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"A mad rush of blood to the adolescent head."
"It's the dilution of the story through these mindless meanderings that hurts most."
"Sleek and sexy, boisterous and brash, and fist pumpingly fresh."
Transformers  

Cast

Sam Witwicky: Shia LaBeouf
Sgt. Epps: Tyrese Gibson
Sgt. Lennox: Josh Duhamel
Glen Whitmann: Anthony Anderson
Mikaela Banes: Megan Fox
Maggie Madsen: Rachael Taylor
Agent Simmons: John Turturro
John Keller: Jon Voight
Review July 2007

"More than Meets the Eye" - super robots, in disguise, with the ability to change into planes, trains, and automobiles instantaneously. And they have come to Earth in search of the Allspark, a cubical device that holds the key to robotic afterlife. Based on Hasbro's popular toy line, "Transformers" depicts the battle between good and evil, between Autobot and Decepticon. And it does so as a backdrop to every day teenager, Sam Witwicky, and his pursuit of the perfect car and the perfect girl. Directed by adrenaline junkie, Michael Bay, "Transformers" is this summer's first, true blockbuster. First, because it's not a sequel. And true, because it's an all out assault of action and special effects wizardry. Although there are questionable storyline snags and character flaws aplenty, "Transformers" rolls with the punches, making no excuses for what it truly is - a mad rush of blood to the adolescent head.

Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, an alien race of mechanized life forms battle for their very existence on a remote planet known as Cybertron. Known as Transformers, these shape-shifting robotic beings are divided between good and evil - the Autobots and their noble leader, Optimus Prime, and the Decepticons, and their diabolical leader, Megatron. At the center of their fight is a cube shaped device known as the Allspark, granting its possessor the ultimate power to create and restore life. The key to the Transformer afterlife. But before the Decepticons can get their hands on it, the Autobots have the Allspark ejected into outer space. Heading toward Earth, Megatron pursues, but crash lands well short of his goal, a mile beneath the surface of the Arctic Circle. Frozen solid in ice, Megatron's body is later discovered in 1897, only to be transported and hidden for well over a century by a government agency known only as Sector 7.

Today, a nerdy young teenager named Sam Witwicky tries to make his way through high school, the subject of jock jokes and jabs. Convinced that a cool car will improve his popularity and impress fellow classmate, Mikaela Banes, Sam purchases a beat up 1977 Camaro. At first, the car seems the perfect vehicle for his intentions. But as his relationship with Mikaela starts to develop, the car begins to exercise its own free will, communicating through the radio and taking itself out for an occasional spin. By necessity, the Camaro reveals itself to be none other than Bumblebee, an Autobot searching for Sam, descendent of Captain Archibald Witwicky, discoverer of Megatron, map keeper to the Allspark. As Sam's past catches up with him, more Autobots and Decepticons arrive on Earth. The key, of course, lies with Sam and his past. The only question is whether the Autobots can retrieve and destroy the Allspark before the Decepticons and prevent a total war on earth.

The Transformers made their initial debut in 1984 through a variety of different media, most specifically Marvel comics and an animated television series. In 1986, their success led to an animated feature called "The Transformers: The Movie." Deriving from the planet Cybertron, the heroes and villains would "transform" from robots into many inconspicuous or harmless forms such as cars, aircraft, or animals. Hence the series' common catch phrase, "Robots in Disguise." But the true origin of the Transformers really dates back to the 1970's with the Hasbro toy company purchasing Diaclone toys, a Japanese line featuring humanoids transforming into electronic devices.

For fans of the original series and comics, this live action "Transformers" tries to stay faithful. Most of the characters are based off Generation One inspirations with a few modern twists. Notably, Bumblebee appears as a 2009 concept Camaro instead of a rickety old VW bug and Megatron turns into an interstellar spacecraft instead of a Walther P38 pistol, understandable since kids are the film's primary audience. Fortunately, the rest of the characters are left as is, including Optimus Prime's Peterbilt truck and Barricade's Saleen S281E Ford Mustang. And the film seems to know its fan base, offering up many tributes, including the use of Optimus Prime's original voice, Peter Cullen, and the use of nostalgic quotes, such as "One shall stand and one shall fall" and Megatron's perennial disappointment in Starscream, "You've failed me again!" In fact, the only true disappointment for fans will center on why the Transformers are not at the forefront of the story, but rather, peripheral characters moving the plot along.

Love him or hate him, if there's one thing about Michael Bay you should know, it's that his films are bursting at the seams with testosterone. They're steroid driven vehicles that leave very little room for character development or story embellishment. Films such as "Bad Boys," "The Rock," "Armageddon," "Pearl Harbor," and the underrated sci-fi escape, "The Island." A commercially successful director known for the popular "Got Milk?" campaign, Michael Bay knows how to grab and sustain one's attention. After all, his skills were honed by action gurus Donald Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer. And the resulting "Transformers" is right in line, perfect summer fun, making ample use of Bay's flashy style, incorporating an overabundance of effects, rapid edits, mobile camera movement, and extreme, in your face action sequences.

Based off his work on the "X-Men," Tom DeSanto was brought in to write the screenplay to the "Transformers." Focusing on "their war on our world" and Spielberg's pitch about a boy and a car, DeSanto crafted a story about a normal teenager, Sam Witwicky, and his struggle to gain respect and a girl, while placing the Transformers and their battle in the background. By themselves, these components are enough to fill a full-length feature. However, the film deviates from this central plotline to include silly elements involving a crack team of communications wiz kids at the Pentagon, a "Men in Black" type organization known as Sector 7 led by the goofy Agent Simmons, and an underdeveloped military muscle comprised of Sgt. Lennox and Epps. While the film requires the frequent suspension of logic and presents far more questions than answers, it's the dilution of the story through these mindless meanderings that hurts most.

Central to the film's success or failure are the effects required to turn the Transformers from robot to ordinary device. And here, Bay spares no expense, spending the majority of the film's $150 million budget on roughly 630 animatics, showcasing a Qatar battle against Scorponok, the delicacy of the Autobots hiding from Sam's parents in the back yard, the emergence of Megatron at the Hoover Dam, and the stunning battle in Mission City. Yet, for all the transforming glory, the effects are exhaustively overdone. Transitions are too quick, requiring many moving parts, and camera angles are extremely close. This is most noticeable in the film's finale, where Autobots and Decepticons do battle on the city streets with American military fully engaged. In what is supposed to be the climactic confrontation, many of the robots look identical in silvery metallic. And because everything is full throttle and super tight, it's hard to follow what's happening to whom.

Unlike the Transformers themselves, the live-action movie is precisely what meets the eye. It's sleek and sexy, boisterous and brash, and fist pumpingly fresh. All in all, an entertaining and engaging summer vehicle from thrill inducer, Michael Bay. However, like many of Bay's films of the past, intricate form comes at the price of intricate plot. Here, the characters are not fully developed, the story takes too many tangents, and the execution presents too many visual anomalies. It's not distracting per se, nor is it the type of film to over analyze. Rather, "Transformers" is the kind of film where you kick back, unwind, and enjoy the summer sizzle.



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