Somewhere I feel like something in Hollywood is being marketed wrong. I know I'm in the coveted 18-35 White Middle Class Male demographic, but surely I can't be the one that Hollywood is marketing to. It doesn't make any sense.
What about the baby boomers? There are so many of them it's going to crash Social Security. Every single retirement commercial lately starts off with, "Did you used to be a hippie?" You can't lure them into the theater? How hard could it possibly be? It's the 30 year anniversary of the Summer of Love and they get one lousy movie about it? Who doesn't want to see movies about political turmoil and casual sex?
And yet, it's my childhood on screen. I don't understand how it can be, but there they are: the obsessions of my early years, represented in the name of getting asses into seats.
The Dukes of Hazzard, the X-Men, the Hulk, The Fantastic Four and (even cooler) The Silver Surfer, Spiderman; oh god Spiderman. If I still owned my Spiderman Underoos, I would probably still wear them on occasion.
But nothing -- absolutely nothing -- compares to this summer's sure-to-be-shitfest: Transformers.
I'm looking forward to it -- can you tell?
Because I'm egotistical enough to believe that nobody else in the world has the same kind of relationship with the Transformers as I do, please step into the part of my brain that wishes I could go watch this movie in the theater with the sound off and my eyes closed.
I loved the Transformers when I was a kid. The Christmas when I got Optimus Prime (the awesome die-cast metal one) was the Christmas I remember most dearly as a child. I went down to the living room one morning while my parents were still asleep and tore off part of the paper to see what I was getting and it was Optimus Prime and I almost peed. Waiting a week to open it on Christmas morning was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. I still own all of my Transformers, though Optimus Prime is missing his hands, and his gun, and part of his trailer.
This past Christmas, my wife bought me the new Optimus Prime figure (so awesome). I did not put it down until I transformed it which, incidentally, was way harder than when I was a kid.
In the first Transformers movie (the REAL Transformers movie) I cried when Optimus Prime died. Cried. They ran it on television at 4:00 in the afternoon on WGN. My parents couldn't figure out what was wrong. There I was, sitting in front of the television bawling.
Optimus Prime died. (sob, choke)
Seriously, kid. You're 10 years old. Get a freakin' grip.
Nobody should be surprised if I cry at this movie, too. Why? Because it's not the same. It's... shiny. All CG'ed up. If you haven't seen any, it's worth taking a look at some of the art. They have all these funny metal bits that don't look like they belong on a car. Or a robot. They have cod pieces. And California plates. It's just not right.
Doesn't sound like I should be that scared, right? Sounds like I should be excited. Somebody clearly put a lot of work and a lot of money into visually reinventing this series for the big screen and a 2007 audience and it looks like it should be damn cool. But there's one thing in all this that Hollywood just can't reproduce. Never have, never will.
Half of the reason that I like the Transformers is that I can look back on it fondly to the crazed ramblings of my imagination. I can remember very few of the plots of the Transformer cartoons (though I can remember the plot of the movie with excellent clarity), and in fact, they probably didn't matter a whit to me when I was a kid.
No, the fact is they went through far more interesting and complex plots in my own bedroom. There were epic battles (sometimes with He-Man involved, often with Go-Bots) the likes of which were never seen on television. Whole planets were born, lived, and exploded in fiery drama in sequences that never saw a script.
This type of undirected imaginative storytelling transcends what you use when you're reading books or comic books and Hollywood can't butcher or nail it in the same way. It's beyond, "Oh, the guy they got looks just like Sandman, they even got the shirt right." or "I never pictured Frodo with such big eyes." There isn't the same type of context going into this sort of imaginative process. You don't have an author telling you what characters are wearing, or the angle of the crook of their nose. You just have this hunk of metal and plastic in your hands, a sunny summer afternoon, and the rest is magic.
Let me put it this way: This is a movie based on a cartoon based on a comic book based on a line of toys by Hasbro. The toy came first, and the rest of the content was sparse, conflicting, and, frankly, only designed to sell more toys. What went on in my head -- our heads -- the heads of the kids who bought into this world -- goes far beyond any half-hour cartoon spot.
So that's why I dread this movie -- because Hollywood is competing with something that they don't even know as a quantity. They can't possibly live up to the original storyline; they don't even know what it is.
I can't help but fear it. If it sucks it goes well beyond a waste $10.00. It has the possibility of being 2 hours of feeling as though the memories of my childhood are being plundered for sparse ideas and set ablaze for the price of oily buttered popcorn.
I might love it; I hope I do. But I'm going in with the expectation that they're playing on my nostalgia for my money.
IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
5.21.07 @ 3:05a
Like you, I'm scared shitless that this movie will suck- and suck very badly. So I think I'm going to avoid it. Especially since the memories I have of Transformers are awesome, and I don't want to ruin them or traumatize myself. (I still think Soundwave is badass.)
Back in the day (urgh, '86), my sibs and I all watched the Transformers movie. We were 13, 11 (me), and 6 at the time, while my little bro was just a year-and-a-half old. When Optimus Prime died, we tried just staying "emotional" instead of crying. But when my little bro cried openly, it was over. We cracked.
5.21.07 @ 3:21a
I'm a bit older than you, and didn't grow up with the Transformers. I did see a preview of this and what I saw made me want to see the film. Although I'm more looking forward to The fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.
5.21.07 @ 9:25a
The Summer of Love was in 1967, which means it was FORTY years ago, Dude!
My grandgeeks played with transformers and mixed them all up with their complete set of Star Wars characters. I can't wait to hear their evaluation of this film.
Please promise to get back to us after you see it! Pretty please!
5.21.07 @ 9:27a
40? Heh. Whoops. Yeah. I know it's 1967.
I blame my editor. ;)
5.21.07 @ 9:49a
I started kindergarten just after the summer of love, so I was too old for the Transformers. So I have a question.
What keeps dirt and grit out of all those crevices? Those Transformer things would freeze up just standing downwind of the Sandman.
5.21.07 @ 10:33a
See? Once you start bringing real life into these things it starts getting really dodgy.
Trailer available, if anybody is interested.
5.21.07 @ 10:47a
I never played with Transformers, but I knew of them. I always thought the idea was kind of lame until someone fully explained the concept, and then I thought, "Wow. That's sure a lot more fun that Barbie."
Hasn't Harry Potter taught anyone anything? If you develop a NEW concept, you'll have a full-on rush of new audience AND new merchandising options to continually surprise and delight. This playing-off-childhood-memories thing can only go so far.
Unless I'm just not their audience. I mean, I had a Holly Hobby bedspread when I was 8, but I don't want to see the cartoon, doll, or have my very own Holly Hobby smock ever. Ever.
5.21.07 @ 12:23p
Oh my god...the memories... Transformers and G.I. Joe were my main toy influences growing up. There was nothing better than a Saturday morning of Transformers and Joe on TV, followed by a day long session of playing Transformers vs. GI Joe.
I still have all those toys too. Mom won't let me take them home because they're supposedly all three brothers' toys. But my brothers didn't love them. Not like I did. And still do.
The DinoBots always won, simply because I loved Grimlock. Anyone else here get sent to the principal's office for stomping around during recess yelling "ME GRIMLOCK!" I didn't think so. Pass me the Geek of the Day award.
But you're right about the New Transformers film. It's probably going to lack the heart of the old show. I'm not ashamed to join the list of those who cried when Optimus Prime died. But how much cooler was it when they brought him back? I still remember the chills I got when that first preview aired.
"Heroes never die. I, Optimus Prime, can never be conquered."
Maybe "Bayformers" will suck. Maybe it won't. But at least Optimus Prime's VOICE will be the same. Not having Peter Cullen do it would have been a tragedy. Too bad Frank Welker wasn't extended the same courtesy. Don't get me wrong, Hugo Weaving is cool, but Frank Welker IS Megatron. Too bad Chris "Starscream" Latta is dead, but they probably wouldn't have let him do the voice anyway.
But I'll go see it. And maybe, I'll stomp up to the ticket counter and say "ME GRIMLOCK!" just for old time's sake.
Wow... that was long. Sorry.
5.21.07 @ 12:32p
It should be noted that Michael Bay, who directed this, was 21 when the cartoon Transformers movie came out.
I can almost guarantee that he wasn't a fan at the time.
I wonder what this movie would look like if they gave it to a 30-year-old.
5.21.07 @ 1:13p
If you gave this movie to a 30-year-old, you'd probably have a revamped animated version that wouldn't suck! (Michael Bay. *shudder*.)
5.21.07 @ 2:10p
Right now the trailer reminds of Independence Day, and by that I mean, really broad, really cheesy, really stupid in an attempt to reach everyone. We all know, nearly every time you court the largest possible audience (i.e. ALL SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS) you end up satisfying hardly anyone.
5.21.07 @ 2:55p
What's wrong Mike? Are you saying that a movie depicting F-18 Hornets (that shoot mere bullets and were flown by pilots with little more than crop-dusting experience) taking on and beating advanced alien fighters (that shoot lasers) is stupid?
Would you say more stupid or less stupid than:
A. A group of oil drillers being sent to blow up a killer asteroid headed for Earth?
B. Ben Affleck being involved in the Battle of Britain, Pearl Harbor AND the Doolitle Raid?
5.21.07 @ 2:59p
DUDE! Thank you for writing this.
The second I knew Bumblebee wasn't going to be a VW bug was the second I decided not to pay to watch this movie. I'm sure the plot is not the best, and to make one of the catchphrases, "Must be Japanese..." doesn't help. But again, it's a Bay movie and he's good at what he does, many childhood memories destroyed notwithstanding.
It's such a crime to not only do that and make poor Bumblebee a Camaro but to make Megatron look like a huge tribal tattoo is blasphemy.
Granted, I was born the year the toys were released, but The Transformers are the reason why I love robots AND cars.
Oh, and since Peter Cullen was mentioned I must mention the sound they make when transforming is in the movie, too.
5.21.07 @ 3:07p
BUMBLEBEE's a @#$%^&*() CAMARO?!
I'm already traumatized.
5.21.07 @ 3:08p
Dave, I don't think the Transformers premise is stupid, it's an action movie, they are all stupid, Bay's often more stupid than other directors'. Some action movies and blockbusters can be smart, in their way. Like the original Die Hard or the Bourne movies. Bay likes big dumb action and his movies offer little more. But I concede, stupid was a bad word. How about really broad, really cheesy, really BAD?
5.21.07 @ 3:21p
Yeah, Mike. I agree - it looks exactly like Independence Day.
It looks like "America saves the world from impending doom brought on by invaders from another planet using nothing but meager technology, plucky wit, and a few good guy robots."
I really, REALLY hope that the conclusion of this movie involves neither a hacker or a Mac.
I wish I felt like the movie was going to be about the robots. I don't, though. I think it's going to be about the humans and the robots are going to be essentially action scene devices.
We talk about how we're glad Peter Cullen is voicing Optimus Prime, but did you notice that in the trailer the robots don't actually speak? Just EXPLOSIONS! EXPLOSIONS! EXPLOSIONS! SHAKY CAMERA! DUMB CATCHPHRASE! EXPLOSIONS! Not a good sign, as I see it.
I bet if they made this movie without the Transformers brand I'd be a lot more eager to go watch it.
5.21.07 @ 3:32p
When you're a Transformer, you've got to be careful when you transform.
5.21.07 @ 5:00p
Oh I think we're both in agreement as far as summer blockbusters. That was just my pitiful attempt to illustrate it. And I think "stupid" is a good word. Independence Day COULD have been great. It was simply "War of the Worlds" redone. How do you mess that up? Wait. Never mind.
I'll admit, I'll occassionally watch ID4 when it's on... but that's when I'm in the mood for stupid. Which, to my great shame, is quite often.
Daniel and Alex B - In fairness to Bay, I read he wanted to use a Volkswagen New Beetle, but VW wouldn't license ANY of their products for use in a "violent" film. I see General Motors has no such qualms, so long as their vehicles are the "good" guys.
5.21.07 @ 7:23p
So I guess Ford doesn't care? I know a Mustang is a Decepticon.
5.22.07 @ 10:36a
I think for Ford it was a "We don't care if you make the robot a serial killing child stealing, drug dealer. Just, for the LOVE OF GOD, show our produts. PLEASE?!" kind of thing.
Optimus Prime is a Peterbuilt. I wonder who would win in head on collision, Prime or Mac from Cars?
6.1.07 @ 1:24a
Check it out. I saw the Movie action figures. Dudes, what the Heck is with this "ALL-SPARK"?. I swear I read that on the back of the box. It said something along the lines of :'in pursuit of the ALL-SPARK, Why not just put ' in pursuit of the BOSCH SPARK PLUG?'. What the heck man. What is THAT?. Thats lame. If my memory does not decieve me-no pun intended, wasnt it the "MATRIX"?. WHATS THIS ALL SPARK?. Man, that is sadly lame.
At any rate, I'll see it because my love for these toons, goes far beyond what any idiot director, and such can do to this. NOTHING can destroy MY memeories. I'll see, and I'll judge it.
7.18.07 @ 11:34a
So - just want to bump this because I saw the movie.. and at first glance, I enjoyed it. And perhaps I'll leave it at that. It doesn't stand up to any kind of analysis or plot examination.
It is fluff in the purest form. Sad, in a way. It could have been so good if Bay had actually approached it seriously. Unfortunately, I don't think he's capable of doing that.
7.18.07 @ 11:44a
I have to say I enjoyed it. Explosions! Driving! Random girls with random accents! More driving!
7.18.07 @ 11:45a
Yeah. We were clearly looking for different things.
7.18.07 @ 12:39p
Was the "comedy" insulting?
7.18.07 @ 12:43p
7.18.07 @ 3:27p
It could have been so good if Bay had actually approached it seriously.
It's a movie about robots that turn into trucks and guns and stuff. Come on.
7.18.07 @ 3:30p
I recognize that.
But if you're going to take it far enough to try to make it real and not a cartoon, you should go far enough to not make it... ridiculous.
I mean.. yes.. it's ridiculous to begin with. But when it was ridiculous it was a cartoon series based on a toy line.
If you're going to try to pull it into reality, why only do it with half an ass?
The adult characters in the movie were embarrassing to watch.
7.18.07 @ 3:30p
Although the masturbation scene was comic genius.
7.18.07 @ 4:24p
Aren't they all?
I have yet to see this, but most people I've encountered have said it's very entertaining and completely pointless.
7.19.07 @ 9:35a
Yep. That about sums it up.
But it's a shame. It could have been very good. Instead, most of the major plot of the first half of the movie gets wiped out by the introduction of a new character halfway through and then the rest of it is pointless action. And as good an actor as John Tuturro is, his character is embarrassing to watch.
One of my main beefs, though, is that the robots are so complex with so many moving parts and so many little wiggly bits that in action scenes, unless one of them is brightly colored (like Optimus Prime) it's impossible to tell them apart.
7.19.07 @ 9:40a
I hate the current trend in action movies in which all the action scenes are just blurs of movement. You just have to wait til the end of the fights to see who won.
How was that LaBeouf kid?
7.19.07 @ 2:21p
I think they do that so they don't have to worry about putting in any real content.
Shia TheBeef was better than I thought he'd be. He doesn't have much of a role to work with, but he does well with it.
12.1.07 @ 1:29a
I just saw this movie, and maybe it was an advantage not to have been into the Transformers toys. It left me free to simply enjoy the movie, and I did just that.
I've only watched one other movie (or rather series of movies) where I actually felt emotion for non-life forms. The autobots trying to hide from Shia's parents were hysterical.
I really, really hated that obnoxious sector 7 dude, though. I just wanted to reach out and smack him.