September 12, 2007
To most kids growing up in the 80s, the word "Transformers" had one very special meaning: fabulous vehicles able to transform into giant robots. And when I say "most kids", I don't mean only American kids, as this concept, created by the Japanese toy company Takara, became truly a worldwide phenomenon when in 1984 the American company Hasbro launched the "Transformers" toy line with a captivating back-story. What started as a toy line became a full fledged epic tale detailing the adventures of the Autobots, a group of heroic Transformers who protected Earth from an evil faction of their own people who called themselves Decepticons. More than 10 years later, "Transformers" remains a popular concept, and proof of that is the fact that filmmaker Michael Bay has directed a live action film about it. Sadly, the result is far from being more than meets the eye.
In "Transformers", Shia LaBeouf plays Sam Witwicky, a young high school student whose biggest wish is to own a car in order to impress his beautiful classmate Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox). Unfortunately for him, all he can afford is an old rusted Camaro with a tendency to fail at the most inappropriate occasions. One night, he watches his car move by itself, and he follows it to a junkyard, where it transforms into Autobot Bumblebee (Mark Ryan). This won't be the last of his surprises, as after this discovery, he'll be chased by another autonomous vehicle, a police car. Bumblebee manages to save Sam and takes him to his fellow Autobots. Their leader, Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen), explains Sam that this is only the beginning of a new chapter in their constant war with the Decepticons, but that Sam has the key to something that could end it once and for all.
Developed by writers John Rogers, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, the screenplay for "Transformers" essentially moves between two main stories: the constant war between the Autobots and the Decepticons, and Sam's coming of age story. In fact, this last theme becomes the most important of the two, as the film focuses a lot on Sam's friendship with his sentient car, Bumblebee, as well as his wish of being Mikaela's boyfriend. Several more subplots are added, some very interesting and some pretty pointless, but unfortunately, the writers do a poor job in tying everything together and the result is a convoluted story that feels awkward in its poor balance of action and comedy. The writer's attempt to develop their character is certainly commendable, as they truly manage to humanize them in a fairly believable way. Sadly, it's not good enough to save the script.
As usual with Michael Bay films, his style "Transformers" is more eye candy than real storytelling, as he puts a lot more emphasis on fast moving action scenes filled with special effects than in the story the writers delivered for him. Of course, I know it's obvious that the special effects of the giant robots is the movie's main selling point, and they are the reason the movie was made in the first time; however, Bay's trademark quick-cut style of editing together with his shaky camera-work make very hard to fully appreciate the work of the special effects team, as Bay seems to believe that to make a dynamic action film he needs to keep the camera constantly moving without a real reason. If there's something to praise in Bay's directing, that would be his decision of making the Transformers look the most realistic possible, as it adds a lot to the epic nature of the storyline.
The acting in the film is pretty much average, with Shia LaBeouf making a very effective performance as Sam, although he is in no way remarkable or outstanding. Mikaela Fox is sadly of the ones who make an awful job, as in this movie she proves that she was only hired because of her looks, not because of any real talent. On the other hand Josh Duhamel is truly one of the highlights of the movie, and one of the few who really adds a lot of power to the film. Hopefully Duhamel will become a rising action star in the future. In a nice detail, Peter Cullen reprises his role as the voice of Optimus Prime, and once again gives his character that the powerful presence it had in the cartoon. Unfortunately, that can't be said of Hugo Weaving, whose great job as Megatron's voice gets lost by an overuse of sound effects in his voice-work.
Personally, the biggest problem I have with "Transformers" is not that it's bad (it is not), it is that it could had been a lot better given the elements Bay had to work with. I'm not saying the script is a masterpiece, as it seriously lacks focus and fails at mixing comedy and action, but the approach director Michael Bay used in the film only made it feel even more mediocre than what it is. While the movie has a wonderful visual look (no doubt thanks to Bay's experience making commercials), his frantic editing and sloppy narrative diminish the quality of Mitchell Amundsen's cinematography and the special effects team's masterful work. I won't deny that there are instances where his style works perfectly, and that the movie gets really entertaining in more than one occasion, but I couldn't help but feeling that I was watching a long commercial instead of the epic battle of robots that the advertising promised.
"Transformers" is one of those movies that provide instant entertainment and give the impression of being pretty cool, but end up feeling shallow when one begins to seriously think about them. That's probably the best advice to enjoy "Transformers": not to think too seriously about it, as ultimately it is as shallow as a TV commercial. It's a fun movie with great special effects and some good performances, but it's not the great action movie that it could had been.
Buy "Transformers" (2007)