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'Transformers' Movie Review: Humans and Machines

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4.0 out of 5 stars

Michael Bay's "Transformers" is more than meets the eye. This mega-budget sci-fi adventure may have some corny and ridiculous moments, yet it exudes a certain form of magnificence. A number of people have been waiting around two decades to finally see this eye-popping, robot destruction spectacle in the big screen. Adults and kids alike, the over-the-top CG and stunt treatment, awe-inspiring action scenes, and tremendous set pieces effectively bring back the 80's inner child to the adults of today, while drawing a new generation of fans with the kids of the present.

Like any of Bay's earlier blockbusters including "Pearl Harbor" and "Armageddon," "Transformers" clearly exudes his marked elements; but this time, he doesn't actually go overboard in terms of the film's basic mainstream needs. It may not be perfect; but he has clearly created a wholly modern action extravaganza that hits its commercial peak by utilizing the power of CGI to showcase spectacular chases and animated transformation sequences. The impressive effects blend well with the live-action parts as the giant transforming robots do massive stunts alongside the human characters.

The film wisely satiates the audience's lust for effects sequences without losing the essence of what"Transformers" has always been. Add up the pounding score and sound design, then you get right into the heart of the incredible robot action sequences and some human drama to back it up.

Scriptwriters Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, together with John Rogers, keeps the basic "Transformers" story intact. The simple story about a boy and his first car remains at the center of the film without losing the hype for the Autobots and the Decepticons.

No matter how big it gets, the story holds tightly together as a cool popcorn flick. It places the robots in a human environment and builds a powerful relationship between Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeauf) and his first automobile who turns out to be more than just a beat up yellow Camaro. His car, the Autobot Bumblebee, is the main connection of the man-machine relationship in the story. The two struggles to communicate with each other due to Bumblebee's old war injury that his only means to speak is by using beeps and by changing stations of his car radio. Here, the concepts of imperfection and disability come into place without trying too hard in developing the human and robot attachments. It features some shades of emotional bond between the characters.

The film cuts between stories. Initially, it follows Sam's exposition about his Arctic explorer great-great-grandfather and his cracked glasses, then it moves on to his adventures with his weird new first car. After which, a group of U. S. soldiers based in Qatar gets attacked by unknown alien mechanical beings. Next, there is a group of government researchers trying to decode a strange alien sound, while being clueless on the robotic spies with the ability to disguise themselves as everyday stuff roaming around their midst. Eventually, everything comes together as the various groups join up with the Autobots to stop Megatron and his band of Decepticons from getting the Allspark.

The story does not completely follow the actual storylines from the old cartoon series, but the way the film's story is weaved lives up to the essence of such robotic creatures hiding on earth as cars, planes, trucks, helicopters, hummers, jets, and even a boom box. The robots still transform pretty much like in the cartoons. In between the many dramatic and comedic materials of the film, all these techno creatures are crafted with effective characters who have feelings and emotions that the audience can actually understand.

Amidst the many product placements and the seemingly car sponsors, and the obvious tried and tested formula of utilizing the many toys of the franchise, the viewers get to see the Autobots including Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Ratchet, Ironhide, and Jazz, each displaying enough personality. It is also nice to add a bit of dialogue paying homage to Japanese animation and technology -- the country of origin of the legendary "Transformers" series.

LaBeouf is pleasantly sympathetic and charismatic as the geeky and bullied main character. Megan Fox as the filthy-hot brunette and car expert you wouldn't expect to be has nothing but oozing sex appeal in playing her role as Sam's love interest Mikaela Banes. She and the blonde, heavily-accented researcher-turned-Secretary of Defense adviser Maggie Madsen played by another hottie Rachael Taylor are both developed to emphasize female looks, capacity, strength, and intelligence.

Jon Voight as U. S. Secretary of Defense John Keller delivers for the part. However, with the film's 140-minute running time, Voight's far too many expositional lines could have been chopped and still keep up with a good story.

Although John Turturro is hilarious enough as the head of a secret government organization Agent Simmons, it wouldn't have hurt if the movie provided less exposure for him, like how the military characters have been treated in terms of screen time.

The smart-looking military dudes Tyrese Gibson as USAF Tech Sergeant Epps and Josh Duhamel as Sergeant Lennox, along with the rest of the soldiers, give just enough relevant moments to keep up with their support for the story. So goes with Bernie Mac's short screen time as he cameos as a used car salesman. Sam's comedic parents Judy and Ron Witwicky played by Julie White and Kevin Dunn are pretty much stereotyped, just like with Anthony Anderson as the comic computer whiz Glen Whitman -- although they actually deliver for the film's formulaic requirements.

The voices behind the robots deserve credit as well: Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime; Darius McCrary as Jazz; Charles Adler as Starscream; Mark Ryan as Bumblebee; Reno Wilson as Frenzy; Jimmie Wood as Bonecrusher; and Hugo Weaving as Megatron.

Optimus may have some cheesy talks about loyalty, duty, and freedom, but the audience generally yields to it as they see the classic icon moving on the big screen with such a charming comeback.

This cinematic offer is definitely big in its effects pieces. However, it could have been more amazing if the fight scenes have less of the fast cuts and tight shots and more on the full shots of the fight scenes. It could have been more impressive to see how the robotic cars, trucks, and aircrafts transform in full frames within a few thoroughly believable seconds of mind-blowing CG effects. Apparently, most of the "transforming" effects tend to technically cheat through very jumpy cuts, which is something a keen-eyed viewer would generally find distracting or even annoying. Nevertheless, the overall visual and sound effects still live up for a worthwhile time for movie fans to enjoy.

The characters and plot lines are kept simple. The flashes of comedy generally hit the right places. With the multiracial cast, ethnic stereotypes abound. Good enough, Bay has put some sensitivity with the characters from the Middle East, as this time, they are not acting like a band of stereotyped terrorists. The frequently Spanish-speaking military man plays lightly for the comic side of the film without yielding to a far too insensitive portrayal of his comic character. The story's frequent speculations that Russia or China could be involved in certain terrorist-like attacks don't go overboard as well.

"Transformers" is obviously brewing up for a sequel. What pulls down the movie in terms of logic and story are the things that happen in the end. In terms of pure logic, why not completely destroy Megatron and the other Decepticons than simply throwing them deep into the cold ocean waters? Ideally, the humans and the Autobots are not that dumb to just let that pass when they know that there could be possibilities of the Decepticons rising in the future through some external help from whoever or whatever. Optimus and the Autobots don't even mind not seeing Starscream among the casualties... However, being a motion picture blockbuster flick as it is, such story flaws go past the need for logic. It's all about having fun and not crossing beyond the thin line of illogical plots that can already insult the audience.

The giant robot war in the classic TV series that many generations of fans have followed has been successfully re-imagined in this cinematic offer. Amidst its weaknesses, Bay's jaw-dropping "Transformers" roars with human and technical power and style.

Shortlist of Las Vegas stores where you can buy Blu-rays/DVDs:

Redbox

(702) 631-5616

5545 Simmons St. North Las Vegas, NV 89031

Blockbuster

(702) 435-9898

4301 E. Sunset Rd. Henderson, NV 89014

Hollywood Video

(702) 492-3541

1263 E. Silverado Ranch Blvd. Las Vegas, NV 89183

Red Box Automated DVD Rental

(702) 254-4584

Serving Las Vegas, NV 89101

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