4 July 2007 | tedg
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.