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Tuesday, July 03, 2007


Last night I went with what was apparently half of Essex Junction and the surrounding area to the Essex Cinemas to see the premiere showing of the BIG summer special effects extravaganza Transformers.

Okay, I’m going to confess before I say anything else that I knew absolutely nothing about the
Transformers before yesterday other than they were toys that have been hanging around for about the last thirty years or so. I have never seen their animated television program or read their comic books, or played one of their video games, so I had about as much interest in the movie as most men have in picking out wedding china. And here I was, surrounded by hundreds of men, anxiously waiting for the film to begin. The Transformers are obviously a magnet for testosterone as the audience was ripe with the buzz of male energy. Tim Allen would have been proud. I haven’t seen so many butch straight guys like that all in one room since that night in 1978 at a back bar in Tulsa, OK after a Hell’s Angels convention rolled into town, but that is a story for another place and time.

As for the
Transformers themselves, well, the movie was everything a Transformers fan could hope for (I suppose). Considering the opening credits began with “Presented by Paramount Pictures and Dreamworks Productions” and then “Hasbro Toys” I found it hard not to burst into fits of laughter, but considering I was surrounded by a group of men that looked like they could tear the heart out of a deer while it was still alive I did my best to stifle all of my natural reactions.

There was a brief prologue to the story for novices like myself that would have probably been best left out because it buzzed by so quickly and was so complicated with its extraterrestrial visuals literally swirling around in circles while we were fed a voiceover explaining the history of the
Transformers, with the “good” Autobots and the “evil” Decepticons (with a name like that how could they not be evil? Then there was some blah, blah about the Allspark, a cube that looked like that thing from the Hellraiser movies that opens the doors to Hades and frees the wicked Pinhead; either that, or it could be a gigantic Borg cube that houses a colony of thousands of Borg drones like in Star Trek: First Contact coming to destroy earth and assimilate the population. Sorry, but there weren’t any pictures of the thing except of it floating alone in space, so it was impossible to tell how big it was. The problem is the sci fi hokum already seems so familiar that it is distracting. I was glad when the action switched to earth, where the all-important cube apparently landed a hundred years ago after it was lost in space and came crashing down like a meteor. I guess these robots are a little slow if they are just now getting around to looking for it. Maybe they were waiting for Phil Keoghan to host a competition before they began.

So now the Autobots and the Decepticons are in their version of “The Amazing Race”, naturally, to get the Allspark since it has some astonishing energy power that could be used for good or harnessed to cripple a planet (starting with Earth) by sucking up all its power.

For no apparent reason except it is bound to please the guys in the audience, the Decepticons
begin their invasion in Qatar, so there can be some way-too-cool butt-kicking scenes with the American Special Forces Rangers stationed there.
You can tell right away this is a Hollywood version of the Army because the two Sergeants in charge are former male models turned actors Josh Duhamel (Turistas) and Tyrese Gibson (Annapolis), who lead the soldiers against the sneak attack by a helicopter that suddenly turns (er, transforms) into a giant deadly scorpion and burrows underground just like those pesky Graboids from the Tremors series.

Well, you may think I’ve given away too much of the plot already, but let me tell you ~ this is barely the beginning of the tale.
Transformers is two hours and thirty three minutes long, so there is much more to crush, kill, and destroy along the way. Plus Shia LeBeouf (Disturbia) has to fall in love, get terribly embarrassed by his mother (Julie White; The Astronaut Farmer) and save the day.

How does sweet Shia LeBeouf get involved with giant cranky robots from outer space, you ask? Well, he plays nerdy teenager Sam Witwicky (wow, typecasting is a be-yotch) who is preoccupied with selling his obscurely famous explorer grandfather’s memorabilia on e-Bay to raise money to match his father’s funding offer so he can buy a first car. What he doesn’t realize, and why would he, is that Grandpa had a run-in with the most evil of the Decepticons ever when the nasty robot Megatron (voiced by Hugo Weaving; V for Vendetta) showed up in the arctic while Gramps was there and they both ended up as popsicles before one or the other could get their hands (claws?) on the cube, which inconveniently crashed in Glacierland. Surprise! The secret of Megatron never got out, but Witwicky’s personal effects were recovered and passed on to the family with a bogus tale of his heroism sans any story about a giant robot. Apparently the government lied to its people even way back then too. Anyway, somehow Grandpa’s glasses left a radioactive map of how to find the cube or some such twaddle, and so Sam becomes an unwitting target since he is now the owner of the spectacles.

So in the midst of all the killing (PG-13 style, so gore-less of course) the real deal with the Decepticons is to access the highest level government computers they can and find the secret
location to the cube and Megatron. Who would have expected that the world’s biggest enemies would destroy half the planet when they could have googled e-Bay to get their answer? Oh well, it gives Jon Voight (Glory Road), as the Secretary of Defense, an opportunity to bark out a lot of orders to real life President Gerald Ford’s son Steven, who plays a Four Star General and generally looks nervous and constipated but has little to say. Josh Duhamel is also back from Qatar at this point and once in a while makes calls to his worried wife and newborn baby for effect in what seems like an entire storyline that was jettisoned for time by Director Michael Bay (The Island), who probably thought it was too “mushy” and slowed down the blasts and detonations. I kept waiting for something to happen with this trio, but they don’t even really connect. Duhamel’s sole purpose here is to shoot things and yell, both of which he does much better than actual acting with emotions anyway.

The “meat” of the movie is really all about Sam and his story and how the boy buys a battered up old 1970 Camaro that just happens to be his secret protector, the Autobot called Bumblebee (voiced by Mark Ryan; The Prestige). Not only is Bumblebee a protector, he is a matchmaker who does his best to move along a little romance between Sam and the hot chick he has a crush on, Mikaela (Megan Fox; from tv’s now defunct “Hope and Faith”). Think of Bumblebee as a kind-hearted version of Kitt from tv’s old chestnut “Knightrider.”

There are a slew of other colorful characters tossed into the mix, including John Turturro (The Good Shepherd) as Agent Simmons, from a top-secret government agency called Sector 7. Simmons is so anal retentive he could produce a diamond in less than five minutes from a piece of
coal stuck up his butt. He is also meaner than a starving junkyard dog. Watching him get his comeuppance is one of the more satisfying (and expected) parts of the movie. There’s also a muddled sub-plot with Rachael Taylor (See No Evil) as Pentagon translator Maggie Madsen, who is involved in some hanky-panky with her pal Glen (Anthony Anderson; The Departed). There isn’t much reason for this whole bit except for Anderson to do some “black shtick” to play to the African American audience and fill seats, but I have to say it: I think he seems like a nice enough guy but he plays Glen like some lazy stereotype, living at home with mama, jiving about drugs, knowing how to handle the cops, wearing way too much bling, with the pants around his hips, all that crap that ought to make people uncomfortable. It’s a shame that the only black character with a major bit of time onscreen is used as cartoony comic relief. Anderson can act, and he is capable of so much more.

The big stars though (literally) are the Transformers, and they do quite well for themselves considering they’re not professional actors. Granted, I’m no expert on the toys, but the big screen versions do a good job of appearing almost human in terms of making expressions and emoting as humans do in addition to dazzling us with their skill at turning from automobiles, trucks, planes, and such into their robotic selves and then back again in seconds. There are a lot of times I wish I could do something to hide in plain sight like they do. I’ve been told I’m as big as a truck, but I can’t pass for one. At least not yet.

Fans of Transformers will no doubt go ape for the film even when it steals shamelessly from King Kong and about a dozen other popular movies. It doesn’t matter because this isn’t about plot and characterizations or about trying to make a deep and thoughtful social or political statement. It’s about explosions, and destruction, and knocking down buildings, and cars crashing, and all those things that make men’s testosterone bubble.

When the movie was over, the theater was practically rallied to a point of frenzy. I am sure if someone had suggested a full-body contact game of football in the parking lot at least a hundred would have jumped at the chance because it sounded like a manly man thing to do and they were all “manned-up.” A whole herd of the male bucks around me were already talking about staying for the midnight showing that evening. That’s a real endorsement.

Me? I was wondering why they never made a live action big budget version movie about my favorite doll growing up, Crissy. She was kind of like one of the
Transformers. If you pushed a button on her tummy, her hair would grow up to 12 inches long. Hey! Now that’s a transformation that women would fill a theater to see!

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