That's Something You Don't See Every Day, Chauncey

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Posts Tagged ‘christopher guest’

And then at the end there is a pretty pretty rainbow.

Posted by kozemp on June 26, 2009

Let me make something perfectly clear right from the start: I loved the first Transformers movie. LOVED it. No one is saying it’s Lawrence of Arabia or anything, but to deny that it is a solidly-built and vastly entertaining film is to deny that the sky is blue. My PARENTS loved Transformers, for God’s sake. We heartily endorse the first movie. It’s great. I love it. And now, a day after seeing Revenge of the Fallen, I love the first movie even more, because now we know what it could have been. We now have firsthand evidence what a bad Transformers movie is like.

Even the poster is kinda lousy.

Even the poster is kinda lousy.

What a really, REALLY bad Transformers movie is like.

The great sadness of ROTF is not that it’s bad. Don’t get me wrong – at a macroscopic level it is frighteningly bad. No, the great sadness is that it suffers from Quantum of Solace Syndrome: somewhere inside the misshapen hulk that is Revenge of the Fallen lies an honest-to-god good movie, cowering in a crawlspace like Newt. Unfortunately the powers that be chose to take that good movie, beat it into cringing submission with a leather strap, and surround it with mountains of crap that might as well have been Junkticons, since apparently our intrepid production team thought that specific, direct references to the cartoon were the most important thing missing from the first film.

Helpful hint: specific, direct references to the cartoon WERE the most important thing missing from the first film, and the fact that they were missing was a GOOD thing. Further helpful hint: for however much we wistfully look back at the cartoon in a vain attempt to recapture the happy, discernment-free days of our youth, we must realize that the important part of that statement is “discernment-free” because when you were seven years old your young brain was physically incapable of realizing that the original cartoon was, and continues to be, FUCKING AWFUL. And aping the tone and general maturity level of a fucking awful cartoon leaves your movie – wait for it – FUCKING AWFUL AS WELL.

To continue with the trend, the key word in that phrase is “tone.” Tone is a slippery word to use when describing literature; unlike technical terms like “plot” or “characterization” it means too many different things to different people (though my perusal of the online reaction to ROTF reveals that a startling percentage of people flat out don’t know what the word “plot” means). It’s sort of style but not really, it can describe a film’s belief as to its intended audience but it also can’t, that sort of thing.

Setting those concerns aside, though, one of the first movie’s strengths was its tone: it was adult, it was realistic (within the confines of giant robot scifi), it didn’t talk down to its audience, and for the most part it was deadly, deadly serious. I’d be willing to bet that at least part of the reason it turned out that way was an attempt to subvert expectations: everyone just assumed a Transformers movie directed by Michael Bay would be an idiotic no-story toy commercial blow-em-up, so they purposefully made a serious alien invasion movie where the invading aliens just happened to be giant shapeshifting robots.

(Imagine Deep Space Nine if the Founders turned into runabouts instead of birds. In a word: FUCKING AWESOME.)

Oh, and it also had ridiculously amazing action sequences.

You watch this scene from the first movie where they fight Scorponok, and if the whole sequence doesn’t take your breath away you must not have had any breath in the first place. (And in that case, you know, stay the fuck away from me, zombie.) It is a perfect amalgam of cinematography, visual effects, music, and editing. It is pure adrenaline on film and there are FIVE MORE JUST LIKE IT. If you want to dismiss it as just an action film and tell me that scifi action movies can’t be great movies in their own right I will kindly direct your attention to Aliens and The Empire Strikes Back, then kindly inform you that you are the worst kind of obnoxious cineaste asshole, and then kindly ask you to shut the fuck up.

Yes, the first movie wasn’t perfect. Sam’s parents and the late, lamented Bernie Mac are overused and overdone. I am unsure as to why Anthony Anderson and the Australian chick (whose name I am not even bothering to look up since you wouldn’t recognize it anyway) are in it at all. And John Turturro, oh for god’s sake Turturro, his performance is from some other movie entirely. So basically, er, the first movie’s problems boil down to the humans. EXCEPT, he noted with evil glee, Sam and the soldier guys. This is not surprising, because – like we talked about below vis a vis Anakin Skywalker – Sam and the soldier guys WANTED things. Sam wanted to save his car/dog and get the girl. Josh Duhamel wanted to see his kid. Tyrese wanted to kick ass. (It is, I would think, safe to assume that the soldier dudes also wanted to get the insanely-hot girl.) All the other humans wanted to run around and wave their hands in the air like flaming spastics. For god’s sake, even the fucking robots wanted something. The Decepticons wanted power. The Autobots wanted to protect the humans. Both sides wanted the Allspark.

This is basic Drama 101 type stuff: characters who want things (even if they’re giant robots) are interesting, and thus make for interesting drama. Characters who don’t want things are not, and thus do not. The biggest problem with the second movie is that it violates this cardinal rule by… well, it’s sort of two-fold.

For starters, this time around NONE of the humans seem to want anything, even the ones who wanted things previously. Sam has already gotten the girl. In fact, in the new film Sam’s primary problems are that he is trying to break up with his supercar that turns into a giant robot and that he is unable to verbalize his commitment to the hottest girl in the known universe, both of which together demonstrate nothing so much as the fact that our hero is the single dumbest human being alive. The army guys are pretty muted. Lennox has seen his kid (I mean, one presumes he has in the space between movies). Him and Tyrese do nothing but pal around with the Autobots and travel the world kicking Decepticon ass. Their primary concern for 90% of the film’s running time is not the evil Decepticons but an obnoxious White House staffer. We took the only remotely interesting human characters from the first movie and turned them into harried housewives.

The second part of the anti-drama problem is that we have taken our newly-boring heroes, dropped them in with other useless fleshbags (some from the first film), all of whom are now VASTLY less interesting than the giant robots, and then we proceed to spend the vast majority of the film dealing with their stuff.

The movie is called “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” and:

– Most of the movie is about humans doing silly human things like going to parties and having relationship issues and how funny it is when old people get high. Transformers: Revenge of Embarrassing Parental Behavior.
– The Fallen is on screen for MAYBE 90 seconds.
– The Fallen doesn’t actually want revenge for anything. He just wants to finish a project he left behind a long time ago, like a paint-by-numbers you start one summer and get bored with and then find in a closet a few months later.
– Again, and this is so important it bears repeating, a movie called Transformers DOESN’T SPEND ENOUGH TIME SHOWING GIANT ROBOTS.
– Oh, this doesn’t really have anything to do with the inaccuracy of the title, but there’s a really old robot in it that you know is old because he has a beard and a cane.

I would have said that a robot with an OLD MAN BEARD is the dumbest fucking thing I’ve ever seen, but it was only about halfway through the movie.

I’m not going to talk about every face-palming idiotic moment in the film. There are far too many and I don’t want to be here all day. The best exemplar was when Sam and Co. head for the National Air and Space Museum (located here) and, after a short scene in which the film exhumes, robs, and sexually violates the corpse of the most awesome Transformer ever, proceed out the back door of the National Air and Space Museum (located here) onto a windswept prairie in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains (located, say, here). I am not making this up. This transition actually takes place in the movie. What makes it great? Beforehand a character explicitly states that they are going to Washington DC. And then it cuts to the mountain west. It is the platonic ideal of both unintentional hilarity and slapdash, lackadaisical no-thought filmmaking.

Sitting there watching the awfulness unfold before me, muttering “oh my god this is fucking stupid” every 94 seconds, I wondered how things could have gotten so bad. ROTF was made, after all, by the same bunch of guys (less Rogers) who did such a good job on the first one. Say what you will about Michael Bay – and many things can be said – but between The Rock and the first Transformers the guy at the very least knows how to shoot a kick-ass action movie. Kurtzman and Orci are the team behind Fringe, the best show on television that you’re not watching, and their script for the brilliant Star Trek relaunch was tighter than a whore’s miniskirt. For God’s sake, they made the first movie, and we’ve established how awesome that was. So this was the question I kept asking myself: how did they go so wrong this time?

Then I remembered something:

The writer’s strike.

Revenge of the Fallen went into production just as the writer’s strike was starting. They started shooting with just a treatment – not even a full script. Suddenly some of the ridiculous choices started, if not to make sense, than to become at least explicable. So THAT’S why the people never acted like actual people: they didn’t have lines, they were just working off an outline by a guy whose last writing credit was a car commercial!  NOW we know why every single frame that isn’t an action scene is so bizarre and unrealistic! They were created by a replicant whose only programming is on how to direct action sequences! God, the answer was right in front of me all along!

Afterwards, walking out of the theatre, I realized that we have, in fact, been given a great gift: now we know what happens when you spend 200 million dollars to make a movie that literally does not have a script. We joke about, “oh that script was terrible” or “did a monkey write this movie,” but now there is a new nadir to base all future comparisons on. In a way, honestly, it almost excuses the movies worst excesses and most blatant idiocies: what do you expect from a movie with no script?

Son of a BITCH…

Ultimately, there are those who will try to write off the movie’s deficiencies as “it’s just a summer blockbuster.” The only reasonable response to that is NO. FUCK YOU. NOT BY A FUCKING LONG SHOT. Summer blockbusters can be legitimately great movies. The Dark Knight. Spider-Man 2. Jurassic Park. Terminator 2. Iron Man. Pirates of the Caribbean. Men in Black. RAIDERS. For God’s sake, Raiders. Summer blockbusters and outstanding “real” movies all, and if you don’t think so you are fucking stupid. And, even if we ignore the whole summer blockbuster idiocy, Revenge of the Fallen gets held up to a legitimate movie standard because THE SAME PEOPLE ALREADY MADE A GREAT TRANSFORMERS MOVIE. It is not unreasonable to believe – assume, even – that they would do so again. And the fact that they failed doesn’t just make the movie bad – lots and lots and oh god LOTS of other things do that – it makes the movie a disappointment, which is honestly worse than just being bad. If the first movie had been the junk we all expected it to be, then the depths of absurdity plumbed by ROTF would have been a lot easier to swallow; after all, we had a baseline. But to hit such a home run in your first at bat and then go down looking on a piker fastball in your second is just…

Yeah, I know, you’d think we’d be used to that feeling by now.

But the best, most ridiculous, most “my life is an exercise in exponentially increasing insanity” moment?

Walking out of the theatre with Nick and Reg, after a few seconds of stunned silence we turned to each other and started loudly bitching about how heartbroken we were that the movie was so bad, since, after the setup of the first movie, heartbreaking is what this one’s awfulness boils down to. We stood there outside the AMC Neshaminy 24 wailing and gnashing our teeth. Then, at one point, I turned to look at where I’m parked and this is what I saw right over my car:

IMG_0017

They say that whenever God closes a door he opens a window. For the rest of you norms that may be the case. My version of that is a little different: every time God sticks a fork in your eye, he also jabs a tablespoon in your gut.

A fucking rainbow. I can hear you laughing from all the way down here, you bastard.

JLK

*In the comments: your favorite ridiculous moment/non sequitur/idiotic scene from Revenge of the Fallen.

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