Thursday, July 05, 2007

Best What I Was Trying to Just Keep to Myself

So a mysterious commenter known to me only as "M" left a comment re:Transformers under my Die Hard post that I couldn't ignore. Please don't consider this post an argument with M but more an airing of grievances I had with the film that were perfectly drawn out by his or her comment.

>brigham, clearly you were not in the proper frame of mind while watching this movie. you >went in as a jaded law grad.

I'll address this again in my last point, but really, I couldn't have gone in with a better frame of mind. I was the guy at dinners yelling at Collin not to be apprehensive about this movie, to just embrace the fact that we were getting a giant transforming robot movie and be grateful about it. And law school may have left me jaded in a number of areas (say, towards the law?) BUT it in no way diminished my ability to embrace the imaginative or fantastic. If anything, it made me hungrier for it. Last summer, as I was studying for the bar (not so different from this year, really) I set down my books for a minute and went and saw Superman Returns. I LOVED it. Loved it.

>just think back to when you were 14. this would have been the coolest movie you'd >ever seen. (except for star wars of course).

Going back to my formative years, the time when I was forming the fascinations that would stick with me throughout my life, Transformers are/were probably the universe that most closely approached my love for and obsession with Star Wars. Anything with an excess of back story to familiarize myself with and a wide (if not enormous) number of characters to know the names, functions, strengths, and weaknesses of appealed to me greatly. And this information hasn't left me. Sit in on a conversation with me, and when someone is saying "You know, I always liked the Lamborghini...err, what was he called?" I'm the one interjecting before the question is done with "You mean Sideswipe or Sunstreak? One's red, the other's yellow. I liked Sideswipe better." And while I haven't been maintaining a website dedicated to the Transformers since 1995, collected any of their new comics, or played with any since grade school, my heart stays true. In spite of all my love for the Transformers of my younger years, I was totally cool with the fact that the Transformers in this movie would look different than their previous incarnations and whatnot. I even understand how things like money make it necessary for them to all be GM cars. (Yet I cannot accept Jazz, who was a Porsche before, as a Pontiac Solstice, which costs only about $23,000 and goes from 0 to 60 in 7.5 seconds) And the 14 year old me would have been accepting of these sorts of things too, I bet. BUT certain things that were very, very wrong with this movie would still have bugged me back then. In fact, I pretty much have no complaint with the awesomeness of many of the action scenes (except that, eventually, I couldn't tell anyone apart or understand who was doing what and why). A main problem was that the humans were all so campy, if brainless. I just can't understand how I'm supposed to relate to this movie any more than I do an episode of the old Batman TV show with Sam's parents, Bernie Mac, Anthony Andersen, or John Turtoro acting like they did. I would say it was like a cartoon except for that it wasn't. The Transformers cartoon was more realistic than this movie, the humans acted like people, and most importantly, the robots had dignity and character. Optimus Prime was probably one of the most noble and inspiring heroes of my youth, full of dignity and wisdom. And it was definitely a big plus that his original voice actor returned for this movie, but, ugh, I hate to say it, the Optimus of this movie was not the Optimus of my youth. First, old Optimus wouldn't say "My bad." Second, dude just went on and on with his grand and sweeping monologues. But he sounded more like a robot GA than a hero or leader. Plus, could he have seemed any more nonchalant about the dead Autobot at the end of the movie? (I'm going to be only slightly spoilerish here) "We'll, we've lost an ally [a piece of whom I'm holding casually in each of my hands here] but we've gained some new allies..." Dude, oldschool Optimus would have been a lot more upset about his friend. And we would have been a lot more upset, too. Sure, for a 1/2 a second I was like "Whoah, did Megatron really just rip that one in half?" and that was it. That is NOT how I felt when Autobot after Autobot got shot through the chest in the Tranformers animated movie.

>yes, the high school love interest looked 25.

No, she looked like a prostitute.

And if Shia was going to live in the same house as he did in Disturbia, they should have used the same neighbor. I think the 45 minutes or so we spent on the "human story" between the Qatar attack and Barricade vs. Bumblebee was so insultingly insulting to my not-too-easily insulted intelligence that I was feeling a little too sour to embrace the action when it finally arrived. It's like if you give me a first course covered in hairs I'm not going to be excited when the main dish arrives.

>yes, the autobots are so ridiculously naive and dumb that it's hard to believe they lasted this >long against megatron.

I did most of my venting on this matter in my second paragraph, but let me take the opportunity to remind you that, if you go to see Transformers, you'll get to see Bumblebee urinate all over a Federal Agent. But I'm also upset about the Decepticons. So they were really all just sitting around in parking lots, waiting for Star Scream and the Boom Box (Frenzy, apparently) to rescue Megatron? I wish they had hung out more, planned and conspired. Just because Megatron tells Star Scream that he's disappointed in him doesn't mean their old tet a tet from the cartoon is back. Show us some scheming by Star Scream, so whining. They had character in each episode of a 30 minute cartoon from the 80's, so why don't they in a big huge summer movie from the 00's?

>but i'll bet you laughed when Drive by the Cars started playing.

Actually, I don't know that song. But I do know the significance of "freedom is the right of all sentient beings" and "one shall stand and one shall fall" (I'll admit that line gave me goosebumps)

>i think everyone should see it. it was fun to suspend disbelief (and maturity) for a few brief >hours and remember what it was like to be young, simplistic, and idealistic.

If I know how to do anything, it's suspend my disbelief. Ask Emily Asplund or Cassian, they'll testify that, to their frustration, I've stubbornly stood by many an unpopular blockbuster (Phantom Menace? Daredevil? Superman Returns? Loved 'em.) Suspension of my disbelief is why I can now say that, yes, I loved Live Free or Die Hard and, yes, you know what, I liked Spider-Man 3, and, as a matter of fact, I don't think I'm mad at Pirates 3 either. But what I can't suspend is my feeling that I'm being treated like an idiot OR my feeling that something is just plain lousy--and those are the feelings that Transformers gave me. Maybe some would accuse me of coming into this movie with my hopes too high or too much emotional investment in the material that inspired this film. All I can say in my defense was that I didn't go in expecting an masterpiece and I was ready to allow for liberties to be taken...but seriously, this was just not a well made movie. I don't know if it was even a movie. I was thinking about when the humans were trying to keep little robot Frenzy out of that one room inside Hoover Dam and how I didn't care in the least bit whether or not he broke in or not or if someone hit him with their gun or not. This scene could have been the reincarnation of the scene from Jurassic Park where the two kids are hiding from the Velociraptors in the kitchen. Do you remember that scene? Do you remember how afraid you were for those kids and how scared you were of those rotten dinosaurs? It was exciting! It was emotional! And Jurassic Park wasn't high art and certainly didn't contain a premise any more realistic than this movie did. And I think about Sam's relationship with Bumblebee, I had heard this movie was supposed to be about "a boy and his car" but consider the sequences where he's chasing after Bumblebee only to catch him transformed and beaming his signal into space or when he's acquainting himself with robot Bumblebee after the fight with Barricade. Do these scenes contain, like, a millionth of the charm, heart, or magic from similar sequences in the Iron Giant or E.T.? Those are movies for the young, simplistic, and idealistic. There was nothing idealistic about this movie. At best it was empty, at worst, mean-spirited and gross. And it contained enough unexpected references to adult material and lingering looks at that girl to render it not quite family friendly. Are you ready to explain Sam's conversation (you know, about "Sam's Happy Time") with his parents in his bedroom to a 7 year old?

PLUS, must I remind everyone, Bumblebee urinates on a federal agent. But I can't remember if that was before or after the Autobots forced him to strip down to his underwear.

AND I swear, if there's a whole lot of hacking or a "Best Hacker in the World" in Bourne Ultimatum I am walking out.

BUT these things I did like: when Barricade was going after Bumblebee and transformed back into a car AND Starscream's mid-air battle with the other jets. But by the end there, the action sequences had become such confusing, shambling affairs I could barely tell what was going on or who was hitting whom. If Optimus Prime weren't blue I wouldn't have known he was hanging from Megatron.


Tannerama said...

I think it is silly that movies based on franchises (be they comic books, toys, cartoons, etc.) are all afraid to really be serious. Of course, there are exceptions (the Batman and Superman franchises come to mind but even they had their moments.). But, I always thought that Transformers had such an awesome backstory that way outgrew the intended concept (that of a cartoon to sell toys.).

I mean an ancient race of sentient robots who come from a cybernetic world that was torn apart by civil war? Thats some high drama stuff. True, Transformers (the cartoon) had some super campy and lame elements in it. But, I remember the high tension and drama of that show and the subsequent animated movie more than the dance scene on the junk planet.

But, what you were saying about Frenzy and the people trapped in the room. I think that the reason that you didn't care was that neither of the parties were serious. The robot swore and made funny sounds and all the other characters were ridiculous. There was no sense of genuine peril because everyone involved was a goofball.

This is getting long. But, long story short. I enjoyed it. But, Brigham, you make some good points. It could have been so much better.

Brig said...

Re:Frenzy Scene

Right, they were all silly. The movie prepared us not to care or worry.

M said...

all i can say is bravo. i respect your opinions. personally, i still enjoyed it(it was the first movie i'd seen in a long time where i wasn't just waiting for it to end). but i can't say i disagree with anything you say either.

btw, do you really not know who this is?

Brig said...

Is it you, Mom?

Sariah said...

I think m is emily.

I had a lot of fun watching this movie. The dialogue was campy, but I still enjoyed it. I didn't think the girl looked like a prostitute and I liked the kid.

But, my knowledge of Transformers and the cartoon is limited to skipping over it on TV to find Smurfs or She-Ra. I think that if I had more invested in the robots I would have been disappointed.

M said...

no. wow. i'm really tempted to keep this anonymity thing going. but i won't. how about i just say this instead...if i took your post personally or had a vindictive personality, i would probably stop letting you know about movie tix going on sale. but of course i didn't and i don't. and i still need to try upper west side tacos some time. maybe i'll go before harry potter.

M said...

i meant no to brigham. not to sariah. (she's right...i just got pulled away to finish a motion to compel and hadn't seen her post yet).

Brig said...

Matt Lemmon! I haven't heard from you for so long!

Casey said...

I blame Michael Bay.

As I sat in the dark theatre waiting for some semblance of the Transformers I knew and loved as a kid to show up on screen, I couldn't escape the nagging feeling that something just wasn't right with this film. Then, suddenly, things started to blow up and it all became clear why things didn't seem quite right. Michael Bay.

He wants to make movies for 14 year old boys, and he certainly tries, but this one fell short for me. (Spoken like I'm still a 14 year old boy.) Brigham, you mention Jurassic Park and I think rightfully so. It's very much the same concept, but delivers in such a different (read: better) way. I was 14 when JP came out and couldn't get my fill of it. I saw it opening night and went back twice on the next day dragging along my family and friends. TF isn't even close. In fact, the kids sitting in front of me at the theatre were probably 12 years old and there were times when they couldn't have been more bored. They were playing Nintendo DS, and I couldn't blame them.

Anyway, your thoughts were well written and I agree.

Scrumpestuous D said...

A couple of things.

First of all, I've never had a first course covered in hair, but I did have a main course covered in hair once in Mexico. Ugh.

Second, kudos on calling them out on the inappropriate content. I know my 11-year-old nephew is dying to see this movie, and I don't know if I'd feel comfortable taking him to it. For shame, writers. For shame.

Lastly, I'm trusting the Bourne franchise not to play that card. Even if they do, I'll forgive it (but then again, I've only been to one 'ultimate hacker' movie this summer...)

cory said...

I watched both the cartoon Transformers movie and the real deal within the past week. I loved them both! I felt like such a kid again.

P said...

...and for the rest of us who can't even pretend to lay claim to such encyclopedic knowlege of all things Transformer-ish (not that there's anything un-admirable about that) I recommend the movie. Very entertaining. But good write-up, Brigham.