|Dir. Michael Bay, US, 2007, 144 min|
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Tyrese Gibson, Jon Voight
Review by Johnny Messias
Pub quiz question: which Hollywood figure was last credited as a planet-sized being called Unicron? It was Orson Welles in the animated film Transformers, back in 1986 when “Robots in disguise” were in vogue (and in toy boxes everywhere). So here we are in this summer of threequels and rampant nostalgia; just in time for megaphone legend, Michael Bay to finally bring a live action version of the toy franchise to our screens.
In case you weren’t around for the cartoons, the plot revolves around two warring factions of mecha-aliens who bring their battle to Earth and somehow disguise themselves as everyday objects like Apache helicopters, Hotrods and Dinosaurs, so us humans wouldn’t suspect anything. The cool thing was always the transformation sequences as robot turned into car, looking like three dozen Betamax top-loaders all ejecting at once, and folding in on them selves, at high speed, with a satisfying choink, choink, choink.
The all important human element in this one centres around Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf), who plays a typical US film teenager; out to get laid and avoid embarrassing situations with his parents. When his Dad gets him his first car and it starts to drive itself, he soon realises there is ‘more than meets the eye’ and is thrust into the world of Autobots, Decepticons, and high school totty in too much lip gloss (Fox).
Let’s face it though, this movie stands or falls by its giant, fuck-off robots hitting each other and shooting stuff. And deliver it does.
Director Michael Bay is in his element. He has a full toy set to play with; huge swathes of military hardware; tanks, jeeps, trucks, gunships, and of course hi-performance cars. He actually does a terrific job with the material. From the very first set-piece when an evil Decepticon takes on US Military in Qatar, the action is thrilling. This movie does a great job of building up the tension as the true nature and form of the Transformers is revealed in full CGI glory. All of Bay’s tics as a director, which have been detrimental to movies like Pearl Harbor; the fast cuts, the macho, military fetishism; serve this film well. He even paces the action well, only losing focus slightly in a rushed finale.
It’s hard to do the special effects justice. If we’ve become inured to computer animation, this seems light-years ahead of recent blockbusters. The titular stars are incredibly rendered; each whirring, clicking part seemingly photorealistic, whether in the dessert, sneaking around a suburban neighbourhood, or memorably appearing six-strong by the Hoover Dam.
So the technology is there and it impresses, hugely but Transformers actually hangs together pretty well as a story. You can see the hand of exec producer Steven Spielberg in this. There is plenty of humour, especially in an extended sequence around Sam’s home which shows great flashes of wit and imagination. Credit too must go to rising star, LaBeouf; he is extremely engaging and watchable. With so much ‘unreality’ going on around him, he holds the film together (fans of the Indiana Jones series take note).
As a pure spectacle — wasn’t film invented for that? —Transformers could be watched twice just to appreciate the incredible blend of animation. Yes, it’s sometimes hard to work out exactly where everything is in the action scenes, and yes at heart it’s hokum designed for 15 year old boys, but this movie does what it says on the tin, delivering in great big, thwacking spades.
(Copyright J Messias 2007 Close-Up Film)