Whenever Hollywood decides to adapt an existing pop cultural franchise for the big screen, I hate to hear that this adaptation will appeal both to die-hard fans as well as to the masses. With the possible exception of the Harry Potter films, that statement is almost never true. What it usually means is that they’ve sacrificed enough of the original concept to make it seem new, and kept barely enough not to insult the fans. In the case of the Transformers movie (along with so many others like the X-Men, Fantastic Four, etc.) I am left with the question of “What was wrong with the originals, when so many fans seemed to love them?” While I wasn’t a true die-hard Transformers fan (being unable to name more than a half-dozen of them) I enjoyed enough of the 80s toy and cartoon ctharacters to shake my head at Michael Bay’s adaptation. While at least maintaining the fundamental idea of robots turning into vehicles, for some reason they’ve created a quasi-mystical plot device about a cube buried on Earth that has the power to revive the Transformers’ home planet. The bad robots apparently pick their invasion targets to be in the middle East and the US in order to hack into US military systems to find out the location of the cube. Meanwhile, good-guy robots try to stop the bad guys and save the lowly humans who might get caught in the crossfire. (By simplifying the plot, I’ve almost made it sound reasonable.) Let me just say that every divergent plot path (involving US soldiers, or hot, blonde Pentagon analysts and their Dance-Dance Revolution playing friends) just seems like thinly veiled excuses to get a variety of characters together. Perhaps the robot effects were expensive enough as they are. If Bay had stuck to the original all-robot, Autobots vs. Decepticons story lines, perhaps the movie would have been unable to recoup its investment. I just think that for my ticket price, I would have enjoyed that so much more.
Part of what would have made a virtually-all-robot movie still very interesting is that they were really able to humanize the robot characters — at least Optimus Prime, the leader of the good-guy Autobots, anyway. Some of the other Autobots had fun personalities as well, but their screen time was kinda sparse. There was also a main character story, featuring up-and-comer Shia LaBeouf as a teenager whose first car is actually Bumblebee, an Autobot Camaro who is assigned to protect him from the Decepticons (and apparently also to help him get with hottie classmate Megan Fox). LaBeouf is refreshing as the quick-talking Sam Witwicky, but he’s no Will Smith, and sadly not a strong enough character presence to keep the viewer focused when the plot starts going in all kinds of crazy directions.
[Geek Rant Alert!] One of the biggest adaptation-tragedies in this movie is the character of Soundwave. In the original, Soundwave was the Decpticon intelligence officer who was able to transform into a tape recorder. He was my favourite for his cool personality and his less-than-human monotone voice. In the movie, the character that seems based on Soundwave is a boombox who transforms into a smallish robot that looks more like Short Circuit‘s Johnny 5 (if he were made entirely of knives and scissors) than the other Decepticons. Like the original Soundwave, he seems to be the only Decepticon who knows what he’s doing as he was able to infiltrate Airforce One, hack into the US defense network, and escape. Unfortunately unlike the original Soundwave, he’s a little imp or trickster, who sneaks around — and he doesn’t even have a voice (monotone or otherwise). He’s nothing like Soundwave. [Geek Rant Terminated.]
The last thing I’ll mention about this big-budget mess is that (surprise surprise) it’s really LOUD. I have some pre-existant hearing loss in my right ear, so if even I am saying it’s loud, how much worse for you fully-equipped listeners. We all know that Michael Bay loves explosions. He always puts a bunch of them in his movies, but in this movie it just seemed like every opportunity was taken to assault our ear drums. When vehicles were already moving and grinding loudly, they decided that it might also be a good time for some hard rock music in the “background”. Perhaps the theatre I went to also didn’t show much consideration for the decibel level, but I really have to agree with the four-year-old kid sitting in the row in front of me who had his hands over his ears the whole time. So if you want to watch robots become vehicles, and you don’t care about the story, and you won’t be devastated if it’s not those same robots from your childhood (though they were able to get some of the same voice actors), and you aren’t very protective of your hearing, then why not go see Transformers? However, if any of those things matter, and you’ve waited this long, wait for the video (where you control the volume–and the fast-forward button). (3 out of 5)