Disclaimer: I realise that cinema is a different medium from both television and comics. I haven’t memorised the tech specs for every individual Transformer toy ever made, and I’ve never been to a ‘BotCon’. In short, while a huge fan, I am, perhaps, not a fanatic. By no means am I someone who irrationally expected/desired a live action film 100 percent faithful to the robots of my childhood (an impossibility, given the vast number of inconsistencies and contradictions from one incarnation to the next). My ire then, is not down (solely!) to pedantry. But I just can’t help feeling that Michael Bay got the Transformers film all wrong.
10: Setting Think of the fun to be had in seeing stunningly realistic robotic giants, presented by state-of-the-art effects, in tandem with a backdrop of Frankie T-shirts, BMXs, and (yes!) ghetto blasters. A 1980s backdrop would have complicated the shoot and cost more. However, it would also have really cranked up the fun level, and the nostalgia level – the latter of which undeniably played a large part in interest in the film as it is.
9. Dialogue It’s something of a tradition, in this type of film, to shoehorn in references to previous incarnations of the property (is it fan service, or is it current audience disservice?). When Shia LeBeouf’s character splutters that “I think there’s a lot more than meets the eye to you,” it’s a terrible line. Even given that within the film, Sam ruefully later acknowledges its cheesiness, nothing can excuse how forced and painful to the ear this reference to the original series is, dramatic irony or not. It curls my toes just thinking about it.
Added to this, we suffer some terrible lines from Optimus Prime, the one character for whom getting it right, one would think, should be a piece of cake.
8. Too busy Can you see what the hell is going on? Without wishing to get ahead of myself, the robots themselves are too busy (see below), but worse, so too is the screen whenever there’s any major action occurring. Of course, there are certain things expected from a summer blockbuster: action, set pieces, big special effects, etc. Quick cuts and sharp angles obviously add to the sense of excitement and urgency, but can’t they at least let our eyes see what’s going on? A blur, whether it’s the blur of animated metal or the blur of a dirty rear view mirror, just makes things difficult to see.
7: Ugly robots Okay, some things had to change from the 80s series. Megatron needed a transformed mode other than the hard-to-explain (or to reproduce in toys without criticism), gun mode. Some vehicles had to change due to a tie-in deal with General Motors. Since the premise of this whole series emanated from a desire to sell toys, one must accept that it’s already inextricably bound to advertising. Additionally, it’s a given that changes will occur, stylistic or otherwise, in transition of anything, from one medium to another. However! In changing the robots, did they have to become so darned ugly? The originals, in their physical toys at least, were minor marvels of engineering. The redesigned 2007 versions comprise unsightly masses of lines resembling shapes in a colouring book scribbled over by a toddler. They are difficult to behold without squinting to try and make sense of the haphazard shapes.
If you believe the reasoning offered by Camp Bay, realism was the goal. Yet, one need only refer to the recent Citroen adverts (and elsewhere) to see how realistic looking robots can be achieved without presenting overblown, grotesque mechanical anatomy. I pity the artists who have to reproduce them for the new comics series.
6: No Frank Welker A quick shufti at box office data website The Numbers (http://www.the-numbers.com/people/records/) reveals Frank Welker, the original voice of Megatron, to be the box office top star – in terms of money generated by his films – of all time. Not that this is completely relevant, but the fact remains that this man is a supremely talented voice artist, and his supremely evil characterisation of Megatron is one of the best things about the original animated series and film.
Michael Bay, in his infinite wisdom, decided that Welker’s voice was not right, not ‘big’ enough, apparently, for the robot they had designed. I find the logic of this to be quite tortuous. Why not simply use the highly successful original character design, or a variation on a theme, rather than prompt a complete redesign, then exclude a much-loved actor on that basis? Regardless, Welker assumed voice duties for this same new Megatron in the high profile Transformers video game tie-in.
On a related point, Mr Bay had fan favourite, Peter Cullen, audition for the role of Optimus Prime, a role he made entirely his own. Forgive the hyperbole, but one wouldn’t ask Olivier to audition for Shakespeare.
5. Super Shia In Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, somewhere off camera, Mr Shia LaBeouf was bitten by, and thus gained the proportionate strength and powers of, a radioactive baboon (apparently). In Transformers, it was surely a radioactive Cheetah, given his sterling performance in outrunning Megatron, a giant robot supposedly over 35 feet tall. Has to be seen to be disbelieved.
4. Optimus Prime’s mouth Okay, at this point you’re rethinking whether my disclaimer was an honest one, but please, hear me out.
One hundred percent of the promotion and merchandising for this film shows Otpmus Prime as he should be, looking regal, majestic, and (forgive me) noble. This look includes a defined, and at least within the world of giant robots, iconic metal plate overlaying his mouth. By contrast, 90% of his onscreen time shows him sans plate, instead with a decidedly unconvincing humanised mouth.
As touched on before, I don’t count myself amongst the likes of the purists who cried foul at the sight of flames on Prime’s arms (not that I understand the logic of those myself either…) and I presumed he would be changed in some ways. Yet, to make so fundamental a change to his appearance is a big mistake (what else, after all, is really the essence of these characters but their look, and in some cases their voices?). That this was indeed a mistake, was acknowledged, I believe, in that none of the advertising for the film showed the much less effective new look. They sold the picture on Prime looking like Prime.
3. Boy meets girl I can suspend my disbelief such that Romeo and Juliet both tragically kill themselves, despite the unlikeliness of how it comes to pass. Similarly, I can suspend my disbelief enough to accept the unlikely premise of two warring races of alien robots landing on Earth. However, in no universe is it plausible, that the supermodel-esque character played by Megan Fox, goes for the supernerd character played by the Chihuahua-faced Shia LaBeouf (in our dreams).
2. Instant reformatting Apparently, these Transformers have the power to change their alternate modes to whatever they like, instantly, as evinced by Bumblebee who eventually favours a flashier modern vehicle than his original vintage choice. This is done by scanning, and then instantaneously ‘morphing’ into the copied form (minus the act of physically reorganising the positions of existing metal body parts). This begs the question, do these Transformers even need to ‘transform’?
(Also, if espionage is the game, why ever settle on any particular alternate mode?)
1. Michael Bay Come on. You know it, and I know it. The man is a single-handed turkey farm. He wouldn’t know subtlety if it exploded in his face (despite his obvious mania for explosions). Transformers made money, but how could it not? This was almost entirely down to the series’ having become deeply ingrained in public consciousness over more than 20 years. Its presentation as live action on the big screen was a prospect that could not fail to make cash. The credit for the success of the film, should by rights go to the writers of the original animated series and continuing comics, who kept the fans’ fervour simmering away. Even a turkey was bound to be able to cash in on the disposable income of the by now, grown up 1980s kids.
My major problem with this film is that despite the far fetched idea at its heart, an effective level of realism could have been established around it. Scenes such as when the gigantic metal figures avoid detection whilst tiptoeing outside their teenage ally’s bedroom window (etc.), do little to achieve this.
So, those are my problems with Michael Bay’s Transformers. Perhaps he’ll fix them all in the sequel?