Friday 3 April 2009

Transformers rant

I'm a transformers fanboy, and I make no apologies for it. I grew up watching it on TV (along with other classic animated series of the time, like Ghostbusters). I had dozens upon dozens of the toys. I have an original VHS version of the 1986 animated movie, which I must have watched well over a hundred times. Until recently, I even had the soundtrack from said movie on my ipod. I even exchanged emails with Scott Lynch on the subject, and from the sounds of it he's an even bigger geek than me.

So, yeah: I'm a transformers fanboy.

Which is why I'm so pissed off at the recent films. The 2007 film was - in my humble opinion - distinctly mediocre. Just big-ass robots lumping the shit out of each other, with a really poor excuse for a storyline barely holding the whole thing together. For the average person, it was probably a decent film. But for die-hards like myself, it was a massive disappointment.

The reason that the film riled me so much (pointless re-design of some of the robots aside) was the fact that the script writers had such a huge wealth of background material to draw upon. The transformers universe is massive; there's reams and reams of history and background material. Not only did they not even scratch the surface of this in the film, but they didn't even try. It's unbelievable that the best they could do was think up a pissy storyline involving some cube and the yawn-inducing struggle to retrieve it. One-dimensional barely covers it. Now, sure - I know that there are certain considerations when making a film. There's far too much material here for a trilogy of films, let alone one, to fully explore. But they could have made far more extensive use of it than they did.

Look at the 1986 animated film. Now that is Transformers the way they are meant to be done. Don't be fooled by the fact that it's animated - this is a brilliant film. The animation is superb and even holds up well today, 23 years on. The script is packed with brilliant one-liners (such as Prime's "One shall stand, one shall fall" line) and sharp dialogue (the exchange between Prime and Megatron just before their smack-down is a classic example). The soundtrack is pure win: big-hair 80s rock by the mulleted Stan Bush, that complements the movie perfectly. The characterisation is excellent, with some impressive development (such as Hotrod's rise to prominence). The plot (Decepticons and Autobots having to unite against a monster planet that devours everything in its path) is inspired, and allows for some seriously epic sequences.

But the main reason the animated film is a triumph is because it fully embraces the transformers millieu, it makes extensive use of the possibilities and material. The result is a film that enthrals and excites, and even though I've seen it countless times I still enjoy every second when I'm watching it (the sight of Unicron devouring another planet still excites me, as do countless other memorable moments in the film - of which there are many).

But we got none of this in 2007 'proper' film. To my mind, it wasn't even Transformers. You see, the point of the transformers is that they are robots that are fully sentient. They have feelings. The robots in the movie, by and large, were just dumb machines kicking the shit out of each other (you can almost imagine the studio execs in their flashy suits - "Whoah, now hang on - robots with feelings? No, you misunderstand. We want explosions...lots of them."

So that's what we got. Explosions. Lots of them. It was boring. Possibly the worst moment was when a woman with a large bust screamed as two robots duked it out above her - memorable for all the wrong reasons.

I had a small hope (I needed a magnifying glass to find it) that maybe - just maybe - Michael Bay had got all the explosions out of his system and thought "Hang on, there's a lot more to transformers than this." Or that maybe Steven Spielberg would simply realise the first film was pretty crap and that they could do a lot more with the second.

Having seen the latest trailer, any hope I had of potential redemption vanished. Based on this trailer, we can expect more of the same. In other words, more robots trashing things...and little else. Yawn.

Unless I see any evidence to the contrary (I'm not holding my breath), then I won't be wasting my hard-earned pennies on a viewing of the new film. Instead, I'll watch the animated movie for the umpteenth time and think about what might have been.

*I originally posted a nice pic of the animated movie, but had to remove it due to it screwing up the formatting...seriously google, sort it out these formatting issues...blogger is such an epic fail at times. (Is it just me, or does everything google take over just turn to shit?)


Anonymous said...

I think as a Transformers fan, it was a huge plus just to see a live action film after all this time. It definitely could have been done better but its still better than nothing.

James said...

To be honest, I would have been quite happy to never have had a live action film than to have an utterly mediocre one that bears little resemblance to the franchise.

Salt-Man Z said...

Bears little resemblance to which franchise? G1? G2? Beast Wars? Beast Machines? RiD? The Armada/Energon/Cybertron trilogy? Animated?

I still love the old 1986 movie, but let's face facts: the plot is absolutely ridiculous, riddled with inconsistencies and holes and deus ex machinas; the animation is gorgeous but full of errors; and the 80s soundtrack gets by today only on nostalgia. The movie was a bomb back then, and would do just as poorly--if not worse--today.

Michael Bay's take on Transformers is just that: another take on Transformers--just like all of the other reboots and alternate universes that have been introduced in the past decade and a half. Personally, I find them far more fascinating than just redoing G1. But if you're one of those folks who think Transformers ended after 1990, I guess I don't really have anything more to say to you.

Could the 2007 movie have been better? Absolutely. But I think it was exactly what the movie franchise needed to get off the ground: something accessible to both die-hard fans, the casual fan who only remembers "the tape guy with the cool voice", and the other 30% of the population that doesn't even know what TFs are. Admittedly, the TF charicterization in Movie #1 was pretty weak, but we've been promised deeper characterization in the sequel, and I for one choose to remain optimistic. (Plus: more than 40 different Transformers? Yes, please!)

James said...

Salt-Man Z: I'm only interested in the earlier generations that appear in the first few seasons and in the movie - Beastwars and the later stuff just pales in comparison as far as I'm concerned.

I wouldn't say the plot is ridiculous. Well, maybe it is. Does it matter? It is overblown, sure. But it's epic and it allows for so much unbelievably cool stuff to happen.

Yeah, there are errors in the animation that maybe should have been rectified before release. But it doesn't detract from the quality of the film.

I disagree about the soundtrack - I think it really complements the film. Yeah, it's cheesy - but it was the 80s! The whole decade was cheesy.

Yeah, the film was a critical and commercial failure, but then the 2007 live action version received plenty of criticism too (although it obviously did far better in terms of profit).

I wouldn't say the 2007 movie was accessible to die-hard fans. There was a massive shit-storm when images of the transformers were released, and I felt personally the whole thing was a bit of a slap in the face for long-time fans (you just don't redesign Magatron. You can't - it's practically blasphemy!).

Perhaps I'll be proved wrong about the second film. I hope I am. But it doesn't matter how many different transformers they feature if all they do is beat the shit out of each other.

Adam Whitehead said...

The 1986 movie is still decent today regardless. My friend showed both films to his son and the 1986 film was by far the winner, a fact ascribed to the awesomeness of Grimlock (missing from the 2007 movie, which is a bit like reforming the Beatles without Lennon).

The "One will stand," line is even more amusing as Prime lost that fight (possibly only because of Hot Rod, but whatever).

I wonder if they are going to have Unicron in TF3, but only as a big cloud? * ponders *

James said...

Grimlock is secks. Although the dinobots get pwned by Devastator.

Well, technically the fight was a draw. ;)

Would be awesome if they had Unicron. Perhaps I should send a note to Michael Bay - "Unicron, huge planet, eats other planets, chance for lots of explosions." He'd lap that up like a dog on heat.

Adam Whitehead said...

Depends if you count Hot Rod's interference or not. Without that, Prime won. With it, Megatron basically survived and would have lived if Starscream hadn't kicked him into space (who saw that coming?). Even so, Prime was still dead (unless you subscribed to the hideous cartoon continuity) and Megatron came back tougher than ever.

Oh yeah, the franchise is 25 years old on 29 May. I suspect there will be coverage on my blog :-)

Salt-Man Z said...

>(you just don't redesign Magatron. You can't - it's practically blasphemy!)

I guess my point kind of is that he's been redesigned dozens of times in the past 25 years, including being rebuilt as Galvatron in the 1986 movie.

A lot of "casual fans" (I include folks like yourself--who don't keep up with the current generations of TFs--in this category) hated the new 2007 movie designs, not realizing that this was just another one of dozens of aesthetic changes that the franchise has gone through in the past two decades. (Of course, a lot of die-hard fans hated the new designs too, but that's because true TransFans hate everything. :)

You can, I suppose, comfort yourself with the fact that the "Megatron" in the Michael Bay movies is, in fact, an entirely separate character from old G1/G2 Megatron.

Either way, for better or for worse, there will never be a "G1" styled live-action movie. The last "Classics" toyline presented the old characters in new updated bodies. The current G1-themed comics, though using the original characters, have had not only their physical designs updated, but much of the premise and history has been completely redeveloped.

That's not to say that one can't hope for more from the new movie (I do), but hopes for a return to 1986 will likely bring only disappointment.

Adam Whitehead said...

"much of the premise and history has been completely redeveloped."

Not really. The G1 cartoons/Beast Wars/Beast Machines continuity and the G1/G2 UK/USA comic continuty (my preferred TF story, as it's the one I grew up on) are both still valid, it's just that there's been a retcon of there being a TF 'multiverse' in which all the different continuities are canon but with beings like Primus and Unicron crossing over between them. So the histories have been reworked into a framework, but still remain 'official'.

Alex said...

I didn't like the film either, just saw it as a load of too-fast shiny CGI.

It's hard to think that Michael Bay really isn't just an overgrown teenage boy that thinks explosions are "awesome"

James said...

Actually Adam, thinking about it...I think there's grounds to argue that Optimus Prime won the fight. Sure, he died afterwards and Megatron didn't, but Megatron's fall forced the Decepticons to retreat and signaled an end to the battle.

Prime therefore changed the course of events single-handedly, and saved Autobot City in the process. :)

ThRiNiDiR said...

"Look at the 1986 animated film. Now that is Transformers the way they are meant to be done."

did you rlly write this article or was it my alter ego? 1986 movie, haven't watched it in years, but I almost shat myself in awe as I did again last year...from awesome one-liners, grimmlock, 80's soundtrak...brilliant. the 'proper' transformers movie? it was proper, i agree...a proper crap.

rant on my friend :)