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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Beldar & kids see "Transformers"

Our intention yesterday was to do a traditional Saturday matinée double-feature, but after watching Transformers, my kids and I all sort of felt the need for some quiet time. There's certainly not any of that in this movie, which my four teens nevertheless unanimously labeled: "Awesome!"

(Mild spoilers ahead — as if anyone didn't already know that Optimus Prime ultimately kicks Megatron's robotic butt, duh.)

"How could it not be awesome?" demanded my 14-year-old, Adam. "It's, like — the Transformers, and in a movie!"

Megan Fox checking under Bumblebee's hoodThat wouldn't have quite been enough for me, by iteself. But I have to admit, I was considerably more entertained than I'd expected to be by a movie drawn from a cartoon series created to sell a line of toys. It wasn't just the two young hotties, Rachel Taylor and Megan Fox — although that didn't hurt, and of the movie's human characters, Ms. Fox' actually shows the most interesting transformation over the course of the movie. I will credit the movie for displaying an excellent sense of humor about itself.

And that's not just some built-in camp of the sort which characterized, for instance, 1993's Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. Rather, it's a genuine recognition that this plot line — which features an old yellow Chevy Camaro named "Bumblebee" that frequently transforms into a protective 20-foot tall "autonomous robotic life form from the planet Cybertron," but only after picking its own new teen-aged owner (capably played by Shia LaBeouf) and giving the kid badly needed dating tips — just can't be taken too seriously. (Robot or not, my youngest daughter, Molly, got a bit teary-eyed when Bumblebee was being humiliated as a captive. That prompted her big sister, Sarah, to lean over and remind her, "It's just a movie." This is a compliment to the film, I think.)

Rachel TaylorWhat I particularly didn't expect, but am enough of a flag-waver to have thoroughly enjoyed, was the very prominent role played by an assortment of real-life high-tech deadly toys, ranging from the Air Force's new stealth air superiority fighter, the F-22 Raptor, through a variety of high-tech helicopters, to an AC-130U Spooky gunship heeling over to one side to let loose its 105mm howitzer and other flying artillery at the bad robots. Among the large cast is a team of Army Rangers (led by hunky TV star Josh Duhamel from NBC's "Las Vegas"; there's equal-opportunity eye candy in this movie for all you moms out there) who are superheroes in their own right.

I was full expecting the U.S. Secretary of Defense, played by Jon Voight, to turn out to be evil and corrupt. But perhaps in exchange for all the DoD cooperation the movie-makers got (and there was a lot, as prominently recapped early in the credits), or perhaps out of simple decency and moderation, the movie mostly avoids Hollywood's reflexive tendency to make America and its leaders into  outright villains. There's one fairly mild and indirect dig at Dubya, which I assume was required lest every Hollywood union boycott helping make the film altogether. But even Herbert Hoover comes off fairly well in this flick.

Josh Duhamel and Shia LaBeoufThis is definitely a movie made to be seen on the big screen, and unless you have the very best of the best state-of-the-art home theater, you wouldn't get a comparable experience. (The stadium-seating theater in which we watched a digital print was perfect.) Be prepared, though, because if your central nervous system is as old and creaky as mine, you often may not be able to keep up with all of the images and sounds blasting over you.

"I sometimes had a hard time telling which were the Autobots and which were the Decepticons," I complained afterwards.

"Gee, Dad," replied my son Kevin, "That was easy! The Decepticons were the ones who went out of their way to inflict collateral damage on the nearby civilian humans, whereas the Autobots were the ones always sidestepping around them. Remember the part where Megatron is lying on the ground among the humans they've knocked over, and he goes [very deep voice] 'Disgusting!' just before he flicks the guy 50 yards into a parked car?"

Optimus PrimeSo there's a helpful viewing tip for you.

Don't mistake my family's positive review as saying more than I intend: This is a profoundly silly movie. To say you have to "suspend disbelief" to enjoy it is a considerable understatement. But it is a silly, unbelievable movie that's very well done — one that revels in being over-the-top with its special effects (which are indeed amazing), but that also brings considerably more than just sfx to the party.

I have no doubt that it will be an international hit, either. Islamic jihadists and others who rant and rave about the filth and vacuity of American cultural imperialism will hate this very American movie — but I'll bet they'll secretly watch it too.

Posted by Beldar at 08:36 AM in Family, Film/TV/Stage | Permalink

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