Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Transformers (2007, Michael Bay)

Michael Bay movies are like race cars- they're sleek and loud, and every spare inch of surface area is devoted to selling you something. It's not just that this is a movie based on a series of toys. Bay is a commercial veteran, and while you can take Bay out of the commercial, you can't take the commercial out of Bay. As a result, TRANSFORMERS mostly feels like a 2 1/2 hour advertisement- Hasbro, GM, Nokia, the U.S. Military, Dance Dance Revolution, and a little kid waiting for the Tooth Fairy are all shot for maximum selling power. And as with any commercial, this one is chock full of babes- aside from the hero's mom and Anthony Anderson's grandma, I'm not sure I remember a single actress with a speaking role who doesn't look like she stepped out of the pages of Maxim. Of course, I don't think I'd be complaining about all of this if the movie worked, but it really doesn't. The first half of the movie has some of the charm of a Spielberg-lite boy-and-pet robot adventure (if nothing else, Shia LaBoeuf justifies his recent hype), although with doofy Bay humor- LaBoeuf riding a pink girl's bike, lines like "I want to ride you, er, drive you home," the business with the dad's lawn, and so on. But the big action stuff, frankly, sucks. There's no coherence or spatial dynamics in these scenes at all, especially when the Transformers are fighting. Heck, Bay's famously-antic editing style is so omnipresent here that the film never even affords us a good long look at the Transformers, which might afford us a good chance to enjoy the fruits of the FX teams' labors (compare to something like STARSHIP TROOPERS, which gave us some nice long shots of the giant bugs). Bay shoots his action scenes using a whole mess of whip pans and perspective shots and shakycam closeups, so that it's hard to make out what's happening outside of "OK, they're fighting." This would be OK if there were two humans engaged in hand-to-hand combat, since we've seen the human body so many times that it's easy to figure which body part is which in closeup. But since the Transformers aren't just robots but robots that have been reconfigured from automobiles, these shots become little more than metal grinding against metal. And these scenes drag on FOREVER. By the end of the movie, we're back in advertising mode, with porny-pouty ingenue Megan Fox making out with LaBoeuf on the hood of his pet Camaro named Bumblebee, and Optimus Prime standing on a hill overlooking an all-American vista (I half expected the voiceover to contain the line: "I'm Optimus Prime, and I approved this message"). Let it not be said that TRANSFORMERS is not the ultimate Michael Bay vehicle, playing to all of his fetishes and (for lack of a better word) his strengths. But while I recognize the skill and care that have gone into this movie, they aren't my cup of tea. We may very well be living in a Michael Bay world, but I don't have to like it. Rating: 3 out of 10.

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