Monday, July 30, 2007

The Sci-Fi Anthology Revived?

This past Saturday night, I was flipping through the channels looking for something to numb my brain... America’s Got Talent... America’s Funniest Home Videos... Then, suddenly, a commercial for an upcoming series caught me half-conscious. I wouldn’t have even paid it any of my waning attention were it not for John Locke’s (a.k.a. actor Terry O'Quinn’s) familiar cranium filling the screen. Thinking it was something Lost-related, I instantly snapped out of my coma. Various sci-fi-esque images followed. Shots of Cancer Man (from the X-Files) and Anne Heche. Another shot of John Locke. Something about the greatest sci-fi writers of all time. Stephen Hawking narrating. Then finally the title: Masters of Science Fiction.

I wanted to grab the delightfully surprising teaser and hold it in my hands, but, alas, it was gone as fast as it had appeared. I almost wasn’t sure if I had heard correctly: the return of the sci-fi anthology show? Could it be true? In this summer of throwaway, reality shows and American Idol voting competition clones, nothing would be more welcome. Finally, some relief from glorified prime time soap operas and comedy-less sitcoms.

Just to put this in context, I ate, slept, and breathed The Twilight Zone as a child. Other shows made their stabs at the sci-fi anthology (i.e. The Outer Limits, One Step Beyond, The New Twilight Zone, The New Outer Limits, The New, New Twilight Zone, and maybe even Tales from the Crypt if we want to get really broad), but none achieved the same style, chills, gravitas, and stark sci-fi speculation of the original Rod Serling show. For at least the last ten years, the sci-fi anthology show has been pretty much extinct, especially on network television.

What a surprise then to find that ABC is making a move to bring it back. And not just with some promised thrills and chills, but with a bona fide sci-fi pedigree and some real star power to back it up. Just for the first episode, writing credits include John Kessel (Nebula Award winner), Hollywood Blacklist writer Howard Fast, sci-fi founding father Robert Heinlein, and Harlan Ellison (seven-time Hugo Award winner, three-time Nebula Award winner and Science Fiction Grand Master Laureate). I don't even know what that last title means but it sounds tantamount to something like "I'm-the-real-deal-in your-face-king of science-fiction-and-I-will-blow-your-mind-into-next-millenium." Starring will be Sam Waterston, Anne Heche, Terry O’Quinn, Malcolm McDowell, and John Hurt among others. Honestly, this probably has more potential than any anthology that has been released since the Twilight Zone update that aired briefly in the 80s.

I don’t know much more about this series other than what I discovered on the ABC website, which I recommend you check out here. But I can assure you that, come 10 pm next Saturday night, I will be tuned into ABC to give this potential beauty a chance. What do you all think? Is this the start of something good? Am I the only one out there who craves my sci-fi dark and thoughtful? Check out the website and give us your take…

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Ratatouille, Warts and Paintball Welts

While the rest of the nation simply watches their summer drift away, waiting for Labor Day, Utah celebrates Pioneer Day on July 24th. The holiday plays almost like a repeat of Independence Day, with barbeques, fireworks, parades, and other forms of summer recreation. At any rate, it’s another great excuse to get out of work and do crazy stuff before the summer is finished. This year’s Pioneer Day was no exception.

I started off by catching Ratatouille, which, if you’ve been following my blog since June, I predicted would be the best movie of the summer, you might remember. In short, I was not disappointed, my prediction affirmed. This movie is flat-out gorgeous. With the barrage of movies that have hit the cinema this summer, overblown, F/X epics, pea-brained animated flicks, and unfunny comedies, Ratatouille is a huge breath of fresh air, so far away from its so-called competition in quality, maturity, and richness that to classify it as one of the summer breed would just seem… wrong.

That’s not to say that Ratatouille is without its flaws. It is not better than, say, The Incredibles, in terms of character, humor, or mad-cap action. The characters do not blend into each other or attract us as effortlessly as past Pixar creations have. But what it lacks in characters it makes up for in pure, infectious love for its subjects: namely, cooking, Paris, and rats.

This love literally resonates from every meticulously rendered surface, from every carefully animated movement. No CG animation studio out there even comes close to this kind of atmosphere. In one scene where Remy, the main protagonist, scurries through a Parisian apartment and emerges at the roof, bursting onto a stunning panorama of night-time Paris, my jaw literally dropped. And the film never relents in its pursuit of that same rich vibrance.

Honestly, there are very few laugh out loud moments, the interests are mundane. But just from the sheer daring of Pixar in creating something so lovingly crafted, so mature, so not Surf’s Up or Shrek, without annoying jabbering sidekicks, mind-numbing potty jokes, or over-reliance on pop culture satire, I left the theater with a smile on my face and an inexplicable fondness for fine cuisine and Paris (this is a miracle in and of itself: I am not a French fan at all. Got a D- in high school French…). A few people with me complained that it was not as good as Incredibles or other Pixar films. Personally, I think it’s unfair to compare it to other Pixar films. Not every movie can be The Incredibles. That’s like saying that Kobe Bryant isn’t any good because he isn’t as good as Michael Jordan.

Rather, we would do well to compare Ratatouille to its current competition. There can be no denying that Ratatouille, as genuine movie magic art, rises and shines above anything else in current release. I still say it’s the best movie of the summer.

Anyway, after catching Ratatouille, I went paintballing with some crazy farm kids, hardcore paintball fanatics. In short, I rarely got a shot off on anyone else, but I did walk away with some of the best injuries of the game. The first came as a paintball from a high-powered gun found its way under my mask and tagged me on the chin. Blood and yellow paint splattered all over the inside of my mask, which, I imagine, must have looked pretty cool. In a later round, a ball found that soft spot on my inner thigh, leaving a plum-colored, “O”-shaped bruise. It was beauty, but I was just glad I hardly felt it. The last came in our last round of play. I was out of balls. My buddy was waiting behind me, ready to fire. I spotted a ball on the ground, made a dash for it, bent over to pick it up, and POW! I got stung right up where no paintball should ever go. So I turned around, loaded, and nailed my buddy from 5 yards away. I’m sure he felt that… Male bonding is a strange thing.

After going home and licking my wounds, I concluded the holiday by getting five warts on my right foot cut or frozen off. Let me tell you: it hurt like a mammajamma! Everything hurt, from the anesthetics to shaving off the tops of the warts with a scalpel to searing them with a pressurized stream of liquid nitrogen. The bright side of it all: I get to wear flip flops to work. My office mates are all envious. The down side: I have to tell everyone I had warts. Nobody wants to touch a guy with warts. I think deep down inside, they still harbor that schoolyard stigma that warts come from frogs or being dirty or whatever. They can think whatever they want. At least I get to wear flip flops…

How was your weekend? Anyone catch Ratatouille? Anyone out there celebrate Pioneer Day? Anyone out there have warts? If you do, don’t touch me…

Friday, July 20, 2007

Stars and Dogs of the Dog Days of Summer

Every year, the summer movie season peaks at about July 4. From there, the magnitude and marketing barrage of movie releases gradually tapers off until the end of August, when movie releases have been toned down to a mere whisper. Gone are the glittering fireworks extravaganzas of the highly anticipated event movies. Done is the child-like counting down of days until the release of a movie for which you saw the teaser ten months ago. Here are the long, drawn out summer days where indie flicks, comedies, second-rate animation, and, the studios hope, the occasional sleeper hit get their time in the sweltering hot sun. It’s a funny time of year where you may just find the worst movie you’ve ever seen or be surprised to find you’re new all-time favorite.

This year, Transformers represented the peak. Harry Potter 5 officially marked the end of the big summer blockbusters and the beginning of the dog days of summer. Ahead of us lies a month and a half of possibilities. Judging by the oncoming roster of late summer releases, we are in for more of the same stars and dogs. Fortunately, the studios have sprinkled in more blockbuster-tier fare than usual. In anticipation, I predict the five top stars and five dogs (and some that could swing either way) for the dog days of summer 2007:

The Bourne Ultimatum – If you’ve seen its two prequels, I don’t need to explain why I think this is going to be a ride well worth the price of admission. If I also told you director Paul Greengrass, who added such a raw, tooth-and-nail survivalist intensity to the Bourne Supremacy, was helming this third outing, you’d push me out of line and steal my ticket. Ultra-assassin amnesiac scrapper Jason Bourne goes globetrotting one more time and brings it home to the U.S. to finally uncover his past and undoubtedly unleash cold, ballpoint-pen-wielding justice on the guilty… ‘Nuff said!

2) The Invasion – Nicole Kidman returns to the thriller genre in this remake of the classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers. If you’ve seen The Others (as in the movie, not the odd, secret-hoarding meanies of Lost), you know that Kidman’s crystal blue peepers were made for thrillers. If you’re familiar with the noir original, this is exciting enough. If you know that the Wachowski brothers had to finish this film after the first director dropped out, you’re probably as eager to see it as I am. I am like a pitiful canine just waiting for any possible scrap that may fall from the Wachowski table. For a bonus, Daniel Craig (a.k.a. the new James Bond) co-stars. The trailers look sufficiently creepy.

3) The Simpsons Movie – Not all irreverent TV cartoon series have successfully translated to feature length film (i.e. Beavis and Butthead Do America). However, if there was ever a writing team witty and knowing enough to make the leap, it was Matt Groening’s. For nearly two decades, these guys have managed to pack half-hour shows with more intelligence, satire, candor, and just plain laugh-out-loud slapstick than most sitcoms can fit into a whole season. They have more than enough ammo to fill an hour and a half. Will it meander from one tangential subplot to another without an apparent main plot? Maybe. But Groening’s team has almost made that their hallmark, their format for presenting their view of America. I say, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”

4) Stardust – For those with their fantasy sweet tooth unsatisfied thus far, this film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel may be just the fix you’re looking for. It’s about as fantasy as you can get and doesn’t look too bad doing it. Claire Danes plays a fallen star (I told you it was fantasy), Robert DeNiro plays a pirate, and Michelle Phieffer plays an evil witch. The F/X look decent.

5) Hot Rod – If you’ve seen the trailer, you know this one looks drop dead hilarious. I’m not expecting any enlightenment whatsoever from this newest in the long line of SNL alumnus comedies, just some good, nutty Happy Gilmore-esque laughs.

1) Bratz – They shouldn’t have even been a toyline, much less a motion picture. The dolls that took girls from idolizing shallow beauty queen Barbie to idolizing shallow go-go dancers and low rider models are coming to the big screen. Their plot: “Four teenage girls from different backgrounds empower themselves by rejecting their respective high school cliques.” Probably by dressing like they should be standing on the corner of Hollywood and Vine at one in the morning. Expect this one to be full of trite “empowerment” mantras for young girls to adhere to that will fundamentally conflict with the message of materialism and superficiality conveyed by the characters’ wardrobes.

2) Underdog – Someone saw the recent live-action incarnation of Garfield and the recent superhero craze and decided they could make some cash off that old, forgotten, very 2-dimensional cartoon series Underdog. What they didn’t realize is that no one gave a rat’s rear end about the Garfield movies (yes, there was more than one) and that no one extends their enthusiasm for comic book heroes to the old Hanna Barbara cartoons. This one will be forgotten before it even hits theaters, only to be remembered on the Wal-Mart bargain shelf.

3) I Know Who Killed Me – If you do, I’d like to shake their hand and thank them for doing us all a major service. But, seriously, is anyone just getting sick of seeing Lindsay Lohan? I honestly find it difficult to sympathize with any of her characters anymore. Onscreen, she’s a middle class brat, another Disney factory teen who talks too fast and is way too “savvy” for her own good. Offscreen, she’s a drunk, out of control, upper class brat who is too inebriated to even talk but still thinks she’s savvy. I really could not care less to find out who has her or her lost twin sister captive. There are people in this world more deserving of our collective attention (and their names aren’t Paris, Nicole, or Britney).

4) Skinwalkers – I really love werewolf lore. That’s why it pains me to see all of these Sci-fi channel-quality movies that just turn them into sex-hungry, bloodthirsty guys in sucky latex costumes. Expect nothing fresh or engaging out of this one, which should have gone straight to DVD to the horror-porn section at Blockbuster. Expect boring tough guys on Harleys fighting boring psycho tough guys on Harleys and lots of explosions, big guns, and empty sex scenes. My question: when will someone get the werewolf and vampire legends back on track in Hollywood?

5) Daddy Day Camp – Cuba Gooding, Jr. hasn’t been funny since Jerry Macguire, and he was only funny there because he wasn’t trying to be. Sled Dogs made me openly weep for Cuba, who has so much more potential than that but seems dead-set on shortchanging himself. Now, to think of him stepping into the comedic shoes of Eddie Murphy for another sappy family comedy makes me want to shout, “Cuba, show me the talent! Show me the common sense to run far away from sugary family fare and return to your dramatic roots!”

1) The Last Legion
2) Rush Hour 3
3) Balls of Fury
4) Penelope
5) Death Sentence

Well, anyway, it's looking to be a long summer. Let's hope one of these movies comes through for us. What do you think are going to be the stars of the late summer? What will be the dogs? Chime in...

Friday, July 13, 2007

Harry Potter 7 Predictions (and Hopes)

The film incarnation of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix released this past Wednesday and is apparently doing well at the box office. That’s all good and well- I’ll probably see it sometime before the summer is up-, but let’s face it: all eyes are on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Yeah, we all know what will happen in the fifth movie. Harry will get some lip action. Umbridge will take over Hogwarts and be expelled eventually. Harry and the DA will race to the Ministry of Magic for a funhouse showdown with the Death Eaters. And then we will finally see Dumbledore unleash some serious magic on Voldemort. Yes, as excited as I am to see these familiar scenes brought to life, my attention is focused like a laser beam on that seventh and final chapter in which all questions (hopefully) will be answered. HP5 will just have to wait.

So, not to deter from HP5, I would like to present my predictions (and some desperate hopes) for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. After riding with the boy wizard for six large novels and about a decade, we all have set in our minds where we would like Harry, Voldemort, Hermione, Ron, the host of other supporting characters, and the wizarding world at large to end up once we turn that final page. Here are my predictions:

Harry triumphant! – The Order of the Phoenix prophecy regarding Harry and Voldemort’s fated fight to the death has thrown a lot of fans into predicting that Voldemort will kill Harry, since Harry killing Voldemort just seems too predictable and Rowling has been known to deliver some twists. However, let’s look at this from a practical perspective. The prophecy says only one can kill the other; if Voldemort kills Harry, that means no one else can kill Voldemort.

Of course, if we throw the possibility of Neville being the One into the mix, we’re looking at a scenario where Voldemort kills or doesn’t kill Harry, and then, by some stroke of luck, Neville kills the Dark Lord. But how anticlimactic would that be?

No, the only outcome that will reward the fans will be one in which Voldemort and Harry, these two characters that have been so inextricably linked the entire series, have the mother of all wizarding duels and Harry finally puts him down. To have Neville suddenly step in and be the one would be a betrayal of destiny. It would be tantamount to Princess Leia stepping in for Luke for the final battle with Darth Vader- totally non-cathartic, not to mention unlikely.

Plus, if Harry gets killed, that’s just plain depressing. The Potter line would be finished, all of the sacrifices made by his parents, friends, and guardians to protect him would be in vain. We have witnessed Harry slog through a pretty crappy childhood; he deserves some good times now and a peaceful, normal life. So, my first prediction: Harry survives and defeats Voldemort!

Either Ron or Hermione or both bite the dust – Not only will one or both of these characters bite the dust, but they will die at the Dark Lord’s hand trying to save Harry. My rationale for this prediction is thus: the two friends have finally embraced their feelings for each other. The good old hand of fate just can’t help destroying happy couples. On top of that, Harry will need something that just completely pushes him over the edge to go after Voldemort with all of the fury and courage he will undoubtedly need to succeed. True, he’s seen Cedric murdered (a mere acquaintance), Sirius killed (a surrogate father figure), and Dumbledore betrayed (another father figure), and, with each death, he has gotten more and more furious toward the Dark Lord. But you take out one of his close friends, one of his homies, and watch out! It will be Harry like we’ve never seen him before, like Luke hacking off Darth’s hand, like Rocky pulling logs through snow up a frozen Russian mountain. Yes, Ron or Hermione or both will be to Harry what Apollo Creed was to Rocky Balboa, the breaking point, the straw that broke his inhibitions.

Hagrid bites the dust - I know, this would be really sad, but, the way I see it, the big loveable lug, with the way he's always in the thick of danger and his sub-par magic skills, never really stood a chance of lasting the series. Plus, he's the perfect character to knock off. Everyone loves him, which would really pull at the heartstrings. Ultimately, though, he is not vital to the plot or to victory, which makes him dispensable. Loveable and dispensable? Sounds like the perfect casualty to me.

Harry and Ginny live happily ever after – What good is a hero who doesn’t get to hook up with his lady love after the dust settles. Plus, their romantic relationship is still so unexplored, so new; it would just seem pointless and even sadistic for Rowling to put an end to it now. Plus, this opens the door for other series: The Adventures of the Young Potters!

Snape double-crosses Voldemort – It should be obvious to everyone by now that Snape is on his own side in this conflict, with his ultimate goal being usurping all power, including Voldemort’s. Snape is, in effect, a Columbine-like outsider. He’s been picked on. He’s a mudblood, which makes him inferior in the eyes of his fellow Death Eaters. He took on the alias of the Half-Blood Prince, which, in my mind, indicates that he is proud of his half-blood status and considers himself noble, perhaps even the rightful ruler of the wizarding world. He has been amassing powerful spells on the sly. Like so many persecuted high school nerds, Snape wants the world that has teased and tortured him at his feet. And he will burn anyone to do it.

Harry goes international – More a hope than an expectation, I want to see Harry leave the British Isles for once. We have seen and heard of witches in the U.S., Egypt, Africa, France, and elsewhere, but we are yet to travel beyond England. Surely, if this is to be our last outing into the wizarding world, I want to see how this conflict is affecting wizards in other countries. I want to learn about them. The hunt for the horcruxes is a good reason to do this. My fingers are crossed.

Battle royale ensues between the forces of good and the forces of evil – Really, I think this is inevitable. The only real question is, how will Rowling stage it? Will we get more wizards sneaking around castle passages or chases through funhouse sets? Or will we be treated to a real field battle with Harry, the DA, the Order of the Phoenix, and the Ministry on one side and Voldemort, the Death Eaters, the Dementors, the werewolves, and the Inferi on the other, the two sides clashing in open combat in a display of magic and brawn worthy of Middle Earth? Here’s hoping for the latter. I think Rowling owes us this much.

Dumbledore returns – Much has been made of Dumbledore’s similarities to Gandalf. Gandalf seemed to meet a premature demise, only to rise again in the Fellowship’s hour of need. I am hoping that Dumbledore does the same, that we will find in all of Dumbledore’s past lectures to Harry on death and the phoenix itself a clue on Dumbledore’s own rebirth. I think this is unlikely, but here’s hoping. The Order and the Ministry are severely outgunned; they could sure use Dumbledore’s help.

Harry becomes new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher – Come on, we can all see this one coming from a mile away, especially with his chances as an auror being nil and all of the hoo-hah made of his teaching skills and qualifications in Book Five. Plus, this would be the best way to bring the series full circle, from student to teacher, passing on the torch, as it were.

Harry gets a permanent father figure – Whoever destroyed the horcrux and left the note in Book Six will join Harry and eventually become his permanent mentor and surrogate. One of Harry’s key drivers has been his desire to belong to a family and to enjoy parental bonds. The series would not be complete if Harry did not finally get to enjoy this type of relationship. I also predict that this person will be a relative of Sirius Black, but that’s just because B is his last initial and a relative of Sirius would have some kind of motivation to take on the Dark Lord.

Well, those are my predictions. If they are not met, I sure hope Rowling exceeds them and surprises us. We’ll see in a matter of days. What do you think? How will the final volume play out? Who will live? Who will die? Will we be satisfied or left to wallow in what could have been? Chime in!

Monday, July 9, 2007

Inner Child vs Inner Adult on Transformers

I finally saw Transformers. Last week, I carried on in an ode to summer event movies- Transformers, in this case. I also noted my normally high movie standards and how I would put them on hold for this single frolic in childhood memories. As I sat down in the theater and the opening sequence rolled, however, I found myself a dual being: one part the child eating up the unprecedented eye-candy filling the screen and the other part the critical, earth-bound adult painfully aware of the rickety frame of a story along which these images were strung. To enjoy the film, I literally, consciously had to keep telling my inner adult to pipe down and enjoy the ride- not vocally, of course (I kept it in my head so as not to disturb my neighbors). Even now, as I write this entry, the two voices are grappling. I will, therefore, write my feedback on the film as a dialogue between the two sides:

Inner Adult: Okay, so everything is black and then Optimus’ voice fills the room, except that no effort has been made to tone down its cartoon melodrama. The result, cheesy from the start.

Inner Child: Uh, hey, big guy! You’re watching a movie about Autobots and Decepticons from a planet called Cybertron. We’re not exactly in Serious Land here. Try to just relax and take it for what it is.

Inner Adult: Whatever… Okay, so that helicopter robot that just unleashed hell on that military base, that was bad. Even by my lofty adult measuring stick, that scene was awesome.

Inner Child: I concur. Decepticons are coming out big and bad, like I expected they would.

Inner Adult: I’m liking the build up with Sam, his parents, the girl, and his new car. This is proven Spielbergian characterization, and I’m liking it. The girl’s character doesn’t have much pop, she’s kind of just eye-candy, like her CGI co-stars. Why she needs to be here is beyond me, other than that she’s nice to look at. I smell Michael Bay’s influence here. The man is all about images, pretty pictures, big Western sunsets, muscle cars, dirty, sweaty armed servicemen, strong men standing majestically on high places as the camera whirls around them, or strong men walking in a line in slow mo toward the camera; any kind of story is subservient to the image.

Is it just me, or did that scene with the crazy cop exist only to keep the audience laughing during a slow point in the story (by the way, I think Michael Bay hates cops and is infatuated with servicemen). We never saw him again. This isn’t the first scene we’ve seen like this.

Inner Child: Oh, boy! That police car Decepticon is one bad dude. Wait! Yes, Bumblebee to the rescue! This is a great scene, so great, in fact, that I forgot that slow part. This is what I like to see. Rumble, young Bumblebee, rumble!

Inner Adult: Wow! That fight rocked, and those mid-air transformations were tight! I’m glad that girl finally came in handy cutting that stupid, Jar-Jar Binks-like robot to bits. I hope to see more of these battles. They almost make me forget some of the other shoddy story bits we’ve seen so far.

Inner Child: That’s the spirit! Ooh, look! Comets blazing down through the atmosphere and, yippee, slamming right down into the greater LA area!

Inner Adult: Uh, yeah, Bay is infatuated with asteroid-like projectiles. Why did the Autobots need to come down as asteroids? Where have they been? Why haven’t they been there with Bumblebee? Why did the Decepticons get there before them? Why did Bumblebee and the kids go up to Griffiths Observatory only to have to go all the way back down into downtown to meet up with the other Autobots? Again, looks like Bay just wanted to get a cool shot of the meteors streaking over the top of the iconic observatory and also the kids looking at the smoking crater. These looked good in the trailers- it almost seems now that they were created expressly for the trailers and then crammed into the actual film, even though they didn’t necessarily make any sense.

Inner Child: What is with you?

Inner Adult: I’m old and disenchanted.

Inner Child: Obviously. Here they are! The whole band of our favorite Autobots, larger than life, textured, hundreds of little gears and pistons clicking and whirring under their armor. That’s hot!

Inner Adult: The F/X get an A+. However, I don’t remember Jazz talking like some forced hip-hop artist stereotype. I also don’t remember them being hostile to humans at all. Looks like Bay is injecting some of his testosterone juice into our beloved characters- to no good effect. In the cartoon, they were noble, loyal, and even a little child-like. Bay’s just turning them into more of his roughneck, bad-as-I-wanna-be jarheads.

Inner Child: At least they look great!

Inner Adult: Whatever… Thank goodness for those funny parents! At least they have something to do with the story. And the girl used to be a car thief? Oh, now she has a personality because she’s a bad girl- NOT! Sector 7? Cool, X-files-type stuff but not really part of the core mythology. I mean, honestly, why throw in all this military, government conspiracy crap? And they keep Megatron disabled with ice? Since when was that a way to disable these super-robots capable of traveling for millennia in the extreme cold of space? And just as a side note, is Bay incapable of building suspense? He has the scenes set up for such suspense, but he just seems to be in such a hurry to hits us over the head with the next amazing shot that he never dwells on those great little moments. I can’t believe Steven Spielberg sat down in the screening room and said, “This movie is ready for theaters!”

Inner Child: I can’t believe you’re still talking. Can we just watch the movie please? I mean, check out this shot of Starscream transforming in mid-air and flipping up onto the dam. You have to admit, that was tight!

Inner Adult: Yes, it was tight… a month ago when I saw it on the trailer.

Inner Child: I hate you. You’re ruining this.

Inner Adult: Don’t blame me. Blame it on the Bay. Okay, so Megatron is now thawing, and those nameless measuring guys are still just hanging around, waiting to get creamed. Ouch! That had to hurt. Oh, and they have a plan to take this cube, which is pretty much blood in the water for the vicious Decepticons, into the heart of a major metropolitan area where there will be lots of helpless civilians in the line of fire. By car, the trip will take at least 4 hours, but we’ll never see a sign a Starscream the whole trip, even though he’s a jet, capable of flying at supersonic speeds. Why the long trip to LA? Because Mr. Bay thought it would look cooler if they were bashing into skyscrapers. It’s probably as simple and ridiculous as that.

Inner Child: You have to admit, though, it does look cool, kind of taking us back to those old Godzilla vs. Mothra movies, eh?

Inner Adult: But it doesn’t make sense.

Inner Child: Transforming robots from a planet named Cybertron don’t make sense, period.

Inner Adult: Okay, yeah, it would look cool if the guy holding the handheld camera were sober. I can’t even tell what’s happening. I think the guy was just stumbling down the street in a drunken stupor. Bay called it artistic and went on to the next shot. And you gotta be kidding me: the Autobots are getting trashed. They need the military to save them? This is sick and wrong. Anyone who watched the cartoons knows that the Autobots were always tougher than the Decepticons. The Decepticons talked a big game but always turned tail when the Autobots pushed back. What’s this getting-saved-by-Marines stuff? Retarded! Bumblebee getting dragged around on a tow truck, looking like Lt. Dan? The horror! And now I’m getting too motion sick to even complain…

Inner Child: Listen, I don’t care what you say! That fight between Optimus and the big construction vehicle thing was awesome. We’ve never seen anything like that on film ever. And his battle with Megatron was crazy-big and bad.

Inner Adult: Except that Megatron is making him his monkey, his plaything! This would never happen on the cartoon. Optimus was the most formidable warrior. When he fought with Megatron, it was tooth and nail, to the death. None of this stupid Optimus-getting-tossed-around-helplessly-like-a-rag-doll crap! And this tops it all: Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots, getting saved by the Disney Channel kid??!!!

Inner Child: Whoa! You’re really, uh, uptight. Why can’t you just enjoy the good stuff? It’s just a movie, after all, a form of entertainment.

Inner Adult: And why did Bumblebee get his voice back all of the sudden? Why is Optimus holding up Jazz’s mangled remains like a trophy or something?

Inner Child: Just calm down, calm down, ssshhhhhh…

Inner Adult: I’m really angry about this movie. I just want you to know that.

Inner Child: Your opinion is noted.

Inner Adult: It’s not an opinion. It’s an expert diagnosis.

Inner Child: Whatever…

That was therapeutic and about sums up my take on Transformers. Did anyone else experience this same schizophrenia? I loved the graphics but had major issues with the story and characters. Tell me what you thought. Chime in!

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Transformers and the Real Event Movie

I have a confession to make: Two days have passed since the release of Transformers, and I am yet to see it. On Tuesday, I began immersing myself in all of the reviews filling the web. Yesterday, I napped and hung around until the evening, went to an embarrassingly gluttonous barbeque, shot off some outstanding illegal fireworks, disappeared before the cops showed up, and watched one of the nation’s best fireworks shows from a nearby hilltop. Yes, I let the entire holiday pass without so much as considering purchasing a ticket for this movie, which I have been awaiting since gluing my peepers to the TV set every afternoon as that much-reverenced cartoon series unspooled episode after great episode. I feel a certain sense of embarrassment in admitting this, but my abstinence is not without purpose. I have a good reason…

You see, Transformers, in my mind, is an event movie, the likes of which we have not seen for a while. Not one of those media-forced “event” movies that get crammed down our throats every summer. No, I mean a real event movie, a film that somehow electrifies our collective social consciousness, taps into some force deep in our social psyche. The buzz generated by a real event movie is not created by quantity of commercials or product placements or good reviews. Real event movies build like a storm over society, condensing all of our fears, anxieties, and values until ready to burst. And then burst they do, like Niagara they pour down on us and change us. ET was a movie like this. When the Death Star finally exploded on Return of the Jedi, the whole of humanity seemed to exclaim with Lando as the Empire was finally stomped. Independence Day, in its day of renewed interest and paranoia regarding alien invasion and mysterious region-wide blackouts, was a real social experience; we had undergone and proudly survived a seemingly unwinnable war. Armageddon, drawing on growing apocalyptic anxieties, turned the end of the world into a mass religious experience.

Real event movies are almost a religious experience and so must be entered into with preparation. In my case, I knew I could not just see this movie by myself or with my wife or my kids. Transformers means the resurrection of my and my friends’ long-lost playtimes. Therefore, I knew I had to see this movie with my buddies, my brothers from other mothers. Yes, we had to engage in this communal activity, this renewal of our childhood fantasies together. We are all grown now, some married, some not, some employed, others not, some happy, some not. However, for two and some odd hours this coming Saturday, we will gather for the first time in years, sit down in a theater together, and re-experience our childhood fantasies, except now in new millennium, CGI-enhanced, THX-fueled glory. We will drop all of our grown-up responsibilities, our failures and successes since leaving childhood behind, remove our adult facades, and we will become those boys with their toys again.

Usually, I am very hard on movies. I demand a high standard from most films I see. But event movies are always a different story, for their relevance and impact supersede what you see on the screen. The critics say this movie is made for kids and kids at heart; I say perfect. They say it is shallow but fun and that the action sequences are amazing but that there isn’t much depth beneath the surface action; I say perfect. This isn’t about creating the next Best Picture-winner, nor is it about just blowing up a lot of stuff and having a bunch of cheap one-liners, although it is sure to have those thrown in. No, this is about seeing Optimus and Megatron clash, about seeing 3-story-tall robots barrel through buildings, cars, overpasses, and tanks, about seeing these formerly flat, 2-D characters enter our 3-D world. This about making our toy battles real.

There are hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, of people like me out there. They have been waiting, like my friends and me, for over twenty years. The mythology of Transformers has been floating on our lips. After seeing one great F/X spectacle after another, all of us have had the thought at one point another: “Man, I bet the Transformers would be great in CGI!” I even wrote my own treatment of a possible Transformers script. And now, the event is finally here. And an event it truly is. So, pardon me if I take my time and do it right. Yes, I will enjoy this realization of so many years of playtime, imagining, and wondering with those who I know will be experiencing the same thing. And that demands some bargaining with wives or girlfriends and careful scheduling to bring us all together.

Anyway, you know where I’ll be this Saturday afternoon. I will not be wearing an Optimus mask, but I wear the Autobot badge on my heart with pride. Tell me what you all think about Transformers. Have you seen it? Are planning to see it? What do you think of it? Is it a true event movie or just another over-hyped ride in the long line of so-called summer blockbusters? Who will you be seeing Transformers with? Chime in!