Transformers looks really expensive. The ILM and Digital Domain effects are extraordinarily complex, with countless huge robots changing forms like rippling rubics' cubes. Some are bad guys (Megatron!), some are good guys (Optimus Prime!), and for some reason they choose to travel as shiny trucks and cars rather than fly. My fave Transformer is Bumblebee, who initially befriends our hero (well-played by Shia LaBeouf) in the form of a yellow Camaro (his first car), and I actually choked up when Bumblebee suffers in the line of battle.
Bay said he enjoyed working every day with the animators, recording voices, making changes, fixing this and enhancing that. They did great work here. Undeniably, Bay has a great eye: there are some amazing action sequences and shots, including some cool real-life locations, exterior and interior, at the Hoover Dam.
Producer Lorenzo Di Bonaventura said it became a macho game for the filmmakers to prove that they could shoot a movie on this scale in L.A. for less than $150 million. DreamWorks' Stacey Snider insisted that the movie cost less than $150 million. Producer Don Murphy quoted $147 million. Bay grabbed my arm and bet me $2000 that it cost less than $150 million. "Make that $5000!" he said.
"They only went a little bit over," said one Paramount executive. The studio certainly scrimped on the party menu: they served July 4th finger food, Burger King burgers and fries, and ice cream.
Transformers works because Bay channeling Spielberg is a good thing. Some of the touches that one might ascribe to Spielberg were actually Bay's, including a moment when a little girl (who looks like Drew Barrymore in E.T.), sees a Transformer in her back yard and asks him if he's the tooth fairy.
The script is charming and comedic and the first 2/3 of the movie is great fun. I am not the target audience for this, so the climactic battles wore me out. The sheer pixel-packed scale of these relentless images tires the eyes. Transformers will score big with men: manly soldiers fight well for the side, the president is incompetent, the Secretary of Defense (Jon Voight) is ineffectual; as always, John Turturro makes an entertaining villain; and the two femme leads are silly, sexy babes.
Was Bay trying to drive women away? The way I hear it, his wishes carried the day: this is how he sees women. "They look like they're about to display their thongs," commented Nora. She loved the movie, and adores LaBeouf. We didn't spot him in the crowd, but we did see Superman star Bryan Routh, looking slim and unbuff. Nora wanted to know why so many reality stars were invited. I didn't recognize any of them.
Paramount distribution chief Jim Tharpe and marketing head Gerry Rich looked remarkably relaxed, mainly because they're spending a fortune to open Transformers, and its six-day holiday weekend launch makes it harder to measure against other openings. As a non-sequel, it's not expected to be a record-breaker anyway.
Safe to say Transformers is not The Island. One nugget I gleaned last night: Michael Bay is such a big name in Korea that The Island did great business there.
[Originally appeared on Variety.com]