Friday, July 8, 2011

Watching Transformers Dark of the Moon

There are a few spoilers to the movie in here, if you haven't watched it yet. So, just be warned.

I went to to the third of Mr. Bay's Transformers trilogy over the Fourth of July weekend. I managed to get to the 3D showing early on Friday afternoon, avoiding the weekend crowds that were such an issue the last time my wife and I went to a new flick. I have to say that the 3D was done very well, in my opinion. It wasn't something done to make you notice it, but rather just blended into the background. It was like having the bass in the soundtrack. You can still listen without it and get a good experience, not really noticing it's gone at times. But by adding it in, you get that extra dimension to the experience. The 3D was the same. I'm still going to enjoy watching the Blu-Ray in 2D later down the road, and won't feel like something's missing, thanks to how they didn't over-sell it's use. You know the ones that push it, having things fly out of the screen directly at you, like at the amusement park rides. I never had that feeling here.

As I tried to put into words at the time, I have some difficulty talking about what I think of the Transformers movies. The third one wasn't any different, by the time it was over. Being a big Transformers fan, in general, it almost feels like a duty to say that I liked the film, just because it's about Transformers. And I did enjoy the film. It's just that I always feel like I'm not the right person to ask that question of, because I'm probably much more particular about it than a casual viewer would be. Or, realizing that I might be too particular, I may end up over-compensating and say that it was awesome despite some flaws that actually made it less than great. So I just don't know how reliable my views on the film would be for most people that would ask me.

So, I'll stick with some generalities here. The look of the Transformers was as awesome as ever. The over-the-top performances of some of the characters (as in, no person in real life acts that oddly) was the same as the first two movies. The mythology was expanded, and we managed to see more characters than ever on the screen. The big complaint most people have was the lack of plot, and I have to agree that it was something I missed. I didn't realize it while watching the film, but thinking about it later, there just wasn't much of a story. In fact, there was more interesting interaction and plot between the humans this time than the Transformers. It was almost like they bolted a war with giant robots around the lives of Sam and Carly. Prime, Ironhide, Megatron, Shockwave, etc... they just didn't feel like they were soldiers working together to take over or defend the planet. The just felt like individuals with bit parts in the story. It's still a great summer movie, something to watch while eating pop-corn and beating the summer heat in an air-conditioned theater. It just won't win any awards on the story.

So, majority of the movies I really liked. It's great to have something that's been a hobby of mine for such a long time get such main-stream adoption. It's very cool that the movies continue to rake in good money. I plan to re-watch the films a number of times through the coming years. Now, for the detailed view:

Overall, taking all three movies into account, there are just two things that I really didn't like about how it all turned out. The first is the mythology of the Transformers. You see, in the cartoon and comic book, the Transformers are these almost immortal creatures that came from way off in outer space. They crashed on Earth back when the dinosaurs were still around, but were still functional when a volcano eruption brought them back in modern times... now, those are some tough bots! And the inclusion of such a long period meant that you could have all kinds of cool mythology about what was happening on Cybertron while the big leaders of the major war were suddenly MIA, and energy was dwindling on the home planet. It also meant that the death of a character was a major thing, with how long their life spans could potentially be. Distance also seemed much larger. I don't recall if it was ever really mentioned in the 'toon or comic how far away Cybertron was, but the only way to get there was eventually through a space bridge. It wasn't like they were close enough to make a solo-trip in a few weeks through space. That kind of forced isolation made the story interesting. They couldn't just head back home if the going got tough, they were stuck here.

In the movies? In the last film, especially, it seemed that the war on Cybertron was pretty recent. That when the Allspark and Megatron were lost in space, it wasn't all that long ago. Sentinel crashing onto the moon happened in the 70's, when our space program was just getting started. So, Megatron and the Allspark wouldn't have fallen to earth much earlier than that. Megatron was found, in the first film, around 1897. My guess is that the writers would have placed planet-fall just a hundred or so years earlier, at the most. I mean, if Megatron and Sentinel made a deal to meet up later, they couldn't have been separated in planet-fall by very much time. So, that means that the whole war on Cybertron was still going critical from when Megatron was lost and when Optimus Prime showed himself for the first movie. Comparing a few hundred years in the movies to a few million years in the comic books just takes away some of the mystique of the race for me. The sense of age, of wisdom, and weariness that Prime would have after thousands of years of war just didn't translate to the same figure after a hundred years. It also seemed like the distances involved weren't that big either. I mean, the Decepticons managed to find Earth for the first time in the first movie, right? So, by the third movie, six or so years later, they had built up an army to hide on the back of the moon? That means that slower-than-light transport between our two planets can't take too long, so they must be fairly close together. The feeling of the Transformers really being marooned on a backwards (to them) planet was lost when I thought through that aspect. Another piece of the mystique removed from the original series.

Second, and this one is my biggest issue with the trilogy, was the portrayal of Megatron. I'm a kid that grew up with the cartoon Megatron having grandiose plans that, yes, were always foiled by Prime, but were major plans nonetheless. They had scope and scale that only a big-time villain could pull off. Beast Wars gave us a Megatron that was not only able to think big (going back in time to find the Ark? That's a massive plan!) but was cunning and deceitful even in the little plans for defeating the Maximals. Both were strong, capable leaders that you wouldn't want to cross without Prime on your side.

In the movie? Well, Megatron's last words to Prime were along the lines of "After all, what would you be without me?" Any my almost instant reaction was "Meh. You won't even be missed." I mean, sure, give some credit for the writers giving him a plan to warp Cybertron into Earth orbit, that's a pretty big plan. But how he acted? He was like one of his processor-damaged flunkies from the cartoon series. He didn't have a plan to back-stab Sentinel Prime until a fleshling took him to task? Seriously? He just seems to be as effective an evil genius as a paper bag. I really do rate how heroic Prime and the Autobots are against how devious their counterparts are. How difficult it really is to defeat them. In those respects, Prime didn't have much of a challenge.

Also, Megatron groveling to the Fallen in the second movie? Megatron answers to no one! He mouthed off to a frickin' planet eating planet in the cartoon movie! Good grief. They should have called him Neutertron instead.

So, those are my thoughts on the movie, a week later. I probably won't see it in the theater again, but will definitely have the Blu-ray for my collection soon after it's released. Letting go of my fanboy view of the Transformers, they were a lot of fun to watch. I just hope they get more plot in the next ones, whenever they get made.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Gotta buy 'em all... if they can be found

We (that is, Transformers collectors) seem to be in a new situation this month. It's been building for a while now, ever since the demise of the Transformers Animated toyline. For those unfamiliar with how these things go, Hasbro will plan out a line of toys for a season or year. Usually, those toys tie in to a show or movie. So, each year we've had a movie, toys appear a month or two in advance based on the movie characters. Between movies, we've had toys based on a couple of TV cartoons as well as a series of "classic" characters that are from shows of years past.

Well, lately some of the toys that are created for a series don't make it onto the shelves in the stores before another series or movie takes over... so, there were around half a dozen toys created for the Animated TV cartoon that didn't get wide distribution in the U.S. because the second Transformers movie came out before they could be shipped. We (again, collectors) were somewhat lucky that stores like Toys R Us decided to take those and sell them as "exclusives" that were on the pegs the same time as the movie toys. But even with that effort, there was still at least one figure that never made it to stores in the U.S. at all. Animated Blackout had to be imported from Japan, the only place he had been released.

Forward to today, and we're seeing an even larger gap in "announced" toys that aren't being shipped to stores. Either the stores aren't ordering them because they're getting space cleared for the newest movie, or Hasbro has declined to produce them because they're making the toys from the newest movie. Either way, it could end up being a case of trying to hunt down rare figures as "exclusives" from a single retailer, OR, simply never seeing them in the U.S.

It's a shame, since many of the figures not being released in larger quantities were ones that long-time collectors were excited about. They tended to be characters based on the original series of toys from way back in 1984. There are three of the ill-fated "Power Core Combiner" line that I still need in order to complete that series on my shelves. It's almost like we suddenly have too much of a good thing... there are too many characters that Hasbro's trying to put into stores and they're starting to step on one another's release schedules. I finally started ordering some of my figures from Hasbro's online Toy Shop. But even there, not all of them are available to order... they either don't get enough stock to keep up with demand, or just don't get added.

So, for now, I'll just have to be content that I managed to snag Lugnut online, since he's an awesome figure! Much more articulation than I had expected, and very stable in robot mode. I'm used to most of the plane-based Transformers being back-heavy, because they invariably seem to have an entire tail section hanging off their backs. But this guy is rock-solid.

Reveal the Shield Lugnut
I'm also coming to the conclusion that I'm going to have to cut my collection pretty soon. Either stop buying new figures (which seems very unlikely to stick), or start selling some of my lesser-liked figures to make room for new ones. I'm just seeing less and less shelf space available each time I get a new character unpacked. I mean, my Primes and Megatrons are almost shoulder-to-shoulder right now!

Narrow Gap
I know that I can do some re-arranging of some of my figure layouts to gain a bit more space. But it's going to be a losing battle no matter what I do. Eventually, I'm going to run out of horizontal surfaces to safely display everybody. I have a feeling that the latest movie, Dark of the Moon, will test the remaining space I do have in the coming months...