cast: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, and Rachael Taylor

director: Michael Bay

143 minutes (12) 2007
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Dreamworks DVD Region 4 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Paul Leahy

If you somehow skipped the mid-1980s, it’s possible that you missed the first Transformers invasion to hit planet Earth, when most households were invaded by robot toys that could transform themselves into big trucks, fighter jets, sports cars, etc… Such was the appeal that a friend of mine still laments that one Christmas, instead of receiving the transformer robot he so desperately wanted, he in fact got a clock radio.

That’s essentially the dilemma for the makers of this movie. The gaggle of kids who have already imagined hundreds of battles between Optimus Prime (leader of the Autobots) and Megatron (leader of the Decepticons), are now bringing up children of their own. On the one hand you have to please the original fans and on the other you have to please the new generation that are being swept up with the next transformers wave. It’s a tricky middle ground to try and conquer.

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The premise for Transformers is the typical struggle between good (the Autobots) and evil (the Decepticons). Back in the 1980s, the story started with Optimus Prime, Megatron and their soldiers, crash landing on prehistoric Earth. They remain frozen until they are awoken in 1984 to continue their war, only this time everyone on Earth is caught in the middle. It will be a relief to any transformer aficionado that the film stays true to the original story in all the important aspects.

This movie centres on Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) who unwittingly holds the key to find the Allspark, a source of unlimited power and the cause of the Transformers war. The Autobots had long ago managed to smuggle the Allspark from their home planet and as luck would have it, it ended up on ours. Megatron being the power hungry robot that he is will still stop at nothing to obtain it. Which is bad news for Sam as the Decepticons are a single-minded bunch and the only thing standing in their way is Optimus Prime’s soldiers and a top secret Earth agency.

What surprised me most about this movie is how genuinely funny it is. There are some great one-liners that are delivered with superb comic timing by LaBeouf. Of course there are a few scenes that fall completely flat and might be worth a cringe or two but by and large there’s a healthy dose of comedy to go with the robot busting action.

Every time I see LaBeouf he seems to come up with a winning performance. Here he does a good job of portraying a typical teenager who has to adjust to the shock of finding alien robots appearing from every direction. As he puts it with a casual shrug “I bought a car. Turned out to be an alien robot.” I suspect in other hands his character could have turned out to be a little annoying, instead he turns out to be quite engaging.

I should really mention that the special effects by Industrial Light & Magic are fantastic. The CGI is extremely well done and the robots blend in extraordinarily well with the actors. Michael Bay brings it all together reasonably well in a lengthy package – even though it runs well over two hours I didn’t find myself wishing for the end. The only criticism I have is that at times there are two many characters and plotlines running a little incoherently against each other.

This I feel is where we are let down as it means that most of the characters are a little one-dimensional. For example, Megan Fox doesn’t really have much to work with and is cast almost as the typical ‘stand there and look pretty’ love interest. Unfortunately to some degree the same can be said for the Transformers themselves, except it’s in more of a ‘fight over there and look awesome’ kind of way. The only exception is a couple of the devious Decepticon robots that get to interact mischievously with the cast.

It’s really left to LaBeouf and the special effects to carry it all through to the end. Not that it really matters. A lot of what’s put in front of you is fun to watch and it’s easy to let it wash over you. After all, this is an action blockbuster that’s looking to hit as wide an audience as possible. I have to say Transformers pleasantly surprised me. The kind of film that brings memories charging back from my childhood tends to fill me with dread, but this was well done. I don’t think any Transformers fan (young or old) will be complaining too much about this one. It’s very enjoyable and a lot of fun to watch.

There are two editions of the DVD that you can get – the first is a no frills version that simply has the movie and nothing else. It’s cheaper and is for those who just want an entertaining movie to watch. The second is a two-disc special edition and is a must buy for Transformers fans. Disc one has the movie and a Michael Bay commentary track, but it’s disc two where all the goodies are. There are three broad themes covered in over two hours of footage – Our World: primarily concerned with the production of the film; Their War: all about the robots, Hasbro and the work of ILM; More Than Meets The Eye: this is a behind-the-scenes look at the battle between the robot scorpion and the soldiers in the desert.