Monday, July 2, 2007

From the Archive: "Transformers" Film Review

Film Rating: B+

Welcome to The Archive, a comprehensive collection of reviews dating back to 2007, originally written for The Denver Post’s YourHub.Com website and print edition!  In the archive, you’ll find hundreds of movie, DVD, Blu-Ray, and TV reviews, along with other special features.  You can access the complete Archive Collection by clicking here, and read about the archive project by clicking here. 

This review bears special distinction as the first article I wrote for the Golden YourHub I continued to write for over the next four years; it was also the first one put in the Thursday print edition.

Continue reading after the jump to access my original review of “Transformers.”

From the Jonathan R. Lack Review Archives:
Originally published July 2nd, 2007

I was never really in to Transformers when I was younger.  I knew what they were, of course, but the Transformers saw their peak in popularity in the eighties, before I was born.  But even with my very limited knowledge of the Transformers, I couldn’t help but be excited when the first real trailer for this movie came out earlier this year.  Showing only glimpses of the Transformers, the trailer still managed to get me excited about the prospect of a whole movie dedicated to giant robots beating each other up.  I mean, what concept could make a better summer movie?  The very concept of the Transformers is tailor-made for a great summer movie, and to put it simply, the movie delivers.

The plot is fairly complex in the first hour, with many seemingly unconnected plot threads that slowly start to weave together.  Basically, the Transformers come from a world called Cybertron, where a mystical cube called the Allspark gives them power and life.  But the evil Decepticons tried to gain power, and the after a war raging hundreds of years in which the peaceful Autobots tried to stop the Decepticons (my spell-check is going crazy right now), the Allspark was lost to space and landed on a distant planet known as Earth. 

On Earth, a teenage boy named Sam Witwicky buys his first car from a used car lot.  He soon learns the car has a mind of its own, and that the car is actually one of the Autobot Transformers, named Bumblebee.  The rest of the Autobots soon arrive, led by the wise and fearless Optimus Prime.

I really can’t give any more away.  Why?  It’s just too darn complicated, but in a good way.  The movie has a well thought out and intricate plot that harkens back to 80’s Sci-Fi/invasion films.  It takes plenty of good twists and turns, and sets up all of the wicked cool action sequences very well.

I want to say this right away: Transformers contains the best special effects I have EVER seen, no doubt about it.  If you can honestly say you can tell those giant robots are computer-generated, I’d be shocked, to say the least.  They look more than realistic, but still contain the sort of out-of-this-world quality the Transformers are known for.  Your jaw will drop when you watch these guys duke it out or, more amazing still, Transform.  Every microscopic little piece that would realistically go into letting these robots transform, were they real, has been realized in the animation, and it just adds to the realism.  As such, the action scenes simply rock, and will have you on the edge of your seat.  I don’t think the Transformers have ever been in action quite like this.

The organic side of the film is equally impressive; boasting a talented cast of performers, ranging from very famous to almost unknown, the cast grounds the movie in reality more than anything, especially the star, Shia LaBeouf (most famous for Disney Channel’s TV show “Even Stevens”).  LaBeouf plays Sam Witwicky, the main character, and does an excellent job.  The story is partially a coming of age story for Sam, especially in his relationship with his car, which turns out to be one of the Transformers; Sam risks his life a few times to save Bumblebee, his faithful car/giant robot.  LaBeouf plays the role sincerely, and proves himself to have real star-power. 

So the film is technically accomplished, has a more than solid plot and good acting; but something felt missing when I saw it.  At first, I thought it was because the film was slow and just didn’t have enough action, but taking a little time to chew on it, I think the real problem is that it’s not what I was expecting.  I was expecting a very hardcore non-stop action film, but that’s not what it was aiming for.  It was aiming to be a story about, at its core, a boy and his car, the adventures they have together, and how they evolve along the way.  I don’t know if that’s exactly what the film should have been, but it does at least lend the story heart. 

The film’s real problem is that the Transformers themselves are woefully underdeveloped as characters.  Bumblebee, Sam’s car, becomes fairly well-developed, and Optimus Prime is a robot we respect, but other then those two, I doubt any other robot gets more than five lines.  Grounding a movie in reality is one thing, but neglecting the robots in favor of more human scenes in a Transformers movie is just wrong.  Some of these robots are great characters, as hinted when the Autobots first arrive, but only two of them are developed into real characters, and the only Decepticon we get to know is Megatron, and all we really get to know about him is that he hates humans like humans hate ants.  This really is sad that the key characters (besides Sam) are neglected character wise.  Perhaps in a sequel (Paramount has already opted two of them) the Transformers can be developed a lot more, but for know, the lack of development in the robots holds Transformers back from being a true summer classic.

In short, Transformers is a film that, overall, doesn’t disappoint.  Its creative take on the brand and well grounded plot make it a summer film not to miss.  Let’s just hope that Prime, as awesome as he is, doesn’t hog all the robot screen time the next time the Transformers are in town. 

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