Usually summer brings disappointments at the movies -- overhyped underachievements, such as Bad Boys II or Poseidon or Miami Vice.
But in 2007, one week has restored summer fun to the movies. Two movies -- released within a week of one another --light up the screen with happy hokum and merry mayhem. Transformers and Live Free or Die Hard have redeemed summer fare.
Both the movies are full of technical pizazz, but more importantly they both have good characters, and give those characters something to say.
What a concept!
Transformers is not as good as Live Free or Die Hard, but it still is a rollicking, rousing experience.
Based on the Hasbro toys, the movie -- directed by Michael Bay and with Steven Spielberg as executive producer -- is the story of good machines (Autobots) versus bad machines (Decepticons).
The Transformers are robots that rearrange themselves into cars and trucks and other machines. They come to earth in search of the Allspark cube -- the source of Transformer life.
Transformers begins with a devastating attack by the Decepticons on a US military base in Qatar. It's the beginning of a Decepticon binge of destruction that threatens to destroy the earth.
Meanwhile back in suburban LA, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBoeuf) is in high school, trying to achieve grades that will enable him to convince his father to get him a car.
His dad buys him a beat-up Camaro. It is the Autobot named Bumblebee. It has a mind of its own -- it's like an alien Herbie. (Originally Bumblebee was a Volkswagen Beetle.)
It turns out that Sam Witwicky's late grandfather, who was an arctic explorer, had eyeglasses that hold the secret to where the Allspark cube is. Sam now has those glasses. And here come the Transformers.
For the first hour and a half of Transformers, the humans and machines interact with flair. The human relationships also have a nice vitality. Sam is infatuated with classmate Mikaela (Megan Fox), and they wind up together, trying to survive the robot assault and preserve the Allspark cube for the Autobots.
At the Pentagon the Secretary of Defense John Keller (Jon Voight) is trying to figure out what is causing the havoc. The climax is an all-out robot war on the streets of LA.
This last part of Transformers tests one's tolerance for Bay's heavy hand. The director is seduced by -- and goes into a coma of -- special effects.
The robots and explosions become redundant. They're effective, but they're also seemingly endless, and become routine.
It's pell-mell confusion. Who was that flying into pieces? Who the hell are we rooting for? Blam! Blam! Blam!
This flaw of too-much-too-long is not fatal; it simply is typical of today's blockbuster. If Transformers had more directorial discipline, it would be a better picture. But it's still fun.
Shia LaBoeuf is winning as the cocky, vulnerable teenager with the great wheels. Megan Fox plays his attractive cohort. She and Rachael Taylor -- who plays a forceful computer analyst -- portray strong, independent women.
John Turturro has fun as a brash, ineffectual agent. Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson are credible action heroes.
Cinematographer Mitchell Amundsen adds scenic scope and beauty.
The screenplay by Roberto Orzi and Alex Kurtzman is uneven but has some character and some humor. The Autobots have learned English from the Web and quote such stalwarts as John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.
Sam's well-meaning, but quirky, mom and dad (Ken Dunn and Julie White) are not your usual suburban movie family. The scene where they are delighted to find a girl in their son's room is a funny bit.
Sam's dog Mojo, who is a yappy Chihuahua with a cast on his leg, is one of a kind. Unfortunately, the writers use him for tired, splish-splash humor.
In Transformers Michael Bay has new toys to play with and smash to smithereens. But Transformers is one movie Bay doesn't destroy.
Despite the great machines and monumental explosions, the movie's success is largely due to its humanity. Transformers is given human personality. On important levels, it's about a boy and his first car, and a boy and his first girl. We've been there, and remember gladly.
Shia, Michael, Steven, and Bumblebee are the new Boys of Summer. They're having a great time! And we probably are, too.
For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).
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