Shiny Shelf


Transformers

By Eddie Robson on 22 July 2007

I’d expected to enjoy ‘Transformers’ purely for nostalgia reasons. I am 28 years old, I own over 200 issues of the UK ‘Transformers’ comic, I saw their previous cinematic outing on my eighth birthday. I am, therefore, very much the target market for this movie. Oddly – and, in fact, much to my delight – I found very little to get nostalgic about in this film, but thought it was terrific anyway.

This is not actually the ‘Transformers’ I loved as a kid. When I read the comics I enjoyed the huge cast of characters, the Decepticons’ power struggles, the Autobots’ moral dilemmas. The fact that they could turn into cars and planes and stuff was oddly secondary: I loved that aspect of the toys, but in the comics I was drawn to the characters (thanks largely to the sterling efforts of writer Simon Furman, who actually bothered to give them distinct personalities – something which lesser writers too often regarded as optional).

The problem with making that stuff I liked into a movie is that it’d be an insanely expensive one. Lengthy conversations between the giant robots would just be impossible: the human characters have to carry a lot of the story. Now, somewhere in the development process somebody realised that if this movie was to work, the audience should never be sitting there thinking ‘Yeah, but when do the giant robots turn up?’

Accordingly, almost every scene which doesn’t feature the Transformers themselves has good jokes in it. The comedy is all very well played (Shia LeBeouf, Kevin Dunne and Julie White are superb as the Witwickys, and John Turturro has a lot of fun with his role), and to my surprise this is one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in ages, with more than enough great lines to balance out the odd bit of clunky, functional dialogue. On this evidence, scriptwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (alumni of ‘Hercules’, ‘Xena’ and ‘Alias’) should be on the speed-dial of every producer in Hollywood, and I’m very much looking forward to their ‘Star Trek’ movie now.

The plot balances a lot of threads pretty successfully, but above all is surprising – I didn’t have any idea what it was going to be before I went in. It draws some elements from the early comics, but is frankly much better, telling a bigger story and making far more sense of why the Transformers came to Earth in the first place. Naturally the robots themselves are impressive, but the movie doesn’t lazily fall back on them. The action sequences are well executed, making good use of the variety among the protagonists, and the cheer amount of urban destruction in the closing sequences is very gratifying. If your combatants are giants, whether they’re robots, monsters or dinosaurs, obviously you want to see a city being trashed – it just makes sense.

If there’s a sense of nostalgia about this movie it’s not for Transformers itself, but for the style of moviemaking which Spielberg – who executive produced this – did so much to usher in during the 1980s: blockbusters which tried to please all of the people all of the time and did a remarkably good job of it, films like ‘E.T.’, ‘Back to the Future’ and ‘The Goonies’. This is the opposite of what you might have expected: far from trying to coast by on CGI and a big franchise name, it constantly strives to be lively and entertaining, and all involved emerge from it with a great deal of credit.


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By Eddie Robson




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