Saturday, July 28, 2007

Bay Defences

One of the most interesting things about seeing Transformers on Tuesday was, with two free tickets for the screening, I couldn’t for the life of me give the second one away. Perhaps it didn’t help that it wasn’t until well into the afternoon that I decided to go myself.

Even then, when I called up a pal who works on Long Acre, which meant he could easily get to the cinema on time, his response was a simple “Transformers? Fuck Off!” It didn’t come as a surprise that I ended up going alone. After the fact, I mentioned in an email to a friend that I had seen the movie and the reply back was “I'd rather self harm than watch that film”.

Just for the fun of it I glanced at the film’s reviews in the broadsheets. None of them are well known for embracing summer movies so it wasn’t difficult to guess their reactions. The Daily Telegraph let it off the lightest with “entertaining tosh.” Actually, it was also the only review that mentioned the comedy woven around the ongoing knock-down, drag-out set pieces.

Truth be told, Transformers is probably not a movie I’ll want to own on DVD. But that said, whether they should be classified as a guilty please or not – and in fact, I think not – I do like Michael Bay films.

As action flicks they’re very well made and certainly tick all the right boxes. More importantly Bay’s movies never seem to take themselves too seriously. Before him James Cameron was the biggest proponent of boys-with-toys movies. Looking back at his films, they can be exceptionally po-faced at times.

The only time Cameron went for tongue-in-cheek comedy the result was the remarkably misogynistic, and racist, True Lies. Maybe he wrote it during one of his divorces. Even with the stakes raised to absurdly extreme levels, Bay goes for the chuckle to deflate any hints of pomposity.

The Rock is made all the better by the byplay between Nicholas Cage’s unprepared chemical weapons expert and Sean Connery’s old lag secret agent. Few of the drillers in Armageddon spend their time furrowed-brows and gritted teeth. Instead they embrace the absurdity of the situation. Especially Steve Buscemi’s Rockhound who, playing the Archer Maggot role in what was pitched as “The Dirty Dozen in space,” wigs out with “space dementia”.

Then there are the full-on, adrenaline-fuelled action sequences. To get the long-incarcerated Mason to play ball in The Rock, there had to be a scene revealing his daughter lived in San Francisco and therefore at risk from the lethal biological weapons aimed at the city. I suppose the scene could have taken place in the hotel bathroom where he had access to a telephone. Far better though to set it during a massive fuck-off car chase that rips through the streets of San Francisco that ultimately totals a Ferrari and blows up a cable car.

Even with all the slam and the bam, there’s still wonderful little moments of characterisation. The scene in Armageddon that does it for me takes place on the eve of the shuttle launch when Will Patton’s Chick Chapple stops by the visit his estranged wife and the young son he hasn’t seen for a long time. Apologising to his wife, he tells her he has something coming up that should make her proud. It gets me every time.

It doesn’t mean the films don’t have their faults. After the lean Bad Boys, the sequel was bloated and far too self-indulgent. Pearl Harbor, very much like Titanic, stuck a grating love story into an already interesting narrative to pull in audiences who wouldn’t ordinarily go to a war film.

He may anger critics by frame-fucking the films to within an inch of their existence but they’re testosterone-soaked action movies for fuck sake. I’d be more worried if James Ivory took up the same editing practice for a period drama.

Whatever people thing of Bay and his films, he still manages to get NASA and the Pentagon to pony up and play ball when it comes to ordnance and access. Space shuttles, F-117s, and every other USAF jet are apparently just a phone call away and eager to careen wildly across the screen at full throttle.

I guess in the end such dumb fun takes me back to the days when, as a wee lad, I was taken to see the likes of Where Eagles Dare. Probably six or seven-years-old at the time, the story didn’t make any sense to me with all the bluffs and double crosses. I still wasn’t all that clear when I saw it for a second time a couple of days later at that ratty little cinema in Exmouth. But damn did they blow stuff up good.

If fact, if Bay wants to make the perfect action movie all he needs is for one character to get on the radio as all hell breaks loose and start shouting, “Broadsword calling Danny Boy!”


At 11:40 pm, Blogger Riddley Walker said...

Another good thing about the Transformers movie? Our mate Vaughn Armstrong's in it.

Nice. ;-)

At 10:15 am, Blogger Ian said...

Over here in Ireland I saw Transformers only because The Simpsons was sold out. Trasformers had quite a lot of empty seats despite all the publicity and it being opening night.

Having now seen The Simpsons movie I know which movie I'd rather sit through again (clue it's not something that's less than 80 minutes long and which I could catch on TV for free). I've never really "got" The Simpsons, and the movie just proved the point to me. I think I heard maybe a couple of titters in a packed cinema screening - surely a "comedy" movie should elicit more than that? Transformers, by way of contrast, has some cinematic sequences that are stunning beyond belief and truly ground-breaking. But yeah I think "tosh" just about covers it.

At 10:41 am, Blogger Pillock said...

I'd be curious to know if any of the special effects were done by the Citroen dancing/ice-skating transformer advert people.

At 12:20 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

The Transforming Citroens in the series of commercials were created by The Embassy, a visual effects house up in Vancouver.

At 4:39 pm, Blogger Robin Kelly said...

I had to be prevented from committing hara kari during Pearl Harbor by the cinema ushers but Transformers was well written and often funny. Although overlong.


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