Transformers

For many loyal fans, Transformers is one of the most highly anticipated films of 2007– on par with Spider-Man 3 or Harry Potter And the Order of the Phoenix. This film is the first big screen venture for the venerable franchise of shape-shifting robots in more than twenty years. This film is based upon the original television series, abandoning the subsequent photocopies and their replicative fading.

In short, the film depicts the war between the Autobots and Decepticons, factions of robotic life forms embroiled in a millennia-old war which has now come to Earth. Fate has intertwined their story with that of a young man. Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots, must rely on aid from this young man if they are to defeat the Decepticons, whose treacherous plans would bring an end to humanity and help spread their evil across the galaxy.

Defying Convention

As with most science fiction, Transformers unusual make up has given it special liberty over the years. In this film, as in the 1986 animated film, the robotic characters are able to undergo tremendous damage and punishment without angering any censors. Because they’re not human, or even humanoid, their injuries are not considered graphic material. Therefore, characters can be impaled, torn in half, or suffer other damage which would be too gruesome on a human.

This film also plays into other science fiction conventions, drawing on aliens, secret agents, government conspiracies, hackers, spies, and advanced military technology to help set a more welcoming stage for the giant robots the film circles around. It succeeds too, in juxtaposing all of these unusual themes with the (very) boring day to day life and vagaries of Sam (Shia LaBeouf) and his family. Through his eyes, everything seems more crazy and amazing. This use of “reverse irony” allows the audience to assimilate and accept the unusual events with greater ease, sugar coating them like a pill.

Good and Evil (and Spoilers)

Dualism has long been a major tenet of Transformers. This film, however, does a subtle, but effective, job of demonstrating the differences not just between the Autobots and the Decepticons, but between what they each represent. The Autobots, Prime in particular, are shown to be courageous, strong, and dedicated to the preservation of life. Things that are difficult moral questions for some characters, present clear choices to the highly moral and righteous Optimus Prime. He shows great strength bound by greater restraint, and great courage tempered by greater wisdom.

In contrast, we don’t really see much of the Decepticons. Their plot is simply to do whatever is necessary to conquer the universe. Their methods are brutal, their tactics are devious. While they are the true antipode to the Autobots, another alternative state of being is presented in the form of the US government. Various US agents are shown to interfere, at first, with the Autobots plan. Their hubris, fear, and assumptions nearly cost  humanity its existence.

Remediation and Respect

One of the most impressive things about this film as that while it maintains a sometimes poor sense of humor, attempting to entertain the uninterested, it never yields its respect for the source material. The characters are herein lovingly recreated, given slightly tweaked personalities, but all the while remaining faithful not just to the details of the original, but faithful to maintaining a level of deference to the franchise. The filmmakers could have very easily copied the more recent incarnations of the franchise. They could’ve taken their own ill-advised Hollywood version of the series, and they could have chosen any of countless different methods to denigrate this franchise. Instead, they refreshingly chose to remediate the Transformers with due reverence and still produce an exciting, entertaining film.

A Franchise is Reborn

Part of what makes this film so exciting is that its success cements The Transformers as a mainstream, rather than a cult, franchise. A sequel is almost certain, and while toys and cartoons would’ve been plentiful either way, new interest in graphic novels and more original incarnations will be a refreshing change. This transversal from cult to mainstream could potentially dilute some of the series panache. But hopefully, it will help bring a noble and worthwhile story further into the public consciousness, and set an example for how to do this with other intellectual properties.

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