Transformers (U.S., 2007) * 1/2
D: Michael Bay
What caused me to rent Michael Bay's Transformers? Was it nostalgia for my childhood toys and cartoons? Was it the exposure to too many Oscar films at once during this Oscar season, that I needed a lowbrow, big budget chaser to clear the palate? Was it just the sheer number of boxes on the shelf at the video store, that seemed to insist that my only real choices were either this or 30 Days of Night? Was it a morbid curiosity to see if Michael Bay is really as bad as all his detractors claim, since I've seen none of his films? The film does not start promisingly. The opening image is of a cube standing still in some distant galaxy, a narrator explaining that this object, called, imaginatively, "The Cube," is at the center of an alien war. At this point I am given to wonder if Uwe Boll has been handed a budget, and these are the results. What follows is one scene after another, each compressed so tightly that it might almost form a diamond, or a mushroom cloud, although the actual result is just a lot of frenetic camera-whippings and Shia LaBeouf, not entirely unappealing, reduced to sweating a lot and desperately delivering his lines before Bay cuts to the next scene. Sometimes he manages to get all the words out. Sometimes Bay is forced to interrupt him to cut to an unrelated comedy bit by Bernie Mac or John Turturro, or to leer at the hopelessly tanned Megan Fox, or to show a helicopter or tank or truck turning into a giant robot and smashing the bejeezus out of things. It is not enough that the robots stand around and look mighty. They must also behave like wacky Jim Henson Muppets, as a stealthy Decepticon spy does, or like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, as most of the "heroic" Autobots do. I place "heroic" in quotation marks because I'll be damned if I can isolate a single scene in which one of the Autobots does anything remotely admirable. True, "Bumblebee" does try to help LaBeouf score with Fox, but my memory of this scene is almost entirely erased by the moment in which the adorable Transformer pisses on Turturro's head. While the score by Steve Jablonsky ("Desperate Housewives") shamelessly steals from The Terminator, we watch the Autobots slowly form an allegiance with the two teens in an effort to battle the Decepticons for control of the Cube. Can you think of a nobler cause? Meanwhile, in War Games (1983) as well as this film, another group of attractive young hackers match wits with the military-industrial complex, leading eventually for all these story threads to sort of collapse into the shape a cat makes with a ball of yarn after an hour of effort. Like climbing a mountain, this film exists because it's there.
But I'm worried. What if Bay has made his film so impatient, so childish, so tightly-edited, so Ritalin-deprived, that it will, if watched too often, actually open up a black hole in the fabric of the universe, sucking into it all that we hold dear (reality)? What if it is creating some kind of cosmic imbalance that must be dealt with as though it were equivalent to the global warming crisis, only more urgent? I see only one solution. Michael Bay is 43. We must find a 43-year old director the equal of a Michelangelo Antonioni. This director, who may or may not exist, must immediately set to work on a feature film adaptation of Gobots. However, unlike Transformers, this Gobots film will be set to the pace of a L'Avventura, a L'Eclisse, or a Blow-Up. The takes will be extended, and the camera will glide slowly. For God's sake, we must not be in a hurry. The plot will revolve around the mysterious disappearance of Cy-Kill, the villainous motorcycle. Fitor, the jet-robot, tries to discover if he was murdered, kidnapped, or simply wandered off in a fit of existential ennui. Although it is equally important that the viewer must work to discover that this is even the plot, and no resolution must ever be found. Despite the fact that almost all the characters will have wheels on their backs or windshields on their chests, none of them ever transforms into anything, reflecting the state of psychological and emotional stagnancy in which they are trapped. If we can get this film in production quickly, equal the budget of Bay's film and get it into the theaters before the end of this summer, we might be able to prevent cosmic collapse. Get to work.