No matter what the critics say about it, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the third installment in Michael Bay’s franchise, will attract a large audience mostly made up of kids and, also, of kids at heart. It’s the 2011 summer blockbuster after all.
I was fortunate to attend the US premiere of Transformers: Dark of the Moon, about large alien robots that can morph into automotives and battle for the fate of the planet, at Lincoln Center. Director Michael Bay was in attendance and introduced much of the cast including, Shia LeBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Tyrese Gibson, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, Frances McDormand, Alan Tudyk and Ken Jeong. Bay also thanked Steven Spielberg for encouraging him to pick up the project originally. Through the night (Nokia sponsored the afterparty in Midtown) it was clear the Hollywood stars would get a lot of the attention and applause.
But cheers were also bestowed upon the heroic robotic faction, the Autobots. When Optimus Prime, in eighteen-wheeler form, showed up on screen for the first time, I felt the twinge of recognition and a bit of joy. Having grown up in the ‘80s, I, like many others, can recognize icons and characters from a color scheme. There is the drab green of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the intense yellow of Hulk Hogan’s muscle shirts, Smurf blue and the deep red of Optimus Prime. So when Prime or fellow Autobot Bumblebee (whose life-size figure appeared down in Times Square for the red carpet event and alter-ego Chevy Camaro made it to Lincoln Center) are on screen you just know that good will result. They are the heroes.
In the same vein as Independence Day (Will’s children Willow and Jaden Smith were in attendance), Transformers 3 finds planet Earth in peril once more from the Decepticons. The Decepticons are led by a distinct figure, Megatron, who was wounded in an earlier film missing part of his head and appears like a homeless person in his rags. However when it comes to the individual robots, Decepticons have very few attributes to differentiate one from another. Watching many of the chaotic fight scenes, I often was unable to discern which robot was clashing with another. But the Decepticons did have some giant Tremors-esque multi-toothed worm-machine grinding up earth and buildings with ease. It was pretty wicked.
Transformers 3 succeeds as the blockbuster summer popcorn flick of 2011 with its giant robots and over the top destruction and decimation. But it was the human actors who got a chance to be even more over the top, playing highly exaggerated characters. McDormand, as government official Mearing, snubbed anyone who would not follow her orders. John Malkovich played uptight and OCD business exec Bruce Brazos. Jeong, as Jerry Wang, was even more egregious, not for any particularly comedic outbursts, but because he caused such undue discomfort to the characters he meets. It goes without saying that Turturro’s recurring role as Simmons or his sidekick Dutch (Tudyk) also fit the bill.
Yet Transformers 3 falls for the 21st century gimmick that is turning people off (or at least not producing as much revenue as before), 3-D imagery. To some it is not a gimmick, its part of fandom. Before the film had begun, fans applauded one of their own for bringing a “cinemask”, a yellow Bumblebee mask with 3-D glasses built in. But, while I was surprised to find 3-D viewing is possible from an awkward vantage, I never felt it built up a sense of immersion into the world. Things fall from the sky, things fly into the sky, things get blown up (or shot into the sky) and a digitized President Obama gives Witwicky (LeBeouf) a medal. Perhaps some loss of sharpness from the effect caused me to lose focus on what was occurring on screen.
But that’s ok. The blockbuster movie was a blast. With the speedy release of each sequel, most fans will await the next opportunity to see Optimus Prime in action. Until then, there is time to debate which of the three is the best or whether or not previous starlet, Megan Fox is outdone by Huntington-Whiteley.