They'll always be "robots in disguise," but the identities of the non-human stars in next year's "Transformers" movie are finally coming into view.
Screenwriters Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci hosted a groundbreaking Web chat Friday (August 18), answering the e-mails of concerned fans and making some announcements of their own. Surrounded by posters of the '80s cartoon, laptops sporting the more-than-meets-the-eye logo and dozens of classic action figures, the duo professed their own geek credentials while doling out manna for the masses.
Describing Optimus Prime as having "Shakespearean" qualities, the duo began by listing his four main compatriots in the Autobot army. First up is Bumblebee, who kick-starts the plot when he's purchased by the unknowing Spike Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) then transforms for the first time and befriends the awestruck teen. After the ongoing battle between the alien robots invades Earth, audiences will also meet Jazz, a sports car Kurtzman described as "the loyal friend. He's the guy who believes if you can't do something in style, it's not worth doing at all."
Another Autobot will be Ratchet, who was an ambulance in previous Transformers incarnations but "will have a new form," Kurtzman said. Avoiding such other well-known Autobots as Mirage, Wheeljack and Prowl, the writers then rounded out the good guys with Ironhide, a tough-talking van Orci described as "the first one in. He's the first one to clear the field."
"Ironhide is the muscle," Kurtzman added. "Ironhide is the tough one."
Turning their attention to the evil Decepticons, the writers began by confirming the obvious: Megatron will be leading the charge.
"Megatron is a little bit more realistic," Kurtzman said, contrasting the villain with his arch-enemy, Optimus Prime, while confirming that they will indeed have an intense face-off. "As opposed to pure evil, [Megatron] thinks it's his God-given right as one of the most advanced creatures in the universe to do [to humans] what we sometimes do to animals."
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The malevolent pistol will once again be backed by his right-hand man (and occasional jet airplane) Starscream, and the writers assured fans that their beloved bickering will be present in the Michael Bay blockbuster.
"Yes, the dynamic you know between Megatron and Starscream will be alive and well," Orci said of the commander's tendency to chew out his henchman. "Why would we try and change that?"
The Autobots will be outnumbered throughout the movie, the writers revealed, forcing them to work alongside humans like Witwicky and soldiers Lennox (Josh Duhamel) and Epps (Tyrese).
With that in mind, they listed the rest of the evil Decepticon army. In addition to badass bulldozer Bonecrusher, fans will meet Brawl, "an extremely pissed-off Decepticon," Kurtzman described. "He's sort of the heavy-lifter among them."
Also among their ranks is Barricade, an obscure character introduced in a later generation of the toy line and described by Kurtzman as "the hunter of the group," who changes himself into a police car to take advantage of foolish humans who run to him for help. "In a way," Kurtzman explained, "he's like a camouflaged hunter."
The group will also include Scorponok, a giant scorpion-creature who attacks the soldiers in the Iraqi desert. "When you see him in the movie," Orci said, "You're gonna see that in the environment he's in, he comes in very handy."
At his side will be Frenzy, a cassette tape in the original cartoon series who is expected to be updated to some kind of tiny MP3 player for the movie. "Frenzy is of a smaller form," Kurtzman said of the character, "and is able to infiltrate smaller spaces around you and not be seen."
Rounding out their ranks is Blackout, another fairly obscure choice described by "Mission Impossible III" writer Kurtzman as "the guy who comes in and takes away all of our ability to fight back," using a firepower that wipes out our technology. "[Blackout is] kind of the first-tier attack," Kurtzman added.
Decepticon fan-favorite Shockwave, they added, will not be in the movie.
The writers revealed that several characters, including Ratchet and Bumblebee, will transform into very different objects than they did in the original cartoon and toy series to keep up with the times. "Bumblebee, regardless of what he is wearing, will still be Bumblebee," Orci insisted, revealing that the affable Autobot will now be a sports car rather than a Volkswagen Beetle.
Making frequent reference to sequel possibilities, the writers added that they would like to introduce more characters from the Transformers universe in future installments, maintaining a similar mix of different robots from different generations of the franchise. "We're setting up a lot of threads," Kurtzman revealed of various plot lines. "Hopefully, there will be a sequel."
Orci, who said that he watched the cartoon religiously, promised that many things from the original series will remain in the big-screen film. This includes the wah-wah noise the robots make while they transform, as well as their weaponry. "We want to be true to what we know, which is that they fire pulse blasts," Kurtzman revealed, adding that in order to maintain their disguises, the Transformers will only fire earthly missiles and bullets while in vehicle form.
Wrapping up their "more than meets the eye" pronouncements, Kurtzman and Orci announced a "Snakes on a Plane"-like contest that will soon be launched on the flick's Web site. "Write a line for Optimus Prime," Kurtzman grinned, "and we will put it in the movie." Teasing his writing partner, Orci added that in true Hollywood style, the studio would drastically rewrite the quote before it came out of the Autobot leader's mouth.
Wrapping up their chat, Orci said the film had been written for both Transformers geeks like themselves and complete newbies looking to be awestruck by the sight of photo-real transforming vehicles. "This story is very much designed so that you don't need to know anything about the Transformers before you come into it," he said. "We wanted to make sure that anybody could get into it, but without talking down to the fans."
"Transformers," which will also co-star living, breathing actors Jon Voight, Dane Cook and Bernie Mac, is currently filming with its sights set on a July 4 release.
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