Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Transformers: The Movie (1986) review

Overall verdict: 8.5/10

The Good: a truly status quo changing story, extremely smooth animation, high level of art detail, excellent voice acting, goes beyond anything seen in the TV series, likable characters, decent character development, brisk narrative, some well written comic relief.

The Bad: requires familiarity with the characters, some minor animation errors in the theatrical cut,


The problem with so many anime movies that are spun off from a TV series is that the movie looks, feels and essentially IS, just an extra long episode of the TV series. Transformers: The Movie does none of that. Not content on just making a 84 minute long episode, the producers decided to up the show's ante and shatter the status quo, taking its action, animation, story and characters to new heights of excellence.
A word of caution: viewers unfamiliar with Transformers characters should go and watch the original TV series before watching this movie. If you cannot tell the difference between Starscream and Skywarp, go refresh your memory before watching this. There is little introduction to the characters as we jump straight into the thick of the action even before the opening credits flash across the screen.

Deep in the void of space, a monstrous machine planet is devouring world after world and is now making a beeline for the Transformers' home world of Cybertron. After years of stalemate, the evil Decepticons have taken over Cybertron and now launch a titanic offensive against the last Autobot city on earth. Although the Autobots manage to turn the tide of the battle, the death toll is catastrophic. Among them, the faction leaders, Optimus Prime and Megatron, lose their lives after what is easily the most brutal duel in Transformers animation history. As both factions try to bounce back from their loss, old foes return stronger than ever and ancient mysteries resurface. Amidst the end of one war the the start of another, a young Autobot named Hot Rod must come to terms with a destiny that he never desired.

In its time, Transformers: The Movie was both famous and infamous for its graphic portrayal of mass slaughter. A rarity among animated shows of the 80s was deaths of main characters. And in the tradition of this movie taking what "was" to a whole new level, the deaths are actually quite graphic and violent despite the characters being robots. There is one scene which could be the robotic equivalent of coughing up blood.




Know that prior to this, "injuries" were only temporary, no one ever died in the Tv series and if they were ever "deactivated" they were usually done so quickly and even off-screen. The deaths would hit harder if one were already familiar with the characters, hence why familiarity with the original TV series is recommended.
The story in the movie, however, is upgraded from the down to earth TV series style to an intense, action packed, sprawling space epic. The threat is larger than anything the Transformers have ever faced(literally). Sure it may share some elements of Star Wars but it is a huge notch up from the TV series it is based. One of the most epic stories in an animated movie based on a cartoon series.
As usual of Transformers, the characters are the main stars. The new characters introduced are extremely likable from their very first uttered line, thanks to a great mix of an engaging script and professional acting. A good measure of Character development, which usually takes at least a couple of episodes in the TV series, is present here and is very well handled with none of the characters coming across as bland or uninteresting. The script is as emotionally charged as ever, and its characters portrayed as humanly as possible, that its tragic climax would bring a tear to any one's eye.
The most obvious jump in quality would be in the art and animation department. Battle damage, metallic sheen, complex shadows, vivid colours and other little details make this movie very spectacular to look at.

Such art details stand the test of time and would even be able to measure up to the art standards of today's anime movies. Despite the sky high levels of the art detail, the animation does not suffer one bit. Every scene is fluid with hardly any short cuts used, characters are always in motion and so are some of the backgrounds; again a rarity among anime TV-series-to-movie films. The fight scenes are superbly storyboarded utilizing all the right shot angles, close-ups or wide pans, and lighting effects to add to the impact and cinematic feel of each battle. Unfortunately there are a number of animation goofs here and there; minor instances of wrong coloring in the background. Those mistakes however are not easily spotted until repeated viewings. They are not jarring and does not distract from the film at all.

To top it all off, there is the roaring electric guitar and rock soundtrack. It is a huge improvement over the bland musical cues of the original series and really complements each scene very well; truly the icing on a great tasting cake.The vocal soundtrack, however, is really up to personal preference, featuring a number of songs by Stan Bush, NRG and other big 80s names.
On a whole, this movie is a real treat for all transformers fans, and an entertaining watch for the casual anime fan as long as one is able to keep up with the various characters. The plot never slows down, yet never acts an excuse to tie on action scene to the next. Both a major turning point in the ongoing Transformers storyline, and an important milestone in animation, Transformers: The Movie is a timeless classic which introduced a new level of maturity into what was once solely a children's toy franchise.

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

Go For it: if you want to see what many consider the highest point of excellent in over 25 years of Transformers animation history.
Avoid it: if you have absolutely no idea who Optimus Prime or Megatron is

Entertainment: A
Story: B+
Characters: A
Animation: A-
Art: A-
Voice work (English): A
Voice work (Japanese): A-
Voice work (chinese): C
Replay Value: A
"Brains": C+

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon (2011) review

Overall verdict: 6.5/10

The Good: Flawless special effects, intense action, witty comedy, lovable main character, numerous sci/fi fan references, clearer than usual shot angles (for a Michael Bay Film),

The Bad: contradicts backstory established in previous 2 Transformers films, numerous plot holes, unlikable female lead, superficial thrills, bloated story,

Current Availability Status: in theaters 1 July

Long, loud and proud of that fact, Transformers 3: Dark of The Moon is the ultimate testament to everything good and bad about a Michael Bay film. Superficial thrills, cheap spills and wham bam action abound in the supposed final chapter in the Transformers film franchise. Forget the coherent story, thought provoking themes or even any hint of human drama. Also forget the previous two films since this one tries to pretend they do not exist.
It is never a good thing to alienate one's core audience of devoted fans by literally screwing with both the continuity and the characters, but now Bay alienates even the fans of previous Transformers movies. The concept of two warring races of intelligent machines is kept but much has changed. The all powerful "allspark", the artifact of contention among the Autobot and Decepticon factions, is never mentioned and the war is now fought over a miraculous invention and its inventor stowed aboard a lost starship "The Ark". 
Where the first movie established that knowledge of the Transformers came from discovering a frozen Megatron in the arctic, this movie claims that Transformers were discovered on the moon by the Apollo 11 lunar landing. It also contradicts the second movie by revealing the lost inventor to be a "Prime" when it was established that all Primes other than Optimus died to defeat the Fallen.
So continuity be damned as the story opens with human protagonist Sam Witcicky, now hooked up with his rich new blond girlfriend Carly. Despite being recognised as a nation hero, Sam is down on his luck, unemployed and missing his days with the Autobots. But conflict soon comes a-calling when the Autobots discover the aforementioned lost spacecraft and its cargo. Cue the needlessly complex yet convenient series of events that includes human-decepticon collaborators, hidden conspiracies, illogical allegiance switching and more. What are the chances that Sam gets a job at the one place where his colleague is a target of assassination by the decepticons because he worked on the moon mission that first discovered the ark? What are the chances that Sam's girlfriend works for a dude who is working for the decepticons? The entire progression of events is way too convenient.
Then the story makes another critical error by not just failing to address unanswered questions from the previous films, but making new questions to be answered. This might not have been so bad with well written characters, but the main leads are as shallow as ever. The only highlight is the witty banter and jokes courtesy of Shia Le Beouf. Shia's timely lines and comedic nature makes for a rather endearing character. Yes the entire movie is funny, you will laugh, but no it is not "well written" from a character development standpoint. Characters are one dimensional and either intentionally or unintentionally funny, from the token muscular black dudes to the sneering haughty decepticon collaborator to the comic relief parents. In true Michael Bay fashion, the new female lead is less of a character and more of a boob and butt display whose only role is stand there posing and looking pretty.
Speaking of camera, here is the one improvement this film has and that is "less erratic camera movements". There are many scenes of Michael Bay's trademark jitter-cam and weird shot angles but thanks to the bulky stereoscopic 3D cameras used, such instances are reduced greatly from previous Bay movies. Bot on bot action could never have been any clearer. The many slow motion scenes allow the intricately designed robots and top notch special effects, possibly the strongest selling point of this film, to shine.
Long time transformers fans might sit on the fence with this one. On one hand, the whole movie combines elements from fan favorite episodes of the classic cartoon series (Ultimate Doom and Megatron's Master Plan) as well as plot points from 2008's "All Hail Megatron" comic story. Numerous shout outs to the cartoons, the comics and other science fiction shows like Star Trek are more than enough for the geeks to go gaga over. 
On the other hand, Autobots and decepticons get their characterisations screwed over again. The scheming backstabber Starscream is reduced to a snivelling lackey, the powerful and logic driven strategist Shockwave is reduced to a mere miniboss and the typically benevolent and peace loving Optimus Prime now has no qualms about massacring bots en masse and carrying out public executions.
By now, Transformers 3 would not be changing any one's opinion of the film franchise. The stuff that people hate about it are taken to whole new levels but so is the stuff that people love about it. It is shallow but fun, superficial but entertaining; The only intellectual talking point of the film would be the implications of a big metal planet entering into earth's orbit. Physics says that such an occurrence is supposed to cause widespread disaster and wanton destruction. But who needs a metal planet when you have Michael Bay's Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon.
*****************************Review End******************

Go For it: if cheap comedy, visceral thrills and loud action is enough to make your day
Avoid it: if you have any appreciation for elements of films that actually matter (like a good story, well developed characters etc)

Entertainment: B+

Story: C+
Acting: A-

Characters: B-
Music: B-
Replay value: B+
"Brains": D+