No Sacrifice, No Victory – A Transformers Review

Megatron, Bumblebee and Optimus Prime

Megatron, Bumblebee and Optimus Prime

First of all, I along with a couple of other pals, were the dudes who taped the Transformers episodes when the first aired (long before they were known as G1), to try to identify all of them. So yeah, even after more than 20 years later I can still name all 18 of the original Autobots who crash-landed on Earth on the Ark. So this movie is a big deal for me. The idea of seeing photorealistic giant robots prance on the screen, firing missiles at and beating the crap out of each other, transforming into cars and burning rubber on the highway…. is sort of a holy grail.

Walking up the hallway to the escalator in Cineleisure that will take me to the Cathay Cineplex (with Irfan in tow), Remembering the first time I heard they were going to produce the Transformers movie, I told Awie, “I’ve been waiting for this day for more than a year.” Awie said, “I’ve been waiting for this for twenty years.” I realise he’s right.

To be honest, I really didn’t want to put my expectations high for this movie. But I couldn’t help myself. My expectations were higher than normal. I’ve already seen the trailers a million times each… not to mention the clips on TV. I must have seen tons of effects shots of the Cybertronians transforming and fighting (and crashing through buses) that I thought I’ve seen it all. There must be not much else to see. I thought, what the heck, let’s watch the shots again but this time on the big screen with THX sound. I’d be happy to settle for just that.

However I was wrong. Not only were there much, much more spectacular scenes therein, but the entire movie met and exceeded my expectations of it.

A History Lesson

Once upon a time, Takara of Japan made some toy robots that can transform into vehicles. Then Hasbro brought them into the United States, giving them the name Transformers. From there, a cartoon series was created. Simultaneously, a comic series was published by Marvel Comics. Each wasn’t a direct adaptation of the other, but the back story was the same.

In the far reaches of space, the planet Cybertron existed. Upon it sapient life lived. But they weren’t organic life, they were inorganic, mechanical and metallic life forms with the ability to transform their physical bodies into an one or more alternate modes, such as vehicles, appliances and other inanimate machinery. But there was a schism and the more militaristic Decepticons attempted to attack their rival faction the Autobots to take over the planet and ultimately the rest of the universe. The Autobots and the Decepticons wage a war that went on for thousands of years until one day they had to leave the energy-depleted Cybertron to look for more sources of energy.

The mission led by the Autobot commander Optimus Prime was attacked by the Decepticons in deep space and they crashed onto a planet, where they all fel into stasis lock and was buried under a volcano. 4 million years later, a minor volcanic eruption reactivated them and they discover that the planet is now populated by humans and is rich with energy. The Decepticons vowed to milk the planet dry of energy and use it to conquer the universe. The Autobots were duty-bound to defend the planet Earth, and its inhabitants from the Decepticons. Then the war erupts once again, but this time on Earth.

Over the years, many iteration of the Transformers story (set in different continuities) appeared as newer lines of toys were produced. G2, Beast Wars, Beast Machines, Armada, Energon, Cybertron, Robots In Disguise, War Within, … Kiss Play Transformers.

Yeah, Kiss Play Transformers… look it up.

SPOILER WARNING COMMENCES

Now I shall regale you with frakking SPOILERS! SPOILERS, DUDE!!!

Spike flees as Ironhide and Ratchet covers him

Spike flees as Ironhide and Ratchet covers him

You read below this and I take no responsibility in your being spoiled for this movie. You still got a few more days before they release this in the US and a few weeks thereafter in the UK. Also stop reading if you don’t want to be spoiled.

I’m gonna spoil you readers with this review like you’ve never been spoiled before.

Quit reading.

I mean it.

Also, if you’ve read this far without watching the movie, you owe me your firstborn.

And a cup of coffee.

FINAL SPOILER WARNING LINE

The Review Begins

What a lousy movie. I mean… pft!! Michael Bay?!? Flames on Optimus? Bumblebee is a Camaro instead of a Classic VW Beetle? A lot of military porn? A small-ish Scorponok? What kind of a Transformers adaptation is this? They’d do better if they remade 1986’s Transformers the Movie instead! Why aren’t the Witwickys wearing yellow hardhats? Why didn’t they reanimate the zombie corpses of Chris Latta and Scatman Crothers to voice Starscream and Jazz, respectively?? This movie sucks! Not even one Stan Bush song?!?!

Ok, that should get the haters running out of the room altogether in agreement with the above paragraphs. Now it’s just you and me, baby, so….

The Review Begins In Earnest

The movie starts with a variation of the Paramount title card, then the Dreamworks SKG title card. But they’re different because you can hear metallic whines, groans and clicks as the logos were animated. The alien-sounding mechanical noises set the tone on how the Cybertronians will feel like to the viewer when we see them. Giant living alien transforming robots.

Suddenly Peter Cullen’s voice is heard, opening the story with a narration, and my hair stands on end. It’s spine chilling, watching a live action, movie and suddenly the 20-year-old voice of Optimus Prime reverberates throughout the theatre hall.

The story is simple enough, it’s another iteration of the G1 story, not an adaptation. It starts out with Sam Witwicky trying to purchase a car, and ends up buying an old Camaro. So it’s a boy-buys-car-to-woo-girl story, and all of a sudden it turns into a car-helps-boy-to-woo-girl story. In all this, a United States SOCCENT base in Qatar is under attack by a Pave Low that transformed itself into a giant robot and tries to hack into the Pentagon’s mainframe. Suddenly, Sam finds himself caught between his crazy Camaro and a police patrol cruiser who both transforms into giant robots who happen to also be judo practitioners.

Ultimately it is revealed that the Decepticons are in search of Megatron who disappeared on Earth millions of years ago, and Megatron was looking for the source of all Transformer life, the Allspark which had landed on Earth – sort of like the Creation Matrix, though it has the name of the Beast Machines artefact. The Decepticons will use the Allspark to create a new Transformer army to take over the universe while the Autobots wishes to use it to recreate life on their dead homeworld Cybertron.

But if shit hits the fan, Optimus is willing to bond his spark with the Allspark, which would deny the Decepticons victory but destroy both Prime and the Allspark itself.

Light and Magic Are Cast Industrially

This is Jurassic Park all over again. Cutting edge CGI technology. The CGI elements are composed and shot with the live plates to bring things heretofore unseen and not experienced by anyone on the big screen. The robots do not transform as they do where whole blocks of their anatomy move on hinges and turn their bodies from bipedal humanoids into vehicles and Mountain Dew vending machines. Instead each robot has a thousand pieces that move about, slide, pivot, twist and interlock. I can see why some purists hate it, but to me it’s jaw-droppingly awesome.

The robots transforming is just the cherry on top. The filling is the way how the robots interact with the environment. When they transform when driving and the metal parts scrape and tear off the surface of the road. When Optimus jumps onto a surface, his feet hits with the appropriate mass. Gravel and debris go flying. Random pieces of them in robot mode move and give out slight mechanical sounds. Their eyes are expressive thanks to the new eye design, where plates and parts move about allowing them to blink and squint.

One of my fears in terms of their new designs is the alien looking lips. The lips move as the robots speak. But they look bad in the early images I have of them. They still look bad to me, but when the lips movie, the mechanics of it makes perfect sense.

Old Characters Made New

Optimus Prime – he is the same old Optimus from another media 20 years ago. Sure he’s touchy-feely about his tactics. He fights for the rights of all sentient beings to party. If humans are at risk he will not engage. But if humans are already at risk and he’s pissed off, what he’ll do is stab you in the neck. With a sword. For real. He says, by my count, three iconic lines from the Transformers mythos (see below).

Blackout transfoms

Blackout transfoms

Megatron – is not Megatron unless he disses Starsceam at least once. And he does! All the Decepticons defer to him when he appears. And the first command given by the Autobots upon seeing him arrive is “RETREAT!” He is disgusted by humans and he expresses his disgust not just by saying it, He also flicks away one hapless human on the street who smashes into a nearby car in one long distance, high perspective shot. The bad news is he looks more like a NERV Eva from Neon Genesis Evangelion. The good news is Shinji Ikari isn’t piloting him.

Bumblebee is the heart of the movie, and the link to Sam Witwicky. He introduces to us even before seeing the big giant robots that the Autobots are the good guys and have a heart. And when he first transforms and tangles with Barricade, we see that he is also one hell of a scrapper. He’s not really the smallest now, since Jazz is about his size. Unfortunately, he’s had his voice synthesizer torn out by Megatron long before the movie begins so we don’t see him talk at all, except by replaying songs and other recordings over his stereo. One would think it’s some sort of cop-out, but it makes the story works by showing the wonder of discovering that the car you bought is a giant robot by taking the robot’s verbal communication method.

Other Robots In Disguise

Autobots:

Jazz is still Prime’s the first lieutenant and does everything with style. When he first transforms, he ends up in a single handstand while spinning. His first line includes the word “bitch”. Out of all the Cybertronians present, his head (apart from Optimus Prime himself) is the one most resembling his original G1 incarnation. And I can see sales of Pontiac Solstices going through the roof next year.

Ironhide, the weapons specialist, transforms into the black GMC Topkick. He serves as a foil to Prime by asking why they have to protect humans when fighting the Decepticons. He has one awe-inspiring transforming scene in the final battle where he begins to convert to robot mode, points his arms downwards, fire his arm mounted missiles at the road, propelling him into a slow motion somersault over a screaming woman bystander while the sun illuminates the scene from the background. This is THE best single image in the movie filled with a series of non-stop awesome imagery.

Ratchet is still the medical officer, patching up damaged Autobots. He transforms into a green search and rescue Humvee with Fire Department markings allowing him to roam freely in emergency situations in the streets. He’s still trying to restore Bumblebee’s voice and has a great line about Sam’s pheromone levels.

Decepticons:

Starscream leads the search for Megatron on Earth. He transforms into a F-22 Raptor and is involved in a jaw-dropping scene where he jumps a squadron of real F-22s by attacking them alternating between robot mode and F-22 mode… while in the air. I wish they established a line or two bringing out the fact that Starscream secretly wishes to supplant Megatron as the leader of the Decepticons, but I guess it would add more conflict to a movie bursting at the seams with battle scenes and different factions.

Bonecrusher is the military Buffalo mine protected vehicle, and not a Constructicon as per the G1 lore. I was quite disappointed with his limited appearance in the movie. But when he appears during the highway battle scene, there is non-stop robot-on-robot action spanning several elevated highways and concludes with Optimus Prime being awesome go nuts.

Brawl is… Devastator? Well, he’s Brawl in the other media as well as the toy labels, but when he talks in his native tongue the subtitles refer to him as Devastator. I hope this is an oversight and will be changed for the DVD. He’s just the muscle for the final battle. Yes, the movie has subtitles for Cybertronese.

Blackout is the MH-53 Pave Low helicopter, the first Transformer to be seen on screen and has the ability to emit powerful EMP blasts and use his tail rotor as a whirling blade weapon. He has a bone to pick with Tyrese Gibson’s character for taking pictures without permission.

Scorponok is not the Decepticon Headmaster leader, nor is he the loyal but dumb follower in Beast Wars. He is more of a feral robot much like Ravage in G1. I was sad to learn he does not appear in the final battle, nor does he transform into a robot mode. But he is jam packed with missiles which he uses a lot in a scene in Qatar. Scorponok is to Blackout as Ravage is to Soundwave.

Frenzy is the smallest Decepticon tasked with infiltrating Air Force One and hacking once again into the Pentagon mainframe to search for Megatron’s whereabouts. Being a small CD player, he can be unnoticed at the most unlikely of places. He talks in a mixture of English and Cybertronese, and seem to be hyperactive. He changes his alt mode one other time in the movie allowing him to locate Megatron and summon his teammates who respond in a kick ass manner. He flings circular blades at his targets.

Barricade is tracking Bumblebee and soon discovers that Sam Witwicky unwittingly possesses the location to the Allspark. Being a Saleen-modified Ford Mustang police car, Sam goes to him for help in a funny scene when Sam thinks his new car is somehow alive and out to get him. Geez, didn’t he notice the “To Punish And Enslave” decal on the side of the Police car? Heh.

Are Humans Relevant?

Hell yes. Sam (not referred to as Spike) Witwicky has great scenes with Mikaela, and his dad Ron (not referred to Sparkplug) Witwicky and mom Judy. Especially during side-splitting humorous scene during the blackout at the Witwicky residence while Autobots are hiding in the yard.

Megan Fox is hot. That is all. No, not really. She gets fleshed out quite a bit in the movie. As some of the other characters, there’s more to her than meets the eye. Damn! I was hoping I didn’t have to use that cliched phrase here.

I don’t really care much for the Pentagon civilian analyst scenes, but that Anthony Anderson… he sure is loud.

Sector Seven Agent Simmons, played by John Turturro, is over-the-top menacing. He gets in quite a couple of good lines and some verbal sparring with Shia LeBouf and Megan Fox. Oh, and he also gets urinated on. And believes Nokia phones come from Japan.

Jon Voight portrayed Secretary of Defense John Keller as a no-nonsense, to-the-point person, who takes charge during crisis and has a wry sense of humour. Especially about the arrogant Sector Seven agents. Plus he also gets to fight Frenzy with a shotgun.

Captain William Lennox, one of the survivors of the SOCCENT base in Qatar is the person who manages to organize an airstrike on Scorponok with a Predator UAV, a pair of A-10s (Powerglide, heh!) and a Hercules firing 105mm sabot rounds. who has them pinned down and discovers intel on how to take down Transformers. Good God! He drives an A.W.E. Striker escorting Bumblebee through the highway. (Not really an A.W.E. Striker, but close enough.) Remember kids, when being attacked by Decepticons, try to hit them back with sabot rounds.

Moments of Geek Release

These sorts of moments are numerous and effective.

Prime’s voice saying three iconic lines. “Autobots, roll out!”, “Freedom is the right of all sentient beings!” – written on his toy profile card but never spoken during the G1 toon, and finaly something totally unexpected and made me cheer: “One shall stand. One shall fall.” Hot damn. Right out of Transformers the Movie!

Megatron calls Sam “fleshling” just like in the Marvel comics.

The entire sequence of the four Autobots falling to Earth and each one adopting an Earth alt mode.

The introduction to Sam and Mikaela sequence that follows the previous sequence. Not only majestic, but funny as hell too. “World Wide Web” and Sam’s pheromones.

The Decepticons being alerted by Frenzy of Megatron’s location and they all mobilize and respond one by one in Cybertronese – with English subtitles.

The entire sequence at the Witwicky household where Sam is searching for his “ancestral artifact” which has the location of the Allspark.

The Autobots discussing their next move whether to help the humans or ignore them, which culminates in two of the Prime quotes listed above.

The realization that Jazz used to be Steve Urkel’s neighbour.

And thus the Review Ends With a Whole Lot of Waffling

The human body count is phenomenal. You see a lot of dead bodies on Air Force One, but you also see buildings being crushed and reduced to rubble during their kaiju-styled bot-on-bot action. During what seems to be a working weekday. No blood splatters and limbs flying in every direction, but there’s no mistaking hundreds of innocent bystanders getting human juice squished out of them by the melee.

Barricade tries to knock out Sam with halitosis

Barricade tries to knock out Sam with halitosis

This is the longest review in the history of this weblog, for sure. What more can I say?

The story flows well. There are no slow bits. It seemed very much like the frenentic directing energy of Michael Bay is perfect for this movie. And with Steven Spielberg’s extra touch that gives the movie a heart and makes you care for (or at the very least laugh with) all the characters, humans and Cybertronians.

And although the movie has a proper conclusion, the ending doesn’t just imply a sequel. It virtually screams sequel with Prime’s final speech and that short Easter egg during the credits that shows Starscream leaving Earth’s atmosphere.

I was hoping the Spec Ops team had names like Conrad Hauser, Lonzo Wilkinson, Lance Steinberg, Robert Graves and Carl Greer, among others. That would have allowed Hasbro’s other famous toy line to unofficially appear in this movie with the Transformers and My Little Pony. Yes, there is My Little Pony in the movie.

I don’t remember what happened to Barricade after Sam identified him just before the Battle of the Freeway. I’m absolutely sure Scorponok disappeared after his battle with Lennox’s squad.

How the hell do the Cybertronians use jet engines and fire automatic projectile weapons from their bodies? How do they replenish their fuel and ammo?

Mister Producers. I’ve heard of you guys preparing to have Soundwave, Shockwave and the Dinobots in the sequel. But what I really hope you do is to head on down to Italy and get those Lamborghini bosses to allow the use of their cars as Sideswipe and Sunstreaker. Thank you very much.

I’m glad the military isn’t shown to be dumbasses. They identify quickly that the markings on Blackout pegged him as a Pave Low that crashed in Afghanistan 3 months earlier, and they immediately sided with the Autobots to bring down the Decepticons. Scorponok also graphically and brutally kills one of the Spec Ops soldiers.

Can you see all five of the robots in hiding?

Can you see all five of the robots in hiding?

What the hell is a molecular armour and how does Lennox know about it by sight? That’s quite a stretch.

Bonecrusher is short-changed in the movie. Brawl even more so. Hope to see Thundercracker, Skywarp, Dirge, Ramjet and Thrust as Starscream’s squadron next time.

This is sure to be the most awesome movie of 2007. Heck it’s the best action movie I’ve seen in years!

As the header says I’m already waffling. I’m not paid to review this, so take a hike, you heckler. Bring on the next movie already! And someone find my jaw it’s still on the floor of the theatre hall somewhere.

P.S. Post 450, yo!!!!

Posted in Movie Review, Transformers and tagged , , .

Khairul Hisham J. is a tabletop RPG artist, writer, proofreader, translator, teacher, grad student and learner-in-general.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.