That term first came to my mind when, as a child, I’d try to say “stream of consciousness” and end up with “brainflow.” It seems to fit here.

Welcome to the ramblings of my mind. (For now, these ones revolve mostly around films.)


Saturday, July 7th, 2007 9:17 pm—Film

Transformers (USA 2007, Action/Adventure), Writers: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman; Director: Michael Bay

I’m surprised that I’m posting something about Transformers. I didn’t think I’d have much to say about it other than it has good special effects.

I grew up watching the show during stolen moments on the concrete floor of my elementary school cafeteria. My parents didn’t want us watching television, so that was pretty much the only time I got to see it. I spent the first half of my lunch break getting lost in Astro Boy, ThunderCats or Transformers, and the second half wandering around the playground imagining that I was part of their worlds. And probably being branded as a freak by the other kids playing in the yard, but that’s a post for another blog.

The thing about the cartoon that stayed with me most was the cool mechanical sound the robots made when they transformed. I think that would make an awesome cell phone ring tone. Not surprisingly, the sound effect was carried over to the live-action version of Transformers.

So I went into this movie under completely different circumstances than those under which I went into Away From Her. I saw a 10:30pm showing on a weeknight (and I’d been up since 5:00am that morning). I knew that Transformers was nearly two-and-a-half hours long, and had heard only bad things about it—such as that it was best described as a “geekgasm.” I was worried because what I dislike most in a film is being bored by it. I’ll choose a typical popcorn movie over a thoughtful, artistic film if I know that the popcorn flick will be more entertaining or engaging. I just don’t want to sit there feeling like I’m wasting my time and money. So I had visions of sitting there, struggling to keep my eyes open, willing the damn thing to end so I can go home and get some sleep before my meeting the next morning.

That didn’t happen. I’m not going to pretend that Transformers is a ground-breaking movie, but the filmmakers got a lot right. From the opening scene, they set an appropriately hokey tone for an adaptation of a cartoon that was an adaptation of a toy commercial. The film starts out with a narration by Optimus Prime, the leader of the Autobots—the “good” Transformers who are sworn to protect humans: “Before time began, there was the cube. We know not where it comes from, only that it holds the power to create worlds and fill them with life.”

“We know not…”? Yikes. But that kind of cheese is completely at home in a movie like Transformers. If the writers had tried to make the film subtle and profound, it would have failed.

From there, we’re introduced to a group of US soldiers doing battle with an unidentified aircraft—a helicopter that turns out to be one of the Decepticons, the “bad” Transformers who are determined to destroy human life. Transformers features some of the most blatant product placement I’ve seen, and the US military is its biggest sell. I think it’s also one of the movie’s weakest points. There are too many characters in Transformers, and the film would be better off without subplots like the one about the soldier whose wife has given birth to a daughter he’s never met. It’s an unnecessary distraction and you couldn’t care less when he finally reunites with them.

It’s in these moments that Transformers veers into director Michael Bay’s traditional territory, like the corny animal cracker scene in Armageddon or the blowing sheets in Pearl Harbour’s love scene. These moments feel out of place in Transformers, a film that is otherwise quite light-hearted and often comically self-reflexive. One of the best lines comes from protagonist Sam (Shia LaBeouf) when he tells his true lust Mikaela (Megan Fox) that there’s more to her than meets the eye.

The movie would be better served if it cut the military scenes down to only the parts that are necessary to further the plot. (But then I guess Transformers wouldn’t be nearly as effective an army recruitment vehicle.) And it could stand to lose the insincere subplot about Mikaela’s convict father.

In addition to tighter story editing, the film would do well with fewer characters. The blond computer scientist, for example, could have been merged with one of the government officials or military experts. But then there would only have been one hot chick in the film. Sigh.

I have one other overarching compliant about Transformers. The movie ramps up pretty slowly—largely because it bounces between too many storylines—and takes so long to reach a climax that it winds up being a little disappointing. It’s sort of like making out all night instead of going all the way. It’s nice, but it doesn’t quite get you off.

The Transformers trickle into the film gradually. I think it’s Mikaela who notes that the mysterious government agents from Sector Seven don’t seem surprised to see the Transformers. That’s because they’ve seen them before, and maybe that’s part of the problem for the viewer. Most people in the audience have already seen the cartoon, so we can’t expect the same kind of hit we get from, say, seeing the creature in Alien for the first time. But this is the first time we’ve seen the Transformers in live action, and Bay could have built it up a bit more. The closest the movie comes to a big unveiling of the Transformers is when Sam follows Bumblebee to a tire yard and sees him in robot form for the first time. But it carries less impact than it could. Even when we first see Megatron, frozen and held captive in an underground military base, it’s anticlimactic.

Probably my favourite aspect of Transformers is the relationship between Bumblebee and Sam, which the writers clearly had a lot of fun developing. Bumblebee, the Autobot who doubles as a beat-up Camaro, communicates using songs on the radio. (It’s a cute idea. I tried writing something once using only song lyrics and it comes out sounding like really cool free verse.) Early on in the film, Bumblebee tries to help Sam hook up with Mikaela by playing The Cars’ Drive and Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing as he attempts to drive her home. There are plenty of other comic moments between Sam and Bumbleblee as they try to work through their communication problems. It turns out that Autobots can actually be very sensitive.

I don’t think you have to be a hard-core fan of the cartoon to enjoy Transformers. There’s enough comedy and fantastic special effects to keep most viewers interested. And watching the Transformers transform is so cool. I recommend watching this movie in the theatres, and sooner rather than later because seeing it in a packed house adds to the excitement.

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