Sunday, May 20, 2007


The new Transformers trailer is up*, and it's exciting enough that nerds all over the internet seem to be ready to forgive Michael Bay.

One of my biggest initial disappointments with the Transformers movie was hearing that Bumblebee would not be played by a Volkswagen Bug. Isn't that the whole point of his name? Someone told me that part of the reason was that they wanted to avoid reminding people of Herbie.

It's easier to see why after watching the opening scenes of the new trailer, which could easily be straight out of a Herbie movie. Shia LaBeouf picks out a used car while a salesman tells him, "A driver doesn't pick a car, a car picks the driver...there's a mystical bond between man and machine," and in the next scene, the car drives off on its own. If he were sitting in a Volkwagen, the comparison would be unavoidable. As a little tease/homage, a yellow Bug is parked next to Bumblebee in the used car lot.

Now that I see it, Bumblebee as a vintage Camaro is actually pretty cool. So cool, in fact, that his later form as a new Camaro feels unnecessary, a crass cash in. As do all the GM-branded Autobots. A new Camaro is not as cool as a vintage Camaro, unless you're GM and want everyone to know how cool the new one is. I've always thought that cars gained a certain coolness from being featured distinctively and prominently in a movie, but once you start advertising that connection with explicitly commercial tie-ins, you ruin what makes it special. If you're an auto company, even if you are lending your vehicles as a commercial tie-in, you'd be better off not making it so obvious. Don't run commercials about the GM Autobots. That would have made your cars feel cool, but now it just makes the Autobots feel like sellouts. Did they all really have to be GM cars? Did Optimus Prime sign an endorsement deal? At a certain point it takes you out of the movie.

James Bond driving BMWs meant nothing, because we knew that he was only driving them because BMW had paid. The Cadillacs in Matrix Reloaded could have gained a certain cachet from being in a cool car chase (if the movie had been good), but it was really obvious that they were only there as a brand tie-in. It's not like the heroes drove an awesome car that happened to be a Cadillac, it was just some car they grabbed in a garage. And the fact that the heroes and the villains drove Cadillacs made the brand tie in even more obvious and meaningless. Why get greedy? It's not the number of cars featured, it's the quality of the appearance. If it feels too much like a car commercial, you've blown it.

How on earth are they going to justify Bumblebee being updated from a vintage Camaro to a new Camaro that's not even on the market yet? He's going to get wrecked, and rebuilt, and they seek out blueprints from the GM factory? I don't know, it seems a little forced. In the trailer, it appears that he has his new form by the time Shia meets Optimus, which you'd think would be early in the movie.

Aside from the choice of vehicles and my theories on automobile/movie tie-ins, this trailer is a lot better than the ones we've seen before. The Shia/Bumblebee scenes finally allow us to connect a little bit with at least two of the characters, which helps create the impression that there is some scrap of story and context for all the mayhem that follows.

*Incidentally, how awful is Yahoo's new non-Quicktime trailer page? If you don't take the time to get the HD version, you get this fuzzy streaming clip seemingly designed for people who hate sharpness and detail. You can barely see the human faces, let alone the robots. What's the point of this terrible proprietary player? It's still not embeddable or anything.



Steve said...

This was different in the terrible early draft I read - the one where the Autobots go to the guys from Pimp my Ride to get pimped out so they can beat the Decepticons. One non-terrible thing about that was that Bumblebee wasn't any sort of identifiable model. In the first act, people kept asking what kind of car it was, and even the dealer said he had never seen anything like it.

That made a lot more sense, even if everything else about that draft sucked.

Zack said...

I don't like cars very much, but appreciate this cars-focused Transformers commentary. I would of course never have realized that they were all GM cars, and in fact assumed that Camaros were Japanese (based on the vowel at the end of the name, I think). Nor did I notice that Matrix had Cadillacs.

Here's my take on the trailer: the robots all look like stupid metal insects. None of them resemble their vehicle forms, and only Optimus Prime is even recognizable. None of them exhibit any personality or, indeed, have facial expressions. Or talk?

Why adapt a story about human-like robots and then make them monsters? This is like if the Batman movies had been about the Gotham cops who deal with Batman and Penguin wrecking stuff in the background.

I don't understand.

Kenny said...

I agree about the robot forms. I was going to mention it but the car thing kind of took over the post. One cool thing about the Transformers originally was that the robots had all sorts of recognizable car/truck/plane parts hanging off them, so that you could see what they had transformed from. A robot made from truck parts looks cool. Here, the car pieces are reduced to such tiny fragment they hardly matter. You're also left wondering how you could possibly not notice a car with that many hidden seams in the metal.

That said, they do talk, just not in this trailer (Defamer and Jalopnik are up in arms about how dumb the "lips" look). And I understand the decision to ground the movie in human characters. As much as you think you want the movie to be about Optimus and co. exclusively, I could see it being somewhat distancing and inaccessible for your main characters to be special effects (even though, in another sense, the effects are indeed the stars of the movie).

Zack said...

I could see it being somewhat distancing and inaccessible for your main characters to be special effects

The real problem is treating the robots like special effects in the first place. The most interesting characters in The Transformers are all robots. Nobody gives a shit about Spike (who, incidentally, looks exceedingly well cast in the new movie). You watch for the robots, or you don't watch. So why in God's name would you make Spike the main character of a feature film when he couldn't even carry an episode or a kid's TV show?

An earlier draft of this comment included the phrase "IP-huffing officially sanctioned pop culture vomitorium that is Hollywood" and I feel it should be preserved for some reason

lyan! said...

I think that the human people should wear nascar jackets with all those ridiculous patches on them.

I also think this movie will be dumb.