Thursday, April 30, 2009

More Than Meets The Eye At The IMAX

For centuries, two races of robotic aliens – the Autobots and the Decepticons – have waged a war, with the fate of the universe at stake. When the battle comes to Earth, all that stands between the evil Decepticons and ultimate power is a clue held by young Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf). An average teenager, Sam is consumed with everyday worries about school, friends, cars and girls. Unaware that he alone is mankind’s last chance for survival, Sam and his friend Mikaela (Megan Fox) find themselves in a tug of war between the Autobots and Decepticons. With the world hanging in the balance, Sam comes to realize the true meaning behind the Witwicky family motto – “No sacrifice, no victory", in Transformers.

Based on the Hasbro toy line that initially captivated kids in the 1980s, director Michael Bay's Transformers finds two warring bands of shape-shifting alien robots renewing their intergalactic conflict on Earth. While the Decepticons, followers of the malevolent Megatron (voiced by Hugo Weaving), strive to take over the planet, the Autobots, led by the valiant Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen), are intent on protecting humanity. When young Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) discovers that his new car is really the Autobot Bumblebee (voiced by Mark Ryan), it sets the stage for a massive giant-robot showdown. A shining example of the Hollywood summer blockbuster at its best, Transformers combines stunning CGI effects and thrilling action sequences with drama, humor, and a touch of romance. Featuring a large cast that includes Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Jon Voight, John Turturro, Anthony Anderson, and Rachael Taylor, the film is anchored by LaBeouf, who always displays an engaging Everyman charm, whether he's running from colossal robots, interacting with his well-meaning parents (hilariously played by Kevin Dunn and Julie White), or pining for his gorgeous classmate (Megan Fox). While some Transformers purists may be dismayed by certain aspects of this bold big-screen adaptation (Bumblebee is a Camaro instead of a Volkswagen), the movie balances its spectacle with an admirable amount of substance, giving it an appeal far beyond pre-teen boys and their nostalgic Autobot-loving elders. Transformers, the second big-screen adaptation of the Hasbro toy line about two sets of vehicle morphing robots, delivers in all the places that spiders, pirates, and surfers couldn't: It's a crowd-pleasing, rock-´em, sock-´em, explosion-laden 143 minutes, with no pretense of being anything more than it is. Every aspect of the film is a wonder to behold, not just the buildings when weapon blasts eat out chunks of their sides or the massive robots wrestling with each other in Ultimate Fighting Championship-type encounters. Either Industrial Light and Magic has progressed leaps and bounds beyond the effects houses that handled "Spider-Man 3" and "Pirates of the Caribbean," or those other outfits are grossly incompetent. From a rational standpoint, there is no way that what is on screen could come from miniatures or stop motion. But from a moviemaking standpoint, how can Spider-Man swinging through the streets of New York look so obviously fake and cartoonish (although I LOVED the Spider-Man movies it did bug me), yet the Autobots and Decepticons so convincingly real? They blend in with their surroundings so completely and interact so flawlessly with the human actors that it's not outside the realm of possibility the production team assembled full-size robots for every sequence in the picture. There are no jerky movements, not so much as a detail out of place. Scorch marks, dents, dings…even the way each individual gear moves when one of the Transformers walks. The effects are bar none the best we've seen outside of "300." Even the actors fulfill their end of the bargain. Of course, they're not asked to do a whole lot besides run, jump, slide, yell, and pull triggers. With Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Anthony Anderson, Jon Voight, John Turturro, and Bernie Mac, a cast which reminds us more of "Armageddon" than "The Rock," takes shape. Without fail, everyone in the film does what they were contracted to do: Duhamel provides the good-looking poster boy; Mac provides a welcome breath of humor early on; Voight is his patented bewildered government official (here the Secretary of Defense); and Turturro is the man we all love to hate.  Now to the plot. The Allspark has been kept in a U.S. landmark for decades, and its power signature has been masked from everyone by reinforced concrete. I'm sorry, but concrete? Are you serious? This thing has the power to destroy entire worlds and concrete keeps all manner of scans from seeing its location? And the final decision to move the cube is just as bewildering. Why, outside of the "blowing stuff up good" rationale, would anybody agree to this plan? Hell, we can bat around all manner of plot holes or head scratchers, but that wouldn't be fun. For the sake of argument, though: Why are people continuing to run from the scene of the final battle twenty minutes after its started? Is the government so desperate as to be recruiting analysts out of high school? And why, for the love of everything rational, does the military consistently discount the one person with any credible information on the Transformers or the Allspark? Not that it really matters: This is an action movie with no agenda. If there is one aspect of the film that doesn't quite live up to what it should be, it's the introduction of Optimus Prime and the final battle with Megatron. When Optimus finally comes on the scene, there should be a bombastic score, something to herald the coming of the hero the fans want to see. There isn't that sense that everything will be okay once he's arrived. Think of how Darth Vader is introduced in "Return of the Jedi," with the Imperial March. Prime is a hero worthy of that level of reverence. Transformers isn't supposed to be anything except loud, action pulp to fill a summer slot and rake in the money. Oh, yeah, and sell toys. It's a family-friendly film, with no real objectionable content. However, there is a large amount of fighting and peril, which might cause a smaller child to have problems. The movie rates a strong 4 on my "Go See" scale because it delivers on its premise and doesn't get bogged down in plot trivialities. It's huge; it's loud; and it's filled with things that crash and blow up in glorious high-definition picture and sound. Transformers is everything you'd expect from a colossal summertime blockbuster. However, looking for logic, sense, reason, even sanity in a story based on a children's toy would be stretching the point. The movie is for the eye and the ear, not the brain. It turned out a lot better than I thought, though, by looking and sounding so very good on the IMAX screen, so I've got to give it credit. Big, dumb, and attractive in this case is good enough. I'm very much looking forward to Revenge Of The Fallen. 

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