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Transformers (2007)

Let’s get a few things out of the way:

1. I know about all of the complaints against this movie. I know that it’s racist (that Indian telephone operator), juvenile (the Bumblebee pissing “joke”), poorly acted (Megan Fox) and just plain uncomfortable at times (the masturbation gag). I’m not going to waste anybody’s time trying to make a comprehensive list, nor will I make any futile attempt to deny or disprove these things.

2. Only a hyperactive and superficial man-child could possibly have been qualified to make this movie. Remember:  It’s based on a glorified toy commercial about giant alien robots turning into cars, blasting each other to pieces and beating each other up. Say what you will about Michael Bay, but at least he’s a hyperactive and superficial man-child who has the Pentagon on speed-dial. He gets unparalleled support from the Armed Forces, he can shoot cars like few others in the business know how to do, he’s an expert at stunts and he’d sooner commit seppuku than deliver a film over-budget or behind schedule for any reason. Love him or hate him, Bay was the only man who could have made this movie.

3. When I say that I know about all of the complaints against this movie, I mean that I know about ALL of them. I know every plot hole, every flub, every petty fan complaint about broken Transformers canon and chances are good that I knew about them long before you did.

It’s not like I was even a Transformers fan to begin with. Sure, I was into Beast Wars as a kid, but the original Transformers heyday was a few years before my time. However, I’ve always been a fan of following movie news and keeping up on the latest from upcoming blockbusters, and Transformers was on everyone’s radar back in 2006. I read the Transformers news as it came in and eventually, I noticed that a lot of it seemed to be coming from the same place: The message board at DonMurphy.Net, the online home of exec producer Don Murphy.

I visited the board out of curiosity and noticed that it wasn’t just Murphy who had set up shop there: Right at the top of the forum, there was a stickied thread where screenwriter Roberto Orci was talking with forum users and answering their questions. On the September of 2006, I finally registered to ask Orci a question about product placement in the movie. Not long after, I was completely stuck in this forum.

It was only ten months between then and the movie’s release on 7.4.7, but it felt like a lifetime. I was there for every fan debate that inevitably followed when some new picture from the production was leaked — and there were stretches of time when leaks were coming in every other day. Hell, I read and downloaded an entire leaked screenplay draft that served as the basis for many arguments about the movie (we were told it was outdated and this was more or less a lie. The final result was different, but not about much that mattered). We argued over everything, from who should voice which characters to whether or not Optimus Prime should always have his faceplate on to whether the characters should arrive by individual comets or a single group carrier (the latter is more energy-efficient, better at shielding against extreme temperatures and closer to canon, BTW).

At the same time, I made some good friends there. I ardently helped one forum member with his (unsuccessful) campaign to join the movie’s voice cast. I cheered on another member as he relocated to Hollywood to try and start his own Airbender-like TV show (he’s still meeting with TV execs about that, last I heard). I gave feedback to pictures and songs that members created and posted for the Transformers fandom and for unrelated purposes. I was part of a group filled with passionate fans, talented individuals and Hollywood players. We supported each other, fought with each other and laughed at each other. It was my first time being in a huge international online community and I deeply enjoyed it. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to find another community just like it for Watchmen and eventually went on to start my own.

That’s right: If it wasn’t for Don Murphy — the man who helped fuck up From Hell and LXG so badly that Alan Moore exiled himself from Hollywood — I never would have become the moderator for a group of Watchmen fans 2,000 strong. I’ve never entirely made my peace with this.

In June of ’07 — a mere month before the movie’s release, remember — I went in to get my wisdom teeth removed. My dad drove me home afterward, got me all settled into the couch and put some ice packs nearby. He asked if there was anything else I needed. I replied that I wanted a Leader-class Optimus Prime. I have absolutely no idea why I asked that at the time, but I was still recovering from the anesthesia, so I guess anything’s possible. Anyway, Dad got it for me, calling it an early birthday present so I wouldn’t have to pay him back for it. As I type this, Optimus is standing right next to my laptop. I never bought or received any of the other toys, just the one souvenir of my time on the DM.Net board and my anticipation for this movie.

When the film premiered at 8:00 pm on July 3rd of that year, I was there in line to see it at the Lloyd Center. Dad was there with me.

I visited the forum regularly for about two years. By the end of it, Watchmen mania was in full swing, real-life matters were getting more difficult and there wasn’t any news from Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen worth following. I took a break from the forum in August of 2008. When I finally came back a few months later, I couldn’t bring myself to post. After spending so many months learning how to moderate and run a forum, I just couldn’t go back to a board where the only rule is anarchy. I’d forgotten just how uncivil the place could get and I wasn’t used to that after the intelligent conversations I was enjoying at WCM on a regular basis. I had outgrown DM.Net and I don’t expect I’ll ever go back, but I remain no less thankful for the great times that I had there.

As for Transformers itself… well, it’s watchable. Shia LaBeouf does a good enough job for what little he has to work with and he seems unusually comfortable working against giant robots that aren’t there. It’s always awesome to hear Peter Cullen play Optimus Prime. Even when his lines are horrible (“Sorry, my bad.”), Cullen still finds a way to make it work. Megatron is suitably badass when he finally arrives, though Hugo Weaving is so hammy in the role that I’m amazed he didn’t start chewing on the microphone in lieu of scenery.

The sound design is superlative, the special effects are awesome and I love the action. I’m especially fond of how Bay decided to make the Transformers active and swift, instead of the slow and lumbering behemoths that physics says they should be. Unfortunately, the movie takes a notable dip in quality when robots aren’t chasing each other or blowing stuff up and I wouldn’t blame anyone who can’t stand those stretches of time. Except, of course, for the Autobots’ arrival scene. The score for that scene is awesome and watching it sends chills down my back every time.

On another note, I should concede that I’ve chosen to employ the classic geek method of selective memory in regard to the sequels. I’ve gone very far out of my way to avoid seeing ROTF even once and I don’t expect that I’ll ever watch the (currently filming) third one, either. I’d much rather pretend that they didn’t exist, as the first movie means a lot to me in a way that the sequels never could. I simply can’t watch the 2007 movie without remembering the stories coming from behind the scenes and all the fervor that I was party to. It’s a wonderful nostalgic feeling and not the one that the movie was made to profit from.

I’m not going to pretend that Transformers is a great movie or even an especially good one, but it’s definitely a lot of fun in places. God knows it should’ve could’ve been a hell of a lot worse. Moreover, there’s not a doubt in my mind that the movie — however indirectly — affected my life very deeply.  As such, for better or worse, this retrospective simply wouldn’t be complete without it.

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