Regular readers of this space may have noticed that this week’s installment of Oblivious Living was not posted in its regular Monday slot. The reason for this was, in part, because I was busy preparing for a guest co-host appearance on Filmspotting, the weekly film podcast and radio program, regularly hosted by Adam Kempenaar and Sam Van Hallgren. I’ve been a fan of the show ever since I interviewed them for Chicagoist a couple years back, and was honored to be asked back a fourth time. I understand that if I make it to five, I get a special badge.
You can hear this week’s show here. Adam and I discuss Sicko and Transformers. I gave Sicko a generally positive review, though I expressed reservations with Moore’s style. I maintain he’d be a better filmmaker if he dialed back some of the shtick. As for Transformers, I really disliked it, as did Adam. During one of the breaks, he predicted that the show would get a lot of mail from people claiming that we didn’t get it or that we expected more out of a film that features giant robots fighting each other before turning into cars. Yet I expected little more than that, and even with that relatively simple premise, Michael Bay still managed to fuck it up.
The biggest problem is that there isn’t a single memorable character in Transformers, though Bumblebee comes close to having a Herbie-The-Love-Bug-style personality thanks to the constant sound bites issuing forth from his radio. (Explain to me again how a car radio would be able to broadcast movie clips?) Of the Autobots, Optimus Prime’s a stiff, Jazz is a shuck-and-jive caricature, and Ironhide…likes guns. We’re also never given a decent villain since Megatron doesn’t show up until very late in the film along with most of the other Decepticons who all look the same in robot form. They might as well be wearing t-shirts with their names on them like the bad guys in the old Batman TV series.
But at least they’re consistently – if lamely – written. The human characters fare much worse since their dialogue serves only to move the plot ahead. So you end up with characters who act as if they’re suffering from multiple personality disorder or, at the very least, have forgotten to take their meds. I know I’m supposed to be happy that the characters played by Megan Fox and Rachel Taylor are the smartest people in the movie, but when I’m constantly reminded that they are Really Really Hot, how can I be expected to notice anything else? (Note to Michael Bay: it’s kind of overkill to have your actors AND THE CAMERA giving elevator eyes to your actresses.)
The plot’s flat-out confusing, which is really a depressing thing to admit for someone with a college education. I’m still not sure if The Cube/Allspark was supposed to bring life back to Cybertron, give ultimate power to whichever robot contingency captured it, or make julienne fries. Plus, Transformers seems to borrow elements from several other (better) movies: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Independence Day, Signs, Men In Black, and Terminator 2. (credit where credit is due: the alternate explanation for Hoover Dam was original and clever.)
But I could leave all my reservations aside if the action sequences rocked. And they didn’t.
Look, I’m 32 years old now. But I own an Xbox that gets regular use. On my desk is a Flash action figure along with several plastic miniature ninjas. To my right is a James Bond calendar. On my DVD shelf, along with some high-brow picks, are genre movies and shows like Raiders, Buffy, Star Wars, Goonies, The Incredibles, Superman and many Dude Classics like Old School, Tombstone, Swingers, and almost every Kevin Smith film. In short, though I’ve grown up, I still enjoy things that are the province of people half my age. I want – nay, I long – to see giant robots fight each other, turn into very fast cars and then turn back into robots again before throwing each other into buildings throughout downtown Los Angeles. But Michael Bay couldn’t even give us a final well-staged action sequence that brought the dreams of every 14 year-old in the 1980s to life. Instead, he gave us muddled set pieces with characters so badly drawn that when one of the Autobots dies, we don’t even care (I’m still not entirely sure who bites it and neither does Optimus Prime as he intones “We lost a comrade today, but gained many others.” Way to shed a tear, bro. I know he’s a robot but damn, that’s some cold shit.)
So I don’t need to be told that I’m too old to appreciate this film or that my expectations were way too high. My expectations were pretty low, and Bay managed to subvert them by flubbing the basics. I’m all for explosions, as long as I know and care about what’s exploding.