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Thread: TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON (Michael Bay 2011)

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    TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON (Michael Bay 2011)

    Michael Bay: TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON (2011)
    Review by Chris Knipp


    SLIDING DOWN A SKYSCRAPER IN TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON

    'Transformers' is a fanboy's wet dream

    For fanboys who like feature films to be expanded video games, Transformers may be the best franchise of all. It grew out of a toy line by the same name. The forerunner was Nelson Shin's 1986 Japanese anime-style film, Transformers: The Movie. The first human-plus-mechanical critters iteration came in 2007, followed by one in 2009, badly reviewed, but a commercial success. Now in 2011 comes the third in the Michael Bay-Spielberg-produced-Shia LaBoeuf series. For the third time Shia LaBeouf is Sam Witwicky, originally a teenager, now an uemployed college graduate, still involved in a war between the heroic Autobots and the evil Decepticons, two factions of alien robots who can disguise themselves by transforming into everyday machinery. The Decepticons aim to take over the earth by turning machines into their own army, and Autobots fight that effort, helped by Sam Witwicky and whoever joins up with him, including John Turturro again and this time Frances McDormand as a stuffy CIA operative.

    Transformers is a franchise in the true sense of the word: a line of multiple products related by a common theme and appealing to a certain market. In its 26-year history, the franchise has expanded to encompass comic books, animation, video games and films. There is a TV series, a Marvel Comics series (Marvel dominates the summer blockbuster world). There have been various toy lines, each with its own TV shows and movies growing out of the shows. It's a unified fantasy world, unified but multifarious.

    All the comic book blockbuster movies, the Supermans and Spider Mans and Iron Mans and Captain Marvels and Green Lanterns, make heavy use of computer-generated imagery (CGI), as do apocalyptic celluloid visions like Roland Emmemrich's Day After Tomorrow and 2012 and Michael Bay's own Armageddon. None of these movies would exist without CGI. And none of them has much serous merit as a film. Why is this?

    Probably because CGI, while making movies more and more glorious (if artificial) visually, continually dumbs them down by making the drama it supposedly embellishes increasingly irrelevant. CGI is not a part of a movie's dialogue or plot but at best a riff on them -- even though the best CGI blockbusters still are the ones that are well-written and well-acted. You wouldn't want to call what Shia LaBoeuf does in the Transformers movies "acting." You'd more likely want to call it yelling and talking fast, with a bit of crying; and as he's recently boasted, he "owns" this series. Michael Bay doesn't seem to care much about writing or acting (he also brought us Pearl Harbor). What Bay cares about -- he has his own company to produce them -- is special effects, and lots of them.

    What the heck is going on in Transformers: Dark of the Moon? Silly question, for the fans. They know. They can give you every tiny detail of the action. Wikipedia's entry begins: "In 1961, a Cybertronian spacecraft crash lands on the far side of the moon. Known as the Ark, it was the last ship to escape a Cybertron devastated by war. Piloted by Sentinel Prime, it carried 'the Pillars,' technology that could save the Cybertronians once and for all. On Earth, the crash of the Ark is detected by NASA, and President John F. Kennedy authorizes the mission to put a man on the moon as a cover. In 1969, Apollo 11 lands on the surface of the Moon to investigate the Ark. . .In the present day, the Autobots have forged a military alliance with the United States. . . " and so on for 940 words. From the point of view of the non-fan, the movie makes little sense. But if you look closely it makes too much sense. It's absolutely ridiculous, but somebody has worked out every detail. Note that the fanboy's wet dream may not appear so if you listen to him after a viewing, because his job with any iteration of a franchise is to demonstrate his expertise by finding fault with the details.

    The Sixties seem to have become fertile ground for blockbuster fantasies lately. X-Men: First Class makes liberal use of JFK footage in its coopting of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The runup to Dark of the Moon's main action draws heavily on simulations and on TV clips of JFK, Nixon, and Walter Cronkite it its sci-fi rewriting of the Apollo 11 moon landing by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

    Meanwhile Sam Witwicky is having trouble finding a job after college and is jealous of the close relations between his English babe gf Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) and h her boss (Patrick Dempsey). Sam goes to work for John Malkovitch, a well-dressed nutcase with a pearly gray wig, an object milked for a quick laugh. Dark of the Moon has plenty of humor starting out, though like so many blockbusters of its kind it ends with general mayhem, this time a solemn, protracted battle sequence involving the destruction of downtown Chicago, with Autobots and Decepticons raging while Sam and his pals rush around inside and on top of skyscrapers, one of which bends over in the middle and hangs there, defying gravity. That's funny, but by then the movie has become too hyperkinetic to have time to joke around any more. And, at two hours and a half, too long for all but the fans. But then they are many.

    It's hard to overestimate the gorgeousness of the cyber images in Dark of the Moon. Very often they are a glorious chaos, pleasing to the eye of anyone brought up with abstract expressionism, as the robotic creatures, whose changing back and forth from and to automobiles or other ordinary machinery is the least of their prodigies, smash into each other or into buildings or are caught in mid-transformation so that the images become marvels of colorful abstract fragmentation. And it's all very sharp, partly because every image, a night overview of the Chicago urban cityscape, for instance, has undergone heavy computer manipulation of a kind that is skillful and bright. Are these images the plot? Do they augment the plot, or detract from it? But after all, what plot? These gigantic gadgets are arguably more soulless and harder to distinguish from each other than they were in Bay's first two versions. All you know for sure is that they're endlessly warring robotic monsters, with a few humans (not much use here of crowd scenes) running around trying ineffectually to influence things. Sam Witwicky has gotten a medal from President Obama (bringing things up to date). He's foolishly brave. But does he accomplish anything? I lost track. Attempting to make sense out of the "story" here will numb your brain because however detailed it is, it's not dramatized coherently. I wasn't a fan of the low budget South African alien flick District 9, but compared to this, District 9 is Shakespeare. Armond White, who acutely links the swirling CGI battle sequences here with Italian futurist painting, also argues that there has been nothing as good or as richly humanistic about robots and souls since Spielberg's 2001 A.I., and has underlined the sad fact that all the movies Spielberg has produced "stink." You can't talk about Dark of the Moon in the same breath with A.I.

    Transformers: Dark of the Moon opened in the US and the UK Wednesday, June 29, 2011.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-05-2014 at 07:44 PM.

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    Thanks Chris.

    Your CGI comments are bang-on.
    Christopher Nolan has said that he wants everything in his Batman films to be as real as he can make them without heavy reliance on CGI.
    You want the story to have what Richard Donner championed: "Verismilitude".

    Transformers is what it is: bombastic action and entertainment. Take it or leave it. I hear every person who says they hate it.
    I should hate a series like this. But I love the Transformers films. I never thought I'd ever be in Michael Bay's corner but I am for his Transformers series. The special effects and CGI are overwhelming at times, and it's intentional. On a big-screen/IMAX screen- wowza Mama.
    Children should love the hell out of it. If I was a kid I'd be raving to everyone within earshot how great Transformers is.
    It's ripe for criticism, and as an adult you can fire away if you need to get it off your chest (speaking to anyone reading).

    Just enjoy it for what it is: neo-mythology. Of course it's ridiculous. We need that sometimes.
    There is such a thing as therapeutic ridiculousness. I get mine from South Park.
    Last edited by Johann; 07-03-2011 at 01:17 PM.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

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    The thing to realize is that though there's a definite specific plot, Michael Bay is not good at putting that over. He's too focused on the effects. And that is something to watch out for in blockbusters all the time now. Effects and a giant melee take over Abrams' Super 8. It happens more often than not. Some with reason accuse X-Men: First Class of degenerating into a B-picture war movie with its Cuban Missile debacle.

    Some other critics have written similar things about the cannibalistic effect of CGI today. I think Denby did apropos of Green Lantern; I'll have to look. I don't know quite what Christopher Nolan is saying there as you cite him and I am suspicious of his declarations. For an example of a visually glorious film that doesn't rely on CGI, see Tarsem Singh's The Fall. CGI is taking over the world of popular American cinema like one of the giant alien animatronic monsters it is so good at creating. However look at the sequences in Transformers 3: the abstract experssionism/Italian Futurism of it all, an orgasmic feast for the eye, signifying nothing (in art I don't require significance: only a dolt looks at a picture and says, "But what does it mean?)

    I never even saw the two previous Bay Transformers movies. I might have sat for a few minutes but not watched through. It was hard to stay focused on this one too toward the end. The brain tended to glaze over in the final melee. However there was fun to be had early on and the sheer orgy of creature-morphing conflict toward the end was fascinating even though the story didn't go anywhere and wasn't apparently meant to, the better to make a sequel for.

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    Points taken.

    CGI is relied on way too much these days.
    Remember, it "SPEAKS ACTION" in any language, which means that the story takes a backseat.
    Nothing is plausible in this film, it's just great fun to see morphing robots.
    Thomas Edison would've shit his pants if he saw a Transformers movie!
    The movie "magic" of the Transformers would gobsmack Edison or Melies.
    It wasn't so long ago that Orson Welles scared the crap out of people with his radio broadcast of War of the Worlds.
    I'm sufficiently impressed with the grandeur of the SFX that I forgive the giant plot holes.
    (Like I do for Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith).

    In a perfect world these Transformers films would appeal more to logic and reality, but hey, as far as summer Blockbusters go, Transformers is exactly what I expect in a BIG summer movie. These are the ones where I would actually enjoy some popcorn and twizzlers and sit back. I know I can switch my brain off and just react to the CGI carnage. Some movies are for your refined intellect & medulla, some are for your inner kid/fanboy!
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

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    CGI is making it impossible to scare the crap out of people any more. When anything can be made to look real nothing looks real and nothing matters. It's just a spectacle. But a beautiful film whose spectacles are achieved naturally without CGI like Tarsem Singh's The Fall is more beautiful, because cyber images don't really look quite real and the authentic thing has a texture the eye can savor. The fact is that even though Transformers is fun, Michael Bay is a bad director. Shia LaBoeuf says he's stepping away from the franchise with T3, but I don't guess Bay will give somebody conceivably better at telling a story a chance to move in. Honestly given the origins of the series in a set of toys, it's unlikely a whole lot better movie could come out of it. Shakespeare sometimes worked from flimsy material. Not in Hollywood though.

    "In a perfect world these Transformers films would appeal more to logic and reality, but hey, as far as summer Blockbusters go, Transformers is exactly what I expect in a BIG movie."--Johann.

    A perfect world would simply be a better director than Michael Bay. However to equal what he has done he or she would need to be as good with computer-generated images. "As far as summer Blockbusters go" is siding without question with the degenerative developments that began in the Seventies, the whole concept of the summer blockbusters. They originally didn't however require the takeover of the mechanical. Jaws had simple effects. Star Wars was sleep-inducing for some of us (my father) but still had a rich narrative. Grease (1978 ff.) was a human musical. Other summer blockbusters that Transformers needs to be measured against: Airplane, ET, Batman, Jurassic Park, The Mummy, Iron Man, Inception. Do you think Transformers is "as summer Blockbusters go" when compared to these? Probably not, except for The Mummy. I would personally rate X-Men: First Class above it, and the comng Captain Marvel, with its heavy period gloss as evinced in the new fuller trailer, shows a fighting chance of being better too. Thor is relatively thin, but it had much more going on plot-wise. Green Lantern was lame and thin in all areas. Transformers is a summer blockbuster better than Greren Lantern. Not much to shout about there, though.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-03-2011 at 03:47 PM.

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    Thanks for something to chew on.
    You're absolutely right that films like Tarsem's THE FALL pull off visuals that give a viewer way more than Michael Bay does/did.
    (and probably a lot cheaper). Bay can't be mentioned in the same breath as a Master like Tarsem.
    They are two totally different men.

    There are summer blockbusters that do their jobs and some that don't.
    I actually can't defend Transformers any more than I have.
    The holes are so large in the storytelling that the only defence I really have is the scale of the CGI.
    I haven't seen this new installment, but the last one (Revenge of the Fallen) was quite a cloudy clusterfuck when it comes to narrative.
    I had to close my eyes at all the busy-ness of the CGI at one point too.
    I expect the same from this third film.

    It is definitely clear that the visual effects trump the script.
    You don't go into this movie expecting depth. If you do, you'll be grumpy...

    Blockbusters sink or swim. Depends on the Beast.
    Sometimes they nail it on the head. (Iron Man/Avatar/The Matrix (the first one)/The Dark Knight/Spiderman)
    Sometimes they stink. (Catwoman/Garfield/Steel (w/Shaq)/Last Action Hero/Battlefield Earth)
    and
    Sometimes you get a movie with a few things going for it but not enough to make it a "hit", even if it rakes in scads and scads of cash...
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

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    Armond White's contention that the movies Spielberg has produced but not directed stink is worth pondering. Tarsem's The Fall may have cost much less than Transformers -- it would have had to -- but it took him years to make, working on different continents. A vast labor for him. That's another kind of cost. The blockbusters with CGI like Thor, Green Lantern, Transformers, all have the same interchangeable crews of CGI specialists who have their own factory methods and can turn out their products relatively fast. In that sense they're cheap, except the ones that their makers have a lot personally invested in in the ideas, like Cameron's Avatar and Nolan's Inception.

    I got more pleasure out of Transformers than i expected to. That is from the fast-talking silliness of Shia LaBoeuf, the humor of the first half, and the CGI itself, the eye candy and astonishment of the transforming autobots and decepticons in action and the swirling Futurist art imagery of their struggles. There is something about loud artifical bettle sequences (not necessarily with CG) that, paradoxically, perhaps, puts me to sleep. Few other things in movies make me zone out in that way. Noise actually can make the brain shut down. I could also not stay awake during Pirates of the Caribbean or Lord of the Rings. Sorry about LoR, because I know it's good, but I don't know the stories and it's not my thing.

    Iron Man is quite witty. Anything with Robert Downey Jr is, though the Sherlock Holmes film illustrated on this page was another loud noisy effect-driven bore and a travesty on the elegance and Britishness of the Conan Doyle originals. The Spider Man films are uneven in quality, but appealing stories. The Matrix has a rich concept, arguably key to our times and culture. I've written about it in my political essays re: 9/11. I had the good fortune of seeing Battleship Earth with a woman with a great sense of the absurd and we had a grand time laughing at it. What a folly! I am not a fan of Avatar but I would give it credit for a grand conception and superior effort. My blockbuster favorite this summer so far is X-Men: First Class. It just grabbed me from the first few scenes. I love Fassbender spouting French and German. It seems like a Blockbuster for smart people to me. But some trash the Cuban Missile segment and I'd have to admit that is repetitious and drawn out. If the Bourne series can be considered summer blockbusters, they are the ones for me above all the others. This combines a spy thriller with a macho actioner and it seems to me pretty smart and very atmospheric. I can watch the Bourne movies over and over.

    Michael Bay is surely one of the crummiest and most successful of the blockbuster directors. He makes Roland Emmerich look like an intellectual. But he is, I can see from this, a master of CGI effects. Apropos of a movie having just a few things going for it and yet being a hit, I think the young audience that grew up with the Transformers in one form or another or maybe just the movies is dedicated to them and knows the characters and themes well. Even though I saw it at an off time, there was a good audience and they were laughing at anything half approaching a joke: they were all together and enjoying the thing, having fun.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-03-2011 at 04:31 PM.

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    Bulletin:

    BOX OFFICE MOJO - NEWS BULLETIN
    Sunday, July 3, 2011

    With an est. $97.4 million weekend, 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' boasted the top-grossing Independence Day weekend ever, but it trailed its predecessor by a wide margin...


    http://www.boxofficemojo.com/news/?id=3199&p=l.htm

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    Does Michael Bay actually have anything to do with the CGI or SFX himself? Personally?
    I mean, were any of the battle/action sequences conceived by him? To be executed by ILM staffers?

    That would mean that he only "directed" Shia Labeouf!
    You've actually got me wondering if Bay had his hands on this franchise as much as we're led to believe he did.
    Was Spielberg doing more than making sure that this film came in on time and on budget?
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

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    All hii-tech movies naturally rely heavily on CGI, anatronic, and other technical teams, pros who are somewhat interchangeable from movie to movie. The same people work on Thor, Green Lantern, Avatar, and Inception. This is one reason why they look a lot alike. But they're not exactly allike. As is traditional in Hollywood, the writers don't matter. But if they're deemed interchangeable, so is everybody else, an the same actors who are in good movies, say Frances McDormond in her Coen brother husband's, are also in this. So what isn't interchangeable? You think you can tell the difference, but can you really? Can you imagine Michael Bay actually directing anybody, or anything?

    Michael Bay bought the digital effects company Digital Domain from James Cameron. Since he owns it, he has a personal relationship with it in that sense. Does he do the technical work? I'd hardly think so. He's a director. He directs things. What does that mean? You tell me. Maybe he's kind of like Woody Allen. Ninety percent of life is just showing up. So he shows up. He's there. Wearing a directorial baseball cap. Stands behind the camera and points. But I don't really know. Bay has also co-owned an advertising company euphemistically called The Institute for the Development of Enhanced Perceptual Awareness and which has produced ads for Victoria's Secret, Lexus, Budweiser, Reebok, Mercedes-Benz, and Nike.

    Maybe Shia LaBoeuf is the director. Maybe Shia LaBoeuf directs Michael Bay. See this photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wintan29/3406819064/. Bay wears the baseball cap. LaBoeuf wears the leather jacket. That's how you can tell which is which.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-04-2011 at 05:23 PM.

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    Thanks for your last post. Great info.

    So he just slaps his name on stuff.
    I want that gig.
    Is it that easy to be a millionaire?
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

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    There would be easier ways but it could be a fun way.

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    I saw DARK OF THE MOON and I enjoyed it for what it is: mindless entertainment.

    It's almost impossible to defend this film as anything other than a CGI smorgasborg.
    The story is muddled. The acting is bad in many spots. Product placement is frequent. It's all deliberately intentional.
    Silly gags and in-jokes fall flat, and the one saving grace is (of course) the whole reason this franchise exists:
    the CGI Transformers.
    They look very real when interacting with real actors, and the camera angles and shots were very pleasing to my eye.
    I love watching the robots transform. It's just cool.
    Is that enough to give it a thumbs up?
    mmmmm........just by the skin of it's teeth.

    Sentinel Prime (voiced by Spock himself Leonard Nimoy) was visually cool to me, but why didn't he kill Optimus when he had the chance?
    Someone on the imdb pointed out that the ending always has to be rosy in this series. Why?
    The Empire Strikes Back ended in uncertainty (with promises for another sequel) and we were OK with that.
    Whatever happened to story arcs that are fleshed out? Cliffhanger endings that ROCK?
    When you leave the theatre you should be happy with what you just witnessed AND jonesing for the next installment.
    If Michael Bay plans to continue making Transformers films he's gotta up the ante considerably with each outing.
    Someone could argue that he did exactly that with DARK OF THE MOON, but I'd say No.
    It's only slightly better than REVENGE OF THE FALLEN. The CGI set-pieces are a little more dramatic and impressive this time, but not enough to make you say "WOW" with your jaw dropping. A lot of people on the imdb don't hesitate to rip on this film's flaws.
    That's not my bag.
    I took the tram view of this movie and I enjoyed it because I did.
    I switched my brain off and went with the flow. I knew that the non-plausibility factor was off the charts going in.
    I wasn't disappointed. I knew/know exactly where to place a movie like this in terms of "criticism".
    The bad things in it are deliberate. Audiences of the first two films know this.
    Shia Labeouf's character (Sam Witwicky) will never change. He's goofy, a speed-talker/thinker and he's perfect for this kind of movie.
    In real life Sam Witwicky would annoy the hell out of me. People with those high-levels of anxiety (robot induced or otherwise) freak me out.
    And don't get me started on his girlfriend. Megan Fox was fired, and another mannequin with pouty lips was brought in to effectively play a mannequin with pouty lips. Sam is such a stud. Dating smokin' hot models?
    Um, is it me or does Shia Labeouf NOT look like Brad Pitt?
    You're one lucky Dude Shia...
    Paid gazillions to play yourself with smokin' hot babes & gadgets & surroundings while under attack from alien robots.
    You couldn't WRITE a more plum job.
    OK, maybe you could. Ask Daniel Radcliffe and Emma and Rupert. Holy college fund Harry!
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

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    You came not to detract but you did take a few shots at Shia LaBoeuf, and why not? He is my lingering beef with the series. But Hollywood has recently decided he's Everyman. This uninteresting little mutt got to be in Indiana Jones and Wall Street. How come you're not calling for Clive Owen as you were for Green Lantern? For me it's all been downhill for Shia since Disturbia, a movie in which he was well cast.

    You still have Thor, Green Lantern (lots of luck) and X-Men: First Class to see, plus Captain America. Your fanboy cred stands but your summer blockbuster cred needs boosting.

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    Shia is a clown, a buffoon. The problem with his "everyman" is what you said Chris: he's un-interesting.
    What's his appeal?
    I understand why a producer or director would want him (he learns his lines well and he can switch from calm to hysterical in mere seconds) but he's no "star" to me. He's merely serviceable, in military parlance.

    The scenes with Sam and his girlfriend were utterly ridiculous. There's no chemistry there. None. Zilch. Zip.
    I won't detract anyone from seeing it, but just know going in that Dark of the Moon is what it is....

    Clive Owen could be in Transformers, but only as a baddie. A government stiff or some kind of cog in the wheel of evil.

    I wanted to see X-Men: First Class but the theatre where I went to see it only has it on the "screening room" screen - a smaller "big" screen.
    Same price! It's like a giant flatscreen tv as opposed to a regular screen. If the screen size was regular, I would've went to see it.
    I waited too long. And I'm gonna pass on Green Lantern. DVD rental for sure..
    As for Captain America, I'll be there. Saw a new trailer for it at Transformers and I'll see that one for sure.
    Thor I saw and reviewed.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

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