More Than Meets the Eye

Transformers is the most successful toy to screen adaptation of all time. As one of Hasbro’s best selling toy lines, the Transformers were a huge part of the 80’s. Launching an equally popular 1984 animated series, several spin-offs, and an animated feature film. Yet I somehow missed out on the craze for most of my childhood. Apart from having a toy robot that may or may not have been a Transformer. My brother and I didn’t become fans until after the hype surrounding a live-action movie started to grow. The Mars teaser peaked my interest, but the official trailer had me hooked.

Our entire family went to see Transformers and we became instant fans of the “Robots in Disguise.” Rewatching it many times, learning the extensive backstory of the Autobots and Decepticons, playing the video game, and buying smaller versions of the movie themed toys. Since I was 12 in 2007, I was still young enough to accept the mindless action without question. I wasn’t familiar with director Michael Bay, but I quickly learned. Endless explosions, eye candy, large scale visuals, Bay knows how to make summer blockbusters. Even with the tonal shifts, product placement, and Bay’s initial lack of interest in making a toy movie. Regardless of what anyone says, the first Transformers is just as awesome as the first time I saw it…

1. Transformers

Optimus Prime prepares for battle

Transformers was unlike anything I’d seen on the big screen before. A vehicle transforming into a giant fighting robot hadn’t really been done before. The original toys were tricky, but simple enough to figure out. The animated series was equally simple, if a bit loose with the size of each Transformer. Every movie transformation is stunning with each part of the vehicle fitting in a logical place. The more Japanese alien designs of the Transformers may have divided fans, but you can’t deny the thrill of seeing each familiar character for the first time. The complex CGI is so good that I still can’t believe it lost Best Visual Effects. Like The Fast and the Furious, I’m not a car expert, but this is definitely product placement that works. Michael Bay teamed up with General Motors and the U.S. Armed Forces. The “Boy and his car” story was Steven Spielberg’s idea, but the strong military involvement was of course Bay’s idea.

Bay’s usual tonal shifts are thanks to the perspective of multiple radically different characters. First is a small military unit that encounters the first on screen Transformer. Josh Duhamel makes a name for himself as sympathetic Army Captain Lennox and Tyrese Gibson establishes himself in another car franchise as TSgt. Epps. They deal with the threat of Decepticons Blackout and Scorponok in the desert. Seeing a military helicopter transform into Blackout was indescribable. The thrilling Qatar attack is followed by an equally harrowing fight with the scorpion like Scorponok. The second perspective follows the true main character Sam Witwicky. The name may be changed, but the surname is a clever nod to Spike Witwicky from the cartoon. Sam represents the target demographic. An awkward horny teenager in desperate need of a car. Played by ever growing “It boy” Shia Labeouf. Although I grew up watching Shia, it was still weird to see him in a blockbuster like this.

All Sam wants is a new car from his father played by Kevin Dunn. As if the glaring similarities to Small Soldiers weren’t obvious enough already. They’re both DreamWorks movies about a teenage boy trying to impress a popular girl, caught in a conflict with warring factions, befriending a member of the heroic faction, and fighting against the evil faction. The main difference is Sam’s wackier mother and chihauna that he has for some reason. Sam buys a yellow striped Camaro from a hilarious (if somewhat stereotypical) Bernie Mac. I’ve wanted the car ever since. Even though Bumblebee is supposed to be the Volkswagen Beetle that he destroys. Sam uses the car to impress the unbelievably attractive Mikaela Banes. Megan Fox became an instant sex symbol the moment she leaned over a car hood. Even though her performance is a bit cringy and her extensive car knowledge/ending up with Sam is a suspension of disbelief. It’s Michael Bay, so the supermodel good looks don’t stop at Fox.

The third perspective is from the Pentagon attempting to track the source of Blackout’s initial data hack. Jon Voight is the Secretary of Defensive, but really its gorgeous data analyst Maggie played by Rachael Taylor who gets the attention. She tracks the next hack on Air Force One. Perpetrated by the creepy little boombox Decepticon Frenzy. Maggie is somehow friends with immature hacker Glen. Anthony Anderson is probably the funniest actor, but really most of the juvenile humor still makes me laugh. Everyone is after the same information which brings Sam into the conflict. Sam is confronted by the police car Decepticon Barricade before getting rescued by Bumblebee. Bumblebee’s winged redesign, guardian role, and speaking through the radio quickly made him a favorite amongst newer fans. The rest of the Autobots finally arrive via alien pods. Rather than crash land on a spaceship, each robot chooses a disguise from whatever vehicle is nearby. Seeing Optimus Prime and the rest of his fellow Autobots transform right in front of Sam & Mikaela was beyond cool. Even better with Peter Cullen’s booming voice remaining intact.

There are many important Autobots, but they chose Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Ratchet, Ironhide, and Jazz. With the cartoon accurate personalities to match. Prime recounts their war filled history on Cybertron and reveals what they’re looking for. Both the Autobots and Decepticons are after the glasses that belonged to Sam’s great great grandfather. An arctic explorer who discovered Megatron frozen in ice. His glasses reveal the coordinates of the cube McGuffin known as the Allspark. Something that can transform all of Earth’s technology. Optimus and company hide in the backyard while Sam looks for the glasses. Until the final collection of characters show up in the form of John Turturro as Sector 7 cover up agent Simmons. He seems threatening, but all that goes away the second Bumblebee pees on him. Agents capture Bumblebee and every important character comes together at Hoover Dam. They’re holding both a frozen Megatron (called N.B.E. 1) and the giant Allspark that they use to transform a Nokia phone.

They eventually listen to Sam and let Bumblebee shrink down the AllSpark. Unfortunately, Megatron is unfrozen and the rest of the Decepticons reconvene. Like the Autobots, the number of Decepticons is limited to key figures like Megatron and Starscream. Along with the lesser known Bonecrusher and Brawl. Despite Frank Welker being an option, Hugo Weaving continues his nerd cred as the always menacing Megatron. Fortunately, Optimus Prime is just as well represent as the heroic Autobot leader. Prime remains a semi truck, but Megatron is a Cybertron aircraft instead of a gun. The highway fight is just as awesome as the Mission City battle that follows. Highlights include Jazz standing up to Megatron, Mikaela driving around an injured Bumblebee, Starscream shooting down jets, the soldiers finishing off Blackout, and Sam attempting to carry the AllSpark to safety.

Not to mention the more obvious product placement of Chevy wheel, Xbox 360, and Mountain Dew vending machine transformers. The biggest highlight will always be Optimus Prime vs. Megatron. A fight full of familiar quotes and a history that longtime fans will appreciate. But Sam is the hero in the end after using  the Allspark against Megatron. Bumblebee somehow speaks in the end, but I’m glad that wasn’t the voice they used. Autobots unite with the humans, Sam & Mikaela makeout on Bumblebee, and Optimus Prime delivers his first of many inspiring movie speeches. Which is even better when followed by Linkin Park singing “What I’ve Done.” Transformers is everything a prepubescent boy could ask for. I’ll remember it fondly as one of my last childhood obsessions. The major box-office gross gave the Transformers a new generation of fans. Influencing special effects heavy blockbusters for years to come. Transformers is a dumb fun extravaganza that’s “More than Meets the Eye.”

2. Transformers

Mikaela fixes Sam’s car

Followed by: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

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