Thursday, June 22, 2017

My Satisfaction with the live action

I could have not gave this post a worst name.
The Last Knight (TF5) is now in theaters with preview showings earlier in the week to release on the 21st. Since Dark Of The Moon (TF3), my work schedule has dictated that I wait until the Saturday following release to watch new movies. That being said, just like any other live action Transformers movie, I'll see these spoiler free reviews (and skip the spoiler laden ones, k thanks bye) and various social media posts leading off with that persons perspective on the live action movies before talking about the current one. Knowing that I can ramble and that it will be a few more days until I see TF5 and write my own review, I thought I should make a separate post all about my thoughts on these movies before my review.

What? I thought it sounded like a good idea.

Don't look at me like that.

Around 2003 when it became public knowledge that a live action Transformers movie was actually in production (not counting the tons of unfounded rumors from years prior) it didn't take long for the fact that it was not going to be an adaption of G1 or any other incarnation of Transformers to be established. Early information had Soundwave as a helicopter, lake a boom box with a small robot mode (well, the concepts made it in, even if the names were changed), Ratchet as an ambulance and many other developments. Some true, some fake. My point is, from the very beginning of these movies there has been a constant flux of information and misinformation shaping opinions of fans long before they ever even see the movie. I've made it a point to take every "news' item I've heard to be taken with a grain of sand or sometimes a bag of it.

I mean, Ultra Magnus is totally going to be in Transformers 2.

Part of the early news leaks was in 2006 just around a year to release of the first movie was when we finally got a look at the robot designs. A sketch of Starscream, a render of Megatron, Optimus's truck mode. None were traditional. Fans, casual and hardcore, cried out in protest while others accepted the new look. This was right at the release of classics toys and many of us were used to the characters looking different in each new outing. I was in that crowd, I knew that the robots were going to look different. I wasn't sure just how different, but different.

I had assumed they were going to be similar to the Alternators/Binaltech toys. I had assumed correctly that they mostly were going to be licensed vehicles with more robot parts for realism. I didn't expect the more alien nature of the designs and honestly didn't know what to think of it. Though, I did think they looked neat. The alien nature grew on me as I began appreciating it as a design element. One, it looks gnarly. Two, it conveys the fact that these are living aliens from outer space visually. I've been in crowds where scenes of Optimus's death in the 1986 animated movie went over with a thud as casual reactions were mainly "it's just a robot, why don't they just fix him?".  Though in viewings of the 2007 movie, when Megatron rips Jazz in half, I heard several gasps. Visually, they just saw a living creature ripped in half and sympathized.

So, I do think they look cool in the live action designs and get the idea. I didn't like some of the faces in the original movie though, and by the first sequel I saw that they had been changed up a bit and looked a bit better. I guess I wasn't the only one with that opinion. I knew going in that Bumblebee wasn't going to be a Volkswagen bug. As a fandom, we had been through years of explanations of why Bumblebee could never be a bug again. I did expect him to be some kind of small car, so when the news of his new alt mode being a Camaro was made public... that took me by surprise. Then the whole not talking bit became known. I warmed up to the new look of Bumblebee, though I've never liked the not talking bit. I've accepted it and moved on, but I've never liked it.

While I've always understood and defended the designs, recently I found myself even more accepting of the explanation that the classic designs wouldn't look as good in live action. The Universal Studios ride (here I go again) is obviously based on the movies. It however uses the same ride technology as the Universal Studios Spider-Man ride. It even has the same cars. Sure Transformers 3D is a more advanced ride technologically, but to the average rider, it's pretty much the same thing. Spider-Man is visually an adaption of the Fox Kids cartoon series of the 90's. In fact the pre-show videos are all from that cartoon. On the ride, Spider-Man and co are CGI, but still very cartoonish looking.  This mixes with the real dark ride set pieces and is a very fun ride. Transformers 3D uses the same mixture of screens and practical sets. And though you're looking through the same 3D glasses and same 4D experience, Transformers is much more immersive. Which gives me more insight into that line of thinking for the designs. Sure, it might still be possible to pull off the classic designs in live action realistically, I can see how the movie designs work as a 'real world' thing.

Another big complaint that folks have is the focus on humans. I did leave the 2007 movie wishing for more robots, but I understood fully. This was a movie for everyone and everyone else had to be reintroduced. The sequels featured the robots more and more heavily each time, so I found myself not worried about the human focus as much as I found the robots got more time to shine. I know a lot of folks disagree, but in a live action movie that's just a reality that's not going anywhere. I understand the complaint and can sympathize with those fans. It just doesn't bother me that much.

The characterizations are a LOT more savage than we're used to. A LOT. Which, going by just how violent the 1986 animated movie was, didn't surprise me. Being a big fan of the carnage in the G2 comic, it didn't bother me at all. Not to mention, it was pretty cool when Optimus...

Ok, Optimus Prime is a stone cold killer in these movies. It's become common meme in the fandom that Optimus Prime is a raving psychopath in the live action movies. He delivers extremely harsh dialog while ripping off faces, cutting off limbs, and point blank executions.  To quote my Grandfather, he'd shoot you and step on the bullet hole so you feel that bullet a little more before you die. Many fans have stated their outright hatred of this incarnation. That's fine, that's ok. That's understandable. There's an understanding within many other fans that this Optimus was written to convey more the effects of fighting a war for 4 million years. I'm one of those fans. To me, I get it.

Take Sentinel Prime. At the end of TF3, Optimus executes him point blank after defeating him. Many fans have said he should have taken him prisoner. Classic cartoon Optimus would have. Except in Heavy Metal War where he and the Autobots chucked the Decepticons into lava. Personally, and realistically I still find myself agreeing with that mindset of Optimus has been fighting a war for 4 million years. Not to mention, after everything that Sentinel had done in TF3, I can't say I'm strong enough to not pop that cap myself. I might even step on that bullet hole.

The violence in a whole doesn't bother me in the live action movies. War is being fought, guns are being shot, swords are being swung. Things are getting shot, heads are going to fly off, and the time for talking was over just under 4 million years ago. Though, it's also a movie that's an adaption of a long running toy line. In fact, the movie tie in stuff ranges from toys to candy to Halloween costumes. Ok, Halloween costumes probably isn't the best case for arguing against violence considering the amount of hockey masks on shelves next to plastic machetes during October, but the point is there. They are extremely violent movies and probably much to scary for children. I get that. I totally do. I'm writing this from my perspective, as an adult. So, I'm writing as to why I, myself, am not bothered by the violence. If I had a child, I'd probably not want my child to see these until they're older. Adding in the toilet humor and crudeness that is present in some of the movies, I'd definitely not let them watch them at certain ages.

As far as the complaint that the moves are all fireworks and lasers with no substance... That's a fair point. Transformers, as a live action movie series is the definitive summer blockbuster to definition. Though some giant summer spectacles can and have delivered a much more sound movie, these can and do fit that bill. I can't argue that. There's plot holes and paper thin plots sandwiched by giant explosive action scenes. Though I will say, with the 4 I've seen so far, the odd numbered ones are much more sound movies. In fact, the odd numbered ones are much better movies than the even numbered ones. Going into part 5 this weekend, I'm hoping the odd movie theory still holds water. It's not that 2 and 4 aren't  unredeemable for me. The robot stuff is great and they're really fun to watch. It's just that they are also big messes on screen. 2 is a result of a writers strike. It was shot to meet a deadline and it did and made a ton of money, but the movie is a mess. I'm not sure what happened with part 4, just like part 2 there was some good ideas (in fact some stuff I really liked), but it was all over the place. Just all over the place. In more recent viewings, I've warmed up to it more. In fact watching TV edited versions makes it easier to watch. Maybe it's that trimmed for time aspect making the movie tighter. Though, like watching part 2, I felt like I was watching a bunch of scenes edited together without a solid flowing narrative.

I legitimately like parts 1 and 3. In fact I like Dark of the Moon best of all. I honestly really enjoy it. From early impressions, I feel like TF5 will be more like it and I have high hopes. In writing this, I don't intend to change any minds or start any arguments. I'm simply putting some of my perspective out so that I don't have to do it in my review this weekend and also offer some explanation as to why I view it as I do. Hopefully to give some perspective. I know I often come off as someone who likes everything, and maybe I do. But... this is something I do for fun, obviously I'm not going to bother if I don't like it. Saying that and understanding how much I love Transformers, perhaps it might make more sense to a reader. I enjoy the live action movies for the most part, and really enjoy the related stuff that goes with it. So I'm happy that there's a new movie every year for the foreseeable future.

Ok, I liked it when Optimus said 'Give me your face'.

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