i bought a car. turned out to be an alien robot. who knew? - sam, transformers.

i just saw the first showing of transformers, and i say this without any hyperbole: this is the best, silly, summer flick of the last few years. this is what summer movies are supposed to be about: fun. i had the advantage of seeing the movie with some die-hard transformers fans, children of the '80's who grew up with autobots and decepticons. for some of these people, optimus prime was more of a father to them then their actual biological fathers. for the two and a half years he graced the small screen, i too spent more time with optimus than my actual father. optimus prime instilled loyalty and honour and fighting for what was right. so needless to say, i had high hopes for this film.

i just want to start my review by acknowledging michael bay. many people were angry at all the changes done to the transformers (re: flames on optimus prime) and bay didn't help douse any of those flames with his screw-you-i'm-the-director-attitude. if michael bay were still in highschool, he'd be the guy kicking sand in your face and walking off with your girlfriend. perhaps that's why geeks hate him so much. that being said, bay has directed some ultimate cheeseball summer flicks in the past (armageddon, the rock, pearl harbor). some were more successful than others, but there is one thing for certain: no one directs action the way he does. he is quite possibly one of the best action directors in the world, so much so that he even has his own film genre dedicated to him: the michael bay genre, which is light on character development, heavy on the cheese, using style over substance and gimmicky camera techniques that are all overwhelmed by huge action set pieces.

i was not one of the people who reacted negatively to michael bay directing the film, primarily because when it came down to a transformers movie, all i wanted was giant fucking robots, and that's what bay gave me, and more. i knew he would deliver a great action movie: what i didn't know was that he would also deliver a movie with so much heart, which is what the original transformers had in spades. bay even pokes fun of himself, showing a great sense of humour. (remember the 360 degree rotating gun shoot out in bad boys 2? well, he does the same thing here except with decepticons. very funny). i had very few expectations, but some really high hopes, the highest of which was to be able to relive my childhood, which i was able to do.

there really is no better way to do this review except by breaking it down into parts. i will leave this as spoiler-free as possible.

1) the plot: the basic plot starts off with a boy and his first car. sam gets his first car, a vintage camero, who just happens to be the transformer bumblebee. sam is in love with mikaela, who's the resident hottie. what happens is a chain of events that unfolds a bigger plot wherein a cube called the allspark is the target of everyone's desires. the allspark is a cube that can give life to machinery and rebuild whole planets. on cybertron, the home planet of the autobots (the good guys) and the decepticons (the bad guys), a war raged over the allspark, as megatron, leader of the decepticons, desired to use the allspark to take over the universe. the allspark was lost during the war, and it was said to have landed on earth, where megatron, back in the 1800's, crash landed in the arctic searching for it. and there he lay frozen beneath the earth until an exploder, sam's decendent, stumbled upon his frozen body which was then kept a secret to the rest of the world by the united states military. the autobots come down to earth to find the allspark, and protect it from megatron and his decepticons.

2) the characters: i was very surprised with the human element of the story. in fact, the humans provided for most of the laughs. there is an incredibly funny sequence where bumblebee, unknowing to everyone else, tries to help sam get together with mikaela. the scene is filled with 80's music and just gives us a tonne of laughs. shia lebeouf is just amazing in the movie. he shows great comic timing, and really delivers on the film. it would be easy to be overshadowed by all the big robots, but his character is really well written. megan fox, as mikaela, is all sorts of sweaty and pouty lips. she is adequate, and her chemistry with shia, while it may not be the best, works for this picture. even sam's parents, while totally cheesy, were hilarious. there is a scene where his parents are discussing sam's masturbation habits which is quite a riot.

3) the transformers: the robots are amazing. they are a work of art. they actually look more real in the daylight than in the night scenes, which is the opposite of how cgi usually works. usually with cgi, shadows and darkness are the two best elements, because you can hide the flaws. the special fx team of industrial light and magic really outdid themselves this time. the robots, particularly the autobots, were quite personable. some of them didn't have as much screen time as the others, but they all were able to show off their individual personalities. even bumblebee, who cannot speak through the whole movie because of a damaged voice box, shows just as much personality as the rest of the humans through the way the fx people animated him. i was worried that this wouldn't feel like a transformers movie, but rather just a big alien robot invasion movie. well, my fears were unfounded. it is a transformers movie. the robots may not look exactly like how i remembered them, but their essence is essentially the same. the movie captured the heart of the original show the way the lord of the rings movies captured the truth of the tolkien novels.

4) the military: it is clear that michael bay has a great relationship with the military. the film is basically one big recruiting video, as much as it is a gm car commercial. for once, the military is used properly in a large scale invasion movie like this. unlike independence day, where the military's weaponry was ineffective against the alien invasion, here, the military gets to show off a bit, as they turn out to be quite effective against the alien robots. i have to say, that the one thing i do have faith in the human race for, is the ability to kill. no species can kill as well as we can. it's not a trait to be proud of, but if history has shown us anything, it's this: when push comes to shove, humans can fight, and they know how to blow stuff up real good. if there ever is a real alien invasion movie, i'd put money on the humans to kill them dead any time. never underestimate the power of fear, paranoia, and human genius.

5) the action: my god, there is so much action. but i wanted more. more more more. seriously, i could have done with another whole hour tacked on with nothing but pure action. michael bay proves that he was basically born to do transformers. all the cheese in the world is squeezed into this film. usually, i roll my eyes when bay does his typical tricks, but in this film, it just all worked. all the drawn out slow motion shots, all the needless 360 camera angles, all the pretty girls with wind blowing in their hair... it's all good. it's cheese, but i loved it. and for a pg-13 movie, there was plenty of human deaths and robot mutilations to make the film push the limit of the pg-13 designation.

6) the cars: a huge complaint was all the product placement in the film. not only of all the gm cars, but of little things like mountain dew, or panasonic memory cards. what people have to realize is that product placement is part of the game now, and it's a means of keeping costs down. what transformers producer would have turned down an offer by gm to not only give them a bunch of free cars to destroy, but also prototypes like the new camero? also, the original transformers was just a way to sell the toys. it was one big marketing campaign. hasbro even made the transformers cartoon movie as a means to get rid of the old transformers, and introduce a whole new line of toys. so fan boys just need to shut up already about the product placement. your beloved franchise was nothing but a giant commercial to begin with, so deal with it.

7) gripes: there are some minor ones here, such as the simplistic nature of the plot, but hey, i was never expecting shakespeare. the action was a little too fast at times. there was either the really quick mtv-style rapid fire cut of action, or there was the slow motion extended take, and pretty much nothing in between. the decepticons were sometimes hard to tell apart in the final battle sequence, mostly due to the fact that they all sort of show up in the last forty minutes without much of an intro to the individual characters, but then again, in the original cartoon, the only ones that really had any personality were probably megatron and starscream. the decepticons were mostly a bland greyish colour, which made it hard to tell them apart sometimes when you include the frenzied action sequences. it would have helped if they had some bright colours to them, like the autobots, whose distinctive patterns and colour design really made them pop and stand out from all the meyhem.

overall, i was totally satisfied with the film. it has been a long, long time since i've seen a film that has kept me engrossed throughout from the very first frame to the very last one. i was totally red in the face and flushed after seeing the movie, as if i had my very own geekgasm. michael bay has had a lot of criticism hurled his way before anyone had ever seen a single frame of the movie, the biggest insults resembling something like, "damn you michael bay, you ruined my childhood." well, if those same people went to see the film, i think they'll be pleasantly surprised that their childhood is not only kept in tact, but nourished and celebrated even. this film has everything any geek would ever want. basically, everything that i hoped would happen, actually happened. it was awesome.

i have to say, this was the best movie going experience i've ever had. sitting in with that die-hard crowd and cheering through the movie was great. just feeling the energy of people cheering when bumblebee gets into that first car chase, or when optimus prime transforms for the first time, or even when the hasbro logo comes on screen... it was amazing. this is definitely what the movie going experience is about. it doesn't get much more pure than this.

the following is hbo's special on transformers: