Thoughts about "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen"
- In my analysis of the recently released film "Star Trek", I identified the directors' hatred of the Federation as being the essential flaw of the Trek franchise. In the Transformers franchise, the essential flaw is that director Michael Bey apparently believes that the transformers robots are too weird and alien for his audience to accept. This belief completely dominates both of the Transformers movies.
The original Transformers animated cartoon was more than happy to accept the transformers as essentially human-like in thought and feelings, and so nearly all of the dramatic action involved only the transformers. The Transformers films are not willing to do this, and so the job of making the story intelligible to the audience falls upon the extensive human-centric plot lines. This comes in two flavors. The Witwicky family along with government agent Seymour Simmons drive most of the action with a series of comedic pratfalls, funny one-liners, and teenaged Sam Witwicky's romantic interludes with his hot girlfriend Mikaela. The other flavor is a sense of valorous military competence that is the job of Major William Lennox, his fighting team, and various reinforcements that they can call upon.
The net effect is that the transformers themselves are almost entirely superfluous in a movie that is ostensibly devoted to them. Some of them idle away the entire movie in car form until called upon to lob a few missiles in the final act. The film doesn't even need transformers to kill other transformers (with one exception). The American military is more than willing and able to throw enough metal at this things to blow them apart.
- The next major drawback of the Transformers films is the ridiculously bad visual design of the transformer robots. Roger Ebert describes this nicely:
The action scenes can perhaps best be understood as abstract art. The Autobots® and Decepticons®, which are assembled out of auto parts, make no functional or aesthetic sense. They have evolved into forms too complex to be comprehended. When two or more of the Bots are in battle, it is nearly impossible to distinguish one from the other. You can't comprehend most of what they're doing, except for an occasional fist flying, a built-in missile firing, or the always dependable belching of flames. Occasionally one gets a hole blown through it large enough to drive a truck through, pardon the expression.Again, the original transformers cartoon did this a lot better, since the television format forced the cartoon to visually simplify the robots as much as possible. "Revenge of the Fallen" director Michael Bey seems aware of this problem, but his remedies are to do things like painting some of the transformers in bright primary colors or to give other transformers easily identifiable ethnic accents. In other words, Bey seems to be completely impotent to alter the design of the most important visual components of his own film.
- Another strange aspect of this film is that the transformers seem to behave like biological organisms despite the fact that they are also technological constructs. The transformers of "Revenge of the Fallen" have this annoying habit of using what must be radiator fluid or brake fluid to simulate human emotions like tears or spitting. There is even a scene where it is revealed that baby Decepticons are "grown" in womb-like pods full of amniotic fluid!
The transformers of these films seem to be a technological version of the alien from John Carpenter's "The Thing". In that film, the alien was a shapeshifting creature that could take over other organisms and turn them into shapeshifting aliens. When under duress, John Carpenter's aliens would tend to explode into a miasmic blob of random biological organs rather than respect the bodily integrity of their impersonated form. The transformers seem to work exactly the same way by impersonating innocent non-self aware vehicles to fit into human society and exploding into a humanoid-shaped assemblages of car parts loaded with guns and missile launchers when in danger.