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October 29, 2007
For someone who has never seen an episode of this apparently life-altering cartoon, Transformers sure isn't a difficult movie to follow. And even if I wasn't following the basic (er, only) premise (bad guys want to take over the universe, good guys try to stop them) I wouldn't have had to wait more than a couple minutes for someone in the film, which is now available on DVD, to give me a nice summary. It occurred to me that if I had been as passionate about Transformers as a kid as I was about Anne of Green Gables (omg, Gilbert Blythe), that I might have been irked and/or bored by the endless repetition of the simplest plot points, but then again maybe not - my date for seeing the film in the theater was a fervent Transformers nerd and spent the whole time clutching my knee with delight. So with that in mind, I'm going to assume that the purists* weren't let down by the film either, and I'm going to move on.

JEEZ LOUISE, folks. CGI might possibly take over the world one day, or at least fool us all by creating a digital President with an animated Cabinet. Besides trying to neutralize the seeds of crush that Shia LaBeouf was mercilessly sowing in my heart, I spent the majority of my time during the film slackjawed and sitting completely upright, thinking dumb things like "We've come a long way since Jurassic Park." If this film doesn't win a Best Special Effects Oscar, at least we will finally have proof that the Motion Picture Academy has most definitely been coerced into acting in the best interest of someone else. Each alien being in the film makes lightning-fast transformations into and out of their mechanical alter ego in a manner so visually fascinating that adrenaline muffles the part of you screaming, "It's a movie about TOYS! About toys that you can move around!" Occasionally, however, that adult's skepticism is impossible to contain, a case in point being the scene in which Megatron is released from bondage and booms out "I...AM...MEGATRON!" while the Tom Hanks inside your head yells "YOU...ARE...A TOY!" **

However your personal Big conversations turn out, one thing about Transformers is for certain - the horrible and embarrassing "black" Autobot should have been stricken from the script. Especially since the stereotype represented seemed to be a carry-over from the era of the original film, an outdated version of DJ Jazzy Jeff or that sound-making guy in Police Academy. It blew my mind that the African-Alien was included in the film, that some poor animator was charged with creating a breakdancing machine that folds its arms homeboy style and says things like "You wanna piece of me?" And Megatron (whose name in my head keeps oscillating between both Magneto and Megadeth) was probably the least-developed villain ever, but it was exciting to watch the robots stomp around and brush tanks out of the way just to clash in mid-air briefly before turning into jets and cars and whatnot.

As great as they are, Transformers doesn't hide behind its special effects. On the contrary, director Michael Bay is perfectly suited for this sort of thing - a boisterous action flick with a lot of dramatic tension that doesn't fully expect us to take it seriously. And the script and acting are surprisingly solid, with the exception of just about everything the actual Transformers say. Shia LaBeouf, as a teenager named Sam who has the unlucky fate of possessing something the aliens want, and John Turturro, who pops up in the second half of the film, are seriously funny enough to carry the whole project. They, along with Bernie Mac, Julie White, and Kevin Dunn (as a used car salesman and Sam's parents, respectively) provide so many great moments that everything hokey from Optimus Prime's robo-mouth is at least somewhat forgiven.

It's almost the flimsiness of the story that makes Transformers so impressive. Bear with me now, but clearly in order to make this film watchable, given the basic plot of the cartoon, one would have to guarantee a terrific script, talent, and direction. It is clear that the producers' energy was directed at satisfying those requirements so as to make up for and indeed overshadow the movie's dubious origins. Let's be honest - the "All Spark" thing [the source of life for all Transformers, represented as an ornate cube that is capable of granting independent life to normal machines] is kind of stupid. Transformers doesn't have the benefit of a comic book background, it had to be liberally doused with talent to get my attention, and it wasn't until I heard "Actually, I thought it was really good!" from at least ten friends that I even dragged myself to see it. But, that said, I'm glad I did see it. Even though the most important scene in the film is based around a giant Mac-truck-turned-robot screaming "PUT IT IN MY CHEST, SAM! PUT IT IN MY CHEST!" I still came out exhausted and afraid of the parked cars outside of the theater, worried that each Hummer was more than met the eye.


* I tried to come up with a good name for those moments; here is the IM conversation I had with my roommate about it (while we were in the same house):
Susan: What's a funny way to say "fans of transformers" that isn't "trans-fans" -- Fansformers? Trans-fats?
Kelly: "Dudes." Or "Optimus Primelots."

** Toy Story, anyone? Buzz Lightyear? Anyone?

SEE ALSO: www.transformersmovie.com
SEE ALSO: www.allspark.com

--
Susan Howson
A staff writer attending graduate school in Richmond, VA, Susan Howson cannot be persuaded to stop talking about movies.

See other articles by Susan Howson.

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