Live Action Transformers
In anticipation of Transformers (2007) I expected something involving a lot of massive fighting robots in a basic story that let the effects be the star. I was surprised then to find that what I got was better than that. It had the fighting robots but it limited how much they dominated the movie and there was story and chracaterization. There was comedy and romance interspersed in with the action. Friends who were non-fans still enjoyed it.
Then along came Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen (2009) and it was a bloody travesty of monumental proportions. A total mess of effects and the most convoluted (rather than complex) story and the strangest of charaterizations. Nothing much made sense. There were too many massive fighting robots smashing into one another so much so that it became an abstract tornado of alien machinery in motion. Also the sexist bullshit and ethnic profiling that was present all along became prominent and taxing in this movie.
Finally we have recently had Transformers: Dark Of The Moon (2011) and I think it may well be the dumb but fun effects flick that I was expecting back in 2007. In other words with the final movie they sort of average the other two - gone are the best aspects and the worst aspects and what is left is like a set of computer game cut-scenes full of - yep - massive fighting robots.
Transformers (2007) Specifics
I find that if you are thinking of a handful of ways you wish a movie was different then that indicates it was a good movie. There are a few things I wanted to change with Transformers (2007) as follows...
(i) I would change which of the five Autobot gets killed from Jazz to Ironhide. Rather than the pathetic non-match between Jazz and Megatron, I would have an impressive stouch between Ironhide and Megatron in which the Decepticon leader must resort to his two-armed cannon trick to dispatch the warlike Ironhide.
(ii) I would remove the "greatest hacker in the world" character altogether and merge his role with that of his friend the government analyst. Let her have all the brilliance. Also in recognition of the Japanese origins of Transformers I would give her - say - an Astroboy t-shirt to wear and possibly even have made her Japanese-American.
(iii) I would remove that stupid cop shop scene entirely. The movie is altogether too long and things like that contribute nothing to the overall story.
Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen (2009) Specifics
The second movie is too scrambled to unscramble but I can lament a few lost opportunities. They introduce an Autobot plane in Jetfire so they could have had him dog-fighting with the Decepticon Starscream but never did. They also could have shown us some new characters - particularly new Autobots like Arcee - in a proper 'roll call' of them all transforming as they are named. Seeing that the Great Pyramid hides alien technology was kinda fun but also somehow cringe-worthy.
Transformers: Dark Of The Moon (2011) Specifics
The third movie has one impressive thing - the whole 1960s alternate history reconstruction of Moonshot. That impressed me. Then it sort of became the game of espionage and combat between the fighting robots of various sizes and shapes. The one big thing I missed was the lack of transformation sequences. Some characters with perfectly well-designed conversions from one mode to another barely if ever transform. We only see Sentinel Prime turn into a fire engine in passing as part of a messy action shot. For something better you have to go look at a fan-made animation of the toy!
Live-Action Movie Characters
Naturally characters from a toy-line will be comic-book simplistic in nature. However they are re-cast in a live-action world so you expect some expanding of complexity. We rarely get this and in some cases we loose it.
Autobot leader Optimus Prime in the first movie is compassionate and only fights if it is necessary. In the sequels however he seems to relish killing his opponents. Suddenly the only difference between good and evil is that good wins. This disturbed me. Only one thing was added towards the end that I enjoyed - it seems that if Prime sits silently in his truck form that it is because this massive ancient alien robot is "sulking" - a classic!
The relationship between Megatron and his undermining lieutenant Starscream is never explored - in the first movie they have barely any screen time together and in the sequels Megatron is never truly the Decepticon leader anyway. The introduction of Transformers comic book characters - first The Fallen and then Sentinel Prime - turns Megatron into a lackey himself.
One character that is expanded upon marvelously is Bumblebee and he never even talks! They managed to take a rather annoyingly 'cute' character from the cartoon and turn him into something engaging and empathic and heroic and far more well-adjusted than some of the humans in the movies. Which brings me to the strangest thing in live-action Transformers.
The humans! They are okay in the first movie but in the sequels they just get stranger and stranger. Who acts that way? Who talks that way? Even in American action movies who is like these humans? Possibly they do this to help make the Transformers seem more normal by comparison. Possibly they are supposed 'comic relief'. Possibly director Michael Bay just needs to meet a few more of his fellow human beings (also I want to ask him how exactly governments are suspicious yet the military are trustworthy). I must admit to having a fondness for one of those peculiar humans in Agent Simmons, but I think that is because the actor is having a fun time with his over-acting.
Design & Effects
Generally I was very impressed by the new anatomical look of the live-action Transformers which gave them a realistic science fiction look while preserving the overall Transformers vibe. However I think they became both too abstract and too organic-behaving in the sequels. Abstract in the sense that some characters started to look like "things that turn into things" rather than robots that turn into worldly vehicles and appliances. Too organic-behaving in that they started to spew forth coolants and lubricants in the same way we spill blood. It all became a bit gratuitous.
The computer graphic elements were amazing and inserted well into the live-action settings. Only once there were too many of them in a shot did it become problematic. However I do think that the first time we see a vehicle become a robot is a moment in cinema history.
Only with the handful of wholly animated scenes was I underwhelmed. Sure Cybertron is a mechanized world but it felt small and fake. Contrast this with the city-planet of Correscant in the Star Wars universe which looks truly immense in its respective depictions.
Transformers is an advertisement for the toys so I may as well refer to them here. Many more live-action characters were designed than are ever seen in the movies. This is a shame as many of those designs are excellent. And then there are some classic characters that never got into the live-action universe at all.
We did see the Constructicons who are kinda cool as separate robots but just stupid-looking as the gestalt Devastator. We sort of see Insecticons... well... Scorponox is an 'arachnicon' I suppose and The Doctor (aka Scalpel) is insect-like and plays a similar role as the original cartoon character Bombshell. And what of the Dinobots? Too silly to be put into a live-action setting? Come on! There is so much silliness in these movies to accommodate the Dinobots and fans have done the groundwork! See both here and here for more.
If you have never seen any of these movies then I suggest one of two things: Never see any of them. I do enjoy Transformers (2007) but it is hardly a must-see for non-fans. However it is good fun and has merit so you can also happily give it a go and it can stand alone. Alternately if you have seen both Transformers (2007) and Transformers: Roll On The Floor (2009) then you may as well see Transformers: Dork Of The Moon (2011) for the sake of completeness.
Now I am off to do that thing that the movies are supposed to make me want to do - play with Transformers!
Labels: Nostalgia And Reminiscences