Monday, July 3, 2017

Second Look - Transformers (2007)

Note: This review contains unmarked spoilers relating to the Transformers Live-Action Film Series.

While the Transformers brand had not been dormant since the 1980s, its popularity did stagger a bit, to where it managed to run continuously in some form for about 20 years without really hitting mainstream popularity. In 2007, the first ever live-action movie based on the brand, simply titled Transformers, was released to mixed reception, however it did manage to bring more attention and renewed interest to Transformers as a whole, which eventually lead to a tetralogy of films before shifting more towards the direction of a Cinematic Universe. In honor of the 10th anniversary of this film, we present a second look at Transformers (2007).

Years ago, war was waged on the planet Cybertron over the Allspark, a special cube that is the source of Transformers life. To prevent the Decepticons from using the Allspark for their own gain, the Allspark was launched into space, only for Cybertron to begin slowly dying, resulting in a mission to retrieve the cube from planet Earth, where it eventually landed. On a US military base on Qatar, the Decepticon Blackout stages an attack to steal important data by disguising himself as a downed military copter, with William Lennox (Josh Duhamel) and a group of other military men to fend for themselves. Meanwhile, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is buying a used car, one which turns out to be more than meets the eye.

The story is pretty easy to follow and, by comparison to other movies in the Live-Action Film Series, is pretty light on overt references to preceding Transformers lore. Regardless, while it is written pretty decently, it is not without its flaws. In particular, there are some scenes involving toilet humor that could have been removed to make a stronger narrative, a particularly infamous scene being Bumblebee (voiced by various audio clips early on, Mark Ryan at the end) taking a piss on Agent Seymour Simmons (John Turturro). One other scene that could definitely have been shortened significantly is a scene where the Autobots wait outside Sam’s room as he searches for his grandfather’s glasses. When his parents enter the room, his mom (Julie White) comes to the conclusion he had been pleasuring himself; it’s safe to say that the length and awkwardness of this entire scene are not the only reasons it received an edit for some television broadcasts.

In spite of this, the movie is actually really funny in places, especially in scenes involving actors Bernie Mac (as used car salesman Bobby Bolivia) and Anthony Anderson (as computer expert Glenn Whitman). There is also plenty of action in the movie, although it’s usually more interesting to watch whenever it involves the military, to the point where one can wonder why William Lennox is not the main character in place of Sam Witwicky, if only because Sam’s side of the story seems to have been written a bit more awkwardly than Lennox’s side. In scenes not involving the military, however, two standout action sequences are the fight between Autobot Bumblebee and Decepticon Barricade (Jess Harnell), and the intense highway battle as the Autobots and Decepticons travel to Mission City for the final battle; a highlight in the latter is Decepticon Bonecrusher (Jimmie Wood) making use of his vehicle mode tires as though they were roller skates.

Optimus Prime (right) and Bonecrusher (left) battling on the highway.

There are still some small plot holes in the movie, although most, if not all, of these gaps have since been filled in by tie-in media, mostly in the numerous comic books for the first three movies released by IDW Publishing (to be more fully resolved by writer/editor John Barber’s material for the Dark of the Moon tie-ins). This includes one particular hole in that Barricade, in spite of being featured in the highway battle, does not appear in the battle in Mission City; the Reign of Starscream sequel comic answers this by showing that Barricade crashed somewhere on the highway.

While it is a flawed story, it is still fairly enjoyable in spite of this. However, what makes the film particularly noteworthy is its impact on later installments in the Transformers franchise. The Allspark is a concept introduced in this film, which would go on to be featured as a major plot device in the 2008 Transformers Animated cartoon, which also took inspiration from this film for the initial Cybertronian design for Megatron. Another impact on Animated was the decision to change the character of Hot Shot in the planning stages to Bumblebee, explaining his personality shift from previous incarnations, although Hot Shot would later appear in the series via a minor cameo in Season 3. This movie’s depiction of Bumblebee also notably had an impact on the later Transformers: Prime cartoon, in that Bumblebee speaks through various sounds before regaining the ability to speak at the end; he would continue to be voiced in the (as of this writing) currently-running 2015 Robots in Disguise cartoon, a sequel series to Prime. This is to say nothing of Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) featuring a mouth in this movie to allow for wider range of expression, which has since been adopted into other media for this reason.

Optimus Prime as seen in the 2015 Robots in Disguise cartoon, also voiced
by Peter Cullen.

The robot characters themselves are animated spectacularly well, with the animations managing to hold up after 10 years. Due to the way they are designed, it can be really interesting to see all the moving parts on the robots, including while idle, acting as a good display of skill on the part of the animators at Industrial Light and Magic. That being said, the robot designs have since been simplified starting from Age of Extinction, adding more solid parts and brighter colors to make them easier to keep track of for some audiences. If you’re an observant viewer, however, it is still possible to tell the characters apart on screen in part due to their varying silhouettes, though the smaller robot cast in this movie compared to later installments certainly helps when watching the climactic battle in Mission City.

The acting of the robot characters is good, most especially Peter Cullen notably returning to voice Optimus Prime beginning from this movie after having not voiced the character since the original 1984 cartoon. Peter Cullen has since become more of a staple in most Transformers media, proving his sheer passion for the character in the quality of his acting. Megatron, however is not voiced by Frank Welker in this movie, rather he is voiced by Hugo Weaving, who does an interesting take on the character as he does a good effort in emulating Welker. Welker himself would not actually voice the character again until The Last Knight, though he did have a presence in the movies beginning from Revenge of the Fallen, among them voicing Galvatron in Age of Extinction. Charlie Adler does an interesting take on Decepticon Starscream, although he would continue to improve with the character’s increased screentime in the following two movies (before Starscream’s death in Dark of the Moon).

The music by Steve Jablonsky, while good, is unfortunately not particularly memorable, though the score has since been released on CD for those who are curious. The licensed music, on the other hand, stands out from the other background music, in particular the song “What I’ve Done” by Linkin Park, which has an association with the movie perhaps on par with the association Stan Bush’s “The Touch” has with the 1986 movie. Also noteworthy is the song “This Moment” by Disturbed, which makes an appearance during the ending credits.

While the movie isn’t exactly being celebrated to the same extent as the 1986 animated feature, there is still some effort to pay homage to the movie’s 10th anniversary. As part of the Japanese release of the The Last Knight toyline (over there called Transformers: The Last Knight King), Takara Tomy has a special subline called Transformers Movie The Best, featuring repaints of previously-released Movie toys to make their paint schemes more accurate to their on-screen counterparts. Ironically, however, none of the toys featured are actually from the original Movie toyline, though their heart is definitely in the right place.

This, for example, is based on a toy from the Revenge of the Fallen toyline.

As part of the movie’s continuing legacy, as mentioned previously, the Live-Action Film Series has since evolved into a Cinematic Universe, beginning with The Last Knight. There are, however, some rather noticeable retcons that more observant viewers can spot between the 2007 movie and The Last Knight. For instance, while The Last Knight makes a big deal about Bumblebee being able to speak again, including through some dialogue making overt reference to when Bumblebee was last heard speaking, the moment loses some of its intended impact when one remembers that Bumblebee was, in fact, able to speak at the end of this movie, only to be immediately forgotten in the sequels and related media taking place after the 2007 film. Then there’s the nature of the Allspark, which gets forgotten about by the end of Age of Extinction and for the entirety of The Last Knight, in favor of introducing the character Quintessa as their creator in reference to the Quintessons from the Generation 1 continuity. The Last Knight also seems to stretch the truth a little in regards to how long the Transformers have been on Earth, even factoring in other tie-in media, in a similar fashion to how the Marvel Cinematic Universe started to contradict what was presented in Iron Man regarding how long the organization S.H.I.E.L.D. has been around.

Though things have definitely changed about the Live-Action Film Series since its initial release, Transformers (2007) is still enjoyable to watch after 10 years, though it does have some rough edges that would eventually be improved upon in later installments. While divisive, the movie can still be credited for bringing the Transformers franchise back into the public eye and creating renewed interest in the brand after nearly 20 years. As a bonus, this movie also saw the return of Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime, and later Frank Welker as Megatron, in subsequent media. It’s not a movie for everyone, however I would still recommend giving it a fair shot if you are at all curious about it, especially since the movie itself has had its own impact on Transformers media.

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