Lazy Luddite Log

29.7.11

Live Action Transformers

I have never discussed the live-action Transformers movies here till now. So far I have only written on the toys themselves but now that we have seen all three blockbusting action effects flicks I shall give my opinion of the trilogy. I will say some general stuff of the three movies and then go into lots of fannish nerdy specifics.

In anticipation of Transformers (2007) I expected something involving a lot of massive fighting robots in a basic story that let the effects be the star. I was surprised then to find that what I got was better than that. It had the fighting robots but it limited how much they dominated the movie and there was story and chracaterization. There was comedy and romance interspersed in with the action. Friends who were non-fans still enjoyed it.

Then along came Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen (2009) and it was a bloody travesty of monumental proportions. A total mess of effects and the most convoluted (rather than complex) story and the strangest of charaterizations. Nothing much made sense. There were too many massive fighting robots smashing into one another so much so that it became an abstract tornado of alien machinery in motion. Also the sexist bullshit and ethnic profiling that was present all along became prominent and taxing in this movie.

Finally we have recently had Transformers: Dark Of The Moon (2011) and I think it may well be the dumb but fun effects flick that I was expecting back in 2007. In other words with the final movie they sort of average the other two - gone are the best aspects and the worst aspects and what is left is like a set of computer game cut-scenes full of - yep - massive fighting robots.

Transformers (2007) Specifics

I find that if you are thinking of a handful of ways you wish a movie was different then that indicates it was a good movie. There are a few things I wanted to change with Transformers (2007) as follows...

(i) I would change which of the five Autobot gets killed from Jazz to Ironhide. Rather than the pathetic non-match between Jazz and Megatron, I would have an impressive stouch between Ironhide and Megatron in which the Decepticon leader must resort to his two-armed cannon trick to dispatch the warlike Ironhide.

(ii) I would remove the "greatest hacker in the world" character altogether and merge his role with that of his friend the government analyst. Let her have all the brilliance. Also in recognition of the Japanese origins of Transformers I would give her - say - an Astroboy t-shirt to wear and possibly even have made her Japanese-American.

(iii) I would remove that stupid cop shop scene entirely. The movie is altogether too long and things like that contribute nothing to the overall story.

Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen (2009) Specifics

The second movie is too scrambled to unscramble but I can lament a few lost opportunities. They introduce an Autobot plane in Jetfire so they could have had him dog-fighting with the Decepticon Starscream but never did. They also could have shown us some new characters - particularly new Autobots like Arcee - in a proper 'roll call' of them all transforming as they are named. Seeing that the Great Pyramid hides alien technology was kinda fun but also somehow cringe-worthy.

Transformers: Dark Of The Moon (2011) Specifics

The third movie has one impressive thing - the whole 1960s alternate history reconstruction of Moonshot. That impressed me. Then it sort of became the game of espionage and combat between the fighting robots of various sizes and shapes. The one big thing I missed was the lack of transformation sequences. Some characters with perfectly well-designed conversions from one mode to another barely if ever transform. We only see Sentinel Prime turn into a fire engine in passing as part of a messy action shot. For something better you have to go look at a fan-made animation of the toy!

Live-Action Movie Characters

Naturally characters from a toy-line will be comic-book simplistic in nature. However they are re-cast in a live-action world so you expect some expanding of complexity. We rarely get this and in some cases we loose it.

Autobot leader Optimus Prime in the first movie is compassionate and only fights if it is necessary. In the sequels however he seems to relish killing his opponents. Suddenly the only difference between good and evil is that good wins. This disturbed me. Only one thing was added towards the end that I enjoyed - it seems that if Prime sits silently in his truck form that it is because this massive ancient alien robot is "sulking" - a classic!

The relationship between Megatron and his undermining lieutenant Starscream is never explored - in the first movie they have barely any screen time together and in the sequels Megatron is never truly the Decepticon leader anyway. The introduction of Transformers comic book characters - first The Fallen and then Sentinel Prime - turns Megatron into a lackey himself.

One character that is expanded upon marvelously is Bumblebee and he never even talks! They managed to take a rather annoyingly 'cute' character from the cartoon and turn him into something engaging and empathic and heroic and far more well-adjusted than some of the humans in the movies. Which brings me to the strangest thing in live-action Transformers.

The humans! They are okay in the first movie but in the sequels they just get stranger and stranger. Who acts that way? Who talks that way? Even in American action movies who is like these humans? Possibly they do this to help make the Transformers seem more normal by comparison. Possibly they are supposed 'comic relief'. Possibly director Michael Bay just needs to meet a few more of his fellow human beings (also I want to ask him how exactly governments are suspicious yet the military are trustworthy). I must admit to having a fondness for one of those peculiar humans in Agent Simmons, but I think that is because the actor is having a fun time with his over-acting.

Design & Effects

Generally I was very impressed by the new anatomical look of the live-action Transformers which gave them a realistic science fiction look while preserving the overall Transformers vibe. However I think they became both too abstract and too organic-behaving in the sequels. Abstract in the sense that some characters started to look like "things that turn into things" rather than robots that turn into worldly vehicles and appliances. Too organic-behaving in that they started to spew forth coolants and lubricants in the same way we spill blood. It all became a bit gratuitous.

The computer graphic elements were amazing and inserted well into the live-action settings. Only once there were too many of them in a shot did it become problematic. However I do think that the first time we see a vehicle become a robot is a moment in cinema history.

Only with the handful of wholly animated scenes was I underwhelmed. Sure Cybertron is a mechanized world but it felt small and fake. Contrast this with the city-planet of Correscant in the Star Wars universe which looks truly immense in its respective depictions.

Toys

Transformers is an advertisement for the toys so I may as well refer to them here. Many more live-action characters were designed than are ever seen in the movies. This is a shame as many of those designs are excellent. And then there are some classic characters that never got into the live-action universe at all.

We did see the Constructicons who are kinda cool as separate robots but just stupid-looking as the gestalt Devastator. We sort of see Insecticons... well... Scorponox is an 'arachnicon' I suppose and The Doctor (aka Scalpel) is insect-like and plays a similar role as the original cartoon character Bombshell. And what of the Dinobots? Too silly to be put into a live-action setting? Come on! There is so much silliness in these movies to accommodate the Dinobots and fans have done the groundwork! See both here and here for more.

Worth Seeing?

If you have never seen any of these movies then I suggest one of two things: Never see any of them. I do enjoy Transformers (2007) but it is hardly a must-see for non-fans. However it is good fun and has merit so you can also happily give it a go and it can stand alone. Alternately if you have seen both Transformers (2007) and Transformers: Roll On The Floor (2009) then you may as well see Transformers: Dork Of The Moon (2011) for the sake of completeness.

Now I am off to do that thing that the movies are supposed to make me want to do - play with Transformers!

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17.7.11

Into The West

I am the historian of my own life and I find that written records help me remember who I am and what I think and feel over time. It makes it more difficult for me to edit my memory if I have a record of it. So I keep some items of correspondence across a number of media and I prepare written accounts of important events in my life. Some are private but others - like this blog entry - are public. Herein I will share some of my impressions of my first visit to Perth and of my experience as a non-singing participant in the Perth Intervarsity Choral Festival 2011.


As with my experience of Brisbane IV 2007 I attended for only part of the event as a non-singer so that I was free to explore a new city. I stayed at the City Youth Hostel and explored the city centre and Kings Park and University Of Western Australia. I travelled further away to take in Fremantle and Cottersloe Beach. It was all lovely and yet I have changed since 2007. Back then I would happily wander all day alone in a new setting. Now, while I still enjoyed it, I was more drawn to my choristers.

There were surprises both personal and non-personal in my visit to Perth. Among the non-personal surprises was my accessing of the forbidden parts of Masonic culture. Okay - some background: Ever since a wonderful New Year's Eve party held in the Oakleigh Masonic Hall I have been fascinated by the locked meeting area upstairs. The rehearsal venue however - Nedlands Hall - was a former Masonic hall and so we could go into its meeting room hidden behind a huge fake wardrobe and sit in the throne-like chairs inside!

The culture of choristers however was of much more interest to me than that of Freemasons and I fell right back into it. I noticed some fascinating effects this human setting had on me as I have at past IVs. For one thing I lost some of my independence as I grew accustomed to falling in with what the group did. For another I noticed my pattern-recognition for fellow choristers go into overdrive. On returning home I was regularly mistaking strangers for choristers whom I knew full-well live interstate.

And another thing I noticed was that my desire for tactile contact grew. On my return to Melbourne I watched videos with some non-huggy friends and found I had to actively resist giving them huge enveloping hugs. I have a hunch that the vibe of IVs taps into very ancient ways of living for humans involving extended yet intimate groups.

I try to attend IVs with an open mind but I will admit I had expectations and they were met. I must be getting better at anticipating things. I mingled with friends from home and far away... had old friendships renewed and new ones made... got closure for some aspects of my life and affirmation of some facets of who I am.

And communication! So much in so many forms. And I think this is hardly surprising if one remembers that music is a form of communication. Yes I only got to witness the end result of rehearsals but there is always singing among choristers, from the old standards sung at the post-concert party, to overhearing a friend singing in the shower, to singing-along to the radio during a lift back to the airport. And the message of all this communication? A reminder that life is rich and full and interesting. Thanks so much IV!

Update: I have indexed my seven IVs as of 2013 in this post.

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