Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, John Rogers
Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Rachael Taylor, Anthony Anderson, Jon Voight, John Turturro, Michael O’Neill, Kevin Dunn, Peter Cullen, Mark Ryan, Darius McCrary, Hugo Weaving
PG-13 (For intense sequences of sci-fi action violence, brief sexual humor, and language)
Another bastion of ’80s pop culture, the Transformers, earns the big screen treatment with this visual effects extravaganza.
Director Michael Bay has a solid record of action films, though most of them suffer from the same indulgences: too many effects spread across too little substance. To an extent, Transformers befalls the same fate, but there are a few sparkles of treasure hidden within.
Shia LaBeouf, a highly underrated actor, plays Sam Witwicky, the descendant of a famed South Pole explorer who, as we learn later in the film, was responsible for the discovery of a strange and dangerous machine that had crash landed in the Antarctic. Sam isn’t as keen on his heritage as he might have been had he not been attempting to hock his ancestor’s belongings on eBay.
With the money he receives, he’s hoping to rebuild his coffers that were depleted with the expenditure of $2,000 towards the purchase of his first car. His father Ron (Kevin Dunn) teases him with the idea of a Porsche purchase but ends up at a used car lot where he ends up purchasing the Autobot Bumblebee. Soon after he discovers the car has a mind of its own, speaking through songs played on the radio, he becomes the unwitting pawn in a game of war.
Turning up for this latest blockbuster picture are Megan Fox who plays the eventual love interest of our lead character, Josh Duhamel as the battalion leader of a group of soldiers in Qatar trying to get word of an alien invasion to the Pentagon, Tyrese Gibson as a fellow officer, Rachael Taylor as the brainy scientist who uncovers the alien life stateside and takes it to Anthony Anderson for further diagnostics, Jon Voight as the better-than-his-real-life counterpart Secretary of Defense, John Turturro as a completely irritating secret military organization operative, and Tony Award winner Julie White reveling in her brief role as Sam’s mother Judy.
And those are just the human elements of the story. There are of course the Autobots and the Decepticons who have pursued the powerful Allspark to its location on planet Earth. It takes a good portion of the film before we’re introduced to the Autobots, heroes of the story, but we get plenty of attacks by the Decepticons early in the film, setting up a climactic final battle that teeters on unnecessary. The only actor to reprise his vocal role from the mid-80s series was Peter Cullen, whose return as Optimus Prime was one of the few bright spots of the film. Had they replaced him as they did Frank Welker as Megatron (now voiced by Hugo Weaving), the film would have lost a great deal of its nostalgia factor as no one could voice Prime as Cullen did and has.
The rest of the Transformers voices are relatively new to the game (Charles Adler didn’t voice the original Starscream, but did do several voices on the show). The most bizarre bit of casting was that of Family Matters‘ Darius McCrary as Jazz. However, it’s difficult to tell whose who and had they picked the original voices, perhaps more flavor would have returned.
The plot is hopelessly cobbled together as in most Bay films, but you can’t help but be entertained by the energetic action in the film. The visual effects are easily superior to those in any film this year and the performances are far less ludicrous than in movies like Armageddon (overly abundant patriotism and faux romance) and The Island (the premise of which was ruined by being made into an action film). It seems as if Bay has learned greatly from his past outings and shown a great deal of growth as a director here. However, there are still too many action film conventions littering up the screen.
LaBeouf and Fox do well in keeping their requisite romance from feeling forced, White bringing more comic wit to the film in her brief screen time than the “awkward” Autobot humor (the hiding in the backyard sequence being the most irritating), the barrage of quick edits that prevent the audience from seeing important and interesting details of the action, and the too-fast transformations that eliminated the interesting details of those found in the original series.
Bay is not one of my favorite directors and along with Roland Emmerich, one of the most viscerally vain. Their products are semi-glossy bits of pulp entertainment that generally ignore the artistic merits of filmmaking while relying on a dumbed-down product to appeal to an audience that could understand more if it were presented to them. That being said, Transformers is surprisingly entertaining and there’s enough nostalgia mixed in to satisfy those who remember and loved the animated series when they were kids.
July 14, 2007