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Sunday, May 9, 2010

Transformers (2007) review

Overall verdict: 7.5/10

The Good: heartwarming Spielberg moments, fun witty screenplay, awesome special effects, realistic portrayal of the general story, action packed from start to finish, fully fleshed out main characters, enough shout outs to the original material(eg: voice actors that reprise their roles) to keep fans happy

The Bad: lack of depth in side-characters, simplistic storyline, some plot holes(which were presumably explained by the tie-in comics and novels), tends to favor loud action over character development, too much creative detraction from the original cartoons while keeping many of the flaws of those said cartoons.

Current Availability Status: on discount DVDs and full priced Blu-ray discs at major singapore video stores.

DVD extras (on the 2 disc special edition):
Disc 1:
- film Commentary by Director Michael Bay

Disc 2:
- Our World (4 part featurette)
Part 1 "The Story Sparks" - Steven Spielberg discusses his love for the franchise and early concept art for the film. Explores how the writers adapted the cartoon into a live-action movie and why Michael Bay is the perfect director for the film.
Part 2 "Human Allies" - Actors selection and interviews with main cast
Part 3 "I Fight Giant Robots" - An exploration of the military training that Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson underwent for their roles
Part 4 "Battleground" - a featurette involving the army advisors brought in to give the film's portrayal of the military the most realistic level of authenticity.

- Their War (4 part featurette)
1) Rise of the Robots - Explores the choices by Hasbro and Michael Bay that resulted in the design changes to the Robot characters.
2) AUTOBOTS Roll Out - Michael Bay discusses working with Chevy and its designers and the modifications that were made to the cars seen in the film.
3) DECEPTICONS Strike - The film's military advisors discuss the "toys" they allowed the production to borrow: F-22 Raptors, Ospreys and A-10 Warthogs.
4) Inside the AllSpark - ILM's digital artists discuss the challenges of bringing the TRANSFORMERS to life.

- More Than Meets The Eye (3 parter)
-- From Script to Sand: a indepth look at the making of a scene: The SKORPONOK Desert
-- Concepts art
-- Trailers

DVD value for money Grade: A
******************************Film Review************************

Since 1984, the Transformers franchise has been a much loved world wide phenomenon, spawning numerous toys, animated series and comics. After twenty three years, a live action movie based on this famous franchise premiered to a huge box office success but mixed opinions. Directed by action movie extraordinaire(and incapable of doing any other decent genre BUT action movies) Michael Bay, and produced by veteran film maker Steven Spielberg the live action Transformers movie immediately polarised film critics, casual movie viewers and long time fans alike.

First off, this movie seemed to be a total re-imaging of the Transformers tale; From a reboot of the transformers' origin to setting the main story in contemporary earth 2007. It has nothing to do with any of the previously established stories other than a couple of familiar character names. And even those familiar characters got a radical cosmetic and personality makeover much to the displeasure of the long time fans. Essentially Transformers 2007 is its own creature, keeping general elements of the original animated series while crafting its own identity by going for a gritty "real world"(or, as realistic as "giant transforming robots" can get) approach.

One such element that was kept was the straight forward simplicity of the story: For eons, two warring tribes of sentient machines who are able to alter their forms at will, The Autobots and The Decepticons have fought an endless war while searching the cosmos for a powerful artifact called "The Allspark". Their search brought them to the planet earth where agents from both tribes at first chose to mimic the forms of local earth vehicles and infiltrate the populace to carry one their search. But a surprise discovery of a young smart-mouthed student named Sam Witwicky (played by the immensely talented natural comedian Shia Labouf), who unknowingly possesses a vital clue to whereabouts of the coveted artifact forces both Autobots and Decepticons to break cover with devastatingly violent results. Now the interstellar war has come to earth with Sam Witwicky and all of humanity caught in the middle. It sounds a lot more complicated than it really is.

The primary difference between this rendition of "The Transformers" and previous incarnations is the focus on the human characters and not the robots themselves. Human characters like Sam Witwicky are the conduit through which the audience gets immersed into the events of the movie; we are seeing, feeling, hearing the transformers through his experiences. This style of moving the narrative forward may not be appreciated by many as it portrays the robots as fearsome, mysterious and out-of-this-world. Everything from their lines to their mannerisms help to emphasize their very "alien" nature instead of making them "human-like" in their characterization and easy to relate to. Even the camerawork tries to emphasize this.
By not giving a full, clear body shot of any of the robots, and by utilizing a lot of "from the ground, upwards" camera pans, it just adds to the sense of awe, grandeur and mystery surrounding those aliens and allows for a good build up in the plot where for the first time, we get to see the full ramifications of an alien robot war on earth.

Instead of a story where the good guy team stops the bad guy team(like in the classic cartoons), we get to see how humanity in general reacts to the sudden appearance of sentient machines wrecking havoc in a city. From the higher end authorities, to the military, down to the man on the street, all their reactions to a possible alien robot war are very realistically scripted from start to finish. Central to the movie is the coming of age tale of Sam Witwicky and his friendship with the Autobot, Bumblebee. What begins as a curious "guardian/target" relationship grows and culminates in courageous acts of self sacrifice for each other, like brothers in arms. This is reminiscent of some of the more heart warming Steven Spielberg films and one of the few emotional factors driving this movie.

Easily the most successful live action adaptation of an animated show to date, Transformers is not without a few kinks in the gears. Aside from Sam, Bumblebee and perhaps autobot leader Optimus Prime(voiced by Peter Cullen who reprises his role from the animated series), none of the other characters, human or robot, get any character development at all. It could be argued that this is just another element carried over from the simplistic animated series but it did not work in the movie's favor. Thankfully there is the extremely fun and witty screenplay by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, complete with timely in-jokes, to distract one from the lack of character depth.

On a technical scale, ILM(Industrial Lights and Magic) should receive special commendation for their work on the fully CGI robotic characters. The level of detail is astounding right down to micro-gears whirring to move a single metallic limb. Frantic camera movements, whip pan cuts and tight closeups during action scenes add to the frenzied and raw feel of the battles and actually allows one to easily imagine being IN the movie and experiencing the all out action first hand.

Loud, intense, slightly shallow but thoroughly entertaining, Transformers 2007 could use some polish here and there as well as a deeper focus on its characters. It is sad when some of the comics and cartoons in the past managed to delve into more complex themes than a live action movie, but for a first attempt the results are satisfactory though no less polarizing.

*****************************Review End******************

Go For it: if you want to have a fun time seeing a more realistic portrayal of the Transformers in the form of one of the most action packed summer blockbusters ever created.
Avoid it: if you are not a Transformers fan to begin with or desire a live action movie that is a 100% adaptation of the original cartoon.

Entertainment: A

Story: B-
Acting: A

Characters: B-
Music: B+
Replay value: A-
"Brains": C+

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