“This is my superhero movie,” Michael Bay says to MTV News moments after screening 25 minutes of nearly complete footage from his summer blockbuster “Transformers.”
Bay, the director of bombastic popcorn cinema like “Armageddon” and “Bad Boys,” sat down with MTV News to discuss the footage that every fanboy or fangirl would die to see (see “Did Your Favorite Make The Cut? ‘Transformers’ Writers Reveal Robot Roster” ). “I’ve done action my whole life. I don’t get excited about action, but I’m excited about this,” Bay says. And judging from the scenes he screened, this isn’t hyperbole.
Four scenes are shown in all, and each ups the ante immediately on what audience members can expect from their summer entertainment from now on. Sporting a temporary score and incomplete effects, one could forgive the film for seeming halfway there, but the DreamWorks exec — who warns that there are still 140 days until release to finalize it all — needn’t worry. The scenes impress.
As the lights dim, the setting is Qatar. Some soldiers are lamenting what they’re missing back home. Josh Duhamel is talking to his sweetheart back home via video phone — yes, the woman says their kid has his laugh. What do you want? It’s Michael Bay — when all hell breaks loose. And for a change, this cliché is apt. An unidentified helicopter has landed, and the soldiers have their guns drawn. The stakes change completely when the helicopter reveals its true form. Or should we say his true form, because this is Blackout. The Decepticon is about to lay waste to everything in his path.
After Blackout’s seamless transformation, the soldiers are suddenly overmatched. Tanks are hurled like washrags as this relentless killing machine makes like Godzilla, terrorizing soldiers and civilians alike. Perhaps you’ve spent many a day dreaming of what a Transformer would look like in our world. Perhaps not. Nothing can prepare you for what this is. Imagine Godzilla crossed with a Velociraptor, mechanize the beast and maybe, just maybe you have an idea of the world of Michael Bay’s “Transformers.”
It’s clear from seeing the next scene — of a teenage underdog, Sam (Shia LaBeouf), pining for the hot girl in a park — that Bay loves his Americana. Say what you will about the director (style over substance, too many cuts, etc.), but he knows how to paint a picture. You could say Bay paints Norman Rockwell paintings — except that his art has Aerosmith ballads and giant robots fighting each other in the foreground.
But back to that scene in the park. Sam picks up his would-be paramour in a beat-up, yellow Camaro. You don’t have to be a fanboy to know from the first instant that this is Bumblebee — and if you’re slow on the uptake, there’s the air freshener hanging in front that says “Bee-otch” — and that a transformation is close at hand.
This summer, no film has as much baggage as “Transformers.” Based on the beloved toys and cartoon that originated 23 years ago, it’s a film that has been speculated and argued about for years. Once Bay — a director with nearly as many critics as fans — signed on, the message boards lit up. Bay says he’s been listening all along. “They all think I wasn’t listening, but I was. I didn’t want to make the boxy characters. I was listening to the fans. I know they hated the Optimus paint job with the stripes,” he says, referring to the slightly altered look of his hero Autobot. “That caused a lot of grief,” he laughs. He seems to still be steeling himself for more criticism.
The screen fades to black and we are in another scene. Now we are in Suburbia, USA, on a street that seems to have been borrowed from a Spielberg film of old (is this the same block that a T-Rex traversed in “The Lost World”?). In fact, “Transformers” is produced by Spielberg. Its advertising campaign, Bay explains, will follow the classic Spielberg law of never showing too much. That means no full views of the characters, no transformations, just glimpses. You’ll have to buy your ticket for the full show.
Meanwhile in Suburbia, we’re in the home of Sam’s parents as our hero tries to sneak back to retrieve something seemingly very important to the Transformers. Oh, and he’s brought along three Autobots who are less than inconspicuous. If your geek goosebumps don’t activate the moment you see Optimus Prime driving down the street commanding, in full robot mode, “Autobots fall back,” you need to check yourself. The voice is familiar for a reason — it belongs to the longtime voice of Optimus, Peter Cullen. Bay says the other voices are all temporary and casting is still in progress.
One more scene (a Decepticon attack in the desert, courtesy of Scorponok), and it’s over. It’s a mind-blowing experience, as Bay promised, to see childhood fantasies brought to life, and he says it’s just the tip of the iceberg. He tells MTV News that there are no less than 14 set pieces in the film. There is a twinkle in his eye as he flashes a grin. “You can do a lot with 30- and 40-foot robots.”
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