Combustible Celluloid
Get the Poster
Stream it:
Own it:
Search for streaming:
NetflixHuluGoogle PlayGooglePlayCan I
With: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Rachael Taylor, Anthony Anderson, Jon Voight, John Turturro, Michael O'Neill, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, Amaury Nolasco, Zack Ward, Bernie Mac
Written by: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, based on a story by John Rogers, Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman
Directed by: Michael Bay
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action violence, brief sexual humor, and language
Running Time: 144
Date: 06/12/2007

Transformers (2007)

1 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Less Than Meets the Eye

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Legend has it that an early cinema audience once recoiled in terror when a movie of a train engine appeared as if it would burst through the screen. Even if the story were true, that particular thrill must have lasted only a few seconds before the audience realized that they were safe. Over 100 years later, Michael Bay (The Rock, Bad Boys II) apparently intends to re-create this effect with his new Transformers, but constantly, without stopping, over the course of two hours and 24 minutes. There are two problems with this idea: one is that modern audiences understand that giant robots aren't really going to emerge from the screen and start grabbing people. The other is that it's nearly impossible to sustain a single emotional reaction for that amount of time. History's greatest filmmakers understood this, thusly creating rhythms in their work, ups and downs, periods of intensity and periods of rest. Without these rhythms (like breathing or a heartbeat) a person just goes numb after awhile.

Transformers is based on the popular line of 1980s toys, as well as a chintzy animated TV series (1984-1987) and an animated1986 movie. In the new film, a handful of good giant robots arrive on earth, intending to defeat a handful of bad robots and take possession of a giant metallic cube, whose purpose is left rather murky (it's essentially a MacGuffin). Just as the popular toys once did, these gizmos can change back and forth from robot form to that of cars or trucks, or even soda machines (great product placement idea, that). For the transformation sequences, the movie employs some top-notch CG effects, with thousands of moving metal parts, great sound effects, and an authentic sense of weight and light. But for some reason, Bay insists on photographing the transformations in extreme close-up, so that large portions of the robots are left off-screen. It's seriously disorienting, and impossible to appreciate the full effect. (You want to pull your head back from the screen.) Worse, Bay shoots the fight sequences using the same close-ups so that it's difficult to tell which robot is which. The droning, metallic robot voices -- not to mention the stilted dialogue -- are all very similar as well. (In fact, the otherwise recognizable Hugo Weaving provides the voice of Megatron, though you'd be hard-pressed to pick him out of the crowd.)

Bay -- who has finally left his mentor Jerry Bruckheimer's apron string for this film -- has always been a stalwart supporter of shaky, choppy action sequences. But this time he has concentrated on longer, unbroken shots, as opposed to his usual fast cutting. Unfortunately, he shakes the images more than ever before. Even more annoying, Bay has decided to shine high-intensity lights directly at the lens whenever possible, thereby obscuring any remaining images. (These can be car headlights, helicopter searchlights, sunlight, or any other illuminating device that happens to be handy.) It's basically an action film wherein the action is deliberately undercut and replaced with unremitting chaos.

There's not much more to tell about the robots other than the fact that they cause a great deal of destruction. Some human characters turn up as well, but it's apparent that Bay doesn't give a fig about them. Regardless, they all meet at the climax: Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is the nerdy teenager who purchases the movie's first transforming car, and Megan Fox is his classmate, enchanted by his slapdash heroism. American soldiers (Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson) battle a Transformer scorpion in the Qatar desert. Australian Rachael Taylor plays a computer hacker who is the first to discover a security breach, and Anthony Anderson plays her comic sidekick. Jon Voight is uncharacteristically boring as the U.S. Defense Secretary. Worst of all is John Turturro as a secret government agent, who pitches his comic performance so far over the top that we have to wonder if Bay was even around to put a lid on it.

If it's altogether obvious that Bay is clumsy with action sequences, he's far, far worse at comedy. In one excruciating sequence, Sam tries to find a piece of evidence in his room, while four giant robots wait for him outside. He tries to keep them from stomping on his parents' beloved flowerbeds while simultaneously keeping his parents from spotting the shiny giants out the window. It already plays like a bad French drawing room comedy, but Bay lets it drag on far longer than any reasonable Frenchman would.

Despite the sheer ineptitude of Transformers, there's a crassness behind it that's even more disturbing. Bay and his backers have spent a fortune on a movie that is not art, nor educational, nor entertainment. It is intended for one thing only: to be consumed. And consumed it will be, happily, and without question. Those of us who do question will be in the vast minority, fighting against impossible, overwhelming odds. Nevertheless, like Sam, I feel a strong urge to stand up and fight for what's right. Don't waste your money on this garbage.

Steven Spielberg served as a producer.

Movies Unlimtied