Futuristic Movie Month: "Transformers" Review

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An alien civil war involving the Autobots vs. the evil Decepticons has spilled onto Earth, and young Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is caught in the fray by his newly purchased souped-up Camaro, which has a mind and an identity of its own. Co-starring in this 2007 live-action blockbuster are actors and actresses Megan Fox, Tyrese Gibson, Josh Duhamel, Anthony Anderson, Rachael Taylor, John Turturro & Jon Voight. Michael Bay directs, while Steven Spielberg serves as executive producer.

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Rating: PG-13
Length: 144 minutes
Release Date: July 3, 2007
Directed by: Michael Bay
Genre: Action / Adventure / Sci-Fi

"Transformers" is a live-action film based on the popular Hasbro toys. The film follows a group of aliens, the Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, who come to Earth after their world, Cybertron, is destroyed. The aliens are trying to find a teenage boy, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf). The aliens believe that Sam's great-grandfather's glasses hold the key to finding the Allspark, a piece of Cybertron that could potentially rebuild their planet. The Allspark crash-landed on Earth more than a century ago with Megatron, leader of the Decepticons. The Decepticons fought against the Autobots, ultimately leading to the destruction of Cybertron. As Megatron awakes and the U.S. military becomes aware of alien life on Earth, Sam and his friends get sucked into the battle to control the Allspark.

The film opens on Sam in high school delivering a speech about his great-grandfather, the explorer who located Megatron's crashed alien ship in a frozen wasteland. During his speech, amid heckling from students and his teacher, Sam mentions that he has some of his great-grandfather's possessions for sale online to help earn money for a car. The Decepticons eventually locate Sam using his online seller profile. Sam obviously has a crush on sexy classmate Mikaela (Megan Fox), who doesn't seem to notice him. His well-meaning father takes him to a used car lot to search for his first car. Rather than choosing the older model sedan his father picks out, Sam chooses an older yellow Camaro with black racing stripes and an attitude. It does not take long for the car to help Sam catch Mikaela's eye. Sam also quickly realizes that the car is a little more than just an old Camaro as it turns into the giant Autobot, Bumblebee.

Because the film opens by exploring the lives of the humans in the film rather than on the excellently created computer-generated alien robots, it gives an authentic feel to the film. Instead of focusing first on the adventure aspect of the movie, it starts off as a teenage comedy that just happens to have a quirky car, more along the lines of Herbie from "The Love Bug" rather than an advanced alien life form. Audiences are given the opportunity to develop some context for the storyline of the film and relate to the human characters before the CGI takes over to develop the alien component of the film.

The audience first sees a Transformer, or at least part of one, when a Decepticon that swims through desert sand like a sea serpent destroys a military base. After the altercation, the survivors, led by Sgt. Lennox (Josh Duhamel) and Sgt. Epps (Tyrese Gibson), are taken to a secret military base under a dam, where a secret ops agent (John Turturro) keeps Megatron frozen along with the Allspark, which turns any electronic device in its range into a Transformer. As the war between the Decepticons and Autobots gains momentum, the CGI begins to take screen time away from the human actors. The film has the definite feel of a typical Michael Bay film, incorporating a human storyline with large-scale fight scenes and explosions. The difference here is that most of the fighting actually occurs between giant alien robots instead of people. The computer-generated effects are big, flashy and ultimately a magnificent spectacle for the audience. While the clashes between Transformers becomes slightly repetitive as the film goes on, they are flawlessly done. The action sequences are so successfully intermingled with the live action that it effectively sweeps the audience members out of their reality and into a world where the fight for the aliens' right to survival is being fought on the humans' home planet.

"Transformers" is a wildly entertaining action film. Bay has successfully taken the alien Transformers from a simple toy to big-screen personalities with human qualities. The detail given to the Transformers is spectacular. If audience members look closely enough, it's possible to see and even identify the junkyard parts used to build the robots. LaBeouf gives a fantastic performance as a socially awkward teenager who starts to come into his own as his involvement in the alien war cannot be ignored by either side. Turturro is wonderful comedic relief as the bumbling special ops leader who badly wants to control the military involvement in an alien war. Fox provides the necessary romantic element to the film while also helping to draw out different aspects of Sam's personality. Overall, the film is acceptable for younger audiences. It also is engaging enough to keep even the most discerning adult viewers happily entertained throughout the film and wanting more when it reaches its dramatic conclusion.