Transformers: Special Edition
October 17, 2007
In the 1980s, Transformers were one of the most popular and profitable toy lines. So much so that the franchise expanded into a long-running cartoon, a movie, a comic book, and so on. It was only a matter of time (and money) before someone would try a live-action movie. It took Steven Spielberg as the film’s producer and Michael Bay as the film’s director to finally bring it to the big screen. With these two extremely successful filmmakers on board, I’m sure Paramount Pictures anticipated massive box office revenue and Transformers (2007) did not disappoint, raking in more than $700 million worldwide.
The film takes the franchise’s core conflict – the battle between good transformable robots known as the Autobots and the evil ones called Decepticons – and updates it for contemporary times. And so we have a Decepticon making its first appearance on a United States military base in the Middle East posing as a combat helicopter until it transforms into a robot and tears the place apart, tossing around tanks like they were tinker toys.
Meanwhile, in California, Sam (LaBeouf), a high school student, buys his first car. He wants a Porsche but his father (Dunn) is a cheap man and sticks his son with an old junker, or, rather the car picks him as it too is a Transformer. In Washington D.C., the secretary of defense (Voight) enlists the aid of a roomful of analysts to figure out who attacked the military base. The film bounces back and forth between these three storylines as the main human characters uncover the battle between the Autobots and the Decepticons for a device known as the All Spark only to become embroiled right in the middle of it.
Bay is certainly no stranger to major Hollywood blockbusters and a logical choice to direct a Transformers movie with his vast experience in orchestrating large scale action sequences and working with extensive CGI. His films have always favoured technology over humanity, making him the ideal choice to direct this one. Just think of how lovingly choreographed the action sequences are in Bad Boys (1995) and The Rock and with lingering shots of weaponry and explosions. This reached its apex with Pearl Harbor (2001) which featured an impressively staged attack of that horrible day that dwarfed the wooden acting and clichéd love story.
Bay has gone back to what he knows best: wall-to-wall action sequences with the occasional scene of expositional dialogue and advancement of the plot. The poor, unfortunate actors spend most of the film dodging and running away from the best CGI creations money can buy. The dialogue is badly written by the standards of these kinds of films and it stalls when there is too much talking, especially the pathetic attempts at comedy. Naturally, the film excels during its many action sequences, especially the thrilling chase/fight on a freeway that spills over to on-ramps as the Autobots and the Decepticons finally have it out with one another in magnificently choreographed mayhem and flawlessly rendered CGI. The final showdown between Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots, and Megatron, leader of the Decepticons, is also impressively staged as they slug it out through the streets of Los Angeles.
Old school Transformers fans may gripe about the artistic changes to some of the first generation robots, especially the voices for them. With the exception of Optimus Prime, none of the original voice actors do their characters. As beautiful as it is to look at and as kinetic as the action is, for this long-time fan, it still doesn’t hold a candle to the scope and the energy of the animated feature film back in 1986 which was much darker and more dramatic than anything that the two screenwriters of the live-action version could think up.
The first disc features an audio commentary by director Michael Bay. He talks about how he got involved in the film: he got a call from Steven Spielberg and then made a visit to Hasbro in Rhode Island and was immersed in Transformers lore. He tells an amusing anecdote about how an Industrial Lights and Magic CGI animator from Japan spoke up in a meeting and got the gig to animate Optimus Prime. Bay talks at length about meeting and casting Shia LaBeouf. The director candidly addresses the Internet/fanbase criticism about how he would ruin the franchise and talks about the artwork and script leaks. Love or hate the guy, he is the epitome of an ultra-confident, big-time Hollywood director and tells a lot of interesting, engaging and entertaining stories.
The second disc is dedicated to extra features broken down into three sections.
“Our World” includes four featurettes that examine the genesis of the story and how Bay wanted to make it edgier and more accessible to a mainstream audience. We see a very intense and energetic Bay on set blowing things up. The casting process is also examined with excerpts from Megan Fox’s audition and footage of LaBeouf’s ability to improvise during a given scene (cracking Fox up in the process). Bay’s relationship with the U.S. military is also explored. He put some of the actors through weapon’s training and was allowed to put certain vehicles in his film that had never been allowed to before. There is also a look at various location shoots, from White Sands, the Hoover Dam and L.A. Bay actually cut his fee in order to shoot in California with his own crew.
“Their War” includes four featurettes that trace the origins of the franchise with the toys and clips from the cartoon. There is also a look at the rabid fanbase and why the Transformers appeal to them. The Autobots and the Decepticons are examined as are how Bay settled on the vehicles that are used in the movie as well as how they differed from their cartoon counterparts. We also see how ILM and Digital Domain did all of the film’s special effects. Not surprisingly, some of the animators are hardcore Transformers fans. We also get to see rough animatics of certain sequences and how the actors worked with no robots during filming, just some guy holding a tall pole.
Finally, “More Than Meets the Eye” takes an action sequence and dissects all of its components from script to storyboard to animatics to the final version. We also see Bay and company scouting locations with on the set footage. There is also a small collection of concept artwork used in the creation of the film. Rounding things out are three trailers.