When they first announced, those many years ago, that they were going to make a live action Transformers film, I was determined to be one of the first in line to see it. As it happens, I wasn’t just a casual fan cashing in on a bit of nostalgia – I was at the time one of the hardcore “Transfans” (not what you think) and an avid collector. To some extent I am still in that category, although I haven’t bought any of the toys in a very long time (Grimlock from Transformers Animated a few years back), so these days I’ve managed to limit myself to the films, DVD sets of the cartoons and the odd toy that looks good when displayed. The rest of my collection sits in the loft, waiting for me to have enough space to display them again. I need a nice cabinet I think…
So er, yeah. To say I was looking forward to the live action movies was an understatement.
And then I sat through three films of Sam Witwicky going on adventures, covered in dirt and a sheen of sweat, accompanied by so-called “comedy” moments provided by his parents. I’ve said it often in the intervening years, but the title of the film is Transformers, not “bunch of humans and their robotic friends”. The key focus of the story needs to be the robots – apparently the average movie going audience wouldn’t be able to cope with 2 hours of the robots dominating the story. Which is funny really, the majority of the animated shows focus almost primarily on the bots and they’ve always had more than enough personality for me to enjoy the shows.
The first movie acted as a nice introduction to the series, although true to form the robots who weren’t Optimus Prime or Megatron were almost completely neglected (oh yeah, Bumblebee too). I thought the story did the origins thing pretty well, but could have done without the John Turturro character (not necessarily the actor, just the character). Each Transformer didn’t have enough in their individual designs to distinguish them from each other, and the lack of personality didn’t help.
The second film I can forgive, to an extent, due to the writers strike that curtailed work on the script and forced them to lock it for shooting before it had received enough work. What we ended up with was a mess. Again, some really nice action sequences that didn’t really have a story linking them. The Fallen was a waste of time, filling a role that Megatron could easily have taken. It was fun seeing and, more importantly, hearing Soundwave as Frank Welker was finally given chance to demonstrate his voice acting skills (of which there are many). I’m hoping this was in the original script, but Prime’s one-liner of “Give me your FACE!” is genius, fully deserving of the meme that followed and sets this Optimus apart from his cartoon brethren.
The third movie was an improvement, and in essence repeated the story from the second. Kudos to Alan Tudyk for his brief role, and eventually the story that the human characters received as the story kicked in. Less impressive is the Decepticon’s plan to bring Cybertron into Earth orbit. From the trailer alone I was expecting them to try taking over the planet, instead they have the much smaller ambition of locking down ONE city. One. The final third of the film works because of this city invasion, but it’s still a missed opportunity. Throw in a whining Megatron, a character twist that you could see coming 30 pages earlier, and the usual comedy interplay with Sam, his parents and (former) Agent Simmons, and again you have a mixed batch. I do like the characterisation (and paint jobs) given to all of the bots in this one, Autobot and Decepticon, and the aforementioned Frank Welker doing Shockwave in his Dr Claw voice.
When they announced the trilogy I had hoped for a third film involving Unicron – you can’t get much more epic than a Transformer the size of a planet. He’s not been used too excessively either, certainly not as much as the “death of Optimus Prime” trope. Unicron first showed up in the 1986 animated movie as the big bad, then following a few appearances of his head in G1 Season 3, he showed up briefly in Beast Wars Neo (Japan only), then throughout the so-called Unicron trilogy of Transformers Armada, Energon and Cybertron. Add to the fact Unicron has only had a few toys released to date (including the frankly awesome Beast Wars prototype, the Energon repaint, and the frankly odd Cybertron toy), so it would make sense that they’d want to make a bit of money out of him. Saying that, they probably already make a small fortune regardless, so having a toy that looks a “bit” different to the rest of the line likely isn’t too high on their list of priorities.
Not to say that I totally hate the three films we’ve been given to date. the CGI is very impressive and the action sequences are shot well, more so as the films progress. That said, the sequences set on Cybertron (try saying that either very quickly or when you’re drunk) are in my opinion the best parts of all three films, and I would have paid good money instead to see at least one full movie set there. If they’re going to spend that amount of money on CGI robots then surely it can’t cost much more to render their planet? The only problem with that, of course, is there wouldn’t be any humans there. Shock horror. Oh well, I’ll just have to try and form a bond with the robot characters instead. You never know, that might actually give us a film that runs for less than 2 hours and actually has a decent story to it. Stranger things have happened.