Wednesday, 1 August 2007

A World Transformed



It is a world Transformed. Where things are not what they seem. It is the world of The Transformers. A world of Heroic Autobots and Evil Decepticons.

I'll presage this review with the following caveats. Transformers are one of my all-time favourite toy lines (an admission made in many a previous post)! The notion of a live-action movie, directed by Michael Bay, left me apathetic. I really enjoyed The Island (2005)!

Knowing that this movie was going to be big on excess, I hadn't foreseen that the regular Pepsi, I'd purchased in the cinema foyer, would be super-sized too! Fellow Star Wars fans maybe interested to learn that a very cool Nintendo Wii redemption machine spouted sound effects and dialogue from our beloved saga! At first I thought I was hallucinating - RD-D2 beeps and Obi-Wan Kenobi intoned "Trust your feelings!"

Not since Jurassic Park (1993) has an audience (myself included) been so willingly caught up in movie mayhem - like osmosis. This happened during Saturday evening's showing of Transformers at the Odeon, Colchester. Incidentally, I watched Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) and For Your Eyes Only (1981) at this venue.

Unlike Steven Spielberg's deft (if no less commercial) decision to delay the dinosaur reveal in Jurassic Park for up to an hour. Michael Bay, aided and abetted by Spielberg's distrust of a generation exposed to instant gratification, thrusts us, tumbling, into the action!

Blackout, a monstrous Decepticon, and the first Transformer introduced, makes a bombastic entry; heralded by a cacophony of sonic booms that would delight even the most demanding fan of James Cameron tech noir. Keep your ears peeled for the classic Transformers transformation sound, taken from the original Marvel cartoon series, now amped-up to deafening levels and with no signs of distortion. This sent chills of excitement down my spine!

There's much to enjoy not least the attention to detail lavished on the Transformers, themselves, by Industrial Light & Magic (ILM). Whether watching charismatic lead Sam Witwicky (played by Shia LaBeouf) whose empathy with Bumblebee, an Autobot scout, recounts Elliot's friendship with E.T. (1982) or an Autobot titan emerge from a suburban swimming pool and step over a young girl carrying a plush My Little Pony (another successful Hasbro franchise, which shared names with Transformers and G.I. Joe. For example, Beachcomber, Cosmos, and Seaspray were both My Little Ponies and Transformers characters, and Firefly was both a My Little Pony and a G.I. Joe character).

There's humour too! And laugh-out-loud you will! Sam Witwicky astride his mother's bicycle and pursued by Bumblebee, brought the house down and could have been taken from any number of popular Spielberg produced movies such as The Goonies (1985) or Explorers (1985). Frenzy (the original toy was an audio tape cassette and one of the earliest Transformers I owned), an impish switchblade endoskeleton of a Decepticon, delights in Gremlins (1984) mayhem, droid-like discourses and an homage to John Carpenter's The Thing (1982). Diagetic and non-diagetic sound is used to underscore the comedy too.

Enter Optimus Prime. Of all the Transformers, Optimus Prime is held in greatest reverence (on a personal note my late mother bought me the original Optimus Prime - as a surprise gift - whilst I was off, sick, from school in 1984). No longer a Freightliner Cab-over-engine. Prime's alternate mode, a Peterbilt 379, replete with stylish flame decals, reminded me of Kenner's M.A.S.K Rhino toy (Kenner merged with Hasbro in the early 90's). When he gracefully transforms into a gleaming god-like mecha I gulped and wiped tears from my eyes!

Advertising aplenty! A movie about toys wouldn't be ironic sans product placements! And Transformers is filled to the max with Hewlett Packard, Apple and endless eBay expositions.

Aside from the usual gripes levelled at Michael Bay - disorientating camera angles propelled by dizzying editing and jarring slow-mo, which culminates in a palpable sense of nausea (taking the roller coaster metaphor too literally). All-in-all Transformers transported me back to a galaxy far, far away and left me smiling from ear-to-ear.