A rant about popcorn films of yesteryear
I’ve had about a hundred emails from you guys asking when I’ll be reviewing “Transformers”. Well, whilst I won’t be reviewing it per say I will fart out a quick summarisation of my thoughts…
I liked it. There were parts in it I loved in fact. I love Michael Bay’s work. Say what you will about the man but he knows how to entertain an audience – even if it’s just through snazzy visuals, pulsating music and quick cuts. I even liked “Pearl Harbour” to an extent. “The Island” too. Storytelling is never his strong suit – though the scripts for his films are usually quite OK – but he’s right at home when doing a balls to the wall blockbuster action epic. He could make “The Tigger Movie” look like a testosterone-charged tentpoler. The man owns the patent on the big and bad popcorn blockbuster.
Its Bay’s visuals as well as Shia LeBeouf’s performance and some textbook special effects that steal the show.
LaBeouf is the new it boy, and for good reason, he’s an absolute delight to watch. Loved him in “Distubia”, loved him here. He’s the all-American teenager you wanna root for… think Michael J.Fox mid-80s, around the “Back to the Future” time, and you get the picture. The kid’s ‘got it’.
His transforming co-stars are great too. I’ve never seen effects look this good… or if I have, I’ve forgotten where I’ve seen them. If there’s one thing I hate it’s having lousy effects deter one’s enjoyment of a movie. It happens too often. The Transformers in this thing look, well, almost real. It actually looks as if they’re acting opposite Shia or whoever’s in that particular scene.
It’s the film’s script that might be the only letdown. The first half of Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci’s tale is tight, funny, adventurous, chic and most of all, fun. It really sets the tone. You know you’re having a great time.
Something happens to the movie though, about half-way through, and it never really recovers. Well, it recovers, but it never returns to the movie that you had you smiling from ear to ear.
I think it’s the moment John Turturro appears on screen as an MIB-type character (a shadowy cartoon villain from an outfit known as Sector 7) that I think it takes a dip. From there, the tone of the film shifts dramatically from outrageously fun spectacle – along the lines of say, “E.T” or “Gremlins” – and instead turns into a drawn-out war movie populated by characters so cartoonish they undo the fleshy development of the main faces from earlier on. It really is, a different movie. I so wanted to return to that ‘other’ movie I’d been watching an hour before.
Having said that, some of Bay’s best have been a bit like that – starting out as one thing and turning into another. Some may say “Armageddon” has the amalgamated mish-mash of odd tones; you might also say “Pearl Harbor” started out as one thing and ended up another (which is partly the reason why critics savaged it. They expected a historical chronicle of the battle and got a bit of that but mainly a romantic drama about a love triangle that merely uses Pearl Harbor as its backdrop).
So did I like it? Yes I did. I really liked it. It has its problems, mostly with tone, as I said, but on the whole it’s a blockbuster that really delivers. I can’t say that for too many films these days, it kinda makes me wish Michael Bay was signed to direct more of these big flashy tentpole pics… laugh or you want, but imagine what a Michael Bay-directed “Die Hard” sequel would look like? Cool.
“Transformers” is getting even more mixed reviews than “Live Free or Die Hard” though and what I put that down to is the Michael Bay factor. People either love him or hate him. But even those people should overlook that element… because this one isn’t so much a Bay films as it is a Steven Spielberg (executive producer) film or Shia LaBeouf film.
Watching it with an audience of pimple-faced teenagers this week (there was a chubby sweatband wearing geek to my left who kept saying, whenever Rachael Taylor would appear on screen, “I reckon she’d fuck me”. I just about busted a gut!) and screaming fans had me thinking back to when I used to get excited about films like “Transformers”. Remember being absolutely hyped to see “Ghostbusters” for the first time? Remember whoop-whoop-whooping throw “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”? And who can forget jumping out of their seats the moment the radio announced ‘sneak previews’ of the new Steven Spielberg/Michael J.Fox film “Back to the Future” happening that weekend… I can.
Here’s 5 films I remember being SUPER-EXCITED to see as a tyke and just as SUPER-SATISIFED with them. (It’s a pity they don’t come around too often any more).
1. Ghostbusters – Man, who can forget the first time they saw this number?! I still remember – and granted, I was about ten – the audience singing the opening theme song with Ray Parker Jr as the movie kicked in; still remember my brother jumping so far out of his seat that he landed in the aisle in front of us, and still remember arguing with a kid about ‘which one Bill Murray was’ – he was convinced Bill Murray was William Atherton. Sheesh.
“Ghostbusters” was a major event film though. Major. It had everything the teenage audience of the time wanted…. Laughs, scares, special effects, great music and a critter named Slimer.
I still think they should try and bring the “Ghostbusters” back in some shape or form.
2. Back to the Future – As I mentioned above, I saw this in ‘sneaks’ the week before it opened and was in cinematic heaven. I was a huge fan of Michael J.Fox – wasn’t everyone? – at the time, and Steven Spielberg could do no wrong in my eyes, so it was a no-brainer that I was going to get a teeny woody for it but I never expected it to become one of my favourite films of all time. This was just flawless fantasy filmmaking… I don’t think it’ll ever be topped. All the elements just aligned beautifully here. I’m sure I went back and saw it about ten times.
3. Gremlins – Again, this was a film youngsters at the time were absolutely revving to see. Part comedy, Part Horror… it was another blockbuster offering from the man that could no wrong, Spielberg. Though not a shade on “Back to the Future” or even “Ghostbusters” this was a grand old time. I bet us kiddies we’re talking about the ‘Gremlin in the microwave’ for months to come.
4. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – I use this example, over say “Last Crusade”, because I was still at that perfectly seducible pre-teen age when this one came out. I was dashing down those cinema stairs like I was the man with the hat himself… it had me that excited. Looking back on the film, we now realise it ain’t quite as good as the other chapters in the series, but then… and I assume it’s the same for most of the people I saw “Transformers” with… as a kid, you don’t give a shit about tone changes, plot holes or a lack of humour… The “Raiders” sequel was something all the youngsters were going to love regardless. I still can’t remember walking out of a cinema and instantly demanding the T-Shirt of the film I just watched from the folks… except maybe “Showgirls”.
5. Return of the Jedi – Again, I use this example instead of the other chapters in the “Star Wars” series, because I remember the day and session like it was yesterday. I even remember my mother asking the box office clerk whether it ‘would be OK for her 8 year old son to watch?’. I remember yahooing and screaming so loud I probably ended up with the next week off from school for having a sore throat. I remember loving the Ewoks. I remember laughing at everything Han Solo said. I remember going back to see the film about five more times before it finished its theatrical run.
So what I’m trying to say is, thanks Bay, thanks Spielberg, thanks Dreamworks for trying to make one of those types of films again… a film that gets cinemagoers genuinely giddy with excitement…. The type of movie that gives a thirteen-year old his first crack of timber… reminding us that blockbuster films can be ‘good again’. It’s not an out-and-out success… but it’s the first stage of a journey ‘back’.
I hope my son/daughter will have films ‘like those’ to get excited about…. Though I know ‘Fantastic Four Vs. Whatever I-mac created villain of the week is available’ will probably be the best thing on release for him/her.
Now watch me transform into a latte sipping thirty-something with silver streaks through his hair….