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Less Than Meets the Eye

This past July 4th weekend, I had the.... experience... of going to the theater and watching Transformers 3-D. It was a two-and-a-half hour assault on the senses. I realize that's not a unique phrase but there really is no other way to describe this film. It was so bad, in fact, that I had to devote a blog post to the glory of it awfulness. If you wish to turn away now, that's fine. No one would blame you. Continue reading at your own risk.

I've seen bad movies before, dear reader. David Cronenberg's Crash (1996), Howard the Duck (1986), Accepted (2006) all rank as some of the worst cinema I've witnessed. But Transformers 3-D manages to not only join such ranks, but nearly topple Crash from it's #1 perch. Please, allow me to explain.

The story is simple: There are a race of mechanical, intelligent beings from the planet Cybertron. These are the Transformers of legend. They are divided into two factions: Autobots (good), and Decepticons (bad). They fight each other. 'nuff said. They've taken their struggle to Earth, and now humans are caught-up in the melee. In fact, the Transformers manage to blow-up Chicago real good during the third act of the (dare I call it) film. All of this sets the stage for what should win the Worst Movie of 2011 award (and the year's only half-over, that's how confident I am of its brutally bad nature).

Before I get into the mechanics of the film proper, allow me to vent a little on a political level (it's my blog, so I'm allowed). I have no idea what the politics of the writer and director are, but it was noteworthy that the film's lead character, Sam Witwicky, received a special medal from the president, and then went on a job search. During one of his interviews, Sam proudly mentions that he received a medal from the president. The interviewer asks if he is referring to President Obama. Sam confirms that he is. The interviewer looks nonplussed and retorts that most people at the office are Republicans. Har-har. Fast forward to a scene that requires a news channel and a news channel host. The news channel? FOX News. The host? Bill O'Reilly. And don't even get me started on the dialogue. Characters throw the word "freedom" around so much (and so meaninglessly) that it's like watching a George W. Bush press conference.

Political groans aside, the movie itself just doesn't work. There's a fair amount of exposition at the beginning by Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots, followed by scenes consisting of .009 second camera cuts of strange goings-on and hurried meetings during the 1960s, as we learn that the American/Soviet space race was actually due to a Transformer ship landing on the moon. (Republican activist) Buzz Aldrin lends his astronaut credentials to one of the movie's earlier scenes, to make it 'real.' In present day, both the Decepticons and the Autobots want what's on that ship and, when they finally get it, it leads to more trouble than they bargained for.

This could have been a decent movie. The aforementioned plot isn't so outrageous. Yet the film chooses not to focus on story so much as spectacle. There is literally hardly any down-time in Transformers 3-D. I realize that, for some, this is akin to a recommendation, but I don't meant it that way. A good story should have its peaks and valleys, even an action story. Heck, the Bourne films manage to have their quiet moments, where the characters talk a bit, (kind of) fall for one another, tend to their wounds, do a bit of introspection, etc., but not so with Transformers. This movie starts with a bang (or a clang), and doesn't ever stop. Even the sound of the Transformers walking around is loud. So are their voices. Their fights are loud. The crashing of buildings is loud. And we are treated every so often to lame rock songs, used as bridge moments, and they... you guessed it... are loud. Nothing this movie does it quiet. And it never. lets. up.

There is also an undercurrent of war-mongering to this film. The character of Sam Witwicky doesn't seem to really feel alive unless he's fighting alongside the Autobots. His girlfriend attempts to pull him away from such thinking, even mentioning her dead brother from the Iraq War, but nothing really seems to come of this. And when she is inevitably kidnapped, we are shown that there is really something to be said for breaking a few bones for the ones we love. Heck, there's a whole gaggle of characters who show-up simply to kick some Decepticon ass. I mentioned earlier how the word "freedom" is used quite often during the film. It seems to come not long after some extended battle sequence, when one of the characters will mention how precious "freedom" is, and how it's worth fighting for, etc.

I'm not saying that a movie can't be about war, or battles. But it shouldn't try to glorify it to the Nth degree. Fighting is sometimes a necessity, but should not be used as a rallying cry to sell summer box office tickets. Nor do I completely dislike loud action movies. I quite enjoyed last year's Taken, wherein Liam Neeson's daughter gets kidnapped, he drop-kicks the bad guys, and gets her back. But that movie was nimble, barely clocking-in at 90 minutes. Transformers 3-D goes on for two-and-a-half hours, and never drops its guard. When I left the theater, I felt as if someone had been screaming in my face for a prolonged period, telling me I'd better like this, or else!

Don't even get me started on the 3-D aspect. There were parts of the movie where I noticed it, but mostly it just seemed to provide a little extra depth, that's all. I often forgot it was even in 3-D, and that begs the question: What's the point? Oh, yeah, the studio wanted more of my money. Do yourself a favor: keep yours, or spend on it something good, like Midnight In Paris.

UPDATE: For a less bitter take on Transformers 3-D, check out my boy David Thiel's review of it on his blog.


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