• Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)


    Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (Teaser Poster)Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

    Starring Shia LeBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, John Turturro, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, Ramon Rodriguez, Isabel Lucas, Hugo Weaving, Frank Welker and Eeyore

    Directed by Michael Bay

    SPOILER ALERT: These innocent-looking words may transform into evil, plot-revealing spoilers without further warning.

    Michael Bay is often the object of much scorn and derision for directing films that favor style over substance, assaulting the audience with flashy special effects and booming soundtracks while seeming to eschew such things as character development and  coherent storytelling. In spite of this, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen made thirty-seven bazillion dollars 1Net. over the course of its opening weekend.

    Did I say “in spite of this”? I meant “because of this”.

    The reason Michael Bay’s second Transformers movie made a metric ton of money despite reviews that are almost universally negative is simple: Michael Bay understands that the modern movie theater is tailor-made for big, explodey, in-your-face films featuring frenetic action and jaw-dropping special effects that push the audience right to the edge of sensory overload and keep it there for nearly two solid hours. Bay’s brand of filmmaking has all the elements that compel me (and millions of people like me) to step up to the ticket counter and plunk down eight or nine (or ten) of their hard-earned American dollars in exchange for a hundred and twenty or so minutes of larger-than-life, mind-numbing eye candy.

    Mock me if you will. Call me a philistine. I’ll gladly cop to that charge. Why? Because when the theater shakes to the rafters each time Optimus Prime’s massive metal fist smashes into a Decepticon’s face it completely drowns out the sound of cell phones ringing. When a flaming meteor pummels a giant aircraft carrier, I can’t hear the people behind me—you know the ones; the couple who insist on maintaining a running narrative throughout the entire film—yeah, I can’t hear a word they’re saying, nor can I hear the baby crying off to my right. As an added bonus, those giant transforming robots beating the bolts out of each other in a fight sequence so fast-paced my eyes and brain can barely keep up renders me all but unable to even notice the jackass in the next row updating his Facebook status from his iPhone. It’s sheer bliss.

    Compelling characters? Subtle, nuanced performances? Thought-provoking narrative? Please! That stuff has no place on a forty-foot-wide screen rendered in so much digital brilliance that I can count the sympathetic protagonist’s eyelashes as the camera zooms in for a close-up during his heart-wrenching, Oscar-worthy monologue. When I want to watch a film from a visionary director that provides some insight into the human condition—the sort of intellectually-stimulating high-brow cinema-as-art drivel I’ll be talking to my well-read friends about over chardonnay and canapés—I’ll buy the DVD and watch it at home. Where it’s quiet. Where no one is kicking the back of my chair. Where the only jackass with a cell phone is me.

    Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a triumph of cinema-as-spectacle. That said, it is also an awful, awful movie. All that stuff about sacrificing 2Or just plain ignoring. a decent story in the drive to push action to the forefront; it’s all true. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a film that, like most everything Michael Bay has ever touched, makes me want to give him a high-five and then drive my knee into his tender, private bits.

    The part of me that can switch off my critical brain and just enjoy the awesome sight of 40-foot-tall robots transforming into vehicles and then back into robots, all the while beating the ever-lovin’ hell out of each other doesn’t begrudge Bay one nickel of the admission price. The other part of me—the part that still geeks out over those transforming robots but cringes when one of those robots displays very obvious testicles or when the formerly-badass leader of the Decepticons is reduced to a groveling lickspittle at the feet of The Fallen or when the movie turns into Decoys 3: Alien Robot Seduction—that part howls for Michael Bay’s head on a pike.

    Revenge of the Fallen obeys some bizarre, twisted balance that I will call Bay’s First Law, which can be simply stated as follows: For every moment of awesome, there must exist an equal and opposite moment of awful. 3Bay’s Second Law: An object, particularly a vehicle, at rest will disgorge its passengers in motion—slow-motion.

    Awesome Awful
    Transforming robots. Come on, that’s right up there on the list of The Coolest Things Ever. Non-transforming robots. I’m looking at you, Ravage and The Fallen. Seriously, a robot that looks like a giant chrome kitty? Who the hell is that going to fool?
    Robots in disguise. This might be a little redundant, but it bears repeating: robots that can transform into cars and planes and tanks and motorcycles are made of awesome! 4But I’m still annoyed that Optimus Prime has a mouth. Robots in disguise…as humans. No! No, no, no! A thousand times: no! Once you give Transformers the ability to assume non-mechanical disguises you ruin them forever! You need look only as far as the Dinobots to see ample evidence of this.
    Devastator. What’s cooler than a car transforming into a giant robot? How about six or seven contruction vehicles combining to transform into a robot so big it can’t even stand upright? Devastator. What’s not cool about a robot made of seven construction vehicles? How about a pair of testicles made of wrecking balls, dangling between said robot’s legs despite the fact that none of the vehicles comprising the robot had a wrecking ball?
    Jetfire. The SR-71 Blackbird may be the coolest plane in the history of aviation; the only way to make it cooler: transform it into a giant robot… …but not if that robot is my grandpa! He has a beard and a cane, for cryin’ out loud! Oh, and here’s something you probably didn’t see coming: he can teleport. Dude, if you can teleport, why do you need wheels or wings?
    More Transformers. Revenge of the Fallen has a bunch of new Transformers, both Autobots and Decepticons. More giant transforming robots = more giant transforming robot fights. And that is cool. Yeah, but…two of those new ‘bots (Skids and Mudflap) are best described as racist caricatures, while Arcee, the only female Transfomer, 5Don’t try to think about why a Transformer ought to be female; your head may explode. is killed after only one line of dialog. Definitely not cool.

    Then there are the humans, who exist solely to allow the budget some breathing room and to remind the audience that the Autobots have to watch where they step. Bay still drools over Mikaela (Megan Fox) with his camera, 6Megan Fox’s lipstick remains unsmudged whether she’s dry-humping a motorcycle or after two days of hauling her shapely backside across the deserts of Egypt, pursued by murderous … Continue reading while Sam (Shia LeBeouf) remains the hapless, confused hero and his parents (Kevin Dunn and Julie White) provide much-unneeded comic relief.

    Whether they be searching for the elusive Matrix or stumbling (literally) through a painfully-long drug joke on an unnamed college campus, anytime the humans occupy the screen without the titular transforming robots present they drain a little more of the awesome out of the movie. Thankfully, there’s enough left that I’m waiting for my next opportunity to sit in a multiplex auditorium and have my senses overloaded by all of Michael Bay’s transforming sound and fury; even if, at the end, it signifies nothing more than meets the eye.

    1 Net.
    2 Or just plain ignoring.
    3 Bay’s Second Law: An object, particularly a vehicle, at rest will disgorge its passengers in motion—slow-motion.
    4 But I’m still annoyed that Optimus Prime has a mouth.
    5 Don’t try to think about why a Transformer ought to be female; your head may explode.
    6 Megan Fox’s lipstick remains unsmudged whether she’s dry-humping a motorcycle or after two days of hauling her shapely backside across the deserts of Egypt, pursued by murderous Decepticons. Cover the Autobots in that same lip gloss and they’d be pretty much invincible.
  • Friday Feast for 27 July 2007


    It’s been a while since I participated in Friday’s Feast, so here we go…

    Describe a toy you remember from your childhood.
    Optimus PrimeI was in Toys R’ Us a couple of days ago with my young apprentice and couldn’t help but linger at the new Transformers toys. I was disappointed to find only one Optimus Prime toy that actually transformed into a semi. This particular Prime was celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Transformers: The Movie, and would spout various lines from the movie. The Prime I had as a boy was much smaller and had no voice chip, but included both tractor and trailer. In robot mode, Prime’s hands attached to his headlights (which became the ends of his arms when he transformed); in vehicle mode I stowed them in his passenger compartment. Theoretically. The tiny blue fists were constantly getting lost—camouflaged perfectly against the large, dark area rug that covered much of the living room floor—and found again later, almost invariably by a bare foot whose carpeted footfalls were rudely interrupted by a nigh-indestructible hunk of plastic. It wasn’t until I discovered the joys of Dungeons & Dragons that four-sided dice replaced Optimus Prime’s fists as the most unpleasant toy to tread upon with bare feet.

    On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being highest) how observant are you?

    I’m nowhere near as observant as I’d like to be; I guess I’m at about a 4 or 5 on the scale normally—I completely failed to notice a vase of roses on the dining room table a couple of weeks ago, even after being in and around the dining room for about an hour—but depending on the situation I can peak around a 7 or 8. I’m definitely more observant when I’m making an effort to notice things. At work, I often take a 20 on my Spot and Listen checks when I’m working on something tricky.

    Where would you rather be at this very moment?

    Where ever I could go to comfortably finish listening to Jim Dale read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows without interruption.

    Main Course
    When was the last time you learned something new?

    About an hour ago I learned that I can get a discount on Apple computers through work.

    Fill in the blank: I have ____________ but I haven’t ____________.

    I have taught my young apprentice many things, but I haven’t completed his training.

  • Movie Review: Transformers


    Transformers (2007)

    Starring Shia LeBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Rachael Taylor, Anthony Anderson, Jon Voight, John Turturro, Michael O’Neill, Kevin Dunn, Peter Cullen, Darius McCrary, Mark Ryan, Jess Harnell, Robert Foxworth, and Elrond Half-Elven.

    Directed by Michael Bay.

    Somewhere in the frozen northern wilderness, deep within a remote facility, a mechanical being has slumbered for countless years. His name is Optimus Prime, he is the leader of the noble Autobots, and he is probably in a box in the attic, almost certainly missing one of the blue fists that were stored in his passenger compartment when he made his awesome transformation from robot to flat-nosed Mack truck.

    Though I dreamed of commanding massive armies of Autobots and their evil enemies, the Decepticons, I owned only two Transformers toys as a boy: Optimus Prime and Skywarp, a black and purple Decepticon who transformed into a fighter jet. Despite their lack of transforming teammates, Skywarp and Optimus Prime engaged in many an afternoon battle, often recruiting LEGO constructs and other toys to their causes.

    Skywarp does not appear in the new Transformers movie, and Optimus Prime is now a long-nosed Peterbilt with kickin’ flame job. Also absent is Prime’s trailer; the classic toy tows a box trailer that transforms into a mobile Combat Deck containing Roller, a small scout vehicle resembling a Mars rover. In the movie, Optimus Prime is never seen towing a trailer of any kind.

    [Note: Freedom from spoilers is the right of all sentient beings. The following contains plot details about Transformers that you might not wish revealed until after you’ve seen the movie.]

    It was inevitable that the Transformers—even the iconic Optimus Prime—undergo another sort of transformation when Michael Bay brought them to the big screen. Unfortunately, diehard fanboys (myself included) are reluctant to look away from the red Tech Spec decoder filter through which we view the mid-1980s, and the slightest change—no matter how practical or necessary—is seen as sacrilege. When it was announced that Michael Bay would be directing Transformers, it was (if I may be allowed to mix my pop culture metaphors) as though a million voices suddenly cried out in anguish.

    In all fairness to Mr. Bay, I think we overreacted a bit. True, Transformers has pretty much all of Bay’s trademark qualities—lots of explosions, plenty of slow motion, 1If you find yourself in a Michael Bay motion picture, you should be resigned to that fact that you will be getting in and/or out of a vehicle in slow motion at some point. As surely as Joanie loves … Continue reading an overwrought love story—but it also has a satisfying number of “hell yeah” moments, excellent armaments, a sweeping sense of grandeur, and giant robots that transform into cars, jets, tanks and helicopters in the blink of an eye at a hundred miles per hour.

    For centuries, the Transformers have been searching the universe for the Allspark, a cube with “the power to create worlds and fill them… with life.” Megatron, leader of the evil Decepticons, is also missing, and nearly forty years ago the Transformers first encountered humans in the far reaches of space, an encounter that ultimately led them to believe that both Megatron and the Allspark are on Earth. 2These events are described in Ghosts of Yesterday, the official prequel novel to the movie, but I don’t particularly recommend reading it.

    One of the biggest fears in the fanboy camp was that Michael Bay would make Transformers more about the human characters than the Transformers themselves. Whether Bay could reasonably be expected to make a movie in which the human point of view takes a backseat to a much, much taller perspective is a debate I happily leave to more diehard fans than myself. There’s no question that a pink, squishy homo sapiens named Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf) is the primary protagonist in Transformers, and while this opens the door to humans grabbing more screen time than the robots, it also allows for two very effective sequences in which first the Decepticons and then the Autobots reveal themselves.

    Intending to search the United States military computer network for evidence that might reveal the location of Megatron and the Allspark, a Decepticon named Blackout disguises himself as a Sikorsky MH-53 Pave Low helicopter and lands at a military installation in Qatar. Transforming into a towering robot, Blackout proceeds to kick almost every camouflaged ass in the vicinity. My only complaint about Blackout’s attack is that—when compared with his fast-moving, diving, dodging, spinning robot brethren—the Decepticon seemed more like a lumbering heavy mech from Battletech than a Transformer; the attack was impressive (I loved Blackout’s radial electromagnetic pulse weapon), but had a very different feel from the remainder of the action in the movie (which is not always a bad thing).

    After the assault in Qatar, an Autobot scout named Bumblebee infiltrates a used car dealership disguised as a rusted yellow Chevrolet Camaro 3At the dealership, Bumblebee parks next to a classic Volkswagen Beetle, which was his vehicle form in the original iteration of the Transformers in 1984. and is purchased by young Sam Witwicky. Sam soon learns that his Camaro has some strange quirks, not the least of which is the fact that it drives itself and transforms into a giant robot.

    Sam, like most humans, fears what he doesn’t understand; fleeing from his demonically-possessed car, the boy stumbles across a police car whose mission (as seen emblazoned on its rear quarter panel) is “to punish and enslave”. Sam soon learns that his Camaro isn’t the only giant robot on the planet when the Saleen-modified Ford Mustang police cruiser transforms into the Decepticon known as Barricade. What follows is a combination car chase and robot battle with rocking guitar riffs accentuating the screeching tires and metal-on-metal body blows. When the soundtrack kicked in, a voice in the back of my head shouted “Hell yeah!” and I couldn’t help but grin as the chase began.

    Another such moment occurs after Mikaela (Megan Fox), Sam’s girlfriend-to-be asks why, if Bumblebee is such a bad ass, he disguises himself as a piece of crap beat up Camaro. Bumblebee responds by pulling over and ejecting both teenagers, leaving them apparently stranded. A moment later, the Autobot returns, and as the camera pans over the sleek, yellow lines of his new form—a prototype 2008/2009 Camaro—Tomoyasu Hotei’s “Battle Without Honor or Humanity” fills the auditorium. 4“Battle Without Honor or Humanity” was used in trailers for Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Volume 1. It is a very recognizable song, filled with cymbal crashes and bold trumpet, and … Continue reading

    Following Sam’s escape from Barricade, the remaining Autobots fall to Earth in their “protocomet” form and, after selecting their various forms—Ironhide (Jess Harnell), a black GMC Topkick ; Jazz (Darius McCrary), a silver Pontiac Solstice; Ratchet (Robert Foxworth), a yellow Hummer H2; and Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen), the aforementioned blue-and-red Peterbilt semi—reveal themselves to Sam.

    The Autobots arrival, perhaps more than any other part of Transformers, induced a thrilling sense of nostalgia and is another of those “hell yeah” moments. Even Michael Bay patting himself on the back in the form of an excited boy remarking that the protocomets falling to Earth was “more awesome than Armageddon” did little to diminish the ineffable sensation of pure, unadulterated fanboy bliss I felt when Optimus Prime adopted the form of a passing semi-truck and then moments later transformed into the familiar, towering robot for the first time.

    Then Optimus Prime spoke and my inner fanboy’s head exploded. Prime, as it turns out, is something of a Fanboy’s Paradox: we cheered at the news that Peter Cullen—who provided Prime’s voice in the first animated television series as well as the 1985 animated movie—would be reprising his role as the Autobot leader. Cullen’s voice is every bit as intrinsic to the character of Optimus Prime as is the distinctive design of the robot’s head and face… and that’s where the Paradox begins. The Optimus Prime of old has no mouth; a very distinct faceplate covers the lower half of his face. Bay’s Prime still has the faceplate, but it slides back to reveal—horror of horrors—robotic lips on robotic jaws!

    I can only speculate as to the justification for this travesty, but I believe the intent was to make the character seem more human and give him the ability to emote. Whatever the reason, it just didn’t work for me. Did Darth Vader need a mouth to emote? No! It was all accomplished through body language (thank you, David Prowse) and excellent voice acting (thank you, James Earl Jones). Of all the changes that were made to the characters, this is the one that my inner fanboy refuses to accept; he cannot imagine any practical scenario that justifies slapping a mouth on Optimus Prime.

    On the flip side of the mouth issue, we have Megatron, who was voiced not by Frank Welker, but by Hugo Weaving. This would have been an excellent casting choice but for one tiny little detail: Weaving’s voice has been electronically filtered to the point of being unrecognizable. It’s a shame, too, because Megatron would have benefited greatly if Weaving’s personality had been able to pierce through the heavy effects; a little of Agent Smith’s delightful scorn for humanity from The Matrix would have gone a long way to bring character to the Decepticon leader.

    Moving right along…

    Back in the desert of Qatar, it seems that several soldiers escaped Blackout’s assault on the military base. As they make their way across the scorching landscape in search of a phone, they are pursued by Scorponok, a scorpion-like Decepticon who burrows beneath the sand and attacks just as the soldiers reach a small village. Using a borrowed cellular phone, Sgt. Lennox (Josh Duhamel) contacts the Pentagon and calls for air support as the remainder of the soldiers attempt to fend off Scorponok’s onslaught.

    The Decepticon shrugs off the aerial assault until he finds himself at the receiving end of a barrage from a Lockheed AC-130H gunship, which circles high above and fires high-caliber incendiary rounds. The camera shot of the gunship banking over the village with its side-mounted guns blazing tickled my reptilian brain even as the thunderous report of the Howitzers rattled my ribcage. Bay may not be subtle, but he does big and loud very well.

    Eventually, a Decepticon named Frenzy 5Frenzy is a small Decepticon who disguises himself as a CD boombox. A quick shot in one of the movie trailers shows the boombox beginning its transformation, which gave me a glimmer of false hope … Continue reading locates Megatron and the Allspark and sends a message to his sneaky comrades—Starscream (Charlie Adler), a Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor; Devastator, an M1 Abrams tank and Bonecrusher (Jimmie Wood), a Buffalo mine protected vehicle—all of whom have been quietly biding their time for most of the movie.

    Frenzy successfully sabotages the cryogenic system that keeps Megatron (designated “Ice Man” by Sector 7, a top secret government agency) 6When Ice Man is revealed, the movie contradicts events that occur in Ghosts of Yesterday. In the novel, Sector 7 arranges a convoy to transport Ice Man from the Arctic Circle to Arizona in 1969, a … Continue reading safely in stasis. With the assistance of Bumblebee, Sam removes the Allspark from beneath the Hoover Dam (where it has lain since President Herbert Hoover ordered the dam be built around it in 1931) and flees the awakening Decepticon leader.

    Autobots and Decepticons clash in the fictional Mission City, where Megatron and Optimus Prime go head-to-head in a winner-take-all battle for the championship title. There are plenty of explosions and the property damage is impressive; twenty-foot-tall robots make big dents when they run into things like skyscrapers.

    The sequence that stood out for me in the Mission City battle was not between Optimus Prime and Megatron, but between Starscream and the Air Force. When Sgt. Lennox and Tech Sergeant Epps (Tyrese Gibson) call in aerial reinforcements, Starscream slips into the ranks of the incoming Air Force Raptors and wreaks incredible havoc, transforming from jet to robot and back again in mid-air while taking out one F-22 after another. By the time the Air Force pilots realize that one of the Raptors flying with them isn’t supposed to be there, it’s too late; Starscream (Megatron’s second-in-command and always a bit of a screwup in the animated television series) has decimated the fighters. Unfortunately, the sequence is over far too quickly, and Starscream—displaying his characteristic cowardice—disappears during the final battle.

    For all its explosions, collateral damage, and aerial acrobatics, the battle in Mission City also highlights two of my major problems with Transformers: the robot design and the hyper-kinetic camera work. Both serve to make the action very difficult to follow.

    When in their robot modes, most of the transformers look very… busy. There are a lot of sharp angles formed by hundreds of pointy pieces of metal, all of which tend to make one robot very much resemble another. Optimus Prime, Bumblebee and (to a lesser extent) Ratchet stand out due to their distinctive coloring, but the remainder of the robots are silver and black and don’t have features that would help in distinguishing one from another.

    The problem is exacerbated by camera shots that are shaky and a preponderance of quick jump cuts from one point in the action to another. The end result is certainly a battle between two or more giant robots, but it quickly becomes difficult to tell which robot is which, what exactly they are doing, and who (if anybody) is winning.

    When Bay does allow his camera to linger, it is almost always on the exceptionally curvy Megan Fox. During Sam’s clumsy attempts to gain Mikaela’s affections, the camera doesn’t so much pan over Fox’s body as drool over it. As I’ve noted before, Michael Bay isn’t much for subtlety, and nowhere is that more obvious than in the final sequence of the movie, in which Sam and Mikaela are making out on Bumblebee’s hood while the other Autobots linger nearby like fuel-injected voyeurs, courtesy of Ford and General Motors. The scene is established by a blatant shot of Fox’s ample upper chassis that pans to reveal LeBeouf and the Camaro on which they both reclined. Subtle it wasn’t, but I was struck by a sudden desire to visit my local Chevrolet dealer.

    Despite its flaws, I enjoyed Transformers. Granted, at times it seemed like Michael Bay couldn’t decide whether he was making a romantic teen comedy or the sequel to Black Hawk Down, but all things considered I was quite pleased with the final product (certainly enough to pick up the inevitable two-disc Platinum Deluxe Collector’s Edition DVD set 7Transforms into matching drink coasters! when it is released later this year). I don’t believe any irreparable damage has been done to my precious and fondest childhood memories, and I think the next time I visit my parents I may rescue Optimus Prime from his dusty cardboard containment cell so I can share some of those memories with my young apprentice in the near future. 8Okay, and I want to see if I can remember how to change him from semi-truck to robot and back.

    1 If you find yourself in a Michael Bay motion picture, you should be resigned to that fact that you will be getting in and/or out of a vehicle in slow motion at some point. As surely as Joanie loves Chachi, Michael Bay loves slow-motion vehicle ingress and egress.
    2 These events are described in Ghosts of Yesterday, the official prequel novel to the movie, but I don’t particularly recommend reading it.
    3 At the dealership, Bumblebee parks next to a classic Volkswagen Beetle, which was his vehicle form in the original iteration of the Transformers in 1984.
    4 “Battle Without Honor or Humanity” was used in trailers for Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Volume 1. It is a very recognizable song, filled with cymbal crashes and bold trumpet, and especially apropos when Bumblebee’s yellow finish with bold black racing stripes is compared with the movie poster and DVD cover for Tarantino’s movie, both of which feature a field of yellow bisected by a thick black vertical line.
    5 Frenzy is a small Decepticon who disguises himself as a CD boombox. A quick shot in one of the movie trailers shows the boombox beginning its transformation, which gave me a glimmer of false hope that Soundwave, one of my favorite Decepticons, would make an appearance. Frenzy is a poor substitute, usually coming off as a vulgar interpretation of Johnny Five from Short Circuit.
    6 When Ice Man is revealed, the movie contradicts events that occur in Ghosts of Yesterday. In the novel, Sector 7 arranges a convoy to transport Ice Man from the Arctic Circle to Arizona in 1969, a convoy that is ambushed by Russians; in the film, a Sector Seven operative tells Secretary of State Keller (Jon Voight) that Ice Man was moved to the Arizona facility in 1935, shortly after Captain Archibald Witwicky (William Morgan Sheppard) accidentally stumbled across the frozen robot on an Arctic expedition.
    7 Transforms into matching drink coasters!
    8 Okay, and I want to see if I can remember how to change him from semi-truck to robot and back.
  • Bookstuff: Transformers: Ghosts of Yesterday


    Transformers: Ghosts of YesterdayTransformers: Ghosts of Yesterday by Alan Dean Foster is “[t]he story you must read—before Transformers rockets to the big screen!” Until I saw the book on the shelves of my local independent bookseller, I hadn’t been aware that there were prerequisites to seeing Michael Bay’s big screen treatment of my favorite childhood transforming-robot toys, 1I’m still waiting for the announcement that John McTiernan (Die Hard) will be directing the GoBots movie. Any day now… but I certainly didn’t want to show up at the theater bright-eyed with cash in hand only to be turned away at the box office due to my own ill-preparedness.

    I think Paramount and Dreamworks dropped the ball on this; in all the Transformers pre-release hype—trailers, GM and Burger King tie-in commercials—there’s not a single indication that the audience needs to read a book before they can watch the movie. I can only imagine the scene that will play out over and over, all across the country (if not the world) tomorrow evening:

    “One for Transformers, please.”

    “Have you read Ghosts of Yesterday?”


    Ghosts of Yesterday; it’s the official prequel to the blockbuster film. Have you read it?”

    “No, I—”

    “Sorry, no one sees the movie until they read the book. Next, please!”

    “Wait a minute! I want to see Transformers!”

    “Sorry, kid. Rules is rules. You gotta read the book. Step aside, please. Don’t make me call security.”

    The real tragedy is that Ghosts of Yesterday isn’t an especially good book. The story revolves around a top-secret space mission that coincides with the 1969 launch of Apollo 11, the not-at-all-secret space mission that first put a man on the moon. 2You know, if you believe in that sort of thing. While the world watches Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin make their historic voyage to a Hollywood soundstage Earth’s only satellite, a secret government agency known as Sector Seven covertly launches Ghost One, an experimental spaceship derived from alien technology. The source of the technology is “The Ice Man”, a giant mechanoid being, one of two alien artifacts held in secret by the United States government.

    During its maiden voyage, Ghost One encounters an unexpected phenomenon on the far side of the sun: a wormhole that transports the ship and its crew to an unknown area of outer space, where they encounter two warring factions of sentient mechanical beings who have been exploring the vast reaches of the universe in search of a lucrative merchandising deal.

    Meanwhile, back on Earth, the powers-that-be decide to move The Ice Man from the frozen Arctic wastes to balmy Arizona, where there’s absolutely no chance he’ll thaw and wreak havoc on humanity; I mean, just put that thought right out of your head, it’s all perfectly safe. Unfortunately, it’s 1969, and no one’s thought to end the Cold War just yet. The Russians, perhaps a little annoyed that we’re about to beat them to a soundstage in Hollywood the moon, arrange for a little accident en route to Arizona.

    It’s not a terrible story, but it felt empty to me. Maybe Transformers—perfectly suited to toys and comic books and animated television series—just don’t translate well to the realm of pure prose. Foster makes almost no effort to describe the giant robots, other than to say that they’re giant robots. There seems to be an unspoken assumption that if you’re reading the book you know what a Transformer looks like so there’s no point in wasting words describing them. And while the story certainly sets the stage for the movie, it really doesn’t accomplish much of anything else. The human characters, for the most part, are just sketches with little opportunity for any true development; of the Transformers themselves, only the Decepticon Starscream and the Autobots Optimus Prime and Bumblebee get much in the way of “face time”, but they’re in constant battle with one another and the only part of their characters that really comes across is the fact that they’d like to destroy their enemies.

    I’m glad I read the book, if only because now I’ll be able to stride proudly up to the box office and say, “One for Transformers, please, my good ticketmonger! I have completed the required reading and am fully prepared to enjoy an evening of motion picture entertainment!”

    1 I’m still waiting for the announcement that John McTiernan (Die Hard) will be directing the GoBots movie. Any day now…
    2 You know, if you believe in that sort of thing.
  • 5 O'clock Shadow: 21 June 2007It’s been a while since I posted a 5 O’clock Shadow picture. This one is from a week ago and it was probably closer to 7 o’clock. Over my right shoulder you can see Optimus Prime rolling southbound on I-271. Over my left shoulder, a minivan cruises north, toward I-90.

    Minivans are neither Autobots nor Decepticons; they — along with station wagons and most mid-size sedans — belong to a separate faction of Transformers known as the Domesticons. Rather than searching for the AllSpark and/or trying to utterly destroy their age-old enemies, the Domesticons concern themselves with making sure the kids get to harp practice, hauling fifteen bags of red mulch home from the WalMart Garden Center, and changing their oil every 3,000 miles.

    When the MVoD transforms, it is into a giant robot named IdiotLight. For a variety of reasons, I have forbidden him to assume robot form. Ever.

  • Moviestuff: Adaptations.


    I knew I was forgetting a few things in yesterday’s Geekstuff post, so here are some tidbits about upcoming movie adaptations of comic books, graphic novels and cartoons.

    Transformers: Ghosts of Yesterday, by Alan Dean Foster, is the “official prequel” to the upcoming Transformers live-action movie. I’ve got mixed expectations for the movie and I generally avoid movie tie-in books like the plague (ditto for comic book tie-in novelsA recent exception was Devin Grayson’s Inheritance, a novel set in the DC Universe. Unlike the handful of other comic book tie-in novels I’ve read, this one managed to make the jump from panels to prose pretty well.); on the other hand, I’ve enjoyed some of Foster’s earlier novels (particularly his Spellsinger series) and I do loves me some transforming robots. When a bookstore gift card was dropped in my lap earlier this week, I decided to give the novel a look.

    Zack Snyder, who directed the brilliant, beautiful and brutal movie adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel, 300, has apparently been tapped to helm“[T]apped to helm” is officially part of the Hollywood vernacular, it seems. another movie adaptation: Alan Moore’s Watchmen.The likelihood of Alan Moore’s name appearing anywhere on screen is slim to none, as Moore wants nothing to do with his works being adapted to film. Thanks to tricksy comic book companies like DC taking ownership of the works their artists produce, several of Moore’s graphic novels — most notably V for Vendetta, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and From Hell — have been turned into movies without his consent. I thought 300 was a fantastic movie, but is about a stylistically removed from Watchmen as you can get; it will be interesting to see what Snyder does with a graphic novel whose fans are sharply divided as to whether it can (or even should) ever be properly adapted to film. It’s been a while since I read Watchmen, but I think Bruce Davison (Lathe of Heaven, X-Men) is well-suited to the role of Dan Dreiberg, AKA Nite Owl.

    I had a copy of the new, extended cut of Fantastic Four in my hands twice a couple of days ago, but ultimately left it in the store. It seems that “Ultimate Collector’s Limited Edition” DVD — which came in a round tin that won’t sit nicely with the other DVDs on my shelf — isn’t quite as ultimateCome on, Twentieth Century Fox, get with the program. Once you’ve released an “ultimate” version, there should be no more versions. The word has a meaning; look it up! as one might expect, as the new release contains twenty minutes of previously unreleased footage and a second disc, undoubtedly jam-packed with new special features. Tempted though I was by this new version, I realized that those twenty minutes are far more likely to contain scenes of Johnny and Ben bickering than an extended battle sequence with Dr. Doom. I’m sure I’ll pick it up eventually, as special DVD features are like a kind of crack to me.

    I’d say something about the Wachowski Brothers’ live-action adaptation of Speed Racer, but I’ve never actually watched the cartoon. If you’re the enterprising sort, you may be able to find a photo of Speed’s car, the Mach 5, on the Internets, perhaps even here somewhere.

  • Non Sequitur: Biblioptimus Prime


    Moving day looms like an ancient monolith at work. We scurry around in its shadow, fully aware that the hour of its descent draws nigh. When the simile topples, we will scatter or be crushed beneath its awesome mass.

    I will be moving approximately eleven feet west, which means I need to pack everything at my desk (except my laptops, which currently number five) into boxes and vacate the building by 4:00 Friday afternoon. When I return on Monday, the journey from MVoD to desk will be approximately eleven feet shorter.

    Today, I decided it was time to get rid of some technical tomes that I haven’t touched in a couple of years. I brought Newton’s Telecom Dictionary, The XML Bible, Teach Yourself HTML 4 in 24 Hours and a slew of Microsoft “core” references for Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000 and IIS to Half-Price Books, where the going rate for out of date computer books is approximately thirty cents per pound. This came to six whole dollars, the voucher for which burned like the innards of a freshly-microwaved Hot Pocket in my hand.

    Browsing through the store, I saw a few possibilities: Sudden Strike II was only $4.98, but I decided that I don’t really need another computer game right now; Dungeons & Dragons: The Movie could be had for a paltry $6.98, but that would necessitate dragging out the debit card for a mere dollar and change; 1For some reason, I can’t bring myself to pay with a debit card if the total is less than about three bucks. I’ve gotten better; I used to balk at anything less than $10, and would wander … Continue reading; Black & White 2 was available for $7.98, but that’s another sequel to a computer game I didn’t play enough in the first place.

    I was ready to turn the voucher in for cash (which I would undoubtedly have blown on iced tea and Frappuccino®) when Miscellaneous G™ came to the rescue. Like Prince Adam lifting his sword high in preparation to invoke the power of Greyskull, Miscellaneous G™ held aloft a copy of Transformers: The Movie on DVD. The price tag: $9.98, which amounted to an acceptable $4.73 on the debit card.

    The original value of the books I traded in probably topped three hundred dollars but I was glad to get six bucks for them, and Half-Price Books will be lucky to sell them for twice that; just another testament to how quickly computers and nearly everything related to them become obsolete.

    Transformers, on the other hand, will never be obsolete to me. In the immortal words of Peter Cullen, 2Peter Cullen provided the voice of Optimus Prime in the Transformers cartoon as well as Transformers: The Movie. Fans of the original television series were delighted to learn that Cullen would be … Continue reading Autobots, transform and roll out!

    1 For some reason, I can’t bring myself to pay with a debit card if the total is less than about three bucks. I’ve gotten better; I used to balk at anything less than $10, and would wander around a store until I found something to bring the total over that threshold.
    2 Peter Cullen provided the voice of Optimus Prime in the Transformers cartoon as well as Transformers: The Movie. Fans of the original television series were delighted to learn that Cullen would be reprising his role in the upcoming live-action movie directed by Michael Bay. To date, Cullen’s inclusion is the only thing about the upcoming film that hasn’t led to indignation, outrage and rampant bitching from said fans.