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August 18, 2009

Killing in the name of Optimus Prime

Filed under: Transformers, comment — fairplaythings @ 5:21 pm

I’ve already spoken extensive on Transformers: Revenge of the Bay here, here, here and here. I’m so done with that movie. The only redeeming thing about it is that the urge to buy toys based on the movie is very limited. Even the usually adorable Robot Heroes are of little interest to me. Aside from some G1 repaints, this represents the first line that will not be extensively represented on the shelf (and what will be represented will definitely be non-screen formers).

However, I was checking out seibertron.com today, and drooling over Jim ’s always-awesome repaints, when I stumbled upon his rant against the critics. Now this is not to pick on Mr. Saotome, who is simply echoing a lot of the backlash in the fan community to the near-universal derision to the film by critics, but it seems every time that damn film comes up among fans of said film and my opinions are made known, I hit variations of the following points:

(1) “Oh you’re just a G1 purist”;
(2) “You are suppose to suspend disbelief / put your brain on the shelf and enjoy the ride;” or
(3) “You are old and you just don’t get it.”

On this last point, allow me to elaborate the sentiment. To quote Mr. Saotome: “With each thumbs down and one-star rating they vengefully toss forth, these popular movie critics threaten the market and future of the genre we know and love. They have no business reviewing movies they do not understand and lack the intelligence and open mindedness to accept such films into the fray. This frame of mind is dangerous and impedes any sort of progress for the future of such films. True enough the critics of yesterday live to enjoy the classics, movies they claim have beautiful insight in to humanity and where a Patsy Cline score can be heard playing in the background. And that’s all well and good for that is their schoolyard playground where they can rule as king of the sandbox. But they fail terribly when they try to grasp the spectacular, or try and understand the love someone holds in their heart just to see their favourite giant robots walk across the screen for the first time. The movie critics will scream and yell, casting down upon the directors and producers of this abomination to Hollywood’s credit.”

Allow me then to rebut all three of these arguments.

G1 Purist

While it is true that my entry into the fandom comes by way of Generation One, no one can argue I am a purist. Allow me to demonstrate my credentials:

1. I am an enthusiastic collector of non-transforming Action Masters.
2. Not only do I like Generation Two, but, against my better judgment, I actually wanted to see General Optimus and Sergeant Hound released.
3. I embraced Beast Wars long before it was known to have G1 reference points and consider it one of the greatest story accomplishments aimed at a “kid’s” market.
4. I enjoyed and enjoy Beast Machines and, contrary to many fans, consider it to be sadly underrated.
5. While I find the cartoons for Robots in Disguise / Car Robots (2000) and the Armada-Energon-Cybertron trilogy (2002-2006) hard to deal with, I do enjoy the latter’s comic book run through Dreamwave.
6. I think Transformers: Animated is the best possible reimagination of a series I could imagine, and was greatly saddened by its conclusion.

It goes without saying that I have a collection of Transformers that easily enters into four digits and spans all generations prior to the movie. Interestingly, of all those lines, it is probably Generation One itself where there are the biggest gaps. So much for a purist.

But can I add more to this resume? Of course I can. Because I ACTUALLY ENJOYED THE FIRST MOVIE.

Yes, one can say that out loud and not be struck down.

Was Transformers a cinemagraphic epic? No, but it had a great first act and an enjoyable third act, both of which allow me to sit through the fart jokes and attempts at humour in the second act. It had enough touchpoints of my childhood, done in a way that I felt respected that memory, that I felt like watching the movie eight times in the theatre.

All this to say I can deal with variations and new thinking on childhood memories.

When I am asked to elaborate on my problems with the movie, however, I don’t focus on all my issues. The nonsensical plot. The plot chasms. The inherent sexism. The idiot robot twins. The inability to feel for the robots. The inability to distinguish one robot from another. I focus on the big ones for me. They used the sequel to turn Optimus Prime into a remorseless killer and Megatron into a toadie.

Optimus Prime is a hero. He is not an executioner. Like Superman, he would find a way to prevail without taking the easy way out through murder. Watching this Optimus Prime was worse than watching him die. He was already dead to me.

And Megatron? A second banana? Not Megatron. Never Megatron.

Brain on Shelf

I can tolerate plot holes and I can enjoy popcorn, but movie enjoyment does not mean I have to accept a film that insults my intelligence. If you look at films like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, Batman and Ironman, Superman and Star Trek, you can see how popular stories can be told on the big screen without offending their fans. Some films may be better than other but there is an effort to remain true to the essence of the characters. Take Watchman. Regardless of one’s thoughts on the movie, here is a film that respects where it came from and tries to ensure it can live up to its inspiration. I might have issues with this scene or that plot point, but I respect that. Because in a way, it is showing respect to me, as someone who went to see the film.

A good film means that I can immerse myself in the experience as oppose to checking my watch, and contemplate whether I should try and get my money back.

We Are the Future

It’s interesting to me to see how many people have embraced this film. I cannot honestly begin to tell if it is because there is safety in numbers or that they just don’t see many movies. Because the critics that are so invisorated by the fans of this film are willing to take unpopulist positions and have seen and studied enough films to have valid opinions. There is nothing wrong with Roger Ebert’s writings on the film, but to say he’s missing the context of the movie is misreading what makes a good or a great film. A popular film is different than a great film. And a great film does not rely solely on the lowest common denominators of big tits, fast cars and mondo explosions to be great.

Michael Bay didn’t destroy my childhood. It’s still safely in a box, in my house and in my heart. He just embarassed me and ruined what could have been.

6 Comments »

  1. I agree with most of your points. Mostly I just hate that all of the transformers are so completely forgettable. I really hate to push G1 into this and I havn’t seen most of the episodes (that I remember) but it always surprises me to learn that some character who SEEMS critical and intricate only really showed up in maybe 1 or 2 episodes.

    Meanwhile, every time Jolt appeared on screen I thought he was Ironhide and didn’t even realize otherwise until someone pointed it out to me after the fact.

    The other issue I have with these movies is that I believe at once point both the first and second film were BETTER but for whatever reason Bay changed it to make things “More explosiony”. I’ve heard a few commentary about changes that were made for no real reason (like Blackout/Soundwave in the first film). It’s my belief that before these arbitrary changes things were more coherent.

    However, I’ve seen this movie 3 times (not all necessarily in theaters (allegedly)). It actually didn’t seem AS bad the second two times.

    Comment by Josh Miller — August 18, 2009 @ 5:55 pm

  2. I found that I couldn’t tell where Jazz ended and Sideswipe began. Except for the killing part.

    I’d love to read those commentaries on the out-of-the-blue changes.

    And it certainly helps to enjoy the film knowing that you are not paying for it. :)

    Comment by fairplaythings — August 18, 2009 @ 6:25 pm

  3. A thought-provoking critique. Perhaps the best negative reviews from a Transformers fandom perspective. There have been plenty from the film perspective, but not so many from the angle you came at it from.

    Comment by Jim Sorenson — August 18, 2009 @ 8:44 pm

  4. Blushes…

    Comment by fairplaythings — August 19, 2009 @ 11:12 pm

  5. [...] It’s an odd way to start a review of a movie based on a beloved touchstone of one’s childhood, but it should come as no surprise to anyone who talks to me about my feelings on the first two live action films. Readers of fairplaythings.com are well familiar with my initial reactions to Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and multitude of issues with the film. My reaction was clearly blasphemous in the robot collecting community, which lead to a separate lament on how I could call myself a fan and still want a movie worth my time and attention. [...]

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