Bottom Line: Sci-fi action that is both smart and funny.
By Kirk Honeycutt
Jun 29, 2007
This is noisy fun with characters and plot lines kept simple and flashes of comedy that hit home more often than not.
“Transformers” is a wet dream for fanboys, with vehicles that whiz and whir into alien robots, spectacular sci-fi stunt chases, glistening military hardware, overheated computer software and brainy, hot girls who love Popular Mechanics. It’s a Michael Bay movie based on a Hasbro line of toys that perfectly captures adolescent fascination with mechanical things you can take apart and put back together.
The movie is noisy fun, with characters and plot lines kept simple and flashes of comedy that hit home more often than not. Most importantly, the filmmakers have shrewdly selected their young cast. Shia LaBeouf is one of the hottest young actors on the planet at the moment, with the surprise hit thriller “Disturbia” and excellent lead vocal performance in the animated comedy “Surf’s Up” already behind him this year. Megan Fox and Rachael Taylor add terrific sex appeal in roles designed to emphasize female capability and intelligence. And singer-actor Tyrese Gibson and Josh Duhamel are the smart-looking military dudes who take on the aliens at street level.
The movie’s appeal definitely will expand beyond fanboys and sci-fi addicts to include older “kids” who grew up with the Transformers toys and comic books. DreamWorks and Paramount should be well-rewarded for their deep-pocketed faith in this potential franchise with a global hit.
This is not the first cinematic outing for the mechanical warriors. A 1986 animated movie was based on the original “Transformers”
television show, which was based, of course, on the popular multiform robot toy line. It didn’t go over well at the boxoffice. (That tooner, incidentally, was set in 2005.) But now Bay and an army of visual designers have successfully re-imagined a photorealistic world in which these Titans can believably clash.
The best thing in the script by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (from a story by Orci, Kurtzman and John Rogers) is how a teen plot line gets tied into the fate of the world. Young Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf), who’s nerdy but funny and sort of cool, gets a mysterious car from his dad, a banged-up ’76 Chevy Camaro that he only later discovers is an alien robot. Now that’s a way to get a girl’s attention!
That girl, with the arresting name of Mikaela (Fox), has been in school with him for years but never really noticed him. One day she accepts a ride from him and finds herself caught up in a war of the worlds. Seems an ancestor of Sam made a discovery in the Arctic Circle that prompts the bad guys — sorry, robots — to target Sam, who unknowingly holds the key to mankind’s survival — if he hasn’t already sold it on eBay.
Two robotic races — the evil Decepticons and the heroic Autobots — hide out on Earth as cars, trucks, 18-wheeler tractors, Hummers, jets or even a boom box before grinding and expanding into their robotic essence. These are CGI-errific moments, courtesy of Industrial Light + Magic, that will have fanboys leaping from their seats. All these techno creatures have feelings and emotions, you understand, which leads to the film’s most amusing moment, when Sam’s Camaro performs wheelies after his girlfriend “insults” the car. Its radio also plays tunes that fit the mood.
The filmmakers create three other sets of characters: A group of computer hackers headed by Taylor and Anthony Anderson, who no less than the U.S. Secretary of Defense (Jon Voight) desperately appoints as his “advisers”; surviving military members of an alien attack on a U.S. base in the Middle East, led by Duhamel and Gibson, who somehow wind up duking it out with the aliens in downtown Los Angeles; and shadowy anti-alien agents led by John Turturro.
The snarl of action and story lines is sometimes awkward, but at least the audience can identify with characters wherever the robots choose to rumble. No faceless multitudes screaming and fleeing here as in the Godzilla movies of old.
Clearly, none of this would work if Bay had not adroitly coordinated the stunts, animation and characters, both real and mechanical. Thanks goes to a team of editors, who have made good sense of all the action. On the debit side, sound levels are all too high, and the score pushes harder than necessary.
While he has long been a master of mayhem, on this occasion Bay weds his visual dazzle to material that carries the action smoothly. This is an extravaganza rather than overwrought excess. As one young boy exclaims upon seeing his first robot, “This is 10 times cooler than ‘Armageddon’!”
Nick Nunziata, founder and owner of Chud.com says: “I had a blast. A really entertaining flick. A summer movie that finally delivers.”
Chud’s Jeremy Smith reviews Transformers and has this to say:
Granted, “value” is a debased term in the middle of the summer movie season – especially this summer, which has thus far been a steady succession of high-profile disappointments. But Transformers is the event moviegoers have been waiting for. It’s got giant fucking robots doing huge fucking damage to a lot of fucking expensive hardware and property. Expecting much more than that out of a picture like this is to be an idiot.
The director of Pearl Harbor, Bad Boys II and now Transformers defends his art, writes Jim Schembri.
THE easiest way to start an argument among cinema lovers is to state categorically that Michael Bay is an artist.
Yes, that Michael Bay. The hack. The King of Crud. You know the titles: Bad Boys, Pearl Harbor, Armageddon, Bad Boys II, The Rock. Big, empty-headed, action mush. Cinematic hamburger. McBlockbusters. How is that art?
Maybe it helps to think about it this way: the hallmark of any artist is to author a signature style. In this sense, love them or hate them, everybody knows a Michael Bay film when they see one. He is, if you like, an auteur of sorts.
Of course, run the idea of cinematic artistry past Michael Bay and you’ll get no argument. As the lithe 42-year-old settles into the couch opposite for our interview, he may – with $3 billion in box office earnings under his belt – qualify as a Hollywood heavy hitter, but he doesn’t speak like one. He doesn’t come across as a person with anything to defend, either. He loves conversation, accepts criticism and loves the question.
“I see myself as an artist,” he says with a distinct LA drawl. “Art is something that you create from nothing. I use a lot of very talented people, but it is art if you can get people to applaud or laugh in that theatre, so you’re creating some sort of emotional response. Then you realise, hey, they’re applauding for a truck! Do you know what I’m saying?”
Bay is referring to his new art film, Transformers, a live-action film based on the popular series of toys from the 1980s where various ordinary-looking vehicles turn – or “transform” – into giant warring robots. In the film the robots do battle on Earth. Some are here to protect the humans, others to destroy. There are explosions, fireballs, some fabulously photo-realistic digital effects.
Ever since re-creating the attack on Pearl Harbour with the aid of CGI, Bay has become a wizard at harnessing digital technology for action. With Transformers, he steps to the next level. Curiously, however, one of his favourite moments in the film involves the staging of a 1970s-style car stunt where a Camaro balances on two wheels. No CGI assist there, Bay says proudly.
“Let me tell you about that stunt. That was the most patient I’ve ever been in my entire film career. It took three hours for that guy to get up, and it was all real. No CGI. I broke a record for being the most patient I have ever been because I like real. I’m old-school.”
Despite his box-office success – or, he suspects, because of it – Bay has become the punching bag of choice for critics the world over. Even South Park has taken a swing. Why? Bay suspects it has something to do with “fear of the new”. So he’s a pioneer on the action genre frontier? “If you look at action nowadays, it’s changed more to my style,” he says.
So what does he think of the armies of Bay naysayers?
“First of all, there are too many critics and it all just turns into white noise. Also, I think many of them are out of touch with pop culture. Roger Ebert (of the Chicago Sun-Times) once commented (negatively) on one scene in Bad Boys II and I’m like, ‘Wait a minute. I’ve seen this movie with 10 paying audiences and they were laughing so loud they couldn’t hear the dialogue. Didn’t he see what was going on in the theatre?’ Then I found out he sees movies by himself.”
Transformers certainly is a first-of-a-kind. Whereas most modern films feature sporadic spots of product placement, Transformers is all about product placement. The “star” car is courtesy of General Motors, and toy giant Hasbro is expecting the film to act as a global promotional showreel for its new line of Transformer toys.
Deal-making is all part of the process, says Bay. “Listen, I had a finite budget for this. It was $US145 million ($A171 million). That’s not a lot for this type of movie, and when I (was looking for) that car, I went to GM and they took me through their concept cars and I went, ‘That’s it!’
“I had a good relationship with them (GM). They gave me $3 million worth of cars, which cuts $3 million out of my budget, which means I can put more up on the screen. So I don’t think it’s whoring out the movie. It was a good compromise.”
As for Hasbro, the film’s opening titles declare the company as Bay’s chief production partner.
“Listen, I didn’t care that this is associated with a toy,” he insists. “It has nothing to do with the toys. I wanted to make my own movie that would appeal to the non-Transformer fan as well as Transformer fans.”
Nothing to do with the toy? Michael, please. It’s in the title.
“Listen, I didn’t grow up with the toy, I didn’t grow up with the cartoon, so I’m trying to do my own thing with it.”
Bay has made most of his films for uber-producer Jerry Bruckheimer, with whom he is planning his next epic. For Transformers, however, Bay’s new patron is the one producer considered more “uber” than Bruckheimer – Steven Spielberg. Indeed, it was Spielberg’s idea to have Bay direct the film. “You know,” says Bay, “he always says ‘I wanna be your new Jerry Bruckheimer’. Isn’t that funny?”
Yes, it is. Fall-down-on-the-couch funny. He joins the laughter, then adds: “Spielberg has been very open about that (mentoring role). He said to me, ‘Michael, I think you’ve got one of the finest eyes in Hollywood.’ And taking that from one of my idols, that’s pretty awesome.”
It takes a few solid minutes of prodding, but Bay eventually concedes that Transformers is a return to safer cinematic territory after the box-office flop of his previous film, The Island.
“You’re probably right. OK. OK. I’ll grant you that. This film is still a big risk, but I’m more comfortable in this realm.”
The circumstances this time around were also far less troublesome. The Island was not only plagued with production problems, but with an ill-conceived marketing strategy that Bay hated. His big lesson from the experience?
“Never trust a studio with marketing your movie. I am all over this movie. Like, they can’t do a f—ing thing without me looking at every detail!”
One cannot interview Michael Bay and not seize the opportunity to raise a central criticism of his kinetic style. As fun and enthralling as Transformers is, its massive action sequences share the same irritating qualities as those in his other films. The camera is too close, the cutting is too fast, there is too much shaking, not enough sense of composition. Everything looks like a jagged blur. It’s as though Bay is trying to cram too much into the frame.
Michael, does it have to be this way? He thinks.
“You watch Mission: Impossible III. That’s way too shaky.” A pause. “It’s a style. I don’t know if the cutting is too fast. You know, as I go on with movies, I think I do slow down a little bit.”
The time has come in Michael Bay’s career to fulfil everyone’s fantasy by making a small-scale film with no explosions or giant killer robots or machine-guns, where it’s just people relating.
“That’s my fantasy, too!” he exclaims. This is good because Bay has an underappreciated gift for comedy, which he has sprinkled generously throughout his films. He considers Armageddon a comedy about the world being saved by a bunch of average Joes, and the hilarious opening reel of Transformers plays like an unofficial remake of Herbie, the Love Bug.
“I love comedy,” Bay says. “I’ve got this great pulp fictiony true story called Pain and Gain that I’ve been working on. It’s fun dialogue and it’s true and it’s these people looking for the American dream in the wrong way. It’s something that I really want to do.”
And he likes improvising. The chancy masturbation joke in Transformers, he says, was done on the spot, and he loved it. “We made this funny scene because I had these great actors to work with, but the studio kept saying, ‘What are you doing? That’s not in the script! You’re wrecking this movie!’ And I said: ‘Just trust me. This is how I work. I shoot a lot of jokes, and some of them will live and some of them are going to die, but these are the things that will bring the house down. You watch and see.”
Bay’s next film will be another Bruckheimer biggie, but he is hungry for change. A passing joke about the prospects of a Bad Boys III elicits this response.
“Here’s the thing. Bad Boys II was fun, and it’s funny, but it’s no great shakes . . . I’m worried that big movies are going to go away, so I figure I’d better direct (some) while they’re still here.”
Does he really think they will go away? “Maybe.” Why? “I don’t know. There are not a lot of big movies.” Michael, there’s one every second week! He laughs. “I guess you’re right. This is just the neurotic director talking to you.” Michael Bay? Neurotic? “I know. The thing is, I’m unemployed now. I am! That’s the way we think. I’m unemployed.”
Source: The Age dot com
NEW YORK — Director Michael Bay, Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks might be hoping to transform the boxoffice when their “Transformers” movie opens Tuesday, but starring roles in the film for General Motors and eBay, an unprecedented takeover of eBay’s home page and Bay’s decision to direct spots for three tie-in partners might help transform the Hollywood promotions business as well.
GM has four of its vehicles — the Chevy Camaro, the Pontiac Solstice, the Hummer H2 and the GMC Topkick — playing four of “Transformers’ ” Autobot heroes: Bumblebee, Jazz, Ratchet and Ironhide. It’s the type of starring role that every advertiser strives for but rarely achieves, especially in a big-budget summer tentpole film.
“I think this is a once-in-a-motion-picture-history-type opportunity for an automotive company where you have a film that actually incorporates multiple cars that are actually characters in the film,” said LeeAnne Stables, senior vp worldwide marketing partnerships at Paramount.
Added Dino Bernacchi, associate director of marketing alliances and branded entertainment at GM: “We try to find properties where the cars are the stars, and literally our cars are the stars of this movie. You don’t get any more heroic than the roles that our four vehicles play.”
Often roles this big require brands to spend millions of dollars in integration fees in addition to millions in TV ads and other cross-promotional activity, but GM only had to supply two vehicles for each brand starring in the movie, though it did spend millions in promotions. It also built two Camaros especially for the film since the vehicle is not for sale yet and is based on a concept car Bay saw last year at an auto show. GM provided dozens of other vehicles for background use in the movie.
“Michael saw the new Camaro at the 2006 auto show and immediately fell in love with it and wanted it for Bumblebee,” Bernacchi said.
Bay’s long-standing relationship with GM also led to the car manufacturer’s role in the movie’s spotlight. GM has supplied vehicles for several of Bay’s movies, including about 80 for “Bad Boys II,” and Bay directed spots for Chevy earlier in his career.
Bernacchi said that whatever GM spent on the promotions and the vehicles “pales in comparison” to the benefits GM is getting, not just from being featured in a blockbuster film but also in the “Transformers” video game and appearing as toys from Hasbro as well as in all ancillary marketing surrounding the movie.
“Whatever the cost was, it was a small investment for the big exposure and opportunity we’re embarking upon right now,” Bernacchi said. “This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
EBay also plays a role in the film’s story line when a key item goes up for sale on the auction Web site. Additionally, eBay is integrating “Transformers” into its home page for two days in its biggest movie tie-in. Although eBay has featured rich media ads on its home page, it never has changed its home page as part of a cross-promotional deal with a Hollywood studio or any other third party.
“This is unprecedented,” said Kimi Kokka, director of marketing partnerships and promotions at eBay. “We’ve never integrated content into our home page before. We’re changing the look and feel of the home page and the technology around it for those two days.” She said the “Transformers” takeover scheduled for Thursday and Friday was not based on an ad buy but was part of eBay’s promotional partnership with Paramount.
“EBay has never done a movie promotion like this,” Stables said. “They’re doing things for us that money can’t buy.” The site also will auction off key props and memorabilia related to the movie, starting Thursday. In addition, it has created a special “Transformers”-themed microsite that links to all “Transformers” merchandise for sale on eBay.
Kokka said that eBay decided to embark on the promotional partnership mostly because of the organic integration of eBay in the film. “It started with the creative integration in the story line, and from there we just built upon it to see how we could make it come to life on eBay as well as on the big screen. Opportunities like this just don’t come along, which is why we’re doing such a deep marketing partnership with Paramount.”
In another rare move by Paramount, Bay directed commercials for tie-in partners GM, Burger King and PepsiCo’s Mountain Dew.
There appears to be an increasing willingness among top film directors to helm tie-in partners’ spots and a growing push by studios to encourage them to do so, but it still is rare to see a top Hollywood director helm spots for advertisers let alone for three different tie-in partners on one movie. For GM alone, Bay directed five different commercials.
“Having the director of the film involved in the production of the partners’ promotional spots ensured the spots were in sync with the tone of the film,” Stables said. “No one could possibly know the flavor of the movie better than the director himself, so it was a perfect match.”
Stables said the Mountain Dew promotion also is significant, with “Transformers” graphics and logos plastered on 850 million packages of Mountain Dew, Pepsi, Diet Pepsi and other PepsiCo beverage brands and a custom TV spot that Bay shot and directed.
“I just think this is a huge promotion for Pepsi,” she said. “This is probably one of the biggest if not the biggest beverage promotion for any film this summer.”
Mountain Dew also has a minor placement in the movie, which features a shot of a Mountain Dew vending machine. The placement and promotion stemmed from Pepsi’s placement and entertainment marketing agency Davie-Brown Entertainment providing product for the crew and set, Stables said.
He’s everything film critics hate about Hollywood but still delivers hit after hit. After redefining the action movie for the MTV generation, what would Michael Bay want with the world’s biggest toy franchise? DREW TURNEY was at the recent Transformers press conference in Sydney.
The room was full of movie reporters and everybody was talking about the franchise, the fanboys and the stunts and effects when the question nobody wanted to ask but everyone was thinking finally came up. Why do so many people hate Michael Bay?
“When I did Bad Boys I used a style of very quick editing,” Bay explains. “Partially because I didn’t have a lot of money for art direction so we had to disguise things. I was competing against True Lies, which had all the money and effects in the world. So that became my style and it kind of hooked into young kids.
“So yeah, I did get the whipping boy thing and a very esteemed film professor told me that in Hollywood they’ll always go after someone who changes something. They don’t like change, and if you look at action movies these days they’re all fast cut now, and I don’t know if I’m somewhat responsible for that.”
Bay’s long been a favourite target of the critical establishment who bemoan the death of cinema quality on the altar of lucrative sequel rights and tie-in merchandising lines, but it’s easy to forget how good he is at what he does. Like the Star Wars prequels, if you watch a Michael Bay film but fast-forward through the drama and exposition you’ll think you’re in the hands of a master.
That hatred was joined by the chorus of howls from long-time Transformers devotees who came out of the woodwork to leave death threats on his blog and make 39,000 attempted hacks onto the servers of Industrial Light And Magic – the Lucas-owned company responsible for the movie’s effects.
But with Steven Spielberg’s influence and money behind him, Bay forged ahead and has delivered one of the better films in his canon, certainly the biggest. You have to feel for the guy and wonder if all the scorn is worth it.
“You’re never going to make everyone happy and I knew that going into this, but you’ve got to respect the fanbase,” he states. “You can’t change Spider-Man’s outfit too much. When they put nipples on Batman, you saw that. You have to be respectful to certain arguments but you’ve got to make your own choices as a filmmaker. Many fans who saw clips really gave it their stamp of approval and they were only seeing 2-D images.”
In agreeing to do the film, Bay wanted to do it as realistically as he could. The result is slightly at odds with the cartoonish origins of the franchise, but as a film branded with Bay’s name, it’s going to be full of large-scale destruction, destruction of buildings and transport machinery and huge explosions.
To achieve real-looking robots causing all that mayhem was no small task, as the director explains. “I’m very into lighting and how real these things had to look. A lot of CG just doesn’t look real, all of us have something in our brain that says when the light isn’t right, so we (Bay and ILM) worked extensively on lighting.
“Optimus Prime had 10,108 parts that all had to move and interact. They had to reflect certain kinds of light. When you look at a car you’ve got soft light and little hard pings everywhere and that’s a hard thing to do in the digital world.”
Even more important to the goal of creating digital characters seem real however is giving us something to love, hate and react to. In a lot of ways, the magic of movies in the digital age is making us feel for something or someone that doesn’t exist except in a computer program – even something as inexpressive as a robot.
The screening Bay attended with fans and the press was the first time he’d seen it with audience, and he says the reaction to his digital creations blew even him away. “My favourite was Bumblebee. You just get a lot of emotion out of him. I just finished (the film) literally last Friday and when you step back it’s so weird that there was nothing there and now you’ve got something.
“I heard the audience last night applauding when a truck came in and skidded in – they’re finding emotion in a truck! I really liked it that we created characters out of thin air you can feel something for.”
With a single frame of film taking 38 hours to render, it was a big investment of time and energy in a project Bay initially dismissed out of hand. “Steven (Spielberg) told me about this movie called Transformers. He said there wasn’t much of an idea but it’s about this boy who buys his first car and it’s an alien robot. After I hung up I said ‘I’m never doing that stupid movie’.
“But I thought about it and went to Hasbro and met the CEO. He took me through the whole Transformers lore and something just kind of clicked. I thought if I could make this really real and edgy I think I could do something very cool with it.”
Edgy? Could it be Michael Bay’s entering his long-awaited arthouse period? If you hate him, no such luck. If you love him, he’s on course for more thrills, kills and spills than ever…