Friday, 29 June 2007

Transformers (2007)

Shrapnel in my eye!

Perhaps the beauty of the Transformers franchise is its resilience to any strange or outlandish innovations. reimaginings, and reboots various production teams have subjected it to in its 2 decades of existence. One can afford to chuckle at the horrendous Hong Kong English dubbing of the 3 first Japanese Transformer animation series, the sheer power rangers style of Robots in Disguise, and even the Pokemon "collect them all" Transformers: Armada. Good or bad, or just plain weird (like the heretical yet mature and philsophical take in Beast Machines), nothing is capable of derailing the franchise. Not even if Michael Bay comes up with an Alien Invasion Disaster Transformers movie.

Here's the good news - fans of Michael Bay's style will not be disappointed with this movie. There has to be at least 1.5 hours screen time which is crammed from screen to screen with lots of silly explosions, scrap metal and debris flying all over the place, all orchestrated to loud music or the combined fury of detonating bullets and other ammunitions. I mean, that's what people go to watch a Michael Bay film for, right?

Oh, wait. You, sir, sitting over there, think it's different just because its the Transformers. For the fans, fetishists, and fashion-of-the-week followers, there should be just one consideration only about this movie, and it's not whether Michael Bay's new robot designs do justice to the original, whether Starscream manages to double-cross Megatron, or whether Megatron is killed at the end of the movie by Optimus Prime. No. Because this is Michael Bay, we must adopt the simplest of tests - the one a friend of mine calls "The Blade Test". Simply put, Blade was just a gangster movie that merely happened to have vampires as gangsters. And unfortunately for fans of the cartoon franchise, most parts of Transformers really play like an alien invasion movie that merely happens to have transformer robots as the aliens. There's also a second blow to this: Transformers is also a generic "rival factions struggle over a priceless Artifact of Power" movie, with Autobots and Decepticons being the rivals.

But what of people who would foolishly step into the cinema expecting a film? You know, people who care about scripting, dialogue, pacing, and all that jazz. Here's the good news: if you take out all the scenes with the robots in them, Transformers makes a really good alien invasion comedy, spoofing Men in Black, ID4, and government conspiracy movies and TV shows. To me, the levity, genre-parodying and self-parodying was the best part of this movie. Thing is, I just don't quite understand how the robot sequences could end up this disappointing, though. Don't get me wrong, lots of things blow up, but the robots are basically a dud. Take for example the Autobots - Bay and his writers apparently can't decide whether they're supposed to be the less dangerous faction of alien invaders singleminded after the prized Artifact of Power, or whether they're bumbling fools who learnt bad English through the internet (!!!11111), or whether they're highly noble creatures. Bay and his writers can't decide whether they want to give the old Transformers canon a kick in its nuts, or whether they want to pay a homage to it. The upshot: We're still wondering how Optimus Prime is capable of surviving a fall from a skyscrapper, and not damage the soft squishy human in his hands... when he practically mangles the lawn of a home while "reconnoitering". We're also wondering why Optimus and Megatron rehash their old Transformers (cartoon) Movie argument about protecting the innocent human race - it's a nice touch, but wasn't the entire movie was about their clash over the Artifact of Power?

Here's the killer, though: for a live action Transformers movie helmed by Michael Bay, all I wanted was a remote control in my hand with pause button at my thumb. For the seemingly neverending battle sequences, the most flabbergasting thing is how the overproduced feel of the film ensures that you never really get to see what exactly is happening. Like every other aspect of the movie, the battle scenes are just too incoherent - way too many explosions, human vehicles getting tossed around, too many projectiles and bullets whizzing around for you to actually know what is exactly happening. Oh, sure, we know what roughly happens, but it is obscured by the countless other things happening, that you won't know how what is happening, actually happened. Chalk it up to either overproduced and unfocused CGI, or the director and writers' inability to visualise properly what actually happens, but the result is a growing wish to watch this movie on DVD instead.

Since we've established that this is a Michael Bay movie, it wouldn't really be fair to go into considerations of how well-written the plot is, and how well-balanced the story is (though I have to note that it has a really long first act, a 20-minute second act, and a really long all-action third act), or whether the story is coherent or logical. For what it sets out to do, Transformers is a most decent movie. And the Transformers franchise has seen far worse than this.

First published at incinemas on 28 June 2007

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