Looking back at TRANSFORMERS - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Looking back at TRANSFORMERS

Before Transformers: Age Of Extinction opens in UK cinemas on July 10th, Tom Pheby takes a look back at the previous big screen installments, starting with 2007s Transformers.

Transformers is a gloriously quirky film that doesn't give a hoot about being so. Michael Bay picks up what was a so-so cartoon in the 1980's and gives it the full treatment in a lavish, effects fueled extravaganza that is equally amazing as it is ridiculous. It would be easy to scoff at this film and pull it apart at the seams, but you have to give Bay so much credit for weaving all the elements together, and simply making it enjoyable. Bay even manages to get us attached to a car, and make us all wish we all owned it, especially when it plays music to suit the romantic intentions of the driver. Maybe that's the next innovation for one of the major car manufacturers (we live in hope!). Once you recover from the fact that cars, trucks and even domestic appliances can sprout legs and arms, trot about and converse freely, Transformers becomes a strange type of treat. The effects are superb and tend to make you overlook the obvious failures, which it undoubtedly has.

Sam Witwicky the central character is played by Shia LaBeouf, the only actor working in Hollywood who may be named after a gourmet beef dish. LaBeouf is his usual wise cracking, streetwise, opinionated and annoying self. I'm not sure how long he can keep serving up the same act without being totally rumbled by the viewing public, he seems to have the uncanny ability to look at a character's description and think "I'll just play myself". In Transformers he deals with his limitations like a trouper, basically spending large parts of the movie open mouthed, or looking scared to death, or a mixture of both with the occasional hint of bafflement. Only Shia LaBeouf knows how to employ those expressions with such alarming regularity whilst being paid handsomely for his efforts. But amongst all his LaBeouf-ness he somehow manages to get us to care about his character and enjoy his comic timing and flourishes. 

Transformers is a tale of two species fighting for power. We have the good guys, the Autobots headed by Juggernaut Optimus Prime, and the bad guys, the Decepticons lead by Megatron. They are in an intergalactic struggle for a seemingly harmless cube - the Allspark - which promises limitless power to whoever possesses it. Sam Witwicky's birthday looms and a car is what he craves, so super dotting Dad (Kevin Dunn) cruelly drives him past all the hot car showrooms to the cheapest car lot on the planet. In amongst the heaps of rust buckets and knackered vehicles touted by Bobby Bolivia (Bernie Mac) is a 1976 yellow and black Camaro, which just happens to be an alien life form known as Bumblebee. Witwicky also has the location of the Allspark mapped out on a Grandfather's glasses, which he has been busy trying to flog off to everyone and anyone, thus making himself central to the action. 

Once we cut to the chase and the action starts in earnest, Transformers becomes much brighter and the wow factor kicks in. It's not rocket science and is firmly aimed at an audience that enjoys excitement over hefty plot and believable scripts. Stuff seems to blow up at ten minute intervals, and if you've got the surround sound on you could be forgiven for thinking the World is about to end or your roof is about to cave in! It's not for everyone and took a fair beating across the board from seasoned critics upon release, but it wasn't pretending to be anything other than it is, so to those detractors I say "Get a life!". Yes the dialogue can be a bit claggy and predictable, but show me a popcorn movie without a bag full of corny cliches.

The casting is an absolute delight, full of energetic cartoonesque performances which consolidate the lulls in the action and compensate for the dips in credibility. Kevin Dunn shines brightly as Sam's droll Father Ron, alongside Julie White as his oblivious spouse. There's also goofy Agent Simmonds, played for laughs by the superb John Tuturro. Every time Tuturro is on screen he behaves like a thief, literally stealing every scene with his wonderful presence and leaving the others in his wake. We also get the latest in a line of Hollywood ladies whose silence is worth more on screen than her actual performance - Megan Fox! This is certainly one of those cases of looks over substance, but for those out there with a bleak existence and a pause button on the remote control, Fox probably serves a purpose.  

Although Transformers is not epic, it has its moments and was busy enough to keep me highly entertained. It's a bright and breezy offering which delivers in parts, if not overall, but justifies the admission fee and remains memorable. Transformers goes to prove that not everything has to have foreign subtitles to be worthy of note.

On Wednesday Tom looks back at Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

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