one must wonder if Bay is consciously attempting to corrupt today's children. If I were a father I would forbid these sorts of films from my children in an instant. But a lot of people didn't really care, and thus the abomination became the highest crossing film of the year.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)
Director: Michael Bay

Michael Bay listened to some criticism from his previous film in creating his trilogy closer. The film was mostly shot in 3D and thus the length of the shots depicting actions had to be longer and the action shot from further away to have any sort of effect. Ye gods – now you can actually make what is going on on the screen! Also, the crude humour of the series is a lot less toned down in the film, the character of Deep Wang notwithstanding.

The film starts off with reminiscing that the Transformer war has actually raged around Earth for decades. An Autobot spaceship crashed the Earth's Moon years ago – and someone then hid some extra Decepticons on the Dark Side of the Moon, I guess. During the first moon landing Neil Armstrong took a look at the spaceship-thing. After that, the whole affair was forgotten by everyone for years, probably because of all the ungrounded goverment conspiracist covering of the subject. No matter that it might have been useful two movies ago, they hide the facts in here too even though it might save some time and save lives. So, when the truth is finally revealed, it sparks the Autobot-Decepticon war to rage with all its might. But we won't actually get into that for 1,5 hours, as we have to endure scenes where Sam Witwicky is looking for a job. He needs work to support his new girlfriend, who's such a useless character I won't even bother looking her name up (Rosie Huntington-Whitley). At least this time our hero's cut of booty is secured, but he still remains as whiny, insecure and easy to hate as ever.

"I'll switch to this sex doll head. I won't have to rescue her ass as often."
While it is an actual film, as opposed to Revenge of the Fallen, one really can't say Dark of the Moon is good in any way. It's purgatory-long, badly paced, has a lot of scenes that don't go nowhere, and it is as moronically badly written as ever. Alongside the action sequences (the longest of which lasts a full hour), what is spiced up is the unbelievably right-wing message. We meet our heroic Autobots somewhere in the Middle East, posing as cars. When they are stopped by a toll booth, they take it upon themselves that the Arab customs officials are terrorists and shoot the hell out of them. During the course of the film, wise old Optimus Prime spurs such heartwarming wisdom as: "Now, we take the battle to them!", "I'm coming to get you!", and "We'll kill them all!". The next paragraph contains a SPOILER concerning the end scenes.

Near the end, the Decepticons are executing the Autobots they have captured by throwing them to the ground and shooting them in the back of their heads. What sinister villains! But in the end, Megatron himself would offer peace to Optimus Prime after their common enemy is defeated. Optimus then rips his head off, with a piece of his spine. Megetron's already defeated boss then gets a shot to the neck just like the POWs before. Um... USA!? USA!?

So the lines of good and bad in this film are pretty much a grey area, then. How are we to know, who to root for and who to hiss for, then? We are being overly emphasized that the Autobots have adapted to the American culture, whereas the Decepticons hang in Africa, speak in robo-speak or in dialect, and most heinously, don't look like people as much as Autobots. But don't fear, the Autobots have promised to protect humans and Earth from all threats. Except that in one point in the film they allow the Decepticons to completely destroy Chicago and kill all its inhabitants to tach humans a lesson that the Decepticons are not to be trusted. Oops.

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