R0BTRAIN's Bad Ass Cinema: One Shall Stand, One Shall Fall

So with the July 4th holiday this past week, and other goings on, I just lost time to do a proper column. I started to do one on the The Last Boy Scout which will probably get finished next week, but alas my thoughts and energies were so spread out that I just didn’t have the time I wanted to put into that column. I did find time though, to go see Transformers, though to be honest I’m really torn about the movie. I’d would have also liked to devote an entire column to it as well, so I could get all my thoughts together, but I think I really would need to take it in a couple more times to really get an impression of the movie.

While the nostalgic factor of watching the Autobots and Decepticons rumble on screen is admittedly pretty awesome, the movie does have a TON of issues that would normally make me absolutely hate the film. I mean this is Michael Bay we’re talking about here. When I mentioned my list of films that I absolutely hate, Pearl Harbor has earned a permanent spot in that group. Whether talking about Armageddon or Bad Boys II, the director has shown that no one can out do him when it comes to ridiculous Hollywood excess.

Then again, when it comes to spectacle, Bay is rather proficient, and to be able to bring these giant robots to the screen properly the movie would need a director with loads of flair, which is something that Bay is not lacking in. It’s just too bad that his films have to be filled with ludicrous characters, a tendency to completely ignore logic, and non stop unfunny jokes. Could Optimus Prime even overcome those types of odds? The answer is; kind of.

So what I’d like to present this week is a showdown between Michael Bay’s shiny new Hollywood Transformers and the previous cinematic adventure of our Cybertronian heroes and villains; Transformers: The Movie. Using different criteria, we’ll let the movies speak for themselves as to which Transformers movie is more than meets the eye. One shall stand, one shall fall.


Transformers Starring Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, John Voight, Peter Cullen, and Hugo Weaving. Directed by Michael Bay

Vs.


Transformers: The Movie Starring Peter Cullen, Orson Welles, Leonard Nimoy, Scatman Crothers, Eric Idle, Frank Welker, Robert Stack, and Chris Latta. Directed by Nelson Shin.

Story

Transformers – Finding out that his newly bought, but beat up Camaro is actually a giant robot in disguise, and a member of the heroic Autobots from the planet Cybertron, young boy Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) gets to live out every boy’s dream, as he finds out that he holds the key to save Earth from the evil Decepticons. Along with his new companion, Michaela (Megan Fox), Sam helps the Autobots and the United Stats military wage war against the forces of evil.

Transformers: The Movie – War rages between the Autobots and Decepticons as an evil new force called Unicron threatens to consume the entire galaxy. With a small force of Autobots on the run after a costly battle with their enemies, the heroes must regroup and discover how the Matrix of Leadership, their most prized possession, will lead them to victory and ultimate peace. Will they be in time to stop Unicron and the Decepticons before they become extinct?

Considering that one of these two movies is basically an 80 minute toy commercial and the other is a gigantic blockbuster, this shouldn’t be a contest. Unfortunately, the Bay film levels the playing field with a script by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman that seems to go on and on with uninteresting subplots and characters that we have no interest in what so ever, such as any member of the U.S. Military or government, as well as needless minutes spent with computer analysts and other side characters. If the film had just stuck with the story of the Autobots, or even that of LaBeouf’s Witwicky then this would be a slam dunk.


On the other hand, the live action film still wins in this regard due to the incoherence of Transformers: The Movie. Even looking through the rose colored glasses of nostalgia, the film loses most of its momentum after its opening battle, and then becomes an episodic series of action scenes with Autobots having to battle everything robotic sharks to Unicron himself. I’m not saying that Transformers: The Movie isn’t a fun movie to watch for those of us that have grown up with it, but to call it good is another thing entirely.

Winner: Bay’s Transformers

Acting

Well when you look at the cast list for each movie, you kind of have to give the nod to Transformers: The Movie. Orson Welles, Leonard Nimoy, Scatman Crothers, Eric Idle, and Robert Stack populate one side of this argument, and Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Anthony Anderson, and Rachael Taylor are on the other. To make matters worse, a usually solid actor like John Voight seems to be on autopilot, and John Turturro acts like he is completely insane in his time on screen.


Now I will say that Shia LaBeouf nearly turns the tide for Transformers as his charismatic performance is one of the main reasons that the movie works at all. Too bad that he isn’t even given enough screen time to really give this movie the victory. Transformers: The Movie actually has some pretty fun voice work, though perhaps dated in places. Still, the work by Peter Cullen, Leonard Nimoy and others is uniformly good for an 80’s Animated Feature, putting Transformers: The Movie one for the win column.

Winner: Transformers: The Movie

Look

This one’s pretty much a landslide for Bay’s flick. As much as I love the animated film, it looks kind of antiquated, even for an 80’s feature. Bay’s film is perhaps the best looking special effects movie I’ve ever seen. Flawless CGI and Bay’s standard epic cinematography go hand in hand as the movie just looks awesome from beginning to end. There’s no end to the delight of watching the Transformers do their thing. Though it takes an hour for the movie to really get going, once it does the movie is an unqualified homerun visually.

Winner: Bay’s Transformers

Action


This one shouldn’t be as close as it is. The big problem with how Bay’s action is filmed is that the Transformers themselves are so intricate in their design and construction that its difficult at times to tell where one robot begins and the next ends. On the other hand, the film is filled with car chases and times when the action burns red hot, such as when Optimus and Megatron fly though a building are downright jaw dropping. There’s just nothing that Transformers: The Movie can do to compete.

Winner: Bay’s Transformers

Soundtrack

Now normally, there’s nothing worse than a Michael Bay soundtrack. Huge rock songs every five minutes try desperately to manipulate you into feeling a certain way about the movie in question, whether what’s onscreen corresponds to it at all. Transformers: The Movie doesn’t do itself any favors though. While You’ve Got the Touch is a song a know by heart because of this picture, the rest of the soundtrack is pretty forgettable and relentless throughout the movie. Bay’s film wins due to the clever scene in which The Cars’ Drive plays as Megan Fox walks down the road.

Winner: Bay’s Transformers

Nostalgia

This is a big one, because even though Transformers is a new film, so much of it works on the power of nostalgia. The scene in which the Autobots are finally introduced is an incredible sequence utilizing the eight year old kid inside of us just dying to see these characters finally coming to life in a way we’ve never seen before. The casting of Peter Cullen is a stroke of genius, as there’s just no way to disassociate the Optimus Prime onscreen from the one that we’ve always known.


Nostalgia also works huge in favor of Transformers: The Movie though. Twenty years on, the movie still knows how to push the right buttons as far as watching our favorite characters battle it out, and watching some of our childhood heroes fall. There’s just something special about the experience of taking in that point in our childhood every so often. Yeah, its rough around the edges and really doesn’t make a lot of sense, but that’s just part of the fun.

Winner: Transformers: The Movie

Optimus Prime Vs. Megatron

For me personally, this is one of the most important categories. Being a Transformers geek like myself, there simply isn’t a match up that is more important to the mythos than the leader of Autobots and Decepticons duking it out for the fate of humanity. Unfortunately, Bay should have taken more care when it came to this battle. In many ways, the battle is the pulse pounding adrenaline rush it needs to be, especially when the two combatants are flying through buildings and causing all kinds of property damage. On the other hand, so much of the fight seems to happen in the background. Just a few minutes of watching these titans fight each other would have made a world of difference, but instead we just have to take what we can get.


For Transformers: The Movie this isn’t a factor. The movie knows exactly what we wanted to see out of this battle, and even watching it today, its still terribly effective. For the first time in the history of the series, the battle in the movie was indeed life and death. The battle ended with dire consequences that effected the rest of the series from that point. For a better perspective, the line “One shall stand, One shall fall” is perhaps the most important line in either film for me. When Optimus says it in Transformers: The Movie, its in an iconic pose as he’s about to fight for his life with Megatron. In Transformers the line is actually said off screen, while the camera is still on Shia LaBeouf.

Winner: Transformers: The Movie

One Shall Stand, One Shall Fall


So in the slightest of margins, Bays Transformers beats out Transformers: The Movie. Is this a miscarriage of justice? Its hard to say, but to its credit, there’s an amazing feeling knowing that the Autobots and Decepticons are battling it out in theaters right now. Maybe next time, the movie will lay off the bad jokes and still bring the giant robot battling it out for survival.

Picture Credits: tftm.net, cinema.com, impawards.com