Here's what I learned on my rounds at the Transformers: ROTF premiere Monday night:
Transformers 2 cost north of $200 million, plus $150 million in global marketing. That's $350 million going in. It could outgross the last one ($708 million worldwide) and score $1 billion around the world. There's no question it will open. (The record to beat for a five day weekend is Spider-Man 2's $152.4 million, reports Variety.) The anxiety is about what the second weekend drop-off will be--will it play, in other words. I think so.
The movie is critic-proof, and needs to be, the reviews will suck. (The NYT uses the word "cretinous.") It's a nonsensical, eye-rolling macho fantasy--it's about Megan Fox running in slow motion, and artillery fire, and giant roiling robots desecrating ancient pyramids, and rows of pointy-nosed fighter planes taking off in formation. But there are sequences--one where the Decepticons attack and sink an aircraft carrier comes to mind-- that are stunningly beautiful. Bay has the gift of visual poetry--as well as chaotic pixel excess.
The problem is, when movies like this do so well, it encourages the studios to keep thinking in terms of big-scale brand-names. At the after-party, Paramount chairman Brad Grey admitted that the studio will keep chasing these movies. It's where the money is. (And they'll probably keep passing on iffy ventures like Steven Soderbergh's resolutely uncommercial Moneyball--even with Grey pal Brad Pitt attached. The back end was still a problem, even with Pitt's upfront price slashed. The movie would have had to make $100 million. And that wasn't likely to happen.)
What made the Transformers sequel so expensive was ILM's robots, which are ingenious. (So is the sound design, which helps to make the characters more distinctive and cut through the clutter.) I prefer the little gremlin-like robot characters, partly because my brain can comprehend them. Producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura (who came out clean in Michael Cieply's NYT profile) says there are about three times more transformers in this one--the last one had about 13--and they're best viewed in big-screen IMAX. Here's an interview with ILM genius Scott Farrar. And EW runs a Megan Fox layout and interview.
Pay boosts are another added sequel expense. Shia LaBeouf, who hung with Emile Hirsch at the Transformers street party as Linkin Park rocked out, almost didn't make the sequel when his manager demanded $20 million. LaBeouf had made a deal for $750,000 for the first two films. After the first one scored, Paramount offered $3 million for the next two. They wound up settling for $5 million each. LaBeouf talks to Kim Masters about his wild, wild life.
Michael Bay wishes he had one more week to edit the picture, which everyone, including him, agrees is too long. It could use a trim. Paramount's new production chief Adam Goodman, who supervised the movie, asked Bay to cut it, but he wouldn't, partly because they ran out of time. Paramount wants another installment to go real soon, on a slightly smaller-scale. Bay has other plans. He says he wants to do something else first. Clear his head a little.
originally posted on Variety.com