Wednesday, March 24, 2021

How I Would Have Done TRANSFORMERS (2007)

One of the more fun episodes of Myopia Movies that I've participated in was our episode on the 2007 Michael Bay film Transformers. The episode was notable for Nic's hilarious impersonation of Bay, which he used to criticize how the film often objectified Megan Fox's Mikaela Baines.

(Someone online said that if you had just the script she'd be a very capable and competent heroine, but the way the film is shot it often comes off as the camera leering at her. Fellow podcaster Daniel said the movie made him want to take a shower.)

I had my own set of criticisms of the film, but as I've said before, complaining is easy. Here's how I would have done it...

Act One

*We begin with Optimus Prime’s voice-over about the civil war on Cybertron, the AllSpark, etc. Then cut to Earth orbit when two mysterious extraterrestrial craft appear. One approaches a human satellite and transforms into the Decepticon Soundwave, who attaches himself to the satellite with tentacles much like he does in Revenge of the Fallen . He scans through various data-streams and finds the eBay page of Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf), which has some piece of obvious alien technology on it. Upon seeing Sam is located in California, Soundwave dispatches the other mysterious alien toward what is obviously the Middle East.

*Cut to Sam and his father shopping for the car. All Sam can afford with his savings and the money his father is willing to give him is the “piece of crap Camaro.” Yes, this means Bobby Bolivia (Bernie Mac) will stay, but since my proposed revisions cut the entire hacking subplot to save time, preserving one wacky comic relief character can be tolerated.

*Meanwhile in Qatar, we meet Captain William Lennox (Duhamel) and Sergeant Robert Epps (Tyrese Gibson) while they Skype with Lennox’s wife and his baby daughter, born while he was deployed. They’re interrupted by the arrival of a mysterious helicopter that does not respond to human hails and whose pilot it turns out is a hologram. The helicopter transforms into a humanoid warrior robot — the Decepticon Blackout — who begins attacking. The human soldiers flee to their Hummers, tanks, etc. like they do in the canonical film, but we actually see the fight this time. Deploying parasite creatures like Scorponok and able to withstand quite a bit of human firepower, Blackout triumphs, but the prolonged firefight allows Lennox, Epps, and a few others to flee to a nearby Arab village. They’re pursued by Scorponok, but Lennox, other survivors, and the villagers with their bolt-action rifles manage to hold the Decepticon off long enough for Epps — a forward air controller — to “bring the rain” with with AC-130 gunships and A-10 Warthogs. Scorponok loses his tail and flees. This is the kind of spectacle Michael Bay is good at and cutting the hackers means cutting a bunch of actors (including Jon Voight as Not Donald Rumsfeld, who probably cost a lot), freeing up cash to expand the first battle sequence.

*Back to California, Sam and his best friend Miles (John Robinson) crash a party attended by Mikaela Banes (Fox) and her odious football player boyfriend Trent (Travis Van Winkle). The broad strokes of Sam and Mikaela’s story work fine. Sam is amusing and Mikaela is a pretty cool character overall. However, although Sam’s dork to Mikaela's "evil jock concubine" is funny (and we contrast Sam's earnestness with Trent’s arrogance, condescension, and sexism), there are times he’s straight-up creepy. Furthermore, Bumblebee is the world's most unsubtle wingman and Sam's "more than meets the eye" from the original TV series was just lame. Although Sam is not supposed to be the king of social skills, he is so annoying in that scene we’d need some dialogue changes to make him even remotely convincing as a suitor for Mikaela. I would have also toned down the unsubtle Mikaela body shots. Yes, she's very pretty. No, we don't need endless close-ups of her midriff while walking down the road or her semi-posing in short-shorts and a crop top while tinkering with Bumblebee's engine. While Mikaela examines Bumblebee, we see them being stalked by a police car driven by an obvious hologram police officer. This unnerves Mikaela, who has Sam take her home.

*Back in Qatar, we see there’s an emerging crisis in the Middle East attracting the attention of the entire world and something is interfering with the military network. This keeps Lennox from contacting his terrified wife, who knows only that her husband’s base in Qatar has been attacked and many soldiers are dead. The soldiers examine Scorponok’s tail and comparing it to the composite armor American tanks use. It’s similar in structure, but it’s made of materials unknown to humans and its technique is vastly more advanced. Cue the arrival of Tom Banachek (Michael O’Neill), who has heard about what has happened and is very interested in hearing the soldiers’ report. When Lennox asks where he’s from, he only says “Sector Seven.”

*Back in California, Sam sees his car driving away on its own and follows, seeing it transform into the humanoid Bumblebee for the first time. He gets arrested after the police think he’s on drugs, alerting the lurking Barricade at the police station. When his father retrieves him, Bumblebee returns. Sam flees on his mother’s bicycle with Bumblebee in pursuit. He runs into Mikaela again, who follows him when he flees pursued by a car with no driver. He encounters a police car — who it turns out is Barricade. The resulting sequence plays out very similarly to the canonical film, since it provides good character moments for both humans.  Sam is self-sacrificing (jeopardizing his own escape to keep Mikaela from getting too close to Barricade) but prone to panicking, while Mikaela is level-headed, takes no crap, and is quite handy with power tools. Since the whole Air Force One/hacker subplot is dispensed with, Frenzy is simply some parasite creature of Barricade that attacks Sam and Mikaela while Barricade fights Bumblebee. And even though Mikaela chops him up, his head can survive to mimic her phone and hide in her purse.

*With Barricade defeated, Bumblebee collects the kids and reveals his purpose. Not only is he an alien, but he’s called for friends. And they’re arriving.

Act Two

*The arrival of the Autobots is appropriately majestic (see here), but how they introduce themselves to Sam and Mikaela needed work. For starters, Jazz is a millennia-old alien robot who acts like a ghetto stereotype. Although Jazz was always depicted as being "hip,” (watch this scene here from the TV show and this scene from the animated movie), Jazz's voice-actor was Scatman Crothers, not 2 Live Crew. Surely Optimus Prime's able lieutenant merits a more dignified portrayal. Meanwhile Ratchet's commentary on how he can detect Sam wants to "mate" with Mikaela was stupid on two levels — an alien robot older than human civilization isn't realistically going to care, and the empathetic Autobots won’t want to embarrass their human allies. And although I didn’t mind, "We learned your language from the World Wide Web," Optimus Prime would never say, "My bad."

*Optimus Prime explains what the Autobots are searching for. Sam was unknowingly in possession of part of Megatron, the overlord of the evil Decepticons, and they need to collect it before the Decepticons can confirm their missing master is on Earth. Furthermore, said part might contain information about the AllSpark, which the Decepticons absolutely cannot have. That was why Bumblebee was sent to Sam — the Autobots were investigating on their own and once they learned what Sam had, they wanted to protect him from the Decepticons.

*The Autobots take Sam and Mikaela back to Sam’s house, where they search for the Cybertronian artifact. His parents arrive and, suspicious of his evasive behavior, think they’ve caught him masturbating. Mikaela emerges from behind Sam’s bed to put a stop to it, prompting even more embarrassing commentary from Mrs. Witwicky. I found that sequence in the movie amusing, so it can stay. However, rather than engaging in increasingly-creative contortions to stay out of sight and destroying the Witwicky yard in the process, the Autobots just stand guard in the nearby streets in vehicle form.

*Then Sector Seven arrives and detains everybody, ignoring the vehicle-form Autobots (and thus demonstrating their questionable competence). John Turturro’s Agent Simmons will still be creepy and obnoxious (getting unduly poky with Sam's crotch with the Geiger counter, calling Mikaela "hot"), alluding to his portrayal of "pederast" Jesus Quintana from The Big Lebowski. Mikaela mouths off at Simmons, who reveals her father’s criminal past and her own juvenile record. S7 takes everybody away, only for Optimus Prime and the Autobots to intervene and capture them. Simmons ends up handcuffed to a streetlight in his underwear, part of the humiliation he deserves for, as someone online put it, “sexually baiting an underage female detainee,” but no Bumblebee “lubricating” (i.e. urinating on) him like in the actual movie. That was stupid. Then S7 reinforcements arrive and Sam and Mikaela are recaptured along with Bumblebee. The Autobots don’t intervene, since Optimus values confirming that Megatron is on Earth and that he has not claimed the AllSpark over a rescue that would likely take many human lives. This is where Ratchet can demonstrate his medical talents examining whatever artifact Sam had, confirming that it is part of Megatron and it contains information about the AllSpark. Once this is done, then they set off in pursuit of S7.

*Next is a scene that wasn’t in the actual film — rather than the Decepticons coming from all over the world at short notice when they hear from Frenzy, they’ve taken advantage of the Qatari distraction to gather in the United States. The characterization of the Cybertronians who aren't Bumblebee or Optimus Prime is a big weakness of the first three live-action films (that’s when I gave up) and one in particular is Starscream. In the cartoons I watched as a kid, it’s clear he covets Megatron’s position, he’s probably the smartest Decepticon, he prefers subtlety to Megatron's frontal assaults, and he's too cowardly to openly claim power. Some of the film’s promotional material stated Starscream views Optimus Prime's Autobots and Megatron's Decepticons as morally-equivalent personality cults and that in contrast he is solely concerned about the dying Cybertronian race. However, once in power he makes many of the same bad decisions as Megatron. That would be a pretty interesting interpretation.

But it's in none of the movies! Instead he's only a blathering sycophant that Megatron regularly abuses. In my rewrite, we see Starscream is clearly not interested in finding Megatron and the other Deceptions are suspicious, something the prequel novel Ghosts of Yesterday touches on. However, between Soundwave’s infiltration of the military network and Frenzy transmitting his location, they now know where Megatron and the AllSpark are. Although he’d clearly rather not, Starscream has no choice but to act.

*Everybody converges on Hoover Dam. Lennox and his men come with Banachek to assist S7 in fighting the Cybertronians (at this point nobody other than Sam and Mikaela knows there are two warring factions, with one friendly to humans), Simmons is transporting the detained Sam, Mikaela, and Bumblebee, the remaining Autobots are chasing them, and the Decepticons are in turn following them to liberate Megatron and take the AllSpark. The AllSpark is revealed to be something smaller from the get-go rather than somehow shrinking a house-sized machine to something a human can carry. And Simmons doesn’t credit all 20th Century technology to Megatron--for starters, cars already existed before Megatron was stored beneath Hoover Dam in the 1930s. When the Autobots arrive, Sam forces S7 to release Bumblebee and wipe Mikaela's juvenile record. That was another good character moment and explains why Mikaela, who no doubt has lots of options in the boy department, falls for him. However, Frenzy (or at least his head) makes his move, reawakening Megatron and setting the final battle into motion.

Act Three

*Megatron is awake and clearly pissed off and the Decepticons are attacking Hoover Dam. Rather than risk their breaking the dam and all the havoc that would cause, Lennox and friends propose leading the Decepticons into the desert, where American air power can be brought to bear without risking civilians.  Even though it’d be easier to hide in nearby Mission City than in the open where the Decepticons could easily do to American ground forces what the Coalition did to the Iraqis in 1991, the U.S. military is generally not known for Soviet-level callousness toward civilians. Simmons, jackass that he is, suggests the film strategy of disappearing into a populated area, only for Lennox to shut him down, with a gun to his head if necessary. While the Autobots and Army guys "roll out," Simmons and S7 battle Frenzy so Epps can use the 1930s-era radios not in the compromised military network to call in reinforcements.

*The city fight in the real film had some cool moments, so the Autobots and Army guys find some one-stoplight town they didn't realize was there. This lets us keep Mikaela hotwiring a tow truck to carry the injured Bumblebee into battle and Lennox's motorcycle power-slide that kills Blackout. Starscream infiltrates the F-22 squadron that Epps called in and attacks, but enough survive to hammer Megatron to the point they force him to his knees (and do enough damage to Megatron's chest that what happens next works). Optimus will still duel Megatron with "one shall stand, one shall fall," a callback to the 1986 animated film.  Sam still Takes A Third Option and rams the AllSpark into Megatron’s damaged chest to kill him rather than killing the defeated Optimus with it to deny it to Megatron.

*The film ends in Washington with a treaty between the U.S. and the Autobots to fight against the remaining Decepticons. A public treaty, since good luck covering up the Autobots’ arrival in California, the battle in Nevada, etc. in an age of smart-phones and YouTube. Sam and Mikaela are there, clearly a couple without that weird make-out scene on Bumblebee’s hood like in the actual film. Miles is there too, indicating that Sam didn't just abandon his hitherto best friend (and that Miles is willing to put aside his own prejudice against an "evil jock concubine"), as are Mr. and Mrs. Witwicky (for once) acting appropriately. The film ends with Bumblebee assigned to protect Sam against any Decepticon revenge and Ironhide transporting Lennox home to meet his baby daughter, setting up the establishment of NEST in the next film. Meanwhile, the dead Decepticons are dumped into the Laurentian Abyss, not because it’s the deepest part of the ocean (that's Challenger Deep), but because it's right off the East Coast. If the Decepticons attempt to salvage their comrades, it can be more easily defended than something way out in the Pacific.

This version preserves the film’s broad strokes while remedying many of its flaws. If you like this, you might like my Fix Fic of the second film, The Revenge of the Fallen Reboot. That one had potential too, but like this one wasn't executed well.

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