Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Autobots... Roll Out and Blow Shit Up!

I liked one of the Transformers movies - the one that came out in 1986. Yeah, yeah - everyone comes out and starts blasting Michael Bay for blowing stuff up and sacrificing the movie in order to get some gratuitous action shots - but that's not even the problem with these movies. The problem with these movies is not just that are they geared toward 12 to 15 year old boys; it is that they are ONLY geared toward 12 to 15 year old boys. There is plenty of room in good movies for explosions, flames, hot-chick shots, and fart jokes. However, a good movie also has to have more than just those things. A good movie needs to tell a story, capture your heart and imagination, or at least show you something you've never seen before.

Making a Transformers movie, or any movie based on an established property that is beloved by many, is a difficult task. There will be people that hate it as well as people that love it, no matter the actual quality of the result. Just look at GI Joe: Rise of Cobra - some people liked that movie. The key then is to make a movie that more people like than don't like. Of course, in reality, the key to making any movie is to get enough people to pay to see it or buy it on DVD that everyone involved makes a boatload of money. In that regard, Transformers=success. If that's what you care about, you can stop reading.

Here are just a few points that I think if Michael Bay had done differently, he would have made some great summer-flicks that a wide range of people would have enjoyed.

1) The Transformers appearance. Movies are a visual media - these guys have to look good. The Batman appearance in any movie or TV show yet done, looks like Batman. You can point at anything from Adam West's 1966 Batman to Michael Keaton's 1989 Batman to Christian Bale's current Batman and know instantly that it's Batman. This is true for Superman, Spider-Man, Captain America, and even Tron. This is certainly not true for the Transformers movies by Bay.

The ultra-complicated designs for the Transformers were not only confusing but also a huge waste of computational power during rendering. It's nearly impossible to determine at a glance if you're looking at an arm, a leg, an Autobot, or a Decepticon, much less which character is which. I still can't tell you more than 6 or so Transformer characters that appeared in the movies because none of them had much identity. (Let's see: Optimus Prime, Bumble Bee, Megatron, Starscream, Ravage, Prowl, was Ratchet in there?)
In the previous incarnations - the characters all had distinctive characteristics. The movies have Bumble Bee's yellow down at least.....

2) New Characters. Plotting a story for about two hours of a movie is extremely different from plotting out a thirty minute cartoon or a twenty page comic. It's often going to be necessary to add or subtract characters to make the story work for the time and medium that you have. As for went wrong, I could talk about the problems with the Government types to the parents, but really I just have two words "Megan Fox." She is not talented, uncharismatic, and the one thing she supposedly has - her looks - are not that special. There are more attractive actresses that have more talent and more charisma waiting tables all across California. If you want to include a love interest, you can score quick points with the female side of the audience by making them intelligent, witty, and substantive while still providing the eye candy Bay originally intended. Many of those actresses would have been much less expensive. I haven't seen the third Transformers so I have no idea how good or bad the new flavor is.

I guess I do want to say something about the government types. I'm tired of the whole "we the government knew about this stuff for years or decades and yet we haven't done shit about it" thing. I'd like to see a situation where perhaps the government has some information about something that it doesn't understand and they send in a couple of field agents that are not trying to lock everything down, but rather they're first trying to figure out what's happening before they make up their mind about what to do. Perhaps an agent would discover some portion of the puzzle and then begins to work with the protagonist. Unless you're trying to sell the government as evil, they don't always have to hinder everything.

3) Plot. While you don't want everyone who sees the movie to go around telling everyone they know everything that happened, you should shoot for them being able to understand the basic plot - start to finish. There are many movies like Inception where the complicated plot is crucial to the enjoyment of the movie. There are movies like Black Swan, where the audience is shown one thing while something else entirely is really going on. There are movies like Fargo that have many different characters acting on very different motives. Transformers isn't a movie like that, the property has never attempted to be like that, nor should it. So, we have a type of movie that should have a fairly straight-forward plot.

I saw the first Transformers movie back in 2007, the second in 2009. There isn't much that I can tell you about the plot to either movie. In contrast, I could go on for a LONG time about the various plots to so many cartoons, comics, movies from years, even decades ago.

4) Heart. We need to care about the characters, root for them to win, identify with their circumstances. The relationships in this movie all seemed ridiculous. It was hard to feel a connection to these characters. Shia LaBeouf's Sam Witwicky seemed like a rudderless slacker not only unworthy of the unique relationship with these interstellar robots, but also unworthy of our admiration. I get that Sam was supposed to grow and develop throughout the movie, but that didn't happen.

Anyway, take or leave anything I've written. I haven't seen these movies in years and am working solely from my years-old memories. That's probably not the best circumstance in which to write a blog like this.

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