Wednesday, July 04, 2007


After the film finally exhausted itself, my friend Dean acknowledged the horror that is the Transformers movie, but added, "What else could they have done?" In a way, he's right. There was no chance a Michael Bay film based on a 30 year-old trinket-selling enterprise about outer space robots was going to be any good.

Of course, I knew this going in. The closest I've ever come to actually liking a Michael Bay movie was my relative acceptance of The Rock. And though I played with Transformers in my youth (I have specific memories of bringing Starscream with me to elementary school), I clearly don't have the intense and lasting fondness for these characters as some of my peers. So I was never really the film's target audience.

But would hope that a Steven Spielberg-produced massively-expensive mid-summer blockbuster would have some kind of entertainment value, particularly for someone who harbors some degree of old-school nostalgia for the source material. Right? Is that really so much to ask? I didn't think Live Free or Die Hard would be any good, and it was a pleasant surprise. Fantastic Four 2 wasn't anything too terrific, but it was better than average for a Marvel adaptation. So it's not impossible to turn a wacky studio marketing gimmick into a reasonably solid entertainment.

Instead, CLEARLY and VIVIDLY uninspired by his source material, Bay has turned in his most ruthlessly irritating, nonsensical, loud, ceaselessly stupid, pointless, awkward and boring effort to date. I hated Transformers from pretty much the first minute, mainly because there is nothing at all to like.

Before we go any further, I'd like to stress this one point so I don't have to reiterate it in the comments 10 times. I have nothing against a stupid, fun action movie. Live Free or Die Hard is a very stupid action film and I loved it and I gave it a positive review.

is a terrible action movie by any standard. You'd think Michael Bay could put together a decent action sequence, considering that putting together such sequences is his profession and he's quite successful. But he's just fucking bad. This stuff about him making dumb movies that have great action scenes has always been a myth. He has no fucking clue how to put together a scene that's fluid, comprehensible, intense or exciting. There's just a lot of blurry busyness on screen followed by some explosions and then it's all over.

Bay's filming scenes here on a massive scale. The extended climax involves huge robots engaged in a ferocious battle royale on the streets and in the skies above Downtown Los Angeles. (Why do so many action scenes happen in Downtown Los Angeles? Don't any other cities have cinematic downtown areas?) It's a real shame that he hasn't mastered the basics of action film direction, because these scenes at least could have been salvageable. Once every 20 minutes or so, Bay actually manages, possibly via dumb luck, to assemble a cool shot, though it generally lasts about 3 seconds. I'd describe the film's style as chaotic visual noise, a lot of whooshing around and flying shrapnel designed to give the audience the impression of big-scale action going on without actually showing them anything at all distinctly. You could get roughly the same experience by lighting a large firecracker and holding it directly in front of your face.

I don't know why Bay's so terrified of establishing shots, or any perspective on the action that can give the viewer a clear and accurate sense of the physics and motion in the scene. The best action scenes are precise; they are in many ways about the spacial relations between the adversaries and the movement between them.

Bay's films are just about fast editing and off-kilter angles, seemingly designed to leave the viewer clueless as to what's going on. We never once, for example, get to see an actual car transform into a robot. We see bits and pieces of the shift, from underneath, from the side, from above, in slow motion, starting from underneath and then spinning around from above in fast-motion and then twisting frontwards in slow motion at a 90 degree angle in a reverse barrel roll. I'd call it showing off but it's not in any way impressive. Just frustrating.

If Bay had managed to throw in four or five great bits of action, I'm sure the agonizing banality of Roberto Orci's and Alex Kurtzman's screenplay would be a bit more tolerable. As it stands, the film's turgid, seemingly endless scenes of military jargon and atrocious "comedy" featuring geeky teen Shia LeBouf and his wacky living used car, feel like some kind of punishment. Jon Voight plays the Secretary of Defense in the film, but I suspect the whole project was executive produced by Don Rumsfeld. If screening this back-to-back doesn't get those al Qaeda bastards talking, nothing will!

The film's so bad, it flirts with Snakes on a Plane dumb-for-dumb's-sake territory at times. But Bay's just not a funny filmmaker (his movies always try for comedy and fall flat), and the "jokes" provided by this script could not be lamer if they were cut from a "Mad TV" sketch. Optimus Prime crushes a car under his foot and says "My bad." A weird little Transformer guy gets his head blown off and screams "oh shit" in a canned digital voice. Bumblebee leaks lubricant on to John Turturro's head from what appears to be a pee-hole. And so forth. Snakes on a Plane had four or five genuine, intentional laughs. Transformers...not so much...

The sub-Herbie Goes Bananas shenanigans go on for a long time. So long, I began to suspect that the film was going for loopy comedy, as if Bay had accepted hundreds of millions of dollars to make an elaborate campy farce, a send-up of his patented style of overblown summer action movies. Alas, no, at around the 90 minute mark, he gives the comedy a pass (along with several whole plot strands) and gets down to the business of incomprehensible fights between indistinguishable Transformers that have no personalities.

I'm even surprised at this, as it would seem to be the one guaranteed success of a big expensive Hollywood film adaptation, but the designs of the Transformers are just poor. Their faces are unappealingly squishy. They neither look believably mechanical nor are they expressive, thus failing on both fronts. And their bodies all look so similar, it's impossible to tell them apart during most of the action, particularly when they are grappling in close contact with one another. I had no idea who was fighting who, and who was winning, during the entire climactic battle, which is the only fucking reason to see this horrible piece of shit movie in the first place. At one point, main baddie Megatron dispenses with a Transformer by ripping him in half, and I had no idea who it was until the final scene, when Optimus Prime says a tearful goodbye to the fallen Jazz.

Does the film do ANYTHING right, you may be asking by now?

A better question would be...what's more painful, Bay ripping off American Pie in a cruelly unfunny sequence in which Shia LeBouf's parents quiz him about masturbation OR Optimus Prime fumbling around a suburban back lawn in some kind of unholy nerd homage to Preston Sturges?

Well, okay, fine, the casting of Megan Fox represents some rare solid decision-making.

She's not any good in the movie. She's given a nothing character with no real reason for being there, and turns in a wooden performance. But look at her. She's gorgeous. At least there was something to stare at while all the extras were nattering on endlessly with bad movie military-speak.

"Get me Sat-Com on line. I need 3 R-92's at the PTV by 0900. Your go code is Echo Tango Echo Foxtrot November."

1 comment:

asana said...

Not having seen the movie and no ability to get it for some time here in the country side of Central America, I appreciate it nevertheless.
I like a good action flick once in a while, but if the action scenes are not precise in their continuity, they are just totally superfluous. I am a fan of wanting to believe what I see. Why watch otherwise. I want to be able to invest my emotions and knowledge in a movie.
We are mostly on the same page.
I am writing for IMDb once in a while and feed lots of info threre. I would like to help linking your reviews to the External Reviews section. At what point do your reviews get a permanent link that does not need to be updated.
If no clickable link to me shows up, write to me at
See you and thanks for great Blog!