More than a guilty pleasure?

The irony of being a movie fan is that no-one dares buys you any dvds (surely the most obvious of presents for any film geek), in case you already own them. This being the case, I like to take steps to ensure that, come the 25th of December, there will be one or two shiny discs for me under the Christmas tree. A small list of suggestions in the appropriate email inbox usually does the trick, I find.

This year, at the top of the aforementioned list were a couple of items: one was the Blade Runner 5-disc set, a film which impresses more with every viewing (and there will be plenty more viewings this year, I am certain);  and Transformers, something which will not come as a surprise to anyone who has read any of my earlier posts. I saw it twice at the cinema, and now a third time on my brand new dvd, and all I can say is: here is another film that just gets better with every viewing.

Now let’s be clear on this. I am in no way comparing Michael Bay’s Transformers to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. The latter is a masterpeice of cinema and a brilliant work of science-fiction; it treats its audience with intelligence; it dazzles, intrigues, and absorbs. It is a film that MUST be seen more than once to be properly appreciated. Transformers, on the other hand, is a commerical product designed purely to make money, based on toys and a cartoon series that were also products designed purely to make money. But the joy of seeing my childhood heroes come to life on the big screen earlier in the year meant that it was Transformers I was keenest to watch post-Xmas present opening. (In my defence, I had caught Blade Runner: The Final Cut at the cinema a few weeks earlier, so I had no urgent desire to watch it straight away again.)

So is this post going to be another act of worship at the altar of Cybertron’s finest? Well, possibly. What struck me was that, despite the obvious reduction in screen size, Michael Bay’s film worked just as well at home as it did in the multiplex. In fact, in some ways it worked better: the action is now easier to watch, it’s more intelligible. And because the script concentrated more on the human characters than the robots, the story was ultimately more involving. My original problem with the film was that the Transformers themselves were not the focus of the story, which meant there was precious little characterisation of them. In hindsight though, I think this was the correct decision: it opened the film up to a much wider audience, introducing this new world of TF to fans and newcomers alike. It allowed the audience to share the ‘Wow’ factor that Shia LaBoeuf’s character experienced. And that’s what Tranformers was all about for us kids in the 80s – how ‘Wow’ it all was. It was only later, through the comics and cartoons, that we came to know the characters of the Transformers themselves more intimately, and my hope is that the in-development sequel will shift the focus to them.

Of course Michael Bay’s film is no masterpiece: it’s too silly to be that. Bay’s direction can still ellicit snorts of derision when he pays too much attention to how wonderful US military hardware looks at sunset. But after three viewings, I think there is genuinely a case to be made that the film is more than a guilty pleasure. It is Fun with a capital F, because, aside from some phenomenal special effects, it has some heart to it – probably the first Bay film to do so. My gut feeling is that Steven Speilberg’s influence as Executive Producer has much to do with that, but I feel nevertheless a little credit should go Bay’s way. Having said that, my dream choice for the director’s chair of the sequel would be James Cameron, who is surely the best action director in Hollywood (except he hasn’t directed anything for 10 years), but I suspect he has bigger fish to fry these days – all-singing, all-dancing, 3-D fish by the sounds of it (the in-production Avatar).

So anyway, ramble over. I’m a Transformers fan, and I liked the new Transformers movie. Call me nuts if you like, but I’ll take it over the noisy, senseless, migraine-inducing 80s cartoon movie any day. Loved it when I was 10; watching it again a few months ago, I was appalled at how badly it had dated. It might have a certain nostalgic value of course, but in no other way can it compete with the new version. Except some of the Transformers looked cooler in animated form, maybe. Maybe.

Published by Gavin Midgley

Freelance film journalist, blogger and geek.

7 replies on “More than a guilty pleasure?”

  1. I really have to disagree with regards the 80s movie being dated. The film packs fair more action into its short running time than the modern film and the story is more far interesting. I have the modern film by Bay on HD-DVD and while its visually stunning and is a decent film its just not a Transformers film. The comics showed that the Transformers might but be humans but they have human feelings. They can act and think like humans. This is seen in the 86 film. The looks of pain on their faces when they are shot or killed is pretty strong. The way beloved characters are bumped off really makes you feel well no one is safe. This really makes you get into the perils they get into far more.There is far too much time spent on the humans in the new film who are boring. The army guy in particular is dull but Shia’s character drove me wild. He is a wise arse who is always cracking lousy one-liners. The romance between him and Megan Fox’s character is the worst I have seen since Star Wars Episode II. Megan is a Fox pun intended but her character is little more than eye candy. The sight of the Transformers in that back garden coming out with awful lines like “my bad” is one I did not want to see. The pointless and crude sex joke was also totally uncalled for. I am no prude but a film that is supposed to be for all the family did not need wanking jokes. With regards the designs Starscream aside they are truely awful. They are not designed with characters in mind but with how best we can fit everything around GM Motors products. The old cartoon was made to sell the toys no argument. However the 86 film was written as a film first not an advert. This can be seen by Unicron who was clearly not placed in the 86 movie for toy reasons. They was no Unicron toy until 4 years back because it was too hard to make. If the 86 film was written purely for toy reasons then the main villain would not have been created in sure a way that a toy could not have been made. The new film’s designs anger me as they fall into the money catagory far too much. It was cheaper to get GM on board so lets make them all GM products.You can also hardly tell what piece is which when they are fighting so you can’t get into the action as you do not know if its an arm or a leg that has been hit. Bay wanted the designs to be realistic it seems but for me realism goes out the window when you are talking about giant robots from another planet. The original designs were far better as you could tell where the Transformers heads, arms were etc. The faces as well have little to no look to them. Its hard to see any emotion on their face as they do not look like faces. The conversations between the Transformers are few and far between. Prime gets some decent lines but the rest are left with little to no lines. The comics and cartoon had a great feud between Starscream and Megatron. This was thrown out of the window and the term Decepticon means nothing as they are no longer like there namesake. I know Megatron could not be a gun because of toy laws, fair enough but still that face design is awful he looks like Ivan Ooze. The next Transformers movie will be more of the same. Bay and his writers do not care about the backstory of the series. They will fill the film with Shia and the dull humans once more. If they actually concentrate on the Transformers I will be shocked. I except more Transformers weeing on people and more boring army characters.I was really looking forward to the new film but sadly it was aimed at the masses as thats where the money is.

  2. Some very valid points you make, and there was definitely a bit of me that wanted to see a proper faithful version of the G1 Transformers. But I think that would have been extremely difficult to pull off convincingly without going down the road Bay took, which was to make them “realistic” from an engineering point of view. Anything else would have been too “cartoony”, in which case you might as well just make a cartoon. A live-action TF film needs to be reasonably convincing for an audience to buy into it. 20 years on from the first film, it was never going to be the movie we had imagined in our heads, but it had enough echoes from the past to make me smile.Certainly the Transformers themselves were not given enough lines or character shading, nor were they easy to tell apart on first viewing. But subsequent viewings do improve matters somewhat. And as I said, with the formality of introductions over with, the sequels are free to delve deeper into the TF universe. If they don’t go down that road, and instead squander the opportunity for more TF characters, better characterisation and deeper backstory, I’ll be terribly disappointed!

  3. I can’t match Byron’s comment for extensiveness, but if there’s one point that stood out for me in this post it’s your repeated enjoyment of the feature both on the big and the small screen.I’ve taken my share of flack for stating my enjoyment of the Transformers movie (and putting it at #6 on my Films of the Year list), but I’m willing to admit that by this time next year it will probably have slipped substantially. I was suspicious that such a ‘big screen’ movie would not hold up at home and although I’ve not had a chance to test the theory yet, plenty of comments from others have confirmed the effect is tangible.I’m glad you’ve been able to find enjoyment past the first viewing, but as a clear Transformers enthusiast, are you the exception that proves the rule?

  4. I felt exactly the same prior to watching it on the small screen – how could it work as well as it did in the cinema? And sure, like any other SFX blockbuster, you lose some of the impact you get at the multiplex. But for me, the thing that saved it was one of the apparent ‘faults’ of the film: the emphasis on the human characters. It’s not a great script obviously, but it does enough to make the characters sympathetic, which is all I ask for in a film like this. And the small screen can’t diminish that. As for the robots, as I said in my post, the action which was occasionally confusing on the big screen is far more intelligible on the small screen, whilst keeping some of its visual kick. I know I’m in a minority here, as a G1 TF fan who liked the new movie, but I can live with that! If I had to guess, I reckon I’ll be more dissatisfied with the forthcoming sequel, for not using the 2007 film as a springboard to delve deeper into the TF mythos as I hope they will.

  5. Another vote for the movie. As someone who normaly hates Bay’s films (I don’t even like The Rock) and is too old for the film to feed any nostalgic longing for the cartoon (I was almost 20 when the series aired) I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I’d still class it as a guilty pleasure, it’s just a guilt that is shared by many.I know what you mean about seeing your childhood heroes on the big screen though, that’s how I felt about Spider-Man and The X-Men.

  6. Agreed about Bay – not a fan of his films at all usually. Liked Bad Boys; The Rock I liked initially, but have since gone off; Armageddon is one of the unintentionally funniest films I’ve ever seen; Pearl Harbour was just bad; and Bad Boys II was just nasty. Not yet seen The Island though.

  7. Never having seen the cartoon series I only went to see the film because of the hype and cos I have a Cineworld pass. I have to say I find it hard to understand why you all like Bay’s film so much.I found it for long stretches unwatchable and couldn’t have cared less when one pile of indistinguishable metal was beating up on another pile of indistinguishable metal. The more I see of hand-held shaky camerawork the more I hate it with a passion.I’d rather watch Alien or Bladerunner for the 100th time than have to sit through Transformers ever again.

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