Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Review: Transformers

UPDATE: Check out Euangelion's short blog post on the film here. He notes a major theme of the film that--of course I see and remember it "now that you mention it"--I missed altogether in review.

This will be a little different: part review, part response to a review. Christianity Today's Brandon Fibbs gave Transformers 1 and a half stars. I don't work with stars. If I did, it would get at least twice that many. Fibbs's main complaints have to do with "the film's singular inability to even begin to take itself seriously." He also complains a great deal of the disjunct between the strength of the source material(the 80s cartoon), as far as plot and characters, and what we see here. I think these are valid points, and need to be addressed in any real examination of the film. I also think that Mr. Fibbs is missing the point a little bit.

One of the first lines that you'll see in the film's closing credits is "Based on the action figures by Hasbro Toys".
This line speaks volumes, concerning the history of this material and the intent behind it all. The Transformers cartoon of the 1980s was, like many of its contemporaries(He-Man and G.I.JOE, most noteably), little more than a thirty-minute toy commercial. That is why the other two included the features at every episode's end exhorting the kids to 'respect their parents' or 'look both way before crossing the street', or whatever it was for that episode. These lessons were meant to be the redeeming quality for TV shows that, otherwise, did little more than make your child want to go to Toys'R'Us. As noble as the plots of these wonderful cartoons may seem to fans, they were only excuses to produce a show so that toys could be sold, and we can't turn a blind eye to this fact. When CT's review complains of both a lack of devotion to the source material and Michael Bay's 'laughing all the way to the bank', there is betrayed a degree of ignorance(or just innocence as a child watching these shows); these two things go hand in hand.

Even Optimus Prime's "valiant sacrifice" of his own life in Transformers: The Movie(1986) was simply part of the systematic off-ing of all of the older characters to make way for new characters to correspond with the next year's wave of action figures. Hot Rod toys won't sell near as well with out Rodimus Prime, and there's no Rodimus Prime as long as Optimus is around.

No, I think that Transformers captures the spirit of the show very well, i.e., the spirit of giant robots who can turn into cars. Of course, they also strive to out-perform the cartoon in some respects, as the other review mentions, "Bay and his team go to great lengths (and time) to make Transformers a human story first"; I for one greatly appreciate this. The film is pretty long(nearly 2 and a half hours), but with out the length, either the characterization of the humans would be dropped, or the actions sequences, and both options are unacceptable.

Now the film is certainly not perfect. There are some little plot holes here and there, probably due to scenes dropped because of the aforementioned run-time. There are also some lines that go beyond 'having fun' into the realm of 'Jar Jar Binks-like', which certainly irks one such as myself. For the most part though, the movie is kept within the bounds of fun, light-hearted, yet gripping.
There are a few other little things that I could complain about, like the visual portrayal of some of the characters(Bumblebee in particular... I mean really. His name is Bumblebee, not Camero!), but these are only the rants of a nostalgic 20-something.

So what really makes this film worth seeing? Several things.
For fans, it's Peter Cullen's voicing Optimus Prime. His is the only voice for the part. It's also the fact that Jazz looks like Jazz. The lines taken for the cartoon and the movie. The sick feeling in your stomach when the dreaded thought occurs to you(because it has to for any Transformers fan) that these film producers really are morons and they're actually going to kill Optimus again. Whether they do so or not, I won't spoil here.
For everyone else? The action sequences are some of the coolest things you'll ever see. Shia LaBeouf actually does just fine(giving me higher hopes for next year's Indiana Jones 4, in which he co-stars). The premise of giant robots that turn into cars and fight other giant robots. This is simply a cool movie, all around.

Is it provocative? Does it bring up any serious issues to ponder? Nope. Would you like the plot summed up for you? Let me sing it: Autobots wage their battle to destroy the evil forces of the Decepticons. That's what we're to expect, and that's what the film delivers. We get that in a package that includes humans who are a lot less annoying than Spike or Daniel. We get it in a form that is sufficiently updated to fit in the 21st century, yet not too far from its 80s roots. We get it with some of the most awesome effects you'll ever see.
My conclusion: when you need to relax for two and a half hours, to take your mind of things, have a little fun--and it's not football season yet--go to the theater and enjoy. That's what Transformers delivers, and it's worth every cent of the over-priced movie tickets.


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