A film review by Craig J. Koban
2007, PG-13, 144 mins.
Sam Witwicky: Shia LaBeouf / Sgt. Epps: Tyrese Gibson /
Sgt. Lennox: Josh Duhamel / Glen Whitmann: Anthony Anderson /
Mikaela Banes: Megan Fox / Maggie Madsen: Rachael Taylor /
Agent Simmons: John Turturro / John Keller: Jon Voight
Because I deem myself to be fair, impartial, and level-headed, I decided to go into TRANSFORMERS with an open mind. Before viewing this new action film – a live-action effort based on the popular 1980’s Hasbro toy line – I was more than willing to give its director, Michael Bay, one last chance to redeem himself.
His last effort, one of 2005’s biggest box office duds, THE ISLAND, showed some promise, but it nevertheless lapsed back into some of Bay’s most annoying aesthetic tendencies. His previous track record has been ever less stellar. This is the same man that made films of such bombastic stylistic overkill and mind-numbing mediocrity like ARMAGEDDON, PEARL HARBOR, and BAD BOYS I and II.
Because of that, my only thoughts that prevailed my mind going into his latest offering were, “C’mon, how much worse can this guy get? He can only get better, not worse...right? Maybe he deserves me giving him another chance?”
Who am I kidding?
I went into TRANSFORMERS thinking that it would be another bloated, Bayian stink-bomb and I was definitely not disappointed. I’m sorry, but it’s not my fault…honest. Bay makes it too easy for me to chastise his work. When films like this are flat, loud, and generically soulless, it almost goes out of its way to invite scorn.
Yet, I will not bore you with all of my long-winded pontificating about this film. That seems like a waste of my time. Instead, I have the next best thing. I know a guy who knows a guy – no names – that has an exclusive secret source within the film industry that has uncovered tape recordings of a meeting between Bay and the film’s executive producer, Steven Spielberg. I have transcribed it here for your reading pleasure, and their conversation does a fantastic job of embellishing my thoughts about the film:
Spielberg: Hey Mike, I got a new film property for you to sink your teeth into. After all...you need some redeeming.
Bay: Okay. Maybe you're right. After the box office thumping I got because of THE ISLAND, I need to get back on track.
Spielberg: Great. Okay…here it is: TRANSFORMERS…THE MOVIE.
Bay: What the hell is a TRANSFORMER?
Spielberg: Well…it’s a toy line that was popular in the 80’s and it was made into an animated film and...
Bay: I hate toys…and cartoons. They're so inert and lifeless.
Spielberg: So are most of your films.
Bay: Good point. Okay, tell me more. Continue.
Spielberg: Okay, well...we want to do it live action and be as faithful to the origins of the toys. We could make a real kick ass family film.
Bay: I don’t do family films. I only believe in R-rated excess.
Spielberg: Okay, but this could be a Michael Bay family film, done your way. You call the shots.
Bay: Okay…I call the shots. Got it. Go on.
Spielberg: Okay, so TRANSFORMERS is basically about a race of robots that can transform into any type of vehicle…like a Trans-Am or a semi truck.
Bay: How about a Volvo…I like them.
Spielberg: Sure…whatever. Anyway, the bad robots are the Decepticons and they nearly destroyed the Autobots’ – the good guys – home world of Cybertron. Basically, they're at war. Good robots led by Optimus Prime. Bad ones ruled by Megatron.
Bay: Hmmmm....so you want this to be a metaphorical take on Soviet/US relations during the Cold War?
Spielberg: No...it's a movie about robots fighting each other.
Bay: I was kidding, Stevie. Go on.
Spielberg: Okay, they end up on Earth and duke it out here.
Bay: Nice. But why earth? Why not Pluto or...maybe Mars. Mars looks cool. It's all red and stuff.
Spielberg: Well…humans can’t breathe on Pluto or Mars…plus we need a human element in this film. It just can't be robots, robots, robots.
Bay: Why not? I've never relied on a plausibly realistic human element before in my movies. That’s never been an issue before.
Spielberg: Good point. But we need actors. Good ones. And a good story.
Bay: Well…I like Shia Labeouf…he is very good. He could play a teenage kid.
Spielberg: Nice. He’d work. I'd buy that. He's very likeable.
Bay: Yeah. Maybe he can have some sort of artifact that his…let's say…great-grandfather uncovered. Like…a pair of glasses. They will be the key to the robots being on earth. It will be my great Hitchcockian MacGuffin.
Spielberg: Ooookay. But, the whole concept of the "MacGuffin" is that it was an item never shown in his movies.
Bay: Whatever. It’s my MacGuffin. Okay?
Bay: Okay…then we can have a subplot that details how the U.S. government has secretly hidden Transformers from the world. We can have a kooky government stooge that protects the public from this, but it will be revealed to the heroes during the course of the film.
Spielberg: Ooookay…war on earth…alien invasion…U.S. cover-up...this sounds a lot like INDEPENDENCE DAY.
Bay: Hey…my film-watching peeps are suckers for witless, regurgitated formulas.
Spielberg: Good point. But I have an idea about how to present the Transformers. I think it would be much more effective to shown them late in the film instead of too early, to build a sense of implied menace…like in JAWS. Never saw the shark until late and that worked. Build up audience expectations, and then when ya show 'em, they'll be wowed.
Bay: No way. Can’t do that. If I'm doing this "my way" then I'm gonna start this movie with a kick ass, hyperactive action sequence that introduces the robots and really excites the audience.
Spielberg: Ooookay. But, Mike, can you please tone down how you film the action sequences? So many of them before in your other films are cobbled together and edited like they were designed to be viewed by people with Attention Deficit Disorder. I mean…sometimes they are so migraine inducing that I get ill just watching them. I mean...does every shot have to have a swirling, chaotic camera?
Bay: Sorry, Stevie. That's my calling card. This is "my film" and if I want to engage in cinematic overkill, I will make this film one that only I can make. Big, bloated, and as extreme as possible.
Spielberg: Ooookay. Any other thoughts, besides making the story derivative and the action sequences complete seizure-inducing eye candy that borders on being cringe worthy?
Bay: Sure do. I think that we need to make Shia’s character really unsympathetic. I mean, let’s say that he sells the MacGuffin on eBay to make some cash so he can buy the car of his dreams so he can nail the woman of his dreams.
Bay: Yeah…check this out...he does not give a hoot about his precious heirloom...the glasses...my MacGuffin...the key to the robot war on earth...so he tries to sell it. That’s how the Decepticons find out about the glasses. They’ll search eBay.
Spielberg: The alien robots that want to wipe out humanity will search…eBay?
Spielberg: But wouldn’t it make more sense to make Shia likeable, someone for us to root for? With him selling his granddad’s stuff for a car…seems kind of lecherous. Don't ya think? Why would I care for him?
Bay: Well…you’ll care about him nailing the girl of his dreams when you see who I cast as the girl.
Bay: Megan Fox. Holy Hanna...she is a babe. I foresee using her assets to the extreme. For example, I see in my mind her playing a 17-year-old grade 11 student in a halter top and a very, very short skirt. She’s also very good with cars. When Shia’s ride breaks down, I think I should shoot her like an FHM magazine spread. Close-ups of her cleavage…her exposed midriff…and then her bent over the car. It'll leave my peeps drooling. I know I am just thinking about it.
Spielberg: Ooookay...but is that necessary? Won’t that be just reducing her to a dumb sex object and make her less of a character.
Bay: But she's good with cars. That's her angle. Her dad showed her that...before he went to prison. Plus she's hot.
Spielberg: I dunno...
Bay: Stevie…Stevie…I live for sexually objectifying women in my films. And if I have a chick with a nice grill…get it…grill…man I kill me...than I am gonna show it off. Plus…I want to make her scenes stick out like MTV music videos. Plus, the car that LaBeouf drives is actually Optimus Prime. Ya see…he befriends Shia and tries to help him score with Meagan by playing mood music.
Spielberg: Ooookay. But why would an alien robot that is engaging in an interstellar war with a group of other robots want to waste time with helping Shia bed a teenage chick?
Bay: Trust me. Even a robot would want Shia to nail this girl. I mean…look at her. And she's good with cars. What an angle, eh?
Spielberg: Ooookay. What about the rest of the film?
Bay: Oh…you mean the story. Hee-hee. That’s a good one, Stevie. That’ll all come together eventually. I think the best thing to do is to focus on the super fast and bad ass action scenes first, followed by hot chicks bending over cars and looking hot, and then the story will come together around those crucial elements.
Spielberg: Ooookay. But don't ya think a script is needed.
Bay: Never needed one before.
Spielberg: Good Point.
Bay: Hey...maybe we could get Jon Voight to play the Secretary of Defence?
Spielberg: Nice. He could play things to campy effectiveness like in ANACONDA. Might be fun.
Bay: No…he’s playing things straight. He was in MIDNIGHT COWBOY. I think he was gay in that. I always think gay humor works in my past films. Yet, I want a serious actor to bring gravitas to the movie.
Spielberg: Ooookay. But wouldn’t that be kind of even more laughably bad? The movie sounds silly to begin with.
Bay: Don’t worry. I’m gonna get John Turturro to play humorously over-the-top as the leader of that secret government agency that has hidden the robots.
Bay: Plus…we’ll use the Hoover Dam as part of a vast government conspiracy to cover up the robots' existence.
Spielberg: Geez, Mike. It sounds like this film is gonna be on IDIOT auto-pilot all the way through.
Bay: Why not? My other films thrived with bad acting, even badder, ham-infested dialogue...and a genuine lack of a decent story.
Spielberg: Good point.
Bay: Plus this will have a hot babe that knows cars!
Bay: To make things even more juvenile…'cause this is a family movie…I’ll throw in two dumb parents…and a cute dog. Don’t worry...I won’t kill the dog. But, I foresee a scene where Optimus Prime sneaks into Shia’s parents' backyard and…say…smashes the mother’s flower garden. That would be a riot.
Spielberg: Ooookay. But wouldn’t the parents be startled to see a robot in the backyard? Would they not notice that?
Bay: Nah. They’ll think it’s something else…like an earthquake. Yeah. An earthquake.
Spielberg: These parents sound like…blind fools.
Bay: Well…if this film will subscribe to the 'Idiot Plot Syndrome"…then they’ll have to be.
Bay: Oh…maybe we can get Hugo Weaving to voice Megatron?
Spielberg: Hugo Weaving? But isn’t that a waste of his talent? I mean…the voice will be so robotic that you’ll never once understand that it's him.
Bay: Doesn’t matter. His name will be on the marquee. That's all that matters.
Bay: Finally, I think we should end the film with a really, really long battle sequence with all of the robots, done with my characteristic flare for overkill: lots of inanely fast cuts, so fast that you can’t make out any idea as to what’s happening. Then, when the smoke is cleared and a city is left devastated, the Autobots realize that they can secretly live on earth…in their transformed state. So…good robots win...bad robot lose…world saved…and Shia gets to make out with the babe of his dreams on the hood of a car. Plus she's good with cars. She's the perfect woman.
Spielberg: Ooookay. But it sounds like the amount of damage that the robots will cause would be like…ten 9/11’s combined…so how in the world could they keep their existence a secret afterwards?
Bay: Oh…the government will bury the dead bad robots at sea. No one will be none the wiser. It'll be another cover-up.
Spielberg: But not at Hoover Dam?
Bay: No. At sea.
Spielberg: Buried at sea? Ooookay. But…wouldn’t the public not want to know what happened to the Autobots?
Bay: Stevie…I said they will be disguised as cars in the end to hide their existence. Like...maybe one could be a Volvo?
Spielberg: Hmmmm…oookay. Just so I am clear, you plan to make TRANSFORMERS with seizure-inducing action scenes and editing, dumb dialogue, a generic storyline, idiotic characters, a lot of pin-up shots showing off Megan Fox’s assets, and a main character played by Shia Labeouf that likes to pawn off his family jewels on eBay to make money. eBay will be the key to the robot war on earth, along with a Hoover Dam-conspiracy.
Bay: Damn straight. I mean…I am really pumped about this. I think that if I do this the way I have done all of my films, then TRANSFORMERS will go down as my grand, action opus. Ahhhh...my opus.
Spielberg: Yeah…but doesn’t opus imply that the film needs to be…good?
Bay. Aw...gee whiz, Stevie. I think that I know what my intellectually stunted audience wants.
Spielberg: Ooookay. But I think that my two Oscars for being Best Director say otherwise.
Bay: Good point.
Okay. I lied.
That conversation was not taped, nor did it actually "happen", nor do I have anyone on the inside. But after watching TRANSFORMERS, I sincerely believed that a conversation like this one probably happened.
I really do.
TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN (2009) zero stars
TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON (2011) 1/2
TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION (2014) 1/2