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!


  1. You hit the nail square on the head. I left the movie feeling that this is one of the greatest movies I've seen in a long time. It was just so exciting, so awesome.

    Spiderman, PoTC, Batman Begins, these are great movies that hit the nostalgia gene, and I love them, but in some ways it feels like Transformers surpasses them. It's hard to explain why. I guess your idea of an "event" movie is what I'm talking about.

    If the Oscars gave an award for "awesome" Transformers would win it hands down. But they don't, which is why they suck in my humble opinion.

    P.S. I always chuckle to myself when I watch a Michael Bay movie. Between the music and his signature scenes and camera shots, you can always see the "Michael Bay" in his movies. He's one of the only directors who I can do this with, and that's not a complaint.

  2. I plan on seeing it soon but yesterday my dad asked me why I'd want to see a movie like that. I told him about the cartoon when I was a kid, etc. but more simply that it's vehicles that transform into huge freaking robots and battle each other. What more do you really need to say?

  3. I saw it on Monday, and loved it.

    Sure, it won't win best picture, and it was not as immersing as some of my more favorite films, but it is one of the best action blockbusters i have ever seen, and the only Bay film that i liked. Spielberg seems to have reigned in Bay well. It actually had depth.


  4. To respond to all three comments: first, mike, Oscar best picture nominees and movies like Transformers are in two totally different realms. Rarely do they overlap (LOTR was very unique in this regard). Oscar best pictures will grab the attention for a season, but there's a reason why on those quiz shows no one can remember what the best picture winner was back in 19-whenever. Because, as technically or artistically sound they are, they do not draw on or impact our collective consciousness the way real event movies do. But you ask anyone about the first time they saw Jaws, Terminator 2, Jurassic Park, Return of the Jedi, Independence Day, etc, where they were, how people reacted, and they will have a story to tell.

    To shawn, that really is what this comes down to. We're going out there to see a battle royale between massive, battle-honed robots, rendered in the best CGI ever, and we're going to be emotionally invested in them because they were (or still are) our favorite toys. There is a time to be artistically nourished by cinema; it's called pre-Oscar season. But summer is for rocking, blowing out the theater sound system, and bonding over impossibly huge action sequences! That's Transformers. 'Nuff said.

    Shawn, I definitely agree that Spielberg has helped to keep this Bay flick in check. I mean, did you see The Island? Ay carumba! Thank goodness for godfather Steve!

  5. I too had to gather the assemblage to reminisce in computer generated clarity. I mentioned on a previous post that I would see it with my brother, the person with whom I grew up on Transformer toys and cartoons. So I flew from Austin to Denver to see the movie on the 4th.

    I'd stopped watching previews, reading articles and looking at photos of the movie about a month ago so I could go in as hype-less as possible and I think that helped. I keep hearing from other people that there were plot holes and I keep thinking back wondering where? I don't know that there was much of a plot to start with. It's like giving a bad food review to Burger King. Dude, you're eating at Burger King.

    Aside from a bladder issue, I enjoyed the movie for what it was. I wanted big robots punching each other and guess what? If I wanted depth and pathos I'd have stayed home and rented Crash. This is the kind of movie you see early, then spend a day shooting fireworks, eating food that's bad for you, maybe going to a carnival and riding something rickety. You don't see this flick and then go to a coffee house and snap at the poets and decompress and absorb the morality of the tale. It's just not made for that.

    I enjoyed this movie the same way I enjoy listening to ABBA or eating an entire box of Oreos or staying up late playing video games. It made me smile a lot and I'd rather see a movie that makes me smile than one that makes me think about my life.


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