Last month I saw a 15-minute preview of Transformers: Dark of the Moon ahead of a screening of Super 8 for Bleeding Cool. A review of Super 8 will follow when the embargo lifts but I can say that Super 8 is as excellent as Transformers 3 is… I’m trying to think of the right single word to describe it. ‘Awful’ doesn’t seem to do justice to the shambles of its script, acting, story, editing, directing, message. If it weren’t for the fact that its 3D is really rather good and there are a couple of scenes in it which do grab your attention (CGI-wise), I think I’d call it diabolical.
My impressions of the 15-minute teaser, which you can read at Bleeding Cool, weren’t that bad. That is because they must have scoured the full 2 hours and 34 minutes of the completed product to find 15 minutes that had enough CGI and 3D spectacle to wow. The 20-minute taster of Tron: Legacy was the same. I was concerned that my head wouldn’t be able to bear the full Transformers 3. The sensory overload would be too much. I needn’t have worried. Whereas the scenes of buildings crashing down as Decepticons mole through through them – almost like the worms of Tremors made metal – looked great for 15 minutes, the momentum of the film was such a mess that I was so busy checking my watch and counting the number of seats in the row in front of me that I was sedated by the excessive action.
The film starts promisingly enough in a surprisingly evocative recreation of the moon landings, complete with original footage and JFK, followed by the stunning 3D back and frontdrop of the moon itself. The whole point of the moon landing was in fact to investigate the remains of an alien spaceship that crashed into the dark side of the moon. Before long we discover that this craft is The Arc, a relic from the war between the Autobots and the Decepticons. You won’t be surprised to hear that this war is now about to be brought to Earth.
As always, the effects are superb and they are enhanced by the 3D (director Michael Bay worked closely with 3D Master James Cameron), but how many times can we watch transformers transform? This third film does try a little harder and there are some clever sequences, notably when Bumblebee saves Sam (Shia laBoeuf) by effectively unwrapping and then rewrapping around him. But, for me, scenes like this are ruined when I look at what is going on at the edges of the action. During one of the big set piece ‘car’ chases, the other drivers on the road appear oblivious to the fullscale peril of what is going on around them. They don’t drive faster, they don’t attempt to get out of the way. This sums up Transformers 3 for me – so much attention has gone on the effects that there is little left for everything else. This might help to explain why.
A good case in point of this complete disregard for characterisation comes in the supermodel shape of Rosie Huntington-Whiteley as Carly, Sam’s girlfriend. There is absolutely no point in Carly – she is only there to show that Sam can get hot girfriends and to embody the human equivalent of an expensive sensuous ride in a glamorous car. It’s done with even less subtlety than that. It’s made explicit. She says very little, which is just as well because what she says is terrible and badly delivered, but it’s hard not to feel some sympathy for someone who is treated with such contempt by a director. I hope Rosie made a lot of money from this film.
Shia LaBoeuf is as appalling as he is in most films. Harrison Ford recently reacted to LaBoeuf’s criticism of Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull. When I read this I thought how I will always go and see a Harrison Ford movie because you know that there’s a high chance it will be good. The opposite can be said for LaBoeuf. Why an actor would criticise one of his own films, whether it deserved it or not, and then continue to commit himself to the Transformers franchise is beyond me. Except if it’s all about the money.
My biggest disappointment with Transformers 3, speaking personally here, was the appearance of Leonard Nimoy, or at least his voice, as the voice of Sentinel Prime. The familiar and much-loved gravelly tones of one of my lifelong screen heroes was hard to stomach. And with this you can also include the out of place cameo of Buzz Aldrin, a ridiculous performance by John Malkovitch and sleepwalking by Frances McDormand. But then there’s Patrick Dempsey who looks right at home in his role.
I think that many of the faults of Transformers: Dark of the Moon may have been mitigated if the film had been a good 45 minutes shorter. It is far too long and the length only reinforces everything that is wrong with it. There are occasional moments that are breathtaking – notably the scene in which soldiers freefall in squirrel suits among tumbling buildings, aircraft and fire. We’re right there with them thanks to the 3D camera on the head of one. But that is spoiled by later scenes of testosterone posturing, as the soldiers emerge in slow motion at the moment of victory.
The 3D is the best I’ve seen for a while, helped by the fact that I saw this at a good cinema. It wasn’t too dark and it did contribute to the spectacular effects. But why were moments of action (the best bits of this film) clunkily interrupted for meaningless and excruciating scenes between Sam and Carly or Sam and his parents?
The best thing I can say about Transformers 3 is that it wasn’t Transformers 2. I hope to high heaven there won’t be a Transformers 4 to compare it with.