Less Than Meets the Eye

Optimus PrimeI was giddy all day. Scratch that, I’d been excited for several weeks. I couldn’t wait to see the live screen adaptation of one of my most beloved childhood television shows. Granted, it was Michael Bay directing – who brought us such gems as “Armageddon,” “Pearl Harbor,” and “The Island” – but he couldn’t mess this home run up, could he? To check out just how good/bad the movie was, several of us met up at the Ameristar Casino to see “Transformers,” for free (thanks to Dept. Zero).

Going into the movie, I already had an idea of the story behind the story – remember, I read a nerdy book a while back that was the prequel to the movie. Before I go any further, here’s a summary of that book (it’ll be important later, oh yeah, SPOILER ALERT FROM HERE ON OUT):

On the day in Earth’s history that saw the launch of Apollo 13, was also the day that Ghost 1 launched into space. Ghost 1 was a space ship built by a secret government agency (Sector Seven) and was done so by reverse engineering the technology found on a giant metal robot dubbed, “The Iceman,” aka, Megatron. The robot had been found in artic circle many years ago and scientists had been studying him ever since.

As Ghost 1 rocketed into outer space, the ship went into a worm hole and they wound up in a part of the galaxy no one knew existed. They thought they were alone until they ran into both the Decepticons and Autobots – both sects were searching the universe for the Allspark. By (for the lack of a better term) hacking into the human ship’s computers, both Decepticons and Autobots were able to learn about human civilization, the English language and the whereabouts of Megatron (and possibly the Allspark).

That’s basically the gist of the book – the Earthlings made contact with the Transformers, thus dooming our planet’s future. And the human crew said as much when they were making contact with Earth, that the planet needs to prepare for visitors related to The Iceman.

So how does the book fit into the movie? Sometimes seamlessly and other times, not at all.

Where’d the technology go?
My biggest gripe is that scientists and engineers had been studying Megatron for close to, if not more than, 100 years. In the book, by the 60s they had made a freaking space ship based on his technology. A space ship. Capable of intergalatic travel. That’s HUGE scientific progress.

In the movie, the only technology we had shown capable of when dealing with the Transformers was rope guns to tie them down, fire extinguishers to keep them in stasis and that we had somehow harnessed energy radiating from the Allspark to turn cell phones into Transformers. The only thing that Sector Seven had to show for themselves was a giant security complex built in Hoover Dam and tons of science folk walking around in HVAC suits with clipboards.

We all scream for Starscream!
As was evident in the book and television series for years, Starscream – Megatron’s second in command – was always vying to become leader of the Decepticons. In the book, he’s the one that finds Megatron’s whereabouts and tries to hide it from the other robots, so he could get to Earth, find the Allspark and get rid of Megatron once and for all.

In the movie, it appears that Starscream has little to do with anything that happens, but there was a minimal quip from Megatron that Starscream had failed him once again. Maybe there was something more at the end of the movie, which we missed, but that's a major storyline that just didn't come through at all.

Those wacky Autobots?
What is it that possesses directors to put people/things in fish out of water situations? The stupid NASCAR commercials come to mind, but in this case, it’s the Autobots all hiding around Shia LeBeouf’s house. Some are crawling on all fours, one gets upset that the dog pee’d on him, etc. These are the freaking Transformers! They’re giant robots that can transform into different things. They don’t hide and they didn’t learn English from the World Wide Web (they learned it from the humans in the book).

I don’t want bag on the movie too much (and I COULD keep going), because it was a fun popcorn movie. The effects were better than most movies, though I wish they would spend more time on letting us actually see what’s going on than shaking the camera around so much and hiding the effects. I need to go see it again, because we missed the last 10-20 minutes due to a fire alarm, maybe I’ll have a better feel for it this next time.

Aside from what I talked about above, I must say that I’m tired of directors like Bay and Spielberg coming into movies like this one and “War of the Worlds” and trying to make them into family movies with overstated morals and cheesy writing. That’s not what audiences are going to these types of movies for. They want action, decent story with no frill and more action. This was a chance to really take a stand with a summer blockbuster and not try to put any of that un-needed touchy feely crap in it, but they just couldn’t resist.

Need more evidence? Re-watch the teaser trailer and remember how ominous and exciting it was. Then think to when Bumblebee is peeing on John Turturro and ask yourself where the movie went wrong.

I had fun watching it, but it gets no better than a 5 out of 10 in my book (which is about par for the course) for not following the prequel book or attempting to be a movie different than any other Bay offerings. Chalk it up as another one of those movies that “could’ve been.”

Oh, and Happy Fourth of July everyone!

+ original post date: July 4, 2007 12:23 PM
+ categories: Movies, Pop Culture


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I gotta disagree on this one. Maybe it's because I went in thinking it would just be OK or maybe it's because I didn't read that book you're talking about. I thought it was so good that I actually wanted to buy another ticket and walk right back in the theater to watch it again, which is something that hasn't happened to me since I first saw High Fidelity. The cheesy parts, in my opinion, were scaled back quite a bit from what the execs probably initially suggested. Not a 10 out of 10 by any means, but definitely better than a 5.

+ author: Todd
+ posted: July 5, 2007 12:09 AM

i haven't seen it yet but i did read the script and see 20 minutes of teaser footage back in november (yes bragging) but it sounds to me like your suffering from the clark kent continuity error that most geeks tend to make. you accept the fact that he can fly and see through walls but you get upset at the idea that people cant tell he is superman because he has glasses on. its giant alien transforming robots and pee jokes and you want to see an explanation of how the government has adapted the alien tech and you want to see character arch and relationships developed? for shame sir. i assume you have seen the original movie? if not i have the toy commercial on dvd if you'd like to see it.

i say just be happy with the fx and the popcorn. and by fx of course i mean megan fox.

+ author: thomas
+ posted: July 5, 2007 11:44 AM

I don't disagree with you. However, it's freaking Transformers! Were you REALLY expecting a great plot and super dialogue? I just went to hear the cool tranforming sounds and see what Michael Bay left standing (which was very little) after the battle scenes. He knows how to blow some shit up!

I, too, wanted to buy another ticket and see it immediately. It's a great no-brainer action flick.

+ author: John Nelson
+ posted: July 5, 2007 12:31 PM

On a semi-Transformer movie note: did you see the preview for JJ Abrams new movie? It didn't give a title for the movie and it's unlisted on IMDB, too. Any ideas what it might be? Godzilla?

+ author: John Nelson
+ posted: July 5, 2007 03:40 PM

Chill out everyone. I'll go watch it again. This time I'll watch it with less-critical eyes. I just didn't understand why they created a "prequel" book that was so serious and then follow it up with a movie that wasn't half-that. Makes me wonder if the actual novelization is more serious. I'll let you all know what I think upon second viewing.

John, yes, that trailer was cool and EVERYONE in the theater wanted to know what it was. It's being called Cloverfield right now. There's not much else known at this point, but here's some info.

+ author: seth
+ posted: July 5, 2007 03:54 PM

haha, you got ripped. in related news:


+ author: thomas
+ posted: July 5, 2007 10:53 PM

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