Hollywood should be grateful that the 80s happened. As a period of excess – characterised by big hair, blinding lumo colours, the synthesized drum beat … oh and Starship – it represents a decade that many people downplay as their least favourite because the choices they made at the time now seem so ridiculous. Granted, they probably were but I don’t think anyone really, truly ‘hates’ the 1980s.
Too much great stuff came out of this period and anyone refuting its impact on popular culture and media, still largely in evidence today, is living in denial. Once again Hollywood – confirming that the era represents one of the most original and inspiring periods of filmmaking in the medium’s 100 year history – has latched onto another franchise and has re-envisioned it for the 2000s.
As a concept, Transformers has its origins at the 1983 Tokyo Toy Show where American toy merchandiser Hasbro combined forces with Japanese toy company Takara to re-brand and re-imagine their transforming Diaclone and Micro Change toy lines (A similar collaboration would happen with another 80s franchise, Robotech, in 1985).
Employing Marvel comics to build a story around the shape-shifting toys, Jim Shooter and Dennis O’Neil created the back-story about two warring robot factions (the Autobots and the Decepticons) that crash-land on earth while fighting for control of their home planet, Cybertron. Over the next two decades this origin story would birth numerous storylines, universes and transforming robots – making Takara and Hasbro plenty of money in the process.
I, like all four to five year olds at the time, was enthralled by the animated adventures of Optimus Prime and his valiant Autobots (the good guys) as they fought each episode to keep Megatron and his army of Decepticons at bay.
Transformers joins films such as T.M.N.T (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), Indiana Jones and Rambo (both scheduled to be released next year), all of which have been developed for old and new fans alike. Resurrecting these franchises shows Hollywood up as a creative wasteland truly devoid of any great ideas but it also allows certain franchises to be given the proper treatment that only the technology of the present can provide. Transformers is one such franchise.
When teenager Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is given his first car, a 1976 Chevrolet Camaro, his plans to woo the high school hottie (Megan Fox) seem to be on track. With a set of beat up wheels at his disposal, Sam truly believes that he can get the girl and conquer the world. Drawing strength from his car, he is unaware of what power truly lies beneath the hood. When the Camaro takes on a life of its own, revealing itself to be a transforming robot, Sam’s world is thrown on its head.
To say that I loved every minute of Transformers is an understatement almost as large as Optimus Prime. There are not enough superlatives to effectively describe the awesomeness that is this film. My optimism for Michael Bay’s latest flick might be attacked for simply being rampant ‘fan boyism’ but I have only encountered the Transformers on one or two occasions since the 1980s and my anxious anticipation to see the film again is testament to its power and beauty.
A movie about a toy line can beautiful? It most certainly can. Industrial Light & Magic have produced visual effects so brilliant that you will be unable to separate the CGI from the live-action footage shot on location. Usually with a big blockbuster you can pick out where the green/blue screen has been used, things often look soft and the compositing of the visual effects layers is done poorly. Not so with this film. Transformers raises the bar for visual effects to new heights, much in the same way Terminator 2’s liquid metal man did in 1991.
One minute a car will be driving at break neck speeds down a concrete highway and in the next it transforms seamlessly into a giant robot, ripping up the road with its huge feet, as it smashes through a bus and several other vehicles. Seamlessly. If Industrial Light & Magic do not get the Oscar for visual effects next year I will be very surprised.
When it was announced that Michael Bay (he of Pearl Harbor infamy) would be directing the first live-action outing for the Transformers (there is a 1984 animated feature) my heart sank … slightly. Bay certainly has the skill to do action (wonderful over-the-top action) but his full throttle approach to filmmaking can (and often does) blast its way through the nuances – pacing, character development – that often help to balance out an action blockbuster.
I am happy to report then that Transformers is easily his best film, with all aspects of production falling into place wonderfully. Yes, the same ‘Bayisms’ (repetitive use of slow motion shots, a dramatic score drowning out all other sound) from previous films are evident here but for once they add to the film experience. Case in point: when a Decepticon lunges at the camera. Its twisting body is slowed down allowing us to see everything in great detail: gears, cables and connections. With the level of detail on the Transformers being extremely intricate and complex you are allowed to take in things that often get lost in the frenzy of on-screen fighting. Bay has to be given credit here for creating some off the best set pieces I have ever seen.
Hot Hollywood newcomer Shia LaBeouf (pronounced “Shy-uh La-Buff”) helps to ground the film with his (often comedic) performance as Sam, and provides the subtlety that is often lacking in Bay’s films. The high school teenager lusting after his dream girl is by no means revolutionary but it provides a decent enough back story for the main human characters and keeps the balance between action and plot development.
Transformers won me over in the first minute it was on screen. With Optimus Prime’s Voice (Peter Cullen from the original cartoon) booming over shots of the universe, a grin was induced (from my inner 1980s child) that stayed on my face for the whole film. I knew immediately what I was in for and the tone was set for the most awe-inspiring experience I have had at the movies in 2007.
Transformers is unbelievable and, while it is not without its problems – it could have been trimmed slightly – it is completely deserving of five stars simply because it has restored my faith in the magic of Hollywood spectacle.