Things I Learned From Movie X
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
By Edwin Davies
January 9, 2012
Hello from Things I Learned From Movie X Towers! I trust that you all had a great Christmas and New Year and are busy preparing for the coming apocalypse. I know I did and am. As we hurtle towards the fateful day in December when everyone suddenly realises that we're getting all worked up just because the Mayans forgot to buy a new calendar, we need to fill our days with as much meaning and joy as possible, and what better way than writing and/or reading scathing dissections of terrible movies? Sure, you could spend time with your loved ones or try to live your dreams, but there's bile to be flung, and I'll be damned if I'm going to do it without an audience.
For the first column of the New Year, I decided to watch the staggeringly successful third movie in the Transformers franchise which, in true Transformers tradition, is a garish parade of nonsense with a subtitle that makes less sense after you've seen the film than it did beforehand. But just because Michael Bay's film is the sort of ghastly cultural artifact that future generations will look back on and say, "Wow, no wonder they were all wiped out by Mothra," doesn't mean that there is no value in it. Well, okay, it does, but tearing it to pieces is a lot more fun than surrendering to the crushing despair that its very existence engenders.
$140 million doesn't buy what it used to, it seems.
Easily the best part of the film is its pre-credits sequence - which, considering it's two and a half hours long, is a very, very bad sign - which reveals that the Space Race was actually started after an Autobot ship known as The Ark crash-landed on the Moon. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are sent up to investigate and discover a bunch of magic rods that do...something, conveniently missing the giant sleeping robot that is also contained there, the search for which drives the rest of the story. As someone who studied History for my degree, I'm kind of a sucker for alternate histories, and one that taps into the always fertile ground of conspiracy theories surrounding the Moon Landings is pretty much guaranteed to appeal to me, especially one that manages to get the real Buzz Aldrin to show up and pretend to talk to a robot about the secret history of space travel, though he sadly doesn't get a chance to talk about his fear of ruffled chips.
However, Dark of the Moon fumbles pretty much at the very beginning when, in a misguided attempt at verisimilitude, it includes a scene in which a CGI-enhanced JFK is informed of the strange object crashing into the Moon and gives the order to accelerate the Space Race. The Transformers films are many things, but "cheap" isn't one of them. It costs a lot of money to make them, as shitty as they are, and where it matters, i.e. the scenes of colossal destruction, the money is up on screen. Where it doesn't show up is in little moments like Kennedy, who looks like his face was created using the graphics engine from The Sims. I'm not saying that Transformers: Dark of the Moon is terrible just because one character looks bad, but it's the sort of distractingly terrible detail that lets you know almost subliminally that the people making the film don't really care about doing anything well, and that particular effect is so bad that the only scenario in which it is convincing is if they are depicting Kennedy post-Dallas.
What a cast! Shame they aren't in a better film.
I don't think there is any film in history that can boast a bigger disparity between how utterly, irredeemably awful it is and how absolutely packed its cast is with great, fun actors. My viewing of the film went something like this: "Hey, there's John Malkovich In A Funny Wig! Hey, there's Ken Jeong being sort of abrasive and weird! Hey, there's Oscar-winner Frances MacDormand, who clearly took the gig before her husband directed True Grit, thereby assuring that neither of them would ever have to take a stupid paycheck job like Intolerable Cruelty or Transformers: Piper At Gates again!" (In fact, taken out of context, you would assume that cast list would be for a Coen Brothers film, especially when you throw John Turturro into the mix.) Even the margins of the film are stacked with ringers, including a small role for comedian Andy Daly, who is probably best known for his work on Eastbound and Down and literally reduced me to tears of laughter once whilst I was listening to him play a suicidal German on an episode of Comedy Bang Bang. They even got Leonard Nimoy to come out of semi-retirment to voice the character of Sentinel Prime, the former leader of the Autobots. It seemed almost every other scene featured the introduction of someone who should, theoretically improve the film.