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Smash Cut – Transformers

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Any movie based on something that was, in its inception, a toy marketed to kids, faces a real challenge regarding its audience.  Transformers suffers under this kind of inherent confusion and tries hard to scratch the itch of those original fans who are all 20 and 30 years old, and the new fans, generally made up of—for the sake of this post, at least—11-year-olds. 

I enjoyed the movie, and in writing this, the coming “but” all but screams its implication.  It’s easier to just break this down between what works and what doesn’t.  I had expected this movie to have a more Independence Day feel to it, but that’s my presuppositions working against me.  Everything that doesn’t work only does so on a fundamental level—it distracts from the story at hand. 

So…

What Works:
–THE ROBOTS.  As one of those who grew up with the cartoon, seeing the heroes come together was like slipping into comfortable shoes and enjoying the company of close friends.  Nobility and sacrifice weave throughout each of our heroic Autobots, and Decepticons are delightfully evil.  One of director Michael Bay’s talents is conveying scads of information in short time, and he does so with suitable aplomb with these giant creatures.  One of the characters poses an obvious question—if they are aliens, how can the robots speak English?  Easy.  By surfing the World Wide Web.  The digital rendering of these characters raises the bar for CGI considerably, and helps suspend belief enough to enjoy the chemistry between these old war horses. 

–THE SOLDIERS.  We needed to see more of these guys.  While they do not go a long way toward actual character development, they at least perform their roles with enough energy to buy into their presence.  I would have liked Captain Lennox to have taken on a more central role ala Will Smith in Independence Day.

–THE RUNNING TIME.  Two and a half hours can tell a big story, and when you’re telling a story about fifty-foot robots, it requires enough time to really see what they can do.  While there are places where the movie feels rushed, we have to remember: it’s a Michael Bay movie.  It will feel rushed.  Where Bay takes his time is where his talent behind the camera really shines this time around. 

–SHIA LaBEOUF.  While he’s likely years away from gaining any real caliber as an actor, he can at least deliver lines without sounding like he’s reading from the page.  He can play innocent (Holes), he can play immature-and-I-like-to-think-I’m-hard (I, Robot), and he pulls off insecure and hormonal quite well here. But…

What Doesn’t Work:
— SHIA LaBEOUF.  The underpinning hormonal/emotional conflict that would work if this were an episode of Dawson’s Creek feels out of place here.   His emotional angst over a new car works great as a device to introduce us to the one of the principle robots, and hence, launch us into the story.  The rest of his angst-ridden plodding tries to provide some comic relief, but I couldn’t hear anyone in the theater laughing.  

–THE SOPHOMORIC HUMOR.   What’s funny to an 11-year-old usually isn’t to someone over the age of 20.  So when your genius computer hacker eats a plate full of donuts, gets sick, and then displays his encyclopedic knowledge of Wolverine, I’m sure 11-years-olds laughed themselves silly.  That kind of thing only works with adults if you’re Kevin Smith.  

–THE GIRL.  Her presence does absolutely nothing to forward the plot, and serves as little more than the object of LaBeouf’s affection.  Usually, this kind of role becomes an unattainable goal for our hero, whom he must win by first overcoming his weaknesses, and then by slaying the villain(s).  Instead, what’s-her-name appears won as soon as our hero convinces the authorities to erase her juvenile record.  Which appears out of nowhere.  A full ninety minutes into the film.  Not only did this device fail to create sympathy, but I would not have cared if it had.  

–JOHN TURTURRO.  Turturro’ s a fine actor.  His caricature of the arrogant and self-important side of bureaucracy might have worked if it had not been placed along side what was already over the top.  The CIA director portrayed in Independence Day filled a similar role, and you loved to hate that guy.  By the time Turturro shows up, you just want to hate him. 

The premise of the movie already puts it at a disadvantage, but any alien invasion movie falls into the same category.  And many have succeeded where this movie fails. 

On the points where the film does succeed, it’s a great ride.  Refreshingly, at no point does the film digress into a forced allegory on the Iraq war (War of the Worlds), or recall a scene from The Sound of Music (Attack of the Clones).  I do not get out as much as I would like to see the movies these days, and this one was worth the money spent. 

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Written by taj

July 16, 2007 at 9:48 pm

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