July 24, 2011

Transformers 3: Dark Of The Moon (7/24/2011)

Lettergrade: D+

My wife had been on bed-rest for much of July, and I was home virtually all month taking care of her. As such, I was kinda dying to get out and see a movie... any movie. Mostly, I think I just wanted the movie theater popcorn, a weird, unexplainable life-long addiction that I've never been proud of. In any case, we're fortunate here in Marina del Rey because we have two movie theaters directly across the street from our house, boasting 12 screens between them (although the theaters themselves seem to be more like what I remember low-rent cineplexes being like in the 80s). I waited until Laura went to bed one night, reviewed my options, and for some reason determined that Transformers 3: Dark Of The Moon was the best game in town.

Now, I can't really say what led me to take a third bite from this overdone franchise. I saw part 1 in 2007 with my friend Chris, mostly out of my nostalgic love for the cartoon show, despite seriously disliking the previous films of Michael Bay. There were a few memory twinges throughout the flick that reminded me of watching the series as a kid, but the film largely proved to be a noisy and incoherent piece of shit that neither told a satisfying story nor did it even really showcase the innate coolness of giant autonomous space robots who can change into cars or airplanes or jukeboxes or shit like that whilst duking it out on our planet.

I saw part 2 two years later because there was absolutely hysterical fan hatred for it on the internet and a wide array of completely savage film reviews circulating in the press which went into nuanced detail about how preposterously awful it is. I must blame Roger Ebert in particular for writing a review that was so brutal and side-splittingly funny that that I pretty much had to see the picture itself so I could fully appreciate what he was complaining about.

And so... I saw part 2, and the staggering degree of badness wasn't even fun. Not only were there illiterate, black Autobots playing a prominent role in the story, but there was also a Deceptacon who talks like Joe Pesci for no apparent reason, a scene where a different giant robot appeared to have testicles, and then - and this was the deal closer for me - an instantly legendary segment where Shia LeBeouf dies, then floats up to heaven where Robot Angels (or something) tell him that it is his destiny to return to his body and help defeat the Deceptacons during the film's senseless climax in Egypt.

2 made use of the same bullshit editing style where no shot is held for more than a second and a half before cutting to another angle... it stuck to the same philosophy toward camera work where the ideal way to show an expensive visual effect is to get the camera close to it and shake the hell out of it so you can't even really tell what you're looking at... and it had the same piss-poor acting from LeBeouf and Megan Fox, combined with ill-advised appearances from a lot of wonderful actors like John Turturro, who did the best he could with what he had to work with, but really deserves better.

So why the fuck, you may be wondering, did I go in for part three? Well, again I didn't have much interest in seeing many of the other movies that were out... I didn't want to see that shitty looking J.J. Abrams Motel 6 movie that was still playing, and I didn't like either Captain America or Harry Potter 8 enough to sit through them again.

And then there was the fact that although I don't care for 3D, generally, the film was actually shot using 3D cameras (as opposed to being shot 2D and then converted to 3D, as many films are), and the color was graded to be brighter than normal, meaning that when the 3D glasses remove some of the brightness, the picture should still appear to be somewhat normal, not dark and dingy as 3D typically does. Michael Bay reportedly sent this letter to theater projectionists encouraging them to take extra care to project the film at the proper brightness level to achieve the correct effect (and inspiring this hysterical response).

Other factors that got me in to see the flick were that it was shot near where I grew up in Chicago, and although the trailers strongly suggested that the city was to be completely decimated by giant robots, at least I could gaze lovingly at familiar structures like Navy Pier and The Field Museum for a few moments before Megatron or one of the Dinobots tripped and landed on them.

But anyway, enough preamble... on to the flick. Well, it's awful, but for the first hour or so it's much better than its predecessors, at least. Working in 3D apparently inspired Bay to tone down his editing and shooting style a bit, and indeed shots are held on for reasonable amounts of time, and the filmmaking is almost traditional, in a sense. There are many indications that Bay actually paid some degree of attention to the critical lambasting he got over part 2 in particular, and he put substantial effort into developing unique personalities for the various robots and making sure we could actually tell them apart this time.

On that level, I guess, I have to applaud him. But Bay's newfound maturity melts away in the last hour or so, however, and we're back into a mindless orgy of robot-on-robot violence again. I sort of blacked out during sections of this last hour, to be honest with you, which probably made whatever story was present seem less understandable still, but even before that I had no idea what the fuck was happening so I'm not sure my lack of consciousness really made a difference.

What else... oh yeah, porn-star quality actress Megan Fox was fired from the movie by producer Steven Spielberg (Casper, The Flintstones) shortly before they started filming for comparing Michael Bay unfavorably with Hitler, so they replaced her with Victoria's Secret model and first-time semi-actress Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who believe it or not, is even worse. She's playing a different character, technically, than Fox did, but I have a feeling that "screenwriter" Ehren Kruger pretty much just left the script unchanged after she was canned.

Leonard Nimoy provides the voice of a good robot from the past (who had been trapped on the dark side of the moon, providing the film with its title), but then he became a bad robot somewhere along the line, so in this movie he's mostly just being a real dick to everyone. Oh, and alumni from various Coen Brothers movies accepted what I can only presume to be massive checks to appear in the movie too: Turturro reprises his role from the first two flicks, John Malkovich appears as Shia's boss for part of the film, and most surprisingly, Frances McDormand agreed to be the Secretary Of Homeland Security (or something). McDormand is married to Joel Coen, and I'm trying to imagine the scenario where she told him that she was accepting a role in a big, loud, empty and ugly movie like this that is so antithetical to everything that his films have always been about.

So... I don't know, man. The movie's terrible, but they've all been terrible. If you saw the first two... and you liked them... and you walked out of the theater feeling enlightened and satisfied with the experience, but you had kind of wished it had been slightly better, then I guess this is the Transformers movie of your dreams. Although I recognize Transformers 3: Dark Of The Moon as a great improvement over Transformers 2: Revenge Of The Fallen, whenever it is that they get around to making Transformers 4, I'd probably be better off if I just walk over to the theater, buy some popcorn, and then walk back out without actually buying a ticket.

Check out Topless Robot's highly entertaining Transformers 3 FAQ.

Read my entry on the first Transformers (Lettergrade: D) here.

And my entry on Transformers 2: Revenge Of The Fallen (Lettergrade: D) here.

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