More than a guilty pleasure?

The irony of being a movie fan is that no-one dares buys you any dvds (surely the most obvious of presents for any film geek), in case you already own them. This being the case, I like to take steps to ensure that, come the 25th of December, there will be one or two shiny discs for me under the Christmas tree. A small list of suggestions in the appropriate email inbox usually does the trick, I find.

This year, at the top of the aforementioned list were a couple of items: one was the Blade Runner 5-disc set, a film which impresses more with every viewing (and there will be plenty more viewings this year, I am certain);  and Transformers, something which will not come as a surprise to anyone who has read any of my earlier posts. I saw it twice at the cinema, and now a third time on my brand new dvd, and all I can say is: here is another film that just gets better with every viewing.

Now let’s be clear on this. I am in no way comparing Michael Bay’s Transformers to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. The latter is a masterpeice of cinema and a brilliant work of science-fiction; it treats its audience with intelligence; it dazzles, intrigues, and absorbs. It is a film that MUST be seen more than once to be properly appreciated. Transformers, on the other hand, is a commerical product designed purely to make money, based on toys and a cartoon series that were also products designed purely to make money. But the joy of seeing my childhood heroes come to life on the big screen earlier in the year meant that it was Transformers I was keenest to watch post-Xmas present opening. (In my defence, I had caught Blade Runner: The Final Cut at the cinema a few weeks earlier, so I had no urgent desire to watch it straight away again.)

So is this post going to be another act of worship at the altar of Cybertron’s finest? Well, possibly. What struck me was that, despite the obvious reduction in screen size, Michael Bay’s film worked just as well at home as it did in the multiplex. In fact, in some ways it worked better: the action is now easier to watch, it’s more intelligible. And because the script concentrated more on the human characters than the robots, the story was ultimately more involving. My original problem with the film was that the Transformers themselves were not the focus of the story, which meant there was precious little characterisation of them. In hindsight though, I think this was the correct decision: it opened the film up to a much wider audience, introducing this new world of TF to fans and newcomers alike. It allowed the audience to share the ‘Wow’ factor that Shia LaBoeuf’s character experienced. And that’s what Tranformers was all about for us kids in the 80s – how ‘Wow’ it all was. It was only later, through the comics and cartoons, that we came to know the characters of the Transformers themselves more intimately, and my hope is that the in-development sequel will shift the focus to them.

Of course Michael Bay’s film is no masterpiece: it’s too silly to be that. Bay’s direction can still ellicit snorts of derision when he pays too much attention to how wonderful US military hardware looks at sunset. But after three viewings, I think there is genuinely a case to be made that the film is more than a guilty pleasure. It is Fun with a capital F, because, aside from some phenomenal special effects, it has some heart to it – probably the first Bay film to do so. My gut feeling is that Steven Speilberg’s influence as Executive Producer has much to do with that, but I feel nevertheless a little credit should go Bay’s way. Having said that, my dream choice for the director’s chair of the sequel would be James Cameron, who is surely the best action director in Hollywood (except he hasn’t directed anything for 10 years), but I suspect he has bigger fish to fry these days – all-singing, all-dancing, 3-D fish by the sounds of it (the in-production Avatar).

So anyway, ramble over. I’m a Transformers fan, and I liked the new Transformers movie. Call me nuts if you like, but I’ll take it over the noisy, senseless, migraine-inducing 80s cartoon movie any day. Loved it when I was 10; watching it again a few months ago, I was appalled at how badly it had dated. It might have a certain nostalgic value of course, but in no other way can it compete with the new version. Except some of the Transformers looked cooler in animated form, maybe. Maybe.