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Transformers (2007) – this week’s best film on TV

July 2, 2011 by Simon Kinnear in At Home with 1 Comment

Yes, you read that right.  I’m calling Transformers (screening 19:20, Sunday 3rd July on Channel 4) the best film on TV this week.

It probably hasn’t escaped your attention that threequel Transformers: Dark of the Moon is currently in cinemas.  What’s more, its release has sparked an extraordinary slanging match between critics – aghast at the apparent awfulness of the film – and fanboys who are bitterely protective of their franchise. 

One blogger who posted an early negative review received a barrage of hate mail and even a death threat, while Empire took the unprecedented step of answering the online haterz back

Transformers Dark of the Moon Autobots vs Decepticons

“Critics of Transformers: Dark of the Moon are slapping down Michael Bay for reactionary politics.  The fanboy defence is: it’s just robots fighting other robots”…

In summary, the argument is as follows. Critics are slapping down Michael Bay for reactionary politics, adolescent sexuality and a formless narrative bordering on gibberish. The standard defence is: “woah man, you’re taking things far too seriously. It’s only a film about robots fighting other robots.  The other stuff doesn’t matter”  To which most critics reply:  “Of course it matters.”

Which puts me in the rather awkward position of having written (after seeing the first Transformers film in 2007)  the review you’ll read below, which pretty much takes the fanboy line.  In short, although I knew I shouldn’t, I loved it.  So do I think the politics ‘n’ stuff doesn’t matter?  Not quite. 

I’m not blind to the faults of the first two films.  And although I haven’t seen Transformers: Dark of the Moon yet, it’s easy enough to extrapolate Bay’s fondness for Pentagon-porn (and actual porn) from what I have seen.  My gut feeling remains the same as it was in 2007.  Bay is so overt, so lacking in subtlety, that he’s far less dangerous than other more carefully coded pieces of cinema propaganda.  It’s worth reading this recently published book, which provides a damning assessment of Hollywood’s reliance on military support, and the related reactionary effect on its storytelling.  In contrast, Bay’s caricatured worldview starts to look vaguely self-satirising if you squint long and hard enough at it.

And once you accept that, Transformers is a rather awesome popcorn-muncher about robots fighting other robots.  Mind you, I loathe Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

Transformers 2007 Michael Bay Optimus Prime

(Michael Bay, US, 2007)

Not much transforming going on here. With Michael Bay what you see is what you get: a cocktail of testosterone, explosions, cheesy dialogue and FUN!

Transformers is better than any film with the credit “in association with Hasbro” has any right to be, but then critical opinion flies out of the window with this one. You either get it, or you don’t. And for a kid raised in the 80s, whose games were defined by the “crr-crr-crr” noise as I manually turned toy cars into robots, this is a blast of pure excitement.

“Getting it” is probably the chief factor in the decision to hand directorial control of this one to Michael Bay. The hardcore Transformers fan base was quick to criticise Bay for some of the changes he’s made but really, what better director than him, with his techno-fetishism, mastery of pyrotechnics, over inflated sense of occasion and imperviousness to cheese in dialogue or situation? The Transformers are the ultimate in boys’ toys, and Bay, even more than his spiritual mentor James Cameron, is the ultimate proponent of Orson Welles’ maxim that making films in like owning a massive train set. Or, in this case, a demolition derby.

And thankfully Bay has rediscovered the ability to laugh at himself which vanished in his recent attempts to become important in Pearl Harbour and The Island. Transformers is a return to the days of The Rock and Armaggedon, revelling in the ridiculous of it all.  Strip away the SFX and the film is pretty close to being a comedy. Bay is never far away from a gag with some crowd-pleasing multiplex satire at the expense of modern society (there’s a great running gag at the expense of how the Internet erodes our privacy) and, in Shia Le Beouf, an instinctive comedian who actually locates a human centre amidst all the mechanical carnage. The story actually stops dead for a whole ten minutes, with a unlikely piece of farce revolving around the Autobots’ attempts to hide from Sam’s dad.

Transformers 2007 Megan Fox

“The final half-hour of Transformers is a cross between Black Hawk Down, Tetsuo: The Iron Man and the dinosaur fight in Peter Jackson’s King Kong remake…”

Thank god it‘s funny, as many of the traditional elements of storytelling have simply failed to turn up. The backstory is, frankly, shite.  Even considering the caveat that it was designed to sell toys surely one of Hollywood’s well-paid writers could have done better than the “map to all-powerful cube imprinted on 100-year-old pair of spectacles” gambit they come up with here. The ragged structure keeps on interrupting LaBeouf’s story with some borderline-irrelevant sojourn in the Middle East. The expeditionary dialogue, especially when the Autobots are conversing, some of the worst I’ve ever heard. Not even so-bad-it’s-good, just bad. The film appears to have been shot by a horny teenager, fetishising Megan Fox’s curves just as much as all of the cars. And Bay remains a poster-boy for cartoon Republicanism, with an inherent endorsement of American military might and a verbal carpet bombing of America’s enemies feeling closer to Fox News-influenced bar talk than a realistic depiction of governmental debate.

And yet, critical opinion flies out of the window with this one. What we really want is the dust-ups and Bay delivers. The final half-hour, in particular, comes on like a cross between Black Hawk Down, Tetsuo: The Iron Man and the dinosaur fight in Peter Jackson’s King Kong remake – and the film is as thrillingly, surreally bonkers as that description sounds. It’s so furious that the onslaught of noise and image actually coalesce into a brain-scrambling blur of techno-porn. Purists may scoff, but it confirms that Bay is a master of the medium, if not the message: crude, hyperactive and preposterously entertaining.

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One Comment

  1. » Transformers: Dark Of The Moon (Michael Bay 2011) – it’s not *that* bad » KinnemaniacMar 27, 2012 at 4:08 pmReply

    […] already reviewing Transformers (thumbs up) and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (thumbs down), I thought I’d better write […]

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