Wednesday, October 24, 2007



Michael Bay's masterpiece TRANSFORMERS is the movie that the flamboyantly over-the-top director was born to make. This summer's best piece of entertainment, this sci-fi extravaganza is the most consistently entertaining--and drop dead gorgeous special effects movie--in years. Probably of all-time. Make no mistake--this is the ultimate action film from an auteur who specializes in making things go boom. Beyond being a technical marvel of the first order, the movie is just...wait for it....FUN. I appreciate, and love, all sorts of movies, spanning all genres. And as important as I find films like THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE and INTO THE WILD to be, a movie like TRANSFORMERS is of equal importance. Entertainment is a necessity for human beings; I don't need to cry and feel moved or touched every time the lights go down in a theater. Sometimes, watching beautifully rendered computer generated effects coupled with absurdly enormous explosions can be just what the doctor ordered. And for my money, nobody blows shit up like Michael Bay; the rest of the action directors out there are stool pigeons (for the most part).

But the real heroes of TRANSFORMERS aren't the wham-bang director/producer combo of Bay and Steven Spielberg. Nope, the people responsible for making this film kick the unholy amounts of ass that it does are John Frazier (Special Effects Supervisor), Scott Farrar (Visual Effects Supervisor), Mitchell Aumndsen (Cinematographer), Joe Farrell (Senior Digital Compositor), and the literally hundreds of computer geniuses that brought all of the amazing robots to such vivid life on screen. Sure, it takes a certain kind of genius like a filmmaker like Bay to call all of the shots, juggle the massive production and all of the people, places, and things. But without the amazing visual effects teams at ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) and Digital Domain (a company which Bay owns), TRANSFORMERS wouldn't be the piece of groundbreaking, pop-art that it is. And I mean that wholeheartedly; TRANSFORMERS is as close to art as this sort of movie-making gets. The use of color, sound, camera angles, camera movement, framing/composition, and the seamless integration of live-action shooting and CGI is beyond compare. Bay is the master of this type of action filmmaking, and I defy anyone--anyone--to honestly say to themselves while watching TRANSFORMERS that they aren't genuinely impressed with what their eyes are watching.

The story concocted by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (with input from Bay, Spielberg, and Hasbro) is simple and easy to follow (gee...shocker!). A dorky teen named Sam Witwicky, played with zest and humor by Shia LaBeouf, is the key to the Autobots (the good Transformers) in finding something called the Allspark. This piece of alien hardware is the power source for the entire race of Transformers. The Autobots, led by Optimus Prime and Bumblebee, want to get their hands on the Allspark before the evil Transformers, the Decepticons, led by Megatron, can get it first. This dilemma sets the stage for an epic--and I mean epic--battle on earth between the two warring robot tribes, with humans and the US military caught in the middle of everything. The film is also about a boy and his first car (Sam is unwittingly befriended by Bumblebee at the beginning of the picture) and a boy trying to get laid (Sam fixes his eyes on the insanely hot Mikaela, played by the sultry Megan Fox). But none of this really matters to be honest. The story moves along like a freight-train, with an action scene popping up almost every 20 minutes, with the climactic battle lasting for an unbelievable 35 minutes of screen time. It's like BLACK HAWK DOWN on multiple hits of LSD; your eyes will be scorched out of your head by the time it's over. And you'll want more. At least I did.

The acting is solid enough for this type of fare. LaBeouf is genuinely funny and charming; with this film and next summer's impending INDIANA JONES blockbuster, I think it's safe to say that LaBeouf is the next big star. Between his work in TRANSFORMERS and this year's thriller DISTURBIA (not to mention his terrific turn in last year’s A GUIDE TO RECOGNIZING YOUR SAINTS), it's easy to see why so many people have labeled him the next Tom Hanks. And as per usual in a Michael Bay picture, the rest of the ensemble cast is peppered with funny and recognizable character actors; John Voight, John Turturro, Kevin Dunn, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese, and Bernie Mac all lend amiable support. And then there are the ladies. Megan Fox, so sexy it actually hurts from time to time while watching her, can't really act, but who cares; she's the ultimate window dressing in a movie all about surface looks and sexy images. Appearing as if she's just making her way from a soft-core porn set or Penthouse photo-shoot, Bay's camera ogles and generally molests Fox with its lens; camera-fucking like this should be a sport. And let's also credit Bay for casting the blond supermodel bombshell Rachael Taylor (in her first big movie) as a buttoned-up government scientist. She too is given all of the Bay accoutrements; 4-inch heels, sexy mini-skirt, wire-rim glasses, and a cleavage exposing chemise that looks more Fredericks of Hollywood than conservative government employee.

But the last 30-40 minutes of TRANSFORMERS are the real reason why Bay probably took the job in the first place. And admitted non-fan of the toy line, Bay isn't here to pay lip-service to the hordes of Transformers geeks around the world. His decisions to slightly change the appearance of a few of the robots outraged some of the more hardcore fans of the old cartoon. Those people need to get a life. I personally couldn’t have cared less what changes Bay and his team made to the original robot designs. It's a movie about GIANT F'ING ROBOTS--get over yourselves! What Bay is after is the ultimate sensory overload experience; robots throwing each other through buildings, robots toppling over highway overpasses and into incoming traffic, cars and fighter jets transforming effortlessly into robots and back into cars or jets, people and cars being hurled down city streets by rampaging mega-robots, and an amazing, one-on-one fight between Prime and Megatron that leaves nothing to the imagination. And there's more. Much, much more. But all of this would be utter crap if Bay and his sensational team of animators didn't reach for the stars in their visual style. Everything (well, almost everything) looks positively real and immediate; you know that there aren't such things as 50 foot robots, but I'll be damned if it doesn't look real. A few of the shots, with multiple robots and humans in frame, are simply staggering. A lesser filmmaker might have settled for something less. Not Bay. During his pompous, hilarious audio commentary on the special-features packed dvd, he proudly states, among many things, that he only wanted to make the film if the robots were going to look photo real. Well Mr. Bay, job well done. $750 million in ticket sales are in the bank, the dvd is selling like crazy, and a visual effects Oscar is on its way. And to think of what Bay and his team have in store for us with the sequel....the mind races.

If you missed TRANSFORMERS in the theaters, you should be beaten. Seriously. You're a putz and you should have your ass handed to you. On a silver platter. This movie will entertain anyone, old or young, male or female, gay or straight, black or white or purple or green. I took my girlfriend to see it, who had been dreading its release, because she's not a sci-fi fan. But she is a Bay fan, and she loved the movie. Again, hates the genre, loved the movie. She had no issues with seeing it twice. On dvd, it holds up remarkably well, with only a few shots losing their impact in the big to small screen transfer. It's a rollercoaster ride of pyrotechnics and sci-fi inspired lunacy that must be seen to be believed. And from conception to delivery, it's one of the most honest blockbusters of the decade. And, lastly, one of the best movies of the year.

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