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Transformers

Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Jon Voight, John Turturro

(Paramount; US DVD: 16 Oct 2007)

It would be truly fantastic if I could announce that there was “more than meets the eye” to Michael Bay’s triumphant two-and-a-half hour robot melee, Transformers. Alas, this is not the case. However, when the director is the hyper-presentational Bay, what meets the eye is quite a lot.


This is not to say that there is not a plot hidden beneath the gears and sheet metal of this film. Rather, it is a simple admission that Transformers achieves little more than an extended flurry of sparks and mutating metal action. Then again, does anyone go to a film about robots fighting looking for a philosophical treatise? Of course, any such agenda would ruin the entire viewing experience.


Transformers tells the tale of Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) who buys, or is rather chosen by, a beat-up yellow Camaro which turns out to be a good-guy alien robot (known as an Autobot) sent to protect the young boy from the forthcoming mecha-war on Earth. The reason for this special security is a pair of his great-grandfather’s spectacles, which have encoded upon them the location of the Allspark, a magic cube which created the Autobots and their enemies, the Decepticons.


A tough (but friendly hearted) crew of fellow Autobots gather around Witwicky to explain the dire importance of finding the Allspark to prevent the Decepticons from obtaining its power and transforming earth machines into an alien army that will ravage the universe. Meanwhile, the Decepticons decimate American armored forces in their parallel pursuit of the Allspark. Robot war ensues.


It would be unjust to say that the plot and characters are paper thin. Despite how fashionable it is to decry Bay as all flash and no content, he makes a strong effort to keep the film human. The wonderfully charming LaBeouf delivers an incredibly sophisticated and amusing performance and, overall, Bay succeeds in maintaining a warm spirit in the film. It is no small accomplishment for such a core to be preserved beneath the many layers of steel, testosterone, and robo-geekery. At the end of the day, Witwicky is the film’s protagonist and not the lead robot, Optimus Prime. Cheers.


Up to this point, the visual effects and “cool” factor have been lurking in the periphery of the review but the question demands to be confronted, “Are the robots jaw-dropping and does the action make you pump your fist with enthusiasm?” Put simply, it is by sheer force of will alone that I uncurl my fingers from their cheer long enough to type this review. CGI has never looked less cheesy, a commendation owed not only to the animation wizards at Industrial Light and Magic but to Bay, as well, whose will to actually blow up as many things as one man possibly can serves the movie’s realism wonderfully.


The detail of the models is incredible and the minutiae of the transformations, incomprehensible. Consider how impressed you are when you think about the patience and time it must have taken for a kindly old tinkerer to have built a ship in a bottle. Now imagine a fully functional Spanish Armada in a snow globe. That is what Bay and his visual effects wunderkinds have created in this film.


Furthermore, Bay’s frenetic camera hurtling through miles of dolly track finally seems at place within this movie. The hyper-technological character of the film is well served by such cinematographic slickness, the viewer often feeling as if their viewpoint is as precisely articulated as their robot heroes.


Does this film have flaws? Of course, it does. Despite her heartbreaking gorgeous looks, Megan Fox (as Mikaela Banes) has her performance devoured by the far more adroit LaBeouf. How one quirky, curly haired boy could rob an audience’s eyes from Fox is mind-blowing and a true testament to his chops.


There are some directorial gaffes, as well: Who thought it would be anything short of farcical to have Josh Duhamel sound a warcry as he slides on his back over concrete between a robot’s legs? If this doesn’t sound ridiculous, watch the movie and try not to laugh. However, when all is said and done the film easily spackles over its faults with “Wow” and nothing about its action disappoints.
 
Complimenting the feature on the two-disc special edition, are some of the most polished special features recorded on DVD. A wealth of interviews and making-of’s populate the second disc, all edited razor sharply and introduced with glossy, glowing menus. The featurettes only heighten one’s awe for this film as one is privileged to the gargantuan undertaking.  LaBeouf proves to be equally affable in real life as when acting, and Bay’s enthusiasm makes you forgot the man just directed the film. This special edition truly sets the bar for fat action volumes.

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Transformers -- Trailer
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