I ride the train home against a setting sun. The trees are a black silhouette against the fading light. In the distance, the sprawl of London is fading from view. A sign for Carpet Right looms up in the foreground, illuminated by a lager-coloured light.
It’s a moment of pleasant serenity after the swirling mayhem of the preview I’ve just seen: approximately fifteen minutes of footage of Transformers: Dark Of The Moon. This is a film directed by Michael Bay. Michael Bay, over a lengthy career, has perfected a style of filmmaking that is unparalleled anywhere else in the world. A style of filmmaking in which his camera never, ever stays still. In which a shot never lasts for longer than two seconds, unless it’s so that the camera can linger adoringly over the body of a woman in skin-tight clothing. A style of filmmaking in which spectacle is key, and gigantic explosions are rapidly topped by further explosions of even greater magnitude.
Transformers: Dark Of The Moon is, of course, the third big-budget movie about giant robots from outerspace, the good Autobots and the evil Decepticons, a young man named Sam Witwicky, and his friendship with one particular Autobot, Bumblebee, who can transform into a Chevrolet Camaro.
The first two Transformers movies were glossy slabs of summertime chaos. In them, big robots shot and punched each other. Tiny, fleshy humans ran away, helpless to do anything very much against the dizzying onslaught. Entire cities were destroyed, or so it seemed. Sam Witwicky, played by Shia LaBeouf, was one of the humans tasked with running away. His girlfriend was Mikaela, played by Megan Fox.
The question is, after the wholesale destruction of the first two Transformers movies, where could Michael Bay possibly take the franchise next? The answer is, blow more stuff up, in a larger, louder, and more grand fashion than ever. And blow stuff up in 3D.
Trying to recount what approximately fifteen minutes of Transformers: Dark Of The Moon is like is difficult. Imagine you’ve been on a roller coaster, and then, after it’s finished, and you’ve tottered out of your seat feeling all dizzy, a policeman comes up to you and demands that you try to describe what a person in the crowd down below looked like.
I took notes. God knows, I took notes. The problem is, they all say things like, “blimey!”, “Big robots! Get out of there!”, and “magical flying squirrel suits!”
Ah, yes, the flying squirrel suits. I’ll get back to those shortly.
My notes, then, were useless. Dark Of The Moon is a roller coaster ride, and you can’t take notes on a roller coaster ride.
But I can tell you this much: things happen. Many, many things. Stuff collapses, huge, huge robots fight in huge, city-wide brawls, and people shout and scream and run in terror from huge, calamitous things happening behind them. It’s all quite startling, and it’s clearly on the cutting edge of technology.
Our preview begins in 1969, in what is the high point of the space age. The US is at the peak of its powers, and Apollo 11 blasts off to the moon. This much, of course, is all part of recorded history. But what history doesn’t recall is that Neil Armstrong, along with his buddy Buzz Aldrin, discovered something disturbing when they went out exploring on the lunar surface. Something not of this world. Something invented by Hasbro.
For reasons that aren’t clear, the discovery made by the Apollo 11 mission is the trigger for a full-scale Decepticon invasion in the present day. Arriving on Earth in what appears to be a giant metal prawn, the scene is set for a battle in which cities are destroyed, fleshy humans run in fear, and heroic Autobots fight evil Decepticons.
As a showcase for cutting-edge 3D technology, this is sterling stuff. Every shard of glass and popped rivet floats in three-dimensional space. It’s like looking through a window into a stereoscopic cauldron of war. As a big screen spectacle, it’s quite astonishing. In terms of design, it’s as intricate as a Persian rug. The effects shots must have taken a frightening amount of computer processing power to render.
On the topic of computer effects, Dark Of The Moon must surely go down in history as the first film to contain not one, but two digitally recreated US presidents, John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon. The former is introduced in an open top car, with a shaky cam piece of footage that, in a momentary lapse of tact, looks as though Zapruder shot it.
The preview, curiously, doesn’t have much time for Sam Witwicky. His new girlfriend, played by Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, is seen either gasping at distant objects with her ruby red lips, or merely looking statuesque as the camera quietly appraises her body in lingering close-up. But then again, Transformers movies were never really about humans or dialogue (in Dark Of The Moon, a fictionalised Neil Armstrong says, “I’ve uncovered a giant metal face.”).
No, Transformers movies are about big robots shooting and punching each other, and in this area, Dark Of The Moon is clearly Bay’s biggest spectacle yet. The preview alone is brimming with widescreen action, to the point where your eyes can barely process the devastation that’s occurring in front of them.
And then there are those soldiers and their magical flying squirrel suits. They dive out of an exploding aircraft, and then plummet down through the midst of an interplanetary war, the breeze flapping through the cloth of their fantastical garments. It’s a moment of rapid-fire poetry.
As a summer blockbuster, Transformers: Dark Of The Moon has proved itself the towering emperor, and Bay the king of the attention-deprived camera and the vast explosion. It’s unlikely that anything will match it in scope or 3D spectacle, though it’s equally unlikely that you’ll remember much after you’ve left the multiplex. Apart from those gorgeous magical flying squirrel suits, of course.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll allow the train to carry me home, where I can lie down to recover.