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Thursday, October 25, 2018

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Transformers

Here we go again on Fishing in the Discount Bin.  Watching movies and blogging about them.  What more could one ask for?  Today, we do Transformers.  This is in my notes at June 10, 2018.

Man o man, when I was a kid, I never ever dreamed that I would be able to watch a live-action Transformers movie.  Now we've got five of them, and I'm o so tired of them.  I'm pretty sure I blogged before that when the trailers for the fifth one, The Last Knight, went online, I kind of threw up my hands and went, "I'm done."  In fact, as of my writing of this, I still haven't seen it.  I see it's on Netflix now.  Maybe I'll finally give it a chance.

But my hope for the franchise was renewed when the first trailer for the Bumblebee solo film went online this week.  It looks to be a smaller, gentler film.  So that inspired me to go back to the beginning and toss Michael Bay's first Transformers film into the Blu-Ray player tonight. 

Oh, I was so excited for this film back in the summer of 2007.  I mean, as early as 2002, I'd begun hearing whispers of it online.  But then, when they finally announced it in the summer of...2005, I think it was, and they got such heavyweights as Steven Spielberg to produce and Michael Bay to direct, we knew it was going to be a really big deal.  Although, I do agree with some of the sentiments at the time.  Given his near-fetish for all things military, Michael Bay would be a much better match with Hasbro's other big 1980s property, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.

And the timing was beautiful.  It was coming out on July 4, 2007...just a few short days before my 30th birthday.  7/7/7.  It was fate.  It was kismet.  I had to do something big and spectacular for my 30th birthday, ending with watching Transformers.  I wound up celebrating the way I did most of my birthdays when I was kid:  just a pizza party with my family and two of my closest friends. 

I remember being in the theatre, when the lights dimmed.  They showed the trailer for The Simpsons Movie and I have never heard my friend laugh as hard and as loud as she did at Homer singing Spider-Pig.  Then the movie started.  I guess I never told my brother that Peter Cullen, who did the voice of Optimus Prime back in the 1980s cartoon, came back to voice Optiums once again.  When that opening narration started, I heard my brother whisper under his breath, "Holy shit, it's Optimus." 

As the end credits rolled, I remembered sitting in my theatre chair in a daze.  I'd heard movies described as a thrill ride before, but that was the first time I walked out of a movie theatre feeling like I'd just gotten off a roller coaster.  People really did love that first movie.  Hell, I really loved that first movie. 

But it's been diminished over the years because Michael Bay didn't know what else to do with the property, so he just kept making the same movie over and over again, only bigger and louder.  *sigh*  The sequels, man.  The sequels suck so hard. 

But when that first movie came out, I was a kid again.  Playing with my Transformers.  Hell, I even went to see it again in the fall, when it was released in IMAX.  For the IMAX version, Bay re-edited it and about 10 minutes worth of deleted scenes.  I don't think that IMAX version has ever been released on home media.  I remember some of the additional scenes.  When Sam's been arrested, his interrogation scene went on longer, ending with the cops forcing Sam to watch the legendary "This is your brain on drugs" PSA where Rachel Leigh Cook trashes the kitchen with a frying pan (also directed by Michael Bay).  When they arrive at the Hoover Dam, there was a little more exposition about Sector 7, with Agent Simmons remarking that he occasionally stares at the Cube and ponders the meaning of life.  And when Capt. Lennox gets the shortwave radios from the pawn shop for their final battle, there was a brief scene of him haggling with the clerk.  That was all I noticed for additional scenes. 

Bay always described this first film as a twist on the tale of a boy and his first car.  And that was probably a good approach to take.  Sam Witwicky buys his first car, a beat up old Camaro.  But, his car soon starts acting like its got a mind of its own, and after being attacked by a police car that reveals itself to be a monstrous robot, the Camaro reveals itself to be the Autobot Bumblebee.  And thus Sam and the girl in his class that he has a crush on, Mikaela, soon get drawn into the centuries-old war between Autobots and Decepticons.  The McGuffin this time out:  The Allspark, the giant cube which gave life to Transformers.  The Autobots want it to rebuild their homeworld of Cybertron, the Decepticons want it to conquer the galaxy. 

Of course, we do get sidelined with a few too many human subplots.  The story begins with a Decepticon raid on an American military base in the middle east, and we start following the soldiers led by Capt. Lennox as they wind up being on the first wave of this alien invasion.  Jon Voight plays the Secretary of Defense who begins trying to assess this new threat.  In order to do so, he brings in a computer hacker played by Rachel Nichols to decipher how the Decepticons are hacking into things, and she in turn brings in Anthony Anderson to help out.  And, of course, the #1 scenery chewer in the film, John Turturo as Agent Simmons.  He's with Sector 7, the shadowy government organization that's been monitoring Transformers on Earth for some time. 

Fun trivia fact:  Bay reveals on the running commentary that he originally wanted his old buddy and Armageddon star Steve Buscemi to play Agent Simmons, but Buscemi passed. 

It does kind of remind me a bit of Independence Day in the way all these humans come together to face the alien threat.  It does kind of get to be too much, though, as we're here for the Transformers.

I still love that scene where the Autobots arrive on Earth.  As I saw one online critic point out, it's the only time that Bay seems to treat these heroes with a sense of gravitas.  Of course, it's almost immediately derailed by the following scene, where Sam goes home to collect the glasses (they have the map that leads to the Allspark), and rather than stay safely hidden in their robot modes, the Autobots decide to transform and get into shenanigans in Sam's backyard. 

That's what ultimately derails the film.  So much dumb humour.  Why does Bumblebee pee on Simmons?  Why why why did we need to see that? 

I tell ya, the first Transformers almost seems subdued compared to what came next.  That's why, hands down, it's the best of the franchise, and still the most enjoyable. 

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