Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye? Eh, Not Really

July 03, 2007 | Comments (0) | by Chaim Witz

Like many children of the eighties, Transformers played a seminal role in my childhood. Along with He-Man and to a much lesser extent, GI Joe, Transformers encapsulated all the good cheese that came out of the 1980's. Both complex and beautifully simple, Transformers were to the 80's what video games are to today's youth.

Alas, the current Transformers movie just goes to show that more often than not, recreating nostalgia is an exercise in futility.

Let the record show that I am not some embittered fanboy, angered that Optimus Prime was given flames or that Bumblebee is a Camaro and not a Volkswagon. Frankly darling, I don't give a damn. Nor do I harbor any particular ill will towards director Michael Bay. Hell, I rather enjoyed The Rock. Sure, he may be Hollywood's answer to the id, but if there was ever a project for him to put all of his masturbatory machismo to good use, one would imagine it to be Transformers.

Such is not the case. Instead, you've got what amounts to a 2 1/2 hour car commercial peppered with so many movie cliches that at times I felt like I was watching one of those MTV Movie Awards spoofs. I kept waiting for a Ben Stiller cameo.

I won't go into the plot, because in all honesty I ask you, 'What plot?' Something concerning a box and a pair of glasses that belonged to Shia LaBeouf's grandfather. Seriously, the cartoon made more sense than this.

Not to say it's all bad. For one, the special effects are seamless and downright impressive. Each Transformer appears to have thousands of moving parts, and when they all move in unison (along with the classic 'transforming' sound), it's a beautiful thing. Some of the fight scenes are impressive, though the climax leaves you feeling a bit exhausted and a lot confused. Optimus Prime is voiced by the original Optimus Prime, Peter Cullen, who spews out cheese-tastic lines like 'Autobots, roll out!', but these giddy moments are few and far between.

Instead, we get a myriad of annoying factors that ultimately deter from the overall enjoyment of the film. You've got John Turturro channeling 'Scent of a Woman'-era Al Pacino, chewing scenery and hamming it up while the rest of the cast is under the assumption that this shit is to be played straight. You've got the computer 'genius' who just so happens to look and dress like Pamela Anderson. There is the middle section, which drags on like Easter Mass. Or the fact that only one of the robots in disguise, Optimus Prime, gets more than 5 lines. Starscream and Megatron relegated to bit players? Sacrilege! Bumblebee, the one other character that actually has a prominent role, finally gets to the very last scene of the movie!

As crazy as it sounds to bitch about 'character development' when you are talking about robots that turn into cars, that is exactly what is missing here. The plot holes alone are big enough for Optimus Prime to drive through. In a movie like this I can certainly overlook such things as 'plot' and 'character development' if it at least succeeds in keeping me entertained or connecting with me on purely superficial level. But no. Instead of being the big fucking roller coaster that it could have been, it's like going over to a buddy's house and watching him play a 3rd person shooter game vs. the computer for 3 hours while he eats a frozen Jack's pizza and doesn't even offer you a goddamn soda.

That's not to say people won't like this. Those who like bright, shiny things that go 'boom' may find this to be fascinating. Do you like those truck commercials where the full size pickups are driving up a mountain of rocks? If you answered 'yes', please go see this.*

Then I see the reviews start to pour in, and I'll be damned if they aren't too shabby. Roger Ebert gives it three stars? Maybe something was off. Maybe I need to see again. Maybe this time I shouldn't go into the film with a slight beer buzz. Maybe, just maybe, there's more than meets the eye. Nah.

I think I'll just Neflix the old Transformers: The Movie and call it a childhood.**

Thunder Matt Rating: 2 Generous Thunderbolts out of 5

*Before I'm accused of being a movie snob who can't enjoy mindless summer fluff, let me reiterate my love for 'Live Free or Die Hard'.
**Leave it to the bastards at Slate to put it more eloquently than I. Good stuff.