Transformers (2007)

PG-13   |    |  Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi


Transformers (2007) Poster

An ancient struggle between two Cybertronian races, the heroic Autobots and the evil Decepticons, comes to Earth, with a clue to the ultimate power held by a teenager.


7/10
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4 July 2007 | tedg
Spatial Flitting
For once, what I see in a film is what most others do. So unlike most comments I write, this one will be "mainstream."

The way this is put together is based on fractional narrative. Its the notion that if you leave big holes in the story, things are stronger than if you seek to explain and fully reveal everything. Its a solid technique, often used in the story itself. Its used that way here, almost automatically as the cosmology invented here was devised for what, 8 year old toy consumers. But its extended. One extension may be an accident: characters appear and disappear at random with none of the completion or agency that we expect. I believe that's because Bay is a nitwit in this department and the guys in the front office thought it wouldn't matter. Also, its likely that Bay shot a 6 hour movie that makes some sense storywise and then he took out all the parts that got in the way of the "value."

But there's another "incomplete narrative" element that I think was by design. The camera sees and understands very little of what is going on in the battles. The camera is looking in the wrong directions, is too close, shifts in panic and jumps from view to view (when close in) as if it didn't actually know what was to happen next. So you don't actually "see" a full transformation, or a battle event. Often you can't tell who are the good and bad robots. Often you cannot tell actually who's up and who's down as you could, say in your classical fight, all of which it seems come from that 1938 "Robin Hood" sword fight at the end.

This cinematic technique is not new or novel. Its the first resort of filmmakers whose CGI aspirations outstrip the budget. But this is a whole new reason: that business of what you don't actually see is always grander than what you do.

Combined with this is a second phenomenon, and here it fits perfectly. Its the use of the dimensional camera. In this case, sometimes the camera is as a human would act. Sometimes it is disembodied, but there's a very strict vocabulary here too, determined by the restrictions of cranes and helicopters. What we have now is something new, the camera that flits, that moves in all three dimensions. We saw it first on 100% animated cartoons. I think "Treasure Planet" was made just to test this. Pixar created a whole philosophy and took over Disney based on it.

Then we saw it in CGI-heavy films. It was thrilling in "Van Helsing," and there a new convention was tried: show something on screen that has similar behavior to the eye we will shift into. In Van Helsing's case, it was the three flying harpies, in particular (of course) the redheaded one. She flits with precisely the same gestures as the camera.

Then we saw it full bore in "Pirates of the Caribbean," and "Kong Kong." In the former it was architectural, and the latter fully integrated into the action. WETA led the way on this. There's a new technology that makes this within reach of even dopes like Bay. Its called preanimation, and what it does is completely model the scene before any work starts so that the camera has absolute freedom and isn't static as storyboards would have it. Then the virtual worlds and real shots are just busy work, all the creativity is in the design at this stage.

You can see precisely which sequences were done by the preamination "director," and which by Bay. The new "law" is followed in the sense that we have an on-screen avatar as exemplar of the flitting eye movements. Its a hypercaffeinated skeletal robot. It helps us understand how the eye moves and why it sees incompletely.

Oh, and its not an offhand thing that the central goal of the plot is a search for "spectacles."

So when you see this, and you wonder about whether we are worth saving as a people (which is the reason for the story), and you seriously do teeter on indecision, consider this: we are evolving very quickly in the way we see, the way we model things visually and the way introspective representations are internalized. For that alone, we deserve a chance at survival.

Until next summer.

Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.

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Did You Know?

Trivia

Jon Favreau was at one point considered for the directors chair. However, he was already committed to Iron Man (2008) and couldn't accept.


Quotes

Optimus Prime: Before time began, there was the Cube. We know not where it comes from, only that it holds the power to create worlds and fill them with life. That is how our race was born. For a time, we lived in harmony. But like all great power, some wanted it ...


Goofs

(at around 42 mins) During the fight with Scorponok the real time feed being viewed by Keller from the UAV shows a plume of orange smoke coming from the ground before Epps has thrown it to signal the incoming Warthogs.


Crazy Credits

SPOILER: There are three scenes in the closing credits:

  • the first two scenes are of Ron and Judy Witwicky, who were told about the Transformers, trying to bluff their way through an interview about the recent alien events.
  • The third and final scene is of Starscream flying into space.


Alternate Versions

An extended version of the film was released on September 21, 2007 to IMAX theaters. Among the additions scenes:

  • Sam's interrogation by the police officers runs longer, ending the detectives showing Sam the famous "This is Your Brain on Drugs" PSA
  • Upon arriving at the Hoover Dam, Agent Simmons gives a much longer speech about Sector 7 and what they do.
  • When Capt. Lennox acquires the old walkie-talkies from the pawn shop, he's seen arguing with the pawn shop clerk about the price.


Soundtracks

Before It's Too Late (Sam and Mikaela's Theme)
Written by
Johnny Rzeznik (as John Rzeznik)
Performed by Goo Goo Dolls (as Goo Goo Dolls)
Courtesy of Reprise Records

Storyline

Plot Summary


Synopsis (WARNING: Spoilers)


Genres

Action | Adventure | Sci-Fi

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