My love of Transformers started way back in 2007, maybe 2008 at a friend’s birthday party when I was in preschool. It was getting late, parents were being called to come pick up kids, and the whole thing was starting to wind down. That’s when my friend’s Dad put the new hit film Transformers on their giant flatscreen TV in their basement. From the second that helicopter entered USA air space, I was extremely intrigued. What is it doing there, why isn’t it saying anything, why did the music get all weird? Then it landed. Then it turned into a 60 foot tall giant evil robot. I remember almost every second of the first half of Michael Bay’s original Transformers film. Star Wars has impacted me MUCH more than this film, but I only really remember one moment from watching that film for the first time. I can describe every shot to you and hum every piece of music from that first half of this film. I KNEW I needed to keep this ingrained in my head because there was no way my parents would let me watch this movie at home. Right before Optimus Prime and the other Autobots land on Earth, where the movie truly starts to pick up speed, my mom came to get me, leaving me devastated. But on the way home, we stopped by the grocery store, and my life was once again complete. My mom picked up a copy of the movie at checkout, and when we got back home, we finished the film the very same night, and it was absolutely incredible.
The nostalgia is real for me. The sequels only get worse in terms of writing, waning interest of cast and crew, character design, and after the third film, Dark of the Moon, even visual effects. But I think most people can agree that the first film is pretty good. The scrips is tight, the action feels at least somewhat planned out unlike other entries, the sound design is incredible, the cinematography and framing of shots is fun, and the visual effects… These effects are incredible. the way they blended these giant robots into a physical environment is truly a feat of practical effects and visual ones as well. Watching behind the scenes features, you can see how precise the planning was to make sure these things look like they were interacting with real, tangible objects, and it never draws you out of the film. To put this into perspective, there’s a great shot of a Deception crashing through a bus on a freeway, it splits in half and a giant ball of fire erupts from it, sending both halves spinning. The thing runs through the flames, and keeps moving forward. They got a real bus, gutted it, carefully cut it in half and then loosely reattached it, enough so it wouldn’t fall apart while diving, but enough so it would break on impact. They rigged a ton of small explosives around the cut line and added tanks of gasoline to make the eventual explosion more dramatic. They then added a hidden third pair of drop out wheels where the bus splits apart so the front half could be driven into the divider of the freeway, getting them the shot they wanted. They then added a big shield around the drivers seat for protection, a thick wire to the back end of the bus attached to a mechanism off camera to help it spin away after the explosion, and they shot it. All of that time and money spent on one effect, and it looks absolutely flawless. The shots were then handed to Industrial Light and Magic, George Lucas’ effects company involved with films like Pirates of the Caribbean, Jurassic Park, almost every Marvel movie, and of corse, all Star Wars films and shows to date. These effects are extremely creative and impressive, but I feel we’re effected by overexposure after five sequels. The blending of lighting and textures on screen make it feel so real, and I am interested to see how this film will age over the years. I think the focus on making visual effects blend in with the film instead of stand out from it will help it stand the test of time.
There are things in this first film I take issue with like other fans. Optimus Prime is a bit too violent, (but really only becomes straight up barbaric and insane in the sequels) the Autobots are very stereotypical and have little to do besides Bumblebee (my favorite bot) and Optimus, Ironhide literally suggests murdering Sam’s parents and dog to make things easier for the “good guys” to do their job, Makayla is EXTREMELY overly sexualized, and Sam’s overly done teenage boy syndrome make some sections hard to watch. But I also want to make a rebuttal for some aspects commonly criticized by fans. I hear a lot that people say all the Decepticons look the same, but that only truly becomes a problem in the sequels in my opinion, when the number of bots and cons become larger and therefor have less time to be developed, but with seven Decepticons, this first movie does a pretty great job of staying focused and organized with them. You know Starscream from the original cartoon as a jet and they mention his name twice, there’s that giant helicopter from the military base named Blackout, his sidekick Scorponok with a self explanatory name and design, the black and white cop car Barricade, his sidekick Frenzy the chrome one who’s slightly smaller than a human and very distinctively jittery, the tan army truck Bonecrusher with his weird claw thing, and of course Megatron, who speaks for himself. It’s a lot when its listed out, but they all have a distinctive individual scene of action and a unique color, vehicle, or design that makes them different and memorable. If you go through the film, you will see that every Deception really does have their own scene to make an impression, and in some cases, they have two or three like Frenzy.
Oh and there’s Brawl, he’s a tank who has no memorable scenes and looks like he got flattened in a factory accident.
But I have a far more… Scandalous secret. I like Sam’s parents in this movie. I really do. Do they belong in a movie about giant robots? No, but neither does a LOT of what shows up in this movie. And if it’s already gonna have things that shouldn’t really be in it, they could at least be entertaining. The parents have a few lines I don’t like, they go a bit too far talking about “Sam’s happy time”, and they have about a minute more screen time than I really think was needed, but other than that, I think they’re great. Shia LeBeouf has great play off of his parents, particularly his Dad played by Kevin Dunn when buying his first car. Julie White as his Mom can play fantastically off of Kevin as well, and does alright with Shia. There are a few great moments such as when Sam drives off in his “piece of crap Camaro” in front of his parents while they’re gardening, leaving an absurdly gigantic cloud of grey exhaust smoke behind him. The shot holds for about 10 seconds letting it all sink in and his Mom finally goes, “Wow. You’re so cheap.” from off screen. The Dad looks around in the smoke and says “Its his first car. It’s supposed to be like that.” The delivery of these lines elevate it to the point where I’m able to see my own parents in these moments, and that just makes it all the better.
I personally don’t mind the subplots involving the military and hackers, they have their ups and downs, but I’m never bored while watching them, it always feels like you’re learning some new information or getting an enjoyable scene out of it. The stuff with Frenzy and Scorponok are my favorite bits in the movie, with that desert attack scene and the Air Force One stealth attack scene being extremely enjoyable and memorable to me. The score for this film is fantastic as well. People like it a lot, and so do I, particularly the track Autobots, which acts as a theme for the heroes and the movie as a whole. Listening to it with headphones reveals all the layers in the track that make it add up to an incredible track, and it does it’s job very well on screen. In fact, I would recommend watching the film with a good set of headphones on and a clean laptop screen in the dark. The sound design especially for the transformations is top notch, and with the speakers mere millimeters from your ears, it brings it to a whole new level. The cinematography is also great, using full range of saturation, following the deep orange white light of sunsets, the blank natural white of the desert in day, the blue darkness and white highlights of night, and the stark white concrete in daylight during the final battle. It makes for a great look that hasn’t ever truly been replicated again, which is nice, because this wouldn’t work in any other movie I can think of. The last thing I should touch upon before I finish is the Autobots.
And this is a problem for me, because while I know their name and remember their rolls, they simply are not nearly as memorable, interesting, or fun as the Decepticons in this movie. Bumblebee is my favorite Transformer, and they give a lot of time to get you invested in his personality, and Optimus has enough time onscreen to be intriguing, but I’ve gotta say, the other three either do nothing, are blatant steryotypes (in the case of Jazz he plays exclusively rap and hip hop music and his opening and line is, “yo, what’s crackin, lil bitches?” So yeah… that ages well), and overall are just unlikeable. And that applies to all three of them. Earlier this year when I started collecting the Studio Series figure line, I made a list of figures I wanted to get. I ended up getting all the Decepticons from the first movie (minus Brawl, of course), Bumblebee from the first movie (cause I need a third Bumblebee in my collection), and Optimus from the first movie. Thats it. I don’t like these characters enough to be involved with them, and that’s disappointing to me. The sequels had an opportunity to develop the Autobots more and they didn’t, instead they chose to do more Deception scenes, but those scenes never never reached the level of the first one, unfortunately.
Despite the flaws, this movie is fantastic. I enjoy this movie in every way I think someone can, through the sound, score, character design, cinematography, lighting, practical and visual effects, it’s fantastic. Overall, this movie is one I enjoy, and since I re watched it earlier this year, I’ve been rediscovering how much I love the movie and how well structured it is, having a nice balance of unique and memorable action, talking bits that help to progress the plot, and obviously some dumb stuff that isn’t that great, but goes by somewhat quickly. I love this movie and will most likely continue to. And while everyone says that Bumblebee (2018) will forever be the best Transformers movie, I’m still holding out for a movie as entertaining, thrilling, and well assembled as this one, just with a few less stereotypes, more time developing our hero characters, and a bit stronger of a moral compass for the ones were rooting for.