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.

Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen

Note from James:  Yet another film I neglected to review, but this one was intentionally skipped.  Yeah, it’s so bad, I didn’t even want to talk about how bad it was.

Stars: *1/2 out of Four

Summary:  Almost a solid half of a terrible film, paired with half of a decent film.  Stupidity and adrenaline fueled conflict collide, and the result is very messy.

This poster, according to leading scientists, is 100% more awesome than the entire advertised film.

This poster, according to leading scientists, is 100% more awesome than the entire advertised film.

Review:  Okay, so Michael Bay’s first hit ‘Transformers’ wasn’t all that great either, but seriously?  That film at least had some good, fun moments.  Watching this film is like being hit over the head with a crowbar, while being tazered, while trying to snort mace, while playing with an Optimus Prime action figure.  With multiple elements involved, you would think that at least one would be enjoyable, but nooooo!  They all suck, except of course the Optimus Prime part of the equation, which would be awesome if you weren’t snorting mace, being tazered, etc.

But, Optimus Prime, voiced by original voice actor Peter Cullen, is awesome! Sadly, he isn’t the dominate element of the film, and is thus lost in a sea of failure.

The cinematography is awful.  It definitely didn’t help matters at all.  There are moments, individual shots (the longest shot was about, maybe, 8 seconds long) that are cool, but the hyperkinetic camera movement is both dizzying and forgettable.  The super-fast-hyper-handheld-cam really did work for the ‘Bourne’ movies, but it cannot possibly work for ‘Transformers’.  Ever.  Ever!

I didn’t give one “damn” for all the characters on screen, except for Bumblebee and Optimus Prime.  That’s 2 out of about 30 characters.  Everything about the story seems cheapened.  Last time I checked, ‘Transformers’ was a franchise beloved by children everywhere.  Why, then, did it enter the filmmaker’s minds to plug the film with unlikeable characters (and I do mean unlikeable) and stupid sexual jokes?  It not only alienates the family audience but makes the emotional core of the film — yes, there is one, just buried deep — worthless.

Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!

Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!

The musical score, which impressed me in the first film, is lacking here.  Surprisingly, though, it is merely mediocre and not utterly atrocious.

The CGI was good, sure, and the action at times was cool (when I could see it!), but I didn’t give six pence to watch a movie that I didn’t care about.  Why did I see this movie?