Monday, August 1, 2011

Nostalgia vs the Transformers (pt 2): Dark of the Moon

Transformers: Dark of the Moon is a spectacular movie. I mean that literally. It is full of spectacle. And it's more than worth the price of the 3D admission because of it. Say what you want about Michael Bay and his talent (or lack thereof), but he knows how to make a visually stunning movie. And, you know, I think there might not be anything wrong with that. Let me give you an example:

1998 saw the release of two movies in which Earth would face destruction: Deep Impact and Armageddon. Deep Impact focuses on relationships in the face of tragedy. Armageddon is directed by Bay. My preference, by far, is Deep Impact. It has more story (and scientific accuracy). Wait, let me rephrase that. The story of Impact is about the people, the relationships, and what they do when faced with a catastrophic event. The impending catastrophe could have been anything, really; it's just that it happens to be a comet. Armageddon is about the catastrophe itself, dealing with the thing that is the catastrophic event. It's full of spectacle. One is a drama, one is an action movie. I've known more than a few people who cited Armageddon as their favorite movie ever at one time or another, and the film grossed more than half a billion dollars, 200 million more than Impact. People, for good or ill, like spectacle.

These two movies took the same story (literally, since Disney copied the story of Impact and initiated Armageddon as a counter film), but Bay was able to realize the story's potential for dazzlement, drama (not in  the sense of being a drama but of capitalizing on the drama of the event), and sheer Wowness and make the higher grossing film. I'm not saying he made a better film, certainly not a better story, but he made the more appealing one. There is talent in that. Probably a lot of talent.

At any rate, Dark of the Moon, like Revenge of the Fallen, has taken a critical bashing. However, it has grossed more internationally than Transformers 2 (it already has the highest gross of the the three Transformers movies and isn't finished, yet) and may pass it domestically, also. All of that to say, despite what is probably a weak story, people like it. And the critics hate, and I do mean hate, Bay for it.

Here's the thing, my wife and I are extremely hard on sci-fi shows. We routinely scoff at them and make fun of them. Even shows we like. Like Stargate. We watched a whole season of Warehouse 13, groaning and making fun of it the whole time. I watch Eureka with my kids while rolling my eyes at the ridiculous plots and bad science. And don't even get me started on Star Trek (I have just two words: red matter). And yet... and yet... I give Transformers a pass on all of this. Why? Because I loved it as a kid. There it is: nostalgia at work. I don't care if it has bad science.

The story for Dark of the Moon, when looked at objectively, is... I don't even have words for it. The idea of transporting a planet across the galaxy through a man made, well, robot made wormhole... Let's just say it more than stretches the fabric of science. Or even science fiction. But you know what? That was the plot for one of the early story arcs in  the cartoon back before I bothered to question that sort of thing, so my reaction is more "wow! I remember that!" rather than "wow! That's so stupid!" And I can't help it. Oh, and the thing with the Autobots going up in  the rocket and faking their deaths... that's from the cartoon, too.

All of that to say that the critics can bash the movie all they want, it's not going to change anything. They should have spent more time watching Transformers when they were kids. Or something. Maybe they need lessons in the suspension of disbelief. I guess what I'm saying is this:
I'm not a bandwagon kind of guy. Not by any stretch of the imagination. I'm cynical (just ask my wife). I'm critical (my wife would say overly critical). I'm suspicious, especially of things that are popular. However, I'm also not going to bash something or forsake it merely for being popular. [I have a cousin who did that with U2 back when The Joshua Tree came out. Although he had loved them prior to that, because they were suddenly the popular band, he decided he couldn't like them anymore. Because other people did.] Mostly, I just make my own decisions about what I like, and I'm not going to allow what other people think about it influence me one way or the other.

So, yeah, I had a lot of fun with Transformers: Dark of the Moon.


Say what you will about Megan Fox, Bay shouldn't have dumped her. Or, at least, if he really  had to dump her, he should have found a better replacement. It's not like Megan set the bar very high. Yeah, she's attractive, but attractive actresses in Hollywood are a dime a dozen. Shake a tree, and they'll fall out on your head. What I'm saying is if all he wanted was attractive or hot or whatever, he could have done a better job, because the new girl is not Megan Fox. And! And! Here's the real issue: the new girl makes Megan look like Meryl Streep in the acting department. That's saying something... I'm not sure what, exactly, it's saying, but it is. Not Megan Fox was easily the worst part of the movie.

Megatron looked cool in a tattered cloak. Yeah, a giant robot wearing a tattered cloak is kind of dumb, but it looked cool!

I liked Patrick Dempsey. I thought he did a great job in that role.

And, of course, Shia. I think he's a good actor; I just wish he didn't think so highly of himself. But this is about the movie, not about him as a person.

I love John Turturro and how he brings off the crazy, conspiracy theory persona.

Oh, and John Malkovich, whom I always want to like but often can't, was great.

I suppose, in the end, what I can say is this: If you like the Transformers, there's a good chance you'll like this movie. Especially, if they are something out of your childhood. If you like lots of action and don't really care about whether the story makes any sense, you should like this movie. However, if Transformers mean nothing to you and story is the most important element of your movie-going experience, you'll probably want to stay away.

And just to add as a disclaimer:
I'm not a Bay fan, no matter how this sounds. I didn't care for Armageddon. The Island sucked. I've never been a fan of Bad Boys even though I really like Will Smith (he just wasn't enough to make those movies work for me). However, I do think he has a certain amount of talent. Or a certain kind of talent. Certainly a talent for making big, blockbuster movies. And I could tell you stories, weird stories, about him from being at Skywalker Ranch, but I'm not going to go there, right now. I do like what he's done with the Transformers, though. I'm already looking forward to the next one.


  1. So was Patrick Dempsey your guess for my vague blog post? If so, it was the correct guess. Loved his movies back in the 80's or 90's, whenever it was.

    That's not to say I don't think he did his part well, and I was able to accept it.

    I agree about Megan Fox, as well. She'd been established in the story and adding some silly girl with no depth whatsoever to the story was stupid. At least Fox was ballsy and DID something.

    I enjoyed the movie. I also don't hate Michael Bay. His movies are the ones I go to when I just want to see some violence and special effects. Sometimes a girl just needs a movie with no depth!

  2. Admirable job you did explaining why the latest installment is getting panned more than it deserves. I also enjoy scoffing at the science shown on TV and movies when it comes to sci fi.

    Funny the things that bother us about how science is portrayed. Example, I had no issue with the giant wormhole opening up and pulling cybertron through to earth, however, my head was spinning thinking about the havoc that much mass would wreak being right there. I'm thinking of planet wide hurricanes, 1000 foot tides and earthquakes large enough to split the earth in two.

    Like I said, no issue with the wormhole though.

    Although, I do think Eureka should get more credit than most of the rest in the science department. They work really hard to at least use real stuff when at all possible... they stretch it way beyond what is even remotely plausible, but that type of show couldn't use science more... um, reverently. At least when compared to, say, Star Trek, which oftentimes makes up words and sciences out of whole cloth - oftentimes for no reason - when something real, or at least really theorized, could be used.

    Eureka, runs every script by science advisers who are 1) working scientists who 2) really hate technobabble that doesn't mean anything. So they get much more impact on altering scripts when they mutilate the science (Actually, the more I think of if, I only know of ONE scientist that vets the scripts, so you may need to replace the plurals with singulars in the above paragraph.)

    That doesn't mean that such advice might not be ignored if they feel like it limits their ability to tell their story, but they really do put way more effort behind the science than most genre shows.

    Warehouse 13 though, if it weren't for how darn funny it was, I don't think I could watch it. I actually cringe to think that they and Eureka inhabit a shared universe.

  3. Shannon: Yeah, that's who I thought it was.

    And, yeah, Bay does like his explosions. Although, I hear, he has a more "serious" project in the works.

    Rusty: You know, when they did that story in the cartoon, they did cover all the gravitational effects that Cybertron was having on the planet. I'm guessing they just didn't have time to deal with that in the movie. Or they could always say that they effects weren't happening because it hadn't come through or something.

    Eureka does seem to start with ideas based in real science; it's where they take those ideas that often make me groan.
    Now, The Big Bang Theory... they tend to hold right with the science. Which makes that show even more hilarious considering the subjects.