AP Photo/DreamWorks "Transformers", 2 hours, 23 minutes, Dreamworks
Growing up I had this geeky little friend named Daniel (Daniel, if you've become cool in the interim, I apologize). He was the go-to-guy for awesome sci-fi toys.
Every new Star Wars vehicle that came out, Daniel got it. Star Trek put out a series of Barbie-style action figures; guess who had the whole set. And when Transformers were released, Dan was first in line. I, on the other hand, had to be satisfied with Go-Bots, a much simpler, much cheaper, and therefore, much lamer substitute. Daniel would occasionally let you play with his silly Spock doll or his awesome AT-AT Walker, but the Transformers were his pride and joy off limits.
It's understandable then, that, though I despise Michael Bay and I was too old to ever get into the eventual cartoon series that the toys spawned, I was anticipating the release of this summer's big-budget CGI Extravaganza movie version with great glee. I am such a sucker.
For those of you who didn't have a friend like Daniel, I'll give you a quick rundown. Transformers are giant robots that can "transform" into various everyday machines a car, a jet, a boombox, etc. There are good Transformers, the Autobots, and there are bad Transformers, the Decepticons, a name I think is a little unfair, as the Autobots are pretty deceptive themselves.
In a quick three- or four-minute narration at the beginning of the film, the backstory is laid out. A long time ago, on a planet far, far away, the Autobots and the Decepticons fought a war for control of something called the All-Spark, a giant floating cube that looks like it was lifted right off the Borg prop table over on the Star Trek set.
A couple of thousand years ago, this cube crash-landed here on Earth, presumably bringing the war to our doorstep. And that's all the setup you get, because, like the hyperactive attention-deficit kid he is, Michael Bay can't stand to delay gratification. Less than 10 minutes into the movie, we are already in full-on robot-battle mode as a scary black helicopter transforms into an even scarier black robot and lays waste to an Army base in Quatar. And then, abruptly, we are off to another movie.
Shia LaBeouf plays Sam, an awkward teen who just wants to buy his first car so that maybe he can get a girlfriend. Suddenly, Michael Bay is all about setup, although he seems to confuse cliched, over-used high-school antics with character development. This part of the movie goes on way too long, although eventually Sam does get a car, which turns out to be heroic Autobot, Bumblebee. Bumblebee is here to protect Sam from the Decepticons because Sam's grandfather engraved the location of the All-Spark on a pair of reading glasses and ... it doesn't matter. It's a big, jumbled, silly, cool-looking mess. The movie switches back and forth between several, equally ridiculous and senseless plot lines, until eventually we get to the really big robot battle, which is all anyone really wanted to see in the first place.
To say "Transformers" is a bad movie is perhaps missing the point. As far as I can tell the only good movies Michael Bay have been involved in are the original "Bad Boys" and "The Rock," neither of which can be considered really quality films, but rather high-octane mindless action movies that don't suck. So it should be no surprise that this film isn't going to take home any awards. On the other hand, the one thing Bay does well: big, extravagant, computer-generated battle scenes, are something "Transformers" has in spades.
So I guess it's all what you go in expecting. Much of the film seems geared to a generation of viewers who are versed in the cartoon and, in fact, the plot never delves to depths of subtlety beyond what is required for a Saturday morning series.
There's an important difference between this film and a cartoon, and it's something that I think truly describes what an odious person Michael Bay is: sex and violence. OK there is no outright sex, but Bay does parade his high school-age leading lady, Megan Fox, around as though she were a Playboy playmate. Also, though the noble Autobots refuse to harm humans, the Decepticons feel no such compassion, racking up bodies by the score, often to comedic effect. These are jarring elements considering how geared toward kids the rest of the movie feels. It appears Bay has done it again, parlaying his creepy world view and his penchant for awesome special effects into box-office gold. He can't give me back the lost opportunities of my childhood, but he can remind me that, in the end, they were just toys after all. Grade: C
"Transformers" is rated PG-13 for sci-fi mayhem, sexual humor, language and violence.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.
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