Sunday, July 01, 2007

Transformers (2007)

Transformers (Michael Bay, 2007)

I remember when I myself was transfixed on the animated series Transformers. I longed to buy each and every transforming toy and show them off to all my friends and be the envy of the entire neighborhood. I memorized each of their names, and their qualities, and sometimes pitted them against each other utilizing my imagination. I grew up of course but there still remains that little part in my heart that longs for a come-back of those heroic (and villainous) alien robots.

I wasn't alone. The theater wherein Michael Bay's update of the popular series was playing was jampacked with eager viewers and most of them are of my age (or of my generation). Some of them would bring their parents (who probably slaved away to buy their kids those expensive toys), or to the lucky few, their kids (who would probably plead their parents to slave away to buy them the neat-looking new line of toys). Bay, the film's producers, and the numerous companies who tied-in with the movie have hit the jackpot. The film caused the audience to cheer, clap, and march away from the cinema with eager points for conversation and a renewed feeling of "it's fun to be a geek."

Now, I was alone. Amidst the sea of satisfied and salivating enthusiasts, I was the lone Grinch. I was thinking why I didn't like the film as much as the rest and I was ready to pinpoint Bay as the prime culprit yet I didn't. The film was tailor fit to Bay's sensibilities. It was loud, consistently moving, and slick (in your typical summer blockbuster way). It was the film Bay was destined to make; the film that would cement his status of prime director of cinematic junk food.

Sure, I was annoyed by Bay's methods. He can't ever have his camera still, it always had to move (through a dolly, a crane, handheld, or whatever) and the constant motion would either cause your adrenaline to pump or give you a severe brain seizure. He also relishes in over-the-top and suspect cheesiness as let's say: a little girl asking a gigantic robot whether it's the tooth fairy; or a shot of the two protagonists suddenly holding hands amidst the mayhem; or that entire ending sequence which stank of pure childish and illogical kitsch. Despite Bay's distasteful tendencies, I was very ready to let everything sink as it is: a pure popcorn flick that would carry me back to those good old days wherein my only worry was that I didn't have enough money to purchase that Bumblebee toy.

The culprit can't be the technical aspect of the film. The CGI was breathtaking; and the reincarnations of the alien robots were in my opinion very apt. I thought the film didn't really need Steve Jablonsky's epic-sized musical score (complete with Carmina Burana-esque chorale singing), but I guess he was trying to top the juicy visuals that was consistently on display. Bay's camera tricks didn't really help showcase the technical pizzazz of the film; but sure, it wasn't totally atrocious. The point is, I knew what was happening onscreen.

Then there's the ridiculous plot. Much of it is grabbed from the Transformers canon (whose illogicality is necessary), but the stuff that was added, I couldn't really buy. The first half of the film involved a chase to get Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf) who is in possession of a pair of eyeglasses that would reveal the location of the powerful Allspark. The second half (or what I'll refer to as the shut-your-brains-and-just-watch part) has the robots and humans battling the evil Decepticons to protect the Allspark. Annoyingly, the two halves don't jive; the first half isn't really necessary to arrive at the much-awaited mayhem of the climax and thus, the more-than-two-hour running time could have been trimmed to serve it better; and give it the appropriate label as a popcorn flick without all the inept narrative it tries so hard to sell.

I thought the update to Transformers is good. The animated series enters the present world of the world wide web, cellphones, Ebay, and Youtube. Meteorites land in the backyard and kids won't scurry away but will get their cameras to film the event and then upload to their respective websites. Everything is sold including family heirlooms using the ease of the internet. Information has become so readily available that the robots themselves form a complete vocabulary, attitude, and racial stereotypes utilizing the information gathered freely from the web. In a way, I can't really complain of the modifications the filmmakers have done to the beloved cartoon series.

I can understand the resounding praise that film has garnered from old and new fans alike. It's so easy to get lost in the fantasy of the boy and the car (who can transform into a heroic robot), especially if it's told with all the million-dollar special effects and goodies. It comes with this generation that is so engrossed with pumping up the ordinary: just observe the hundreds of nobodies in Youtube turning into internet superstars with their Jackass-videos or imaginative creations. Michael Bay's Transformers fits right in. It tickles that fancy of every Gen-X or Y employee that his used Corolla would play the right tunes for that hot chick he's never had the courage to ask for a date. In a way, it is that perfect escapist material for the frenzied masses who see technology as both foe and friend. So what's there to dislike in the film? Honestly, aside from Bay's inept direction and the inutile plot, I don't know.


Anonymous said...

yeah you're right, what are those pair of glasses for anyway! although i forgot about it while watching the second half-I was busy trying to figure out who's-fighting-who on that massive fight scenes. the camera works are a pain in the neck (literally coz i never got a good seat this afternoon) anyway,the huge fan in me can forgive this illogical plot and Bay's camera tricks. I'll have to watch it again and I think this is still better than the last films from Hollywood (Pirates, Shrek3, Fantastic4..)

By the way, I was able to watch "Christine" just recently and it got me thinking what if Transformers was made with John Carpenter's way of filmmaking...


Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks Ken,

Now that you mentioned it, Carpenter would've made a better director than Bay. But I guess Bay was the perfect candidate for this one. I was reading the trivia for this one: Bay was supposed to turn the project down because it's a kiddie toy movie. What was he thinking, that's precisely why he was chosen to helm it; because it's a kiddie toy movie.

avid said...

hullo... in defense of Micheal Bay's camera movements... the reason the CG is spectacular & feels so real is because of it... many people keep saying that they wished the camera just stayed still for a while so they can appreciate the robots, but thats just it ... if the camera did stay put, then you had time to admire the CG but then the feeling of live robots is gone... its a technical thing... the more flawed the shot... the more realistic the CG... thats the mistake of many CG users when the goal is realism, they feel like they have to show it off and do these wide steady shots... so no matter how great it is, you still know it's not real. As a person who lives & breathes post production, Transformers was the only film that ever shut my brain & made me stop dissecting shots on how they were done. That is all.

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks avid for putting a professional director's perspective on Bay's camera frenzy,

The problem is that it's not only when the CGI is present that Bay's camera is in a constant state of motion. Just observe everything he's done --- the camera is always sweeping, swooshing, swaying, through dollies, cranes, or shoulders. Even if he's just framing faces, the camera has to sway from left to right (or vice versa). Cameras are supposed to capture movement; it shouldn't be the other way around.

Anonymous said...

yeah, Bay's work on that car chase in Bad Boys II has its camera in constant motion too. maybe it's true that camera movements are needed to make CGI look real (and maybe a car chase scene more real and exciting in other cases), but i think Bay's style is just excessive. Btw, Spielberg's CGI on War of the Worlds looks so real too...he should have directed Transformers instead of Bay.

- ken

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks Ken,

...and thumbs up on the Bay-bashing (hehe).

I'm still thinking of other directors who could have made a better Transformers movie and it struck me... Joe Dante! I'm salivating just thinking about how Dante would interpret the film.

dodo dayao said...

Bay's moving camera is really more annoying in the other, quieter scenes where there isn't much CG or no CG at all - - - like in that fighter plane montage. If he were in his 20s, I'd sort of get it, most MTV-bred young 'uns get all twitchy and restless with a locked camera. But he's in his 40s. He should watch more Johnnie To or Speilberg on how to move that camera with grace.

I liked this a bit more than you did
, oggs ,but I agree it's a stupid movie. Fun, though, for the most part.

Mamuro Oshii would've been a joy to direct this but then he already has, with his Patlabor movies . . .so maybe James Cameron?

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks Dodo,

I agree, Japan understands robots. I'm not too sure about James Cameron; I've got a feeling he's lost it when he won that Oscar for the boat movie.

Anonymous said...

Whats up with the sexual inuendos?
Was the subject matter so bad you had to spruce it up with 13 year old humor? I think it would have been much better if they would have omitted the lame dialogue.

Oggs Cruz said...

Well, the film was made for 13 year olds, and older people who want to feel like a 13 year old. It's also made by a director with the sensibilities of a 13 year old.

Anonymous said...

Well I do agree with you with the whole I didn't like it but can't put my finger exactly on what thought on Transformers.

Well aside from the headache I got from the jerky camera, yeah sure it works on some CG but it just went crazy even on scenes that weren't action packed, though for me I'm not exactly sure but I would label the whole over-the-top cheesiness. Yes, the actually material, the cartoon, was pretty cheesy when you think about it now. But I don't know I guess it just didn't translate all that well on the a live action big screen. Somehow it seems harder to stomach real people acting out cheesy scenes than animated cartoons. It just seems so wrong...

Oggs Cruz said...

Actually, now that I think about it (and have seen it twice, to my torture), I can honestly state that Transformers is barely worth a critical afterthought. It staggers; trying to maintain the interest with action setpieces conceived from a hyperactive yet ungrounded inamgination. The experience is comparable to a theme park attraction --- there's an attempt to transport you to another world but once the show is over, you get out of the show with either a migraine or a silly smile on the face. Completely disposable.

Anonymous said...

Interesting review, however I don't realy see how a different director would improve it overall. The source content from the past 20+ years is really kiddie stuff. The minute you commit to a live action version, you are already at a deficit of audience suspension of disbelief. Along with the FX that can visually place the robots in the scene, the director must bring the emotional element of believability. That means adding a depth that the original content was never designed to withstand (from things like the physics of mass relating to the robot size vs the car, all the way to why are they on earth).

michael Bay has a way of abbreviating the visuals, at the expense clarity and storytelling, that is flattered by his sheer talent in photography. He can make a cutaway to a matchbook look so good you'd want to frame it on your wall. However you end up caring more about the matchbook than the protagonist. but damn are those images sexy.

he also adds a visual kinetic quality to even mundane dialog. Its kinetic, but not sophisticated. he just does fun stuff that is near irrelevant to storytelling.. its just a good idea at the time.. he owes his editor his career. meanwhile, the old masters (like scorsese, stone, speilburg, and moreso in comparision to bay: tony/ridley scott, Donner and Mctiernan) treat their cameras as one of the characters!! They immerse the audience in storytelling, while bay just bombards you with slick lookig images.

Perhaps bay's biggest sin, is that he doesn't grow as a director. he's a one trick Pony. He's got some absolutely wonderful and exciting ideas as a visual artist, but not the dicipline to tie it all together. So its often a scattered wreck. However his use of humor in his films offer a nice cushion for the harsh criticism, as it reminds you that you are supposed to have fun, and not take too seriously what is going on on screen.