Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Movie Review : Transformers

“Way cooler than Armageddon !”

Truer words have not been spoken of Michael Bay’s “Transformers” especially when stacked up to the other summer blockbuster movies we’ve seen this year. Based on the beloved cartoon franchise people of my age group remember fondly from our youth, “Transformers” is the type of film that make summer blockbusters something to look forward to. All the hype that surrounded this movie paid off handsomely on screen for a change not like the other movies I’ve seen this year. From the first action set piece till the final climatic battle, the movie was truly a thrill ride that you wouldn’t mind going through all over again the moment you step out of the cinema doors after the ending credits.

The movie mainly follows the story of Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) whose current goal is to get a car to impress his dream girl, Mikaela (Megan Fox), who also happened to be the hottest girl in his class. After getting the grades and the funds that he promised his father he would, he finally gets his wish in the form of a beat up old Camaro which at times seemed to have a mind of it’s own. Little does Sam realize that his car does have a secret life as gigantic robot which he inavertedly uncovers while chasing after his car when he thought it was being stolen. It turned out that the Camaro (codename Bumblebee) was part of an alien robotic team called the Autobots sent to Earth to find an ancient artifact known as the Allspark. The location of the artifact was lost for centuries but was eventually discovered to be on Earth by Sam’s ancestor. Bumblebee’s team of Autobots, consisting of Jazz (Pontiac Solstice), Ironhide (GMC Pickup truck), Ratchet (Hummer S&R H2) and their leader Optimus Prime (Peterbilt truck), had came to Earth to prevent the Allspark artifact from falling into the hands of their sworn enemies, the Decepticons.

The Decepticons, consisting of Starscream (F-22 Raptor), Barricade (Mustang police car), Frenzy (CD player), Bonecrusher (Buffalo H Mine Protected Vehicle), Blackout (MH-53 Pave Low helicopter), Scorponok (mechanical scorpion) and Devastator (M1 Abrams tank), was already on Earth looking for their lost leader Megatron who had crash landed on Earth centuries earlier on his search for the Allspark artifact. To get the information they needed, they attacked US military installations in the Middle East and on board Air Force One to gain access into the military computer system to find out the location of their leader. Their actions brought them in contact with a team of military specialist led by Capt. Lennox (Josh Duhamel) and Tech Sgt. Epps (Tyrese Gibson) whose encounter revealed their existence to the US government. Led by the secretary of Defense (Jon Voight), the assembled team raced to stop the Decepticons from retrieving the Allspark cube with help from the Autobots.

“Transformers” is the type of movie that Michael Bay was born to direct. Say what you will about this director, he does know how to do eye-popping spectacles very well as proven in his previous outings in “Armageddon” and “Pearl Harbor”. The rapid fire pace of the action sets were a joy to experience as long as the audience doesn’t dwell too much on the subtleties of the action on screen. There is the outright requirement for some suspension of disbelieve in all of his movies and “Transformers” is no different in that regard. Given the subject matter and the well executed action set pieces, I would doubt that most of the audience would lose any sleep about the missing subtleties. Being able to finally enjoy a good old summer blockbuster type of movie after the disappointing previous offerings would be good enough for some.

On the human side of the acting equation, “Transformers” would fall under the category of a mixed bag in terms of the quality of acting. As main leads with the most screen time for the human actors, Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox gave credible enough performances to retain the interest of audiences while the titular robots were not on screen. Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson mostly tried to extend their limited range into the action hero genre with less than memorable success while Jon Voight mostly looked like he was just there to deliver exposition for a paycheck. Attractive computer specialist Maggie Madsen (Rachel Taylor) who worked with the US government to break the Decepticon’s transmission was mostly eye candy for male computer geeks who wished someone like that worked next to them in their cubicle. Other than eye candy, the character was quite pointless except for infuriating the audience who tried to figure out why she had an Australian accent.

The main draw of the movie would surely be the computer generated robots that thrill audiences every time they appear on screen. Using the best CGI that the Industrial Light & Magic special effects master had at their disposals, they were successfully able to impart life like qualities in all the CGI robots who looked very impressive on screen. The makers of the film decide to update the look of the robots by making them more complex looking compared to their original appearance from the early cartoon series. While this made them look hundredfold more impressive this time around, the almost whiplash pace of the action sequences involving the robots were far to fast for audiences to appreciate the levels of detail. The film makers also gave a nod to the cartoon fans by allowing the robots to speak which they initially did not plan to in earlier drafts of the film. Not only do the Autobots and Decepticons speak, they even had Peter Cullen who voice the original Optimum Prime in the cartoons reprise the same role in the movie. Hearing his voice behind the face of the new Optimus Prime was a fanboy’s pay-off for going to watch this movie.

The story frame as written by screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman served the film well even when the robots were not on screen. The comedic beats in the movie was delivered smoothly and at times fairly enjoyable to watch. Look out for the scene of Sam’s parents barging into his room as he frantically looks for the item that the Autobots were there for. Comedic moments aside, the screenwriters wisely focused the movie on gigantic robots beating the circuits out of each other. Watching the robots transformed from their vehicle to robot mode, while was quite repetitive and does require a stretch of the imagination to be believable, would never grow old especially when they are accompanied by the whirls and clicking transforming sound that we fondly remember. It was also amazing to see every cent of the production value on screen being destroyed by rampaging robots when they battle each other. One would not be faulted for wondering how they would top the action sequences from this movie when they do get around to making the sequel which based on the last frame from the closing credits is surely in the plans.

Unlike the line from the original theme song of the cartoon series, there is not much more than meets the eye in Michael Bay’s “Transformers”. What you see is what you get and what you get is an eye popping CGI spectacles that will thrill both those who grew up watching the “Transformers” cartoon and newbie’s alike. As long as the audience is willing to accept the tenuous logic that runs through the movie and not to dwell too long in the absurdities of how a small car can scale up to a 20ft robot then all will go well. So well that by the end of the movie, I would not be surprised if many would gladly pay to go through the experience again. A sure fire hit with the merchandizing aware crowd, this film is the film to watch out when it comes out on DVD and their toys would be the hot ticket on every kid’s (and those still kids at heart) shopping list. After the disappointing summer blockbuster fare in the past weeks, “Transformers” was a welcomed addition and definitely a must watch movie for this year.

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