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Movie-Hype #716 – TRANSFORMERS

When we speak of the new TRANSFORMERS movie (out on video today), we really speak to two groups of people:

If you WERE a fan of the TV show, but were scared of the movie, should you give TRANSFORMERS a chance?

If you WERE NOT a fan of the TV show, and were thus scared of the movie, should you give TRANSFORMERS a chance?

I have to admit, I fell into the former camp for the longest time. Transformers held such a place in my childhood heart that I just didn’t think I could divorce myself the Transformers that Were and the Transformers Now I’d be watching up on the screen. And if that were not enough, putting Michael Bay in as the director absolutely terrified me. This is the man who made THE ROCK and ARMAGEDDON, which I liked in spite of myself, but also made BAD BOYS I and II, THE ISLAND and mostly abysmally PEARL HARBOR. You can see my trepidation. I heard Spielberg was executive producer, and using a firm hand to rein in Bay, but even then I was wary.

When the film came out word from the fan community was generally very positive, and I was more willing to watch, except for money. Finally I found myself in Atlanta for something unrelated, having dinner with my brother Achmed. He refused to have anything to do with me ever again if I did not watch TRANSFORMERS with him that night. I did.

Having now seen TRANSFORMERS, I don’t think I like it as much as Koz or some of my other friends. I know I don’t like it as much as Achmed (who, last I checked, has been standing outside TRANSFORMERS star Megan Fox’s house holding up a beat-box for going on three months now), but I did enjoy the film. Immensely. And I think most of you probably would too.

TRANSFORMERS was clearly made for the public at large, with the understanding that appealing solely to the boy in some of us would not make the studio the money they wanted to make. At the same time, there was many “in-jokes” for the fans, things that wouldn’t ruin the movie in the slightest for someone with zero Transformer knowledge, but would give extra juice to someone who once slept in Transformer sheets.

The story itself is about these giant robots that come to earth from the distant planet Cybertron. These robots are comprised of two groups: the Autobots, led by the wise and compassionate Optimus Prime, and the Decepticons, led by Megatron; they're just plain evil. All of the Transformers are looking for something that landed on Earth from Cybertron. (It’s called the Allspark, which grants limitless power, but it’s totally unimportant to your enjoyment of the film, so try to put it from your mind.)

While these Transformers are on Earth they’ve been hiding out as other things, things like GM cars and trucks. (In a shameless marketing tie-in, all the Autobots are now GM vehicles. Yes, hard-core fans, you should retch a little, but then get over it.) When the Decepticons start attacking humans, the Autobots get involved too. (I should point out that the transformers take the shape of whatever is near them, so some of the bad guys are military equipment. Even I have to admit it looks great. Another is a scorpion, and totally badass.)

Hyperion’s Rating Guide for TRANSFORMERS

Suspension of Disbelief Index (0-10, with 10 a cartoon): 9.999 You are asked to suspend virtually everything you know about physics, robots, our government and math nerds. If you can’t do that, this is not the movie for you.

Genre Grade: Obviously TRANSMFORMERS is squarely an Action pic, and by those standards, an A-.

Sex/Violence? – The film is quite violent in a PG-13 way, and has some language and sexual humor. I don’t see how you’re going to be able to keep middle schoolers away, but I personally would say High School.

Pantheon Percentile (% of films EVER MADE that this film is better than; so a 50 would be an average film): TRANSFORMERS doesn’t rank quite as highly when up against all films ever, and that’s mostly because the script is so silly. What you can excuse in an action film you’d have to grade down in anything else. Still, not all movies have to be cerebral, and TRANSFORMERS certainly is entertaining, with a great sense of humor. 73.

Okay, so that’s the robot side of it. On the human side (which is actually the bulk of the movie), we have three parallel storylines. One involves the Marine unit who first encountered the Decepticons in the desert (thus making them the only Marine unit in the world capable of fighting these things, which means this one Marine unit is schlepped all over the world, which may sound crazy, but hey: fewer characters to get to know). They are led by Josh Duhamel (of the show Las Vegas), and they kick ass, etc. Seriously: the Army should hire Bay to do their recruiting, because he always seems to be pro military. (Maybe they do?) [EDITOR’S NOTE: I JUST FOUND OUT THAT THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE GAVE FULL COOPERATION TO THE FILM, THEIR LARGEST EFFORT EVER, SO YOU TELL ME.]

Story #2 involves the Defense department, who seems to have recruited high schoolers to figure out this new enemy. (One of the things the Decepticons did was hack into the Department of Defense.) I should point out that Achmed vigorously disagrees with my assessment of whom they are hiring, but one of the people is a blond girl from Australia! I realize that super-intelligent math/computer nerds are often insanely hot high school girls from Australia, but I thought this connection was tenuous.

(nothing but computer nerds here)

Jon Voigt plays the Defense Secretary, and again it’s one of those situations where only the Defense Secretary (and select group of those high schoolers, plus a jive-talking large black man, and let’s face it; we can never have enough of those) can figure out how to stop the bad robots, thus necessitating their traveling all over the world.

The main storyline has Shia LaBeouf as Sam Witwicky, trying to buy his first car, and while he’s at it impress Mikaela Banes (played by the aforementioned Megan Fox. I put her picture up so you can decide for yourself whether or not she’s beautiful.) The car turns out to be a ’77 Camaro, which later turns into a ’09 Camaro, which didn’t even exist when they made the film. (Saleen put one together in 30 days, if that means anything to you.)

(I suppose she's semi-okay looking, in a very plain sort of way)

Sam and Mikaela get thrown together, as Sam’s Camaro turns out to be Bumblebee, one of the good Transformers, who talks to Sam through songs on the radio. Also, no one believes Sam. Also there’s a super secret government agency (isn’t there always?) of Men in Black suits (led by John Turturro) bent on capturing the Transformers. And much much more.

I know what I’ve thus far described probably seems very complicated. It’s really not. Actually, I suppose it is, but it no way does that make the movie complicated. It’s one of those movies where you just go with what’s on screen RIGHT NOW!!!

Normally I’d spend more time making fun of the ridiculous plot points listed above (and many others I’ve omitted), but again, this isn’t the movie for that. TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE is in no way trying to make an intelligent techno-thriller. Their goal: the ultimate in popcorn-flick rock ‘em/sock ‘em good times?

Do they suceeed?

I think so. The transformers are so incredible to look at; all but the most contrary lifetime fans will be thrilled. The battles are amazingly intense, and the action (and soundtrack) is ramped up on High most of the time.

But what about normal people?

I think it all comes down to how big a fan of the Action Picture you are. If you love action, you’re not going to mind the gaping plot holes, the silliness we’re asked to ignore time and time again, and the fact that these giant robots aren’t given enough screen time to get to know them. You’re just going to love the action. TRANSFORMERS delivers that action time and time again.

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