By Neil Schneider
The first Transformers movie was a major hit, and rightfully so. It managed to take Hasbro toys, mould a cheesy story around them that never took itself too seriously, and backed it up with unparalleled digital effects and choreography that just made the movie work. Maybe the magic came from the patent-pending Cybertron All-Spark, or the mix of fun and tension attached to the film – I don’t know, it just worked!
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen followed up with supped up effects and countless more Autobots and Decepticons to fight amongst themselves in the sandbox we call Earth. Unfortunately, it was a terrible story with annoying characters and dialogue. The movie’s tension was all but gone by the time the heroes made room for the next franchise release. The movie made money for sure, but it wasn’t nearly as memorable as the first.
This time around, Michael Bay has upped the ante. Before shooting Transformers 3, he was very anti-3D and went so far as to call it a gimmick (correction: “maybe a gimmick”). Opinions aside, an artistic concern was that Michael Bay’s fast cutting style wouldn’t translate well to the 3D space. So, not only is Transformers 3 a measure of Bay’s ability to recover the series on a high note, it’s also a proof of concept of whether or not 3D can be applied to quick-cut-editing styles like Bay’s.
The movie has a promising beginning: telling the story America’s first moon landing and how it had nothing to do with a space race, and was instead about exploring a ship that crashed there years earlier. I won’t ruin it for you, but they did an amazing job setting this up, and it was very craftily put together.
Fast-forward to the present day, and Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), our human hero from the first two movies and true friend of the Autobots (the good bots), is living a life of mixed blessings. After saving the world a few times, he can’t really tell people what he did. Shortly after the fanfare of receiving a medal from the President of the United States, he somehow scored the intimate company of Carly Spencer (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), a supermodel/receptionist/I’m not sure what she does for a living character.
Witwicky has seemingly outlived his usefulness and is having trouble finding a job. Faced with an impromptu visit from his disappointed parents (Kevin Dunn, Julie White) and advances on his romantic turf by his girlfriend’s McDreamy boss (Patrick Dempsey), poor Sam is as insecure as ever. Thank goodness those nasty Decepticons and boy scout Autobots are there to give Witwicky the career purpose he is looking for!
Without spoiling too much, it turns out the ship that crash landed on the moon may hold Earth’s future in the balance, and many bots will sacrifice their lug nuts for the good and potential slavery of the human race. Eugh! I’ll stop it here.
As with its predecessors, the special effects were awesome. Some of the new Decepticon characters are a scary bunch, and they did some creative things with the environments themselves. For example, in one scene, a skyscraper is getting cut in two, and the characters are trying to escape from the top half to the bottom. Of course, the fights scenes are as stellar as ever, and they spared no expense on exploding gears, nuts, and goo.
Transformers 3 was a mix of native stereoscopic 3D camera capturing and 2D/3D conversion (as a 3D tool), and most was done very well. At a minimum, Transformers 3 demonstrates that fast cutting sequences are indeed possible and practical in stereoscopic 3D. More than that, it was a comfortable experience and helped exemplify great use of stereoscopic 3D with live action and digital characters. That said, I think they still could have taken it much further.
Unfortunately, while Transformers: Dark of the Moon had the scrapings of a really good story, this 3D movie was shot with a 2D script. The biggest problem I had with the film was Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. What a waste of visual space. Her dialogue was campy, her character seemed to come out of nowhere, and I’m sorry – every time she spoke, I cringed inside. I just didn’t believe she could exist in real life – and I didn’t really want her to. If Michael Bay wanted to fire Megan Fox, he should have killed off her character and not replace her with such pointless fluff. Not that Megan Fox was all that important in the first place.
I think the real treasures in the Transformers series were Rachel Taylor and Anthony Anderson, the actors who played the “hacker” characters from the first movie. She was authentically smart and sexy (and scripted that way) and he was downright funny. Instead, Transformers: Dark of the Moon and the first sequel maintained and created cartoonish characters that use up valuable movie time and throw a wrench in the machinery.
I know this sounds a bit crazy, but it got distracting after awhile to see “Lenovo” and “Cisco” flashing across the screen every so often. How is it that every notebook in Chicago is made by Lenovo?!? After awhile, it seemed more like an advertising commercial than a movie. If you spent close to $16 for a single movie ticket, you’d be ticked about that too!
Fortunately, what Transformers 3 did well, it did very well. Leonard Nimoy of Star Trek fame plays Sentinel Prime, a somewhat…conflicted…Autobot. Nimoy has done his share of voice acting over the years, and he was a pleasant addition to the movie. Ken Jeong of The Hangover series played Jerry Wang, Witwicky’s eccentric bathroom stall-crushing co-worker (you will get it when you see it). Last but not least, John Malkovich chewed up what few scenes he had as Witwicky’s narcissistic boss.
Given Dark of the Moon’s record breaking box office take (approaching $400 million worldwide since June 28th), and an estimated 60% of revenues coming from 3D theatres, it appears most are content with a script-flawed movie that is nearly 100% special effects driven. In fact, Rotten Tomatoes demonstrates a trend where leading critics score the film at 38%, but 90% of audiences ended up liking the movie!
Fellow MTBS members appear to agree as most enjoyed the robot fight scenes and special effects. I did too, but I enjoyed them much more in the first film because I cared about the characters a lot more than I do now.
So this is my recommendation: if you are going to see this movie, go all in and watch it in 3D. If you are in it for the special effects, this is the best way to experience the film. If two and a half hours of exploding robots for exploding robots’ sake doesn’t appeal to you, skip the movie, and wait for it to appear on 3D Blu-Ray (so only the robots explode, and not your wallet).
As it stands, does Transformers: Dark of the Moon offer more than meets the eye? I say no.
MTBS Score 6.5/10