More Than Meets the Eye

The 2007 big budget, live action reimagining of everyone's favorite 1980s morphing alien robot cars, Transformers, came to theaters in the United States this week. With director Michael Bay of Armageddon at the helm, Transformers is sure to delight anyone with an eye for the fantastical. Before going on with my review, I should note that I approach the movie as an outsider. I didn't play with Transformers, nor did I watch any of the plethora of cartoon series.

First, a brief plot summary. I'll try to avoid spoilers as much as possible, but I can't promise that I won't reveal anything, so be ye warned. The Transformer homeworld, Cybertron, has been devastated by the warring Autobots and Decepticons. During their battles, the life creating Allspark was lost to space. After a millenniums long search, the evil Decepticons locate the Allspark, also called the Cube, on a distant world called Earth. A group of Decepticons make landfall on Earth, and will stop at nothing to get the Allspark. But the noble Autobots, intent on protecting humanity from their mortal foes, are not far behind. The Transformers' war has come to Earth.

Transformers, unlike its toy line inspiration, is not all that much more than meets the eye. The film is action packed from beginning to end, leaving little room for plot or character development. However, the film makers were well aware of this going in, and made a jaw dropping film to cater directly to the special effects junkie. The computer generated Autobots and Decepticons not only look amazing, they look real. The designs are incredibly intricate, and the transformations are convincing. The transformer models are so intricate that each frame required Industrial Light and Magic 38 hours to render. The animators spent a great deal of time trying to convince the audience that, yes, a semi truck actually could be made to turn into a 45 foot tall robot. And let me tell you, I stand convinced. In spite of their shear awesomeness, they appear outlandish in some settings (such as standing on and about the Griffith Observatory). Then again, they blend seamlessly any time there's a-fightin' to be done, which is most of the time.

But these Transformers aren't just big robots thrown in when it's time for a car chase or fight seen. They are major characters in the film, most of whom have speaking roles. Their characters are not developed much more than the humans, but each one nonetheless has a distinct personality. This is especially true of the Autobots, who get the most screen time alongside their human friends. There are a total of thirteen Transformers in the film. Of special note are Autobot leader Optimus Prime and Decepticon leader Megatron. Optimus Prime is voiced by Peter Cullen, who I'm told provided the voice in the original cartoon series. That's probably why he sounds old in the movie, although I believe this is meant to be interpreted as wise. Hugo Weaving, best known are Agent Smith from the Matrix trilogy and Elrond from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, provides the voice of Megatron. This scared me just a little when I first heard it. Every time I hear that guy's voice, whether as Elrond or V, I think Agent Smith, Agent Smith, Agent Smith. "As you can see, we've been watching you for some time, Optimus Prime..." But the truth is, it's only noticeable on a few lines.

While there's not a great deal to the plot, it gets the job done. The human characters aren't developed intensely, but they fit their roles extremely well. I was surprisingly pleased with Shia LaBeouf's portrayal of lead awkward teen, Sam Witwicky (who wouldn't feel awkward with a name like that?). Witwicky is tasked with winning the heart of classmate Mikaela Banes (portrayed by Megan Fox), and saving the world or something. They are joined by the secretive secret agent of a top secret government secret organization, the hottie government code breaker and her insanely smart hacker friend who still lives at home, a group of rough and tough army guys, and the Secretary of Defense. The roles are all well cast, and do exactly what the movie needs for them to do, when they need to do it. Leaving plenty of time for more action.

If you go to Transformers expecting an in-depth review of human-Transformer societal interactions, you will be disappointed. If you go expecting a deep plot with lots of twists and complicated turns, you will be disappointed. If you go expecting well rounded characters, human and mechanical alike, that adapt throughout and come to great realizations about the humanity of it all, you will be disappointed. There is no reason you should go to this movie expecting any of this. You should go expecting two and a half hours of intense robot-on-robot action. Extraordinary special effects that quicken the pulse and leave you breathless. Be sure to take a long bathroom break before going in, because this movie has no low points. The last 45 minutes of it are non-stop edge-of-your-seat action, and even that includes a four hour drive from the Hoover Dam to Los Angeles.

***1/2 If you like action, you shan't be disappointed.

By the end of its first weekend, Transformers has made $152 million domestically, and an additional $94 million worldwide (where it had yet to open in 60% of markets), for a total worldwide gross of $246 million. It broke the previous records for both a Tuesday release and Independence Day, and is currently the #2 robot-themed movie after Terminator 2. Two sequels have already been greenlit.