By George Rose
May 13, 2009
My friend Josh, who has a knack for making me watch movies of his choosing, said that I probably wouldn't have like Bay's version as much if I remembered the cartoon and knew "what could have been", much like how knowing Wolverine's true origins made his X-Men Origins movie a giant joke. After watching the cartoon Transformers movie again (I haven't seen it in over a decade) I stand by my decisions: Wolverine was a failure and Transformers was entertaining. Why? Because movies are meant to go deeper than just matching the mythology.
True, I shouldn't judge Wolverine for being a disappointment because it wasn't faithful to the character. Different incarnations of characters, especially with different production teams behind them, can't be clones of one another. Was The Dark Knight a clone of a previous Batman comic? No, it was an original story with a known character. What made Wolverine bad was that it was more a video game than a movie. The movie was a sequence of fight scenes with a variety of irrelevant characters, its biggest flaw and the reason the movie won't break $200 million at the domestic box office. However, Transformers didn't turn a beloved cartoon into a video-game-movie. It made it into an epic, two-and-a-half hour drama that made the action the cherry, not the cake on which it stands. Wolverine depended on the action instead of plot. Transformers isn't a revelation or the greatest action movie, or even close, but it was still a fun movie to watch, despite its differences from the source material.
That source material is Transformers: The Movie. What separates it from the live-action version is its direction. Instead of focusing on Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox, and how the Transformers affects their lives and all the others on Earth, the cartoon movie focuses on the robots. The drama they go through in the cartoon is barely touched upon in Bay's version. I had completely forgotten that there was a female Autobot in the cartoon! These robots mingle, hang out, banter back and forth, have conflict within their own sides of "good" and "evil", and rarely mention Earth. Bay's version is an entertaining tale of a human world invaded by robots. The '80s cartoon classic is about robots that happen to have two humans around for the party. Both focus on more relevant issues than just video-game style fight sequences but they are hardly similar.
The cast (including Judd Nelson, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Stack and Orson Welles!!!) and soundtrack (including '80s hits "The Touch" by Stan Bush and "Dare to be Stupid" by Weird Al Yankovic, among others) are wonderfully ridiculous. The movie is an in-your-face '80s throwback and never lets you forget it. There was no way Bay was going to make a movie that was entirely accurate to the cartoon, since the robots themselves look like transforming toys in the series. In reality, any robot that travels through space to destroy or save a world is going to be made up of more than five bendable parts. There are complaints that can be made, but you'll think the live-action Transformers is Casablanca-quality after seeing Wolverine. If nothing else, it will bring you back to the insanity that was the '80s. Let's keep our fingers crossed that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is at least as good as the first. It would be a miracle if it were as good as Star Trek but I've been known to be shocked and surprised before. Those surprises are what is required to restore some of the faith lost since our beloved Golden Age.