NR: Transformers’ Ever-Shifting Tone

James here with News Reflections.

The man emphasizing something below is Michael Bay, directing a movie.

Michael Bay is a frustrating talent.   He’s one of those guys in Hollywood with all the big guns (literally) who can get whatever he wants on-screen, and what does he use it for?  Some of the most uneven and often intolerable movies you’ll ever see, such as the horrendously epic ‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen’.   The teaser trailer for the third ‘Transformers’ sequel, awkwardly subtitled ‘Dark of the Moon’, is now here, as pretty much every movie blog has reported.  So here it is, embedded below, for your edification.

This is a good teaser.  It does exactly what it should.  Best of all, it commits to its story and tone and doesn’t let up.  It’s appropriately big, audacious, creepy, and mysterious.

In short, it does in two-and-a-half minutes what Michael Bay has failed to do with a two-hour feature on more than one occasion.   It isn’t that the filmmaker cannot deliver proper sequences with the aforementioned elements, but that he hasn’t shown a knack for weaving a multitude of bits and beats into a work greater than the sum of its parts.   As a result, his work is typically only consistent in its discordance, a rapid-fire hodge podge of clashing materials that assault the viewer.

It’s possible to see a film like ‘Revenge of the Fallen’, admire its production values and the Olympian effort behind it, and still come away feeling empty, or worse, angry.   Furious, even, because all that work goes to waste if there isn’t a dramatic unity, a narrative perfect and complete in itself that delivers catharsis.   It may seem like too much to ask from a film like ‘Transformers’, but in truth it’s a reachable ideal, not reserved for pretentious art films.

Story is like a muscle.  Organic, but you have to work at it.   Kids are natural storytellers, and so they work this muscle all the time.  It’s why they play with toys like the titular shape-shifting robots.   When a filmmaker like Bay has all the biggest and baddest toys, and this is the most intelligent stuff his “play” turns out, it worries me.   It worries me because people don’t resist it, don’t challenge him to try harder, to create a narrative soul and craft an appropriate body for it.  Steven Spielberg, whose work I adore, is the executive producer of the ‘Transformers’ series.  He has given creative input.  It’s part of his job.   Is he not resisting Bay’s more destructive impulses?  Does he not care, as long as the films make a killing, as they have and will continue to do?  One can only speculate.

Regardless, it’s probably safe to say that Michael Bay’s latest entry in the series will be a mixed bag.   I can only hope that this excellent teaser trailer bears witness to a better movie.

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