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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

 

The Joy of Transformers

Hello, I'm Big C, and I am a Transfan. What a Trekkie (or Trekker) is to Star Trek, a Transfan is to Transformers. The Transformers toy line, cartoon, and comics debuted in 1984, when I was 8 years old. I have been in love ever since. Unlike other pop culture phenomena, Transformers has been percolating in relative obscurity since its initial popularity faded in the 80's. Yes, for the last 23 years the Transformers toys, comics, and cartoons have continued to be produced in one form or another (see several Japanese iterations, Generation 2, Beast Wars, Beast Machines, Robots in Disguise, Armada, Energon, Cybertron, Dreamwave comics, and lately IDW's new "Ultimate" Transformers comics), but even with these successful continuations, it has never quite broken out onto the pop culture A-list. With the new movie officially released in the US today, that is about to change.

Of course, being a hardcore rabid Transfan, I have mixed feelings about this event. I want Transformers introduced to a wider audience, and I want them to appreciate it like I do. However, at the same time, I've watched Transformers evolve from its thinly-disguised toy commercial roots into a legitimate sci-fi epic in both the fan community and officially licensed fiction, and I'd like that evolution to be preserved as it transitions to mainstream pop culture icon status.

I'd been following the steady drip of information about the movie's production on the Internet for the past year, and I've had many of the same fears and criticisms that other fans had. The complete redesigns of the robots looked ugly and overcomplicated. The movie was going to give way too much screen time to the humans and the Transformers would be little more than generic movie monsters rather than legitimate characters. Bumblebee isn't a VW bug!?!?!?!

So I was both excited and a bit anxious as I went to see the first 8pm advance showing yesterday evening. I had already heard lots of positive reactions from those lucky fans who had seen the movie early either in other countries or at the Transformers BotCon convention last weekend, so I was cautiously optimistic. So here's my review from a decidedly hardcore fan's perspective.

Quite simply, the movie blew me away. It rocked. It captured the spirit of the original Transformers and put it into a real summer blockbuster action/adventure/comedy. The visual effects and action sequences were amazing. I admit I was wrong about the redesigns. The animation of the robots was very natural and fluid. When they battled, the action sequences were a treat to behold. The Autobots got plenty of screen time, dialog, and characterization. Especially Optimus Prime and Bumblebee. Optimus Prime was the anchor for this movie. He was the iconic Autobot leader we remember from the original series: noble, honorable, heroic, self-sacrificing. I'm really glad the movie-makers listened to the fans and cast Peter Cullen (the original voice of Prime from the cartoon) back into his old voice-acting role.

The human characters were well-portrayed. Shia LaBeouf stood out as Sam (Spike) Witwicky, the central human caught in the middle of the robots' conflict. The other human characters moved the story along very well, and didn't steal the spotlight from the Transformers themselves. And there was a surprising amount of comedy that worked very well with the rest of the movie.

There were also several nods to the original series in the dialog of the movie that warmed my heart. For example, Megatron (the main villain) refers to the humans as "fleshlings" which was the pejorative term for humans the Decepticons used in the original Transformers comic books. Also, Optimus Prime delivers his signature motto, "Freedom is the right of all sentient beings," and calls out Megatron at the end of the movie with his famous line from the original animated Transformers Movie in 1986: "One shall stand, one shall fall."

There was a lot to love about this movie, and I'm hoping I can get a chance to see it a couple more times in the theater this summer before I buy the DVD in the fall. It was the definition of a fun, action-packed, serious-but-not-too-serious, summer event, special effect-laden blockbuster movie. I'm biased, but I think the movie works both as a celebration of the original Transformers for fans, and a great action movie for non-fans. I brought 11 of my co-workers with me who were not die hard fans, and they all loved it.

Okay, so I've given a lot of praise, but I wouldn't be an obsessive fan if I didn't catalog all the criticisms, right? The movie overcomes its weaknesses, but there ARE weaknesses and flaws to this movie. Here's a detailed list arranged according to how much they annoyed me as a Transfan (MASSIVE SPOILERS follow; read at your own risk!):

Major disappointments:
Minor annoyances:
Plot Issues:
All of these criticisms are things that are being echoed by other Transfans. I'm hoping the movie-makers will continue to listen to the fans and address some of these issues for the inevitable Transformers sequel. Especially the lack of focus on the Decepticons as characters. I would love for the sequel to have subplot revolving around a power struggle in the Decepticon leadership with Starscream trying to take over and Megatron making a miraculous return from the dead to put Starscream back in his place. Also, I'm hoping they can feature Soundwave as Megatron's trusted right-hand bot who is instrumental in reviving his deactivated lord. Maybe even work Shockwave into the mix too. Given the bar they set for the movie in terms of the robot designs and special effects, they'll have to up the ante in the sequel with additional transformation gimmicks. I'm betting on seeing the triple-changers and/or combiners to feature prominently in the sequel. While I love the Dinobots, I don't see a way to work them into the live action universe that would make sense. I'd love to be proven wrong though.

If I may make a few wild predictions:
If I'm wrong, I'm wrong, but I hope these predictions come true. Regardless, as a Transfan, I'm a very happy guy right now.

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