Like millions of other boys and girls in my age bracket (the 18-34 as they call it out there in branding land), I grew up flipping through the Sears Christmas catalog looking for the year’s coolest Transformer. It was my religion to make it back home from school quickly so that I’d be in time for the opening hymn of the Autobot logo flying out of Cybertron. Call me a geek (although I can’t be that big a one because I didn’t cry when Optimus Prime died), I don’t care. Robots are just plain cool.
Needless to say, I’ve been looking forward to a live-action Transformers movie ever since I saw a fire truck drive by me sans driver when I was four. I swear I saw it. Flashback to a couple of years ago. It was common knowledge that Transformers was going to be made and that “You’ve Got the Touch” probably wasn’t going to be on the soundtrack. No problem. Sometimes sacrifices have to be made. Just ask Prime. But then Michael Bay is announced as the director. Don’t get me wrong, the guy knows how to blow stuff up but his films now are all computer graphics on speed. The Island gave me a headache. With that my expectations were lowered to just about zilch. And that was probably a good thing because I was so excited that anything other than sharing my popcorn with the Dinobots was going to leave me a little disappointed.
Without expectations I could sit back and enjoy the updated computer- generated nostalgia for what it was and hope that there’d be no headaches. I got my wish. Transformers is a geek-pleasing love-in for robot lovers of all sorts, not just those looking to get back to church. I just wish the humans in the story would shut up and let the robots do their thing a little more.
The story goes a little something like this: alien robots come to Earth to find a powerful cube. A geeky nerd named Sam (Shia LaBeouf) gets caught between them and the government. Robots fight, humans get in the way and I just felt like a dork the whole time loving almost every minute of it.
Like any Bay film, Transformers can be reduced to its ability to provide thrills without much substance. And that’s okay every now and again. The CG work with the Transformers is absolutely amazing. They don’t look like a prop but rather a part of the human world. I thought the tricky part might be getting them to change shapes, but that is done in a naturally looking way also.
It does take a while for things to really get rolling. When it’s people doing the people thing, it’s some of the dorkiest dialogue I’ve ever heard. Some of it went right into my fanboy lap as they were obvious inside jokes for 80s nerdlings like myself. Other times the jokes are just lame. Sure they’re supposed to establish Sam as a geek but Bay goes out of his way to let us know that he’s one cool cat and not one of the square crowd.
I was a little surprised at how much Bay did wink and nudge at the original lore of the Transformers. Of course it’s changed drastically to fit the times and so it should be. But there is respect shown towards what came before it in the motivation for all those involved. And let’s not forget Optimus Prime’s voice. I honestly got goosebumps when I heard Peter Cullen’s voice (Optimus in the original cartoon).
Transformers was a little too dizzying at times as Bay has an apparent fetish with zooming in tight on action to the point where you can no longer make out what’s happening, but there’s so many spots for a geek like myself to get excited about. As far as story goes, it’s light. Transformers is a visual feast for not just old school fans and their kids who excitedly get dragged along, but really for anyone who’s happy to go for a charged special effects-driven ride.
Transformers DVD Review
As one might expect from a piece of Hollywood eye-candy such as this, Transformers looks and sounds amazing. One might even call it drool-worthy. The enhanced widescreen format is clear and sharp. The Dolby 5.1 Surround soundtrack (which is also offered in French and Spanish) has the potential to lead to awkward misunderstandings with neighbours if turned up too loud. There’s also English, Spanish and French subtitles. Director Michael Bay offers a commentary track that is largely anecdotal and not as colourful as Bay can be.
The two-disc special edition also includes a small but excellent mix of featurettes. “Our World” kicks off with clips of the old cartoon and an interview with Steven Spielberg. How’s that for a geek out? It goes on to give an entertaining and in-depth look at how the franchise evolved from its toy roots in the 1980s to the live-action movie. There’s plenty of interviews and behind-the-scenes moments throughout. “Their War” starts out the same way – cartoons and Spielberg – and explores the mythology and history of The Transformers, fandom and the compromises that had to made from between the film’s design team and the Hasbro folks who wanted to sell toys. “From Script to Sand” deconstructs the battle between Scorponok and the US military. The disc also includes trailers and a collage of concept art. Combined, these features will not only appeal to the film’s fanbase, but there’s also a great bridge made between the nostalgia and the new stuff.