third time’s the charm


Some people love to hate Michael Bay.

Some people also love to hate movies that exist primarily to sell toys (kinda bizarre how two, high profile examples of this “genre” were released at the same time this week), so it should come as no surprise that a number of early reviews for  Transformers: (Turn Off the) Dark of the Moon  have stuck the kinfe in.  These commentaters resolutely claim that the movie is abysmal, wanting you to believe it’s as painful as watching a Lady Gaga concert while having your testicles sandblasted.

Judas, I say!

As long as you go in knowing what to expect – a rambunctious movie about giant robots masterminding all manner of mayhem – then it’s easily the best of the three and a thoroughly enjoyable ride.

Mind you I’m no Michael Bay or Transformers apologist; I think the first movie is ok at best and the second IS as painful as the above.  But the new film clearly removes itself from the pack in a few small but important ways…

First and foremost, the insipid, pointless, and completely out of place kindergarten humor is GONE. No robots pissing oil, no 50 foot machines tip-toeing around a house saying “my bad” and not one Autobot humps anyone’s leg. To me, this stuff was some of the worst offenders of the first two movies and constantly pulled me out of the story. That’s not to say this movie has no childish humor – it does –  but, in most cases, it didn’t insult me and I actually laughed.

By the grace of the All-Spark, the writers of the first two films were joyfully missing from the credits of part three and you can feel the glory of their absence from start to finish. The plot is a lot more cohesive this time around and was something I could follow.  The action made sense, there were no Optimus-sized plot holes being constantly thrown at you and I believed in the characters. Plus, overall, the movie has a much darker, more sinister tone – tones that go hand in hand with “dramatic” and this film certainly has raised the stakes. Bay pulls no punches and the body count in TF3 is pretty high.  When big, heavy things fall out of the sky we don’t get the “A-Team shot” in which we clearly see everyone scurry out of the way just in time; no, when that big, heavy thing falls out of the sky peeps get ker-ushed!

Of course, dead pedestrians don’t make a bad movie good and, thankfully, this isn’t a movie that needs saving. With the story and character bases well covered, the audience can now sit back and enjoy the real reason they sat down – the action and visual effects.

And boy oh boy, does this movie deliver! The action set pieces are epic and well-conceived and – hold onto your hat, folks – Michael Bay actually slows down enough so that you can appreciate what you’re looking at and, more importantly, tell what the hell is going on! This is in part due to Bay’s understanding that 3D movies bring with them a few extra cinematic rules; rules that he chose to embrace rather than ignore like so many directors new to 3D have done.

And yes, the 3D is good.  Yes, it would have been nice to have a few less telephoto lenses and a bit more spacing between those lenses, but Bay has shown an understanding of what it takes to successfully compose an effective stereo shot. Throughout the entire film, shots are purposely crafted with foreground and mid ground objects, bringing depth to scenes that might have otherwise been flat.

Another example is perhaps my favorite 3D shot in the movie – our characters walk through an alley in Chicago as the camera cranes down. The Alley itself, with all it’s urban detail, provides good depth, but when the camera comes to rest it does so right over a giant puddle – a puddle that reflects the city skyscrapers we DON’T see in the rest of the shot. This not only provides visual information we wouldn’t have seen without the puddle, but it adds and incredible extra layer of depth; reflections can do wonders for a 3D shot, and in his case, since the puddle is on a flat surface, the depth of the reflection adds incredible stereo contrast.

Sadly, just as soon as you have a chance to appreciate the beauty of the shot, it’s over. And this is perhaps my only real criticism of the 3D – Bay may have slowed down his cutting style enough to avoid eye strain and headaches (no mean feat in a two and a half hour 3D movie), but he should have learned to slow down for the sake of the art, as well. While the concept of a long take may be as alien to Michael Bay as tofu is to McDonald’s, any number of 3D shots would have proven truly breathtaking had they been allowed to breathe.  Instead, we get a lot of moments of “wow, that’s a great sh-” and then it’s over. Oh well, I guess we’ll have a lot of great 3D freeze-frames to look forward to on the Blu-Ray!

Still, when all is said and done, TF3 is easily the best 3D since that movie with all the silly blue people.  And it’s not just stereo eye candy, quite a few action bits are definitely enhanced by 3D (most notably the wingsuit sequence). And I think from the moment it was announced, we all knew that giant, fighting robots would be a natural for 3D, and it was.

Speaking of visual effects, not only are these the most jaw-dropping images ever put up on the silver screen, the troops at ILM should get TWO Oscars for having to render all that inconceivably complex animation twice! The last hour of the film is one, long, tremendous, spectacular battle but, unlike the first two films, thanks to the added weight of some actual drama and a cohesive plot, I wasn’t bored and wanting to leave before the end.

This time around, I kind of didn’t WANT it to end.

What more can you ask from a movie?

19 Responses to “third time’s the charm”

  1. 1 Church
    July 2, 2011 at 8:38 am

    Huh. How well do you think it would hold up w/o the 3D?

    Welcome back to the blogosphere, BTW.

  2. 2 ScottA
    July 2, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    Welcome back, Mojo! It’s been a long, long time since you updated this blog. Hopefully we’ll be hearing more from you.

    Thanks for your review. I’ve been hearing similarly good things from other (what I call) “geek” websites, and I think I’ll actually see this one in the theater. I like the first “Transformers” movie, it was better than I thought it would be, it’s good brain-dead fun. And I avoided the second one like the plague based on everything I heard about it. Sounds like this one could be the best one yet!

  3. July 2, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    Interesting to hear the positives of the movie. I can’t see it in good concious, as I see Bay as a child and I don’t want to encourage his behavior by giving him money.

    Nice to have you back, Mojo. Stay with us. :-)

  4. 4 cleverclogs
    July 2, 2011 at 7:53 pm

    WOW welcome back Mojo! I still have you as an RSS feed, so this was somewhat of a surprise to see pop up! I wasn’t planning on seeing this film in 3D, but perhaps now I will, though those glasses still distract too much… why haven’t they produced contact lenses yet!

  5. 5 Boris
    July 3, 2011 at 9:09 am

    I wasn’t planning on seeing it, but now I’ll give it a shot (I’ve seen the other two anyway).

  6. 6 darthmojo
    July 4, 2011 at 4:56 am

    Thanks for the warm wishes, guys. I’m not going to go as far as to PROMISE regular updates, but I suppose as long as new stuff does show up here once in a while – that’s regular! I actually have an idea how to keep things more alive around here, I’ll just have to see if I can “make it so.”

    Anyway, yes, this movie should be seen in 3D. I can’t think of any reason not to. If you’re so broke that you can’t come up with the extra $3 for 3D, buy a 2D ticket and sneak into the 3D showing! Or stand outside with a sign that says “please help me pay for the extra D.”

    But seriously, this is a big 3D event. The film makers really put a lot of time and effort into it, it’s not an afterthought like some stereo movies out there.

    It would seriously be like seeing “Yellow Submarine” on a black and white TV.

    Which, come to think of it, I actually forced my brother and sister to do when we were kids because I called dubs on the family color TV to watch a repeat of “The Six Million Dollar Man.”

    Only years later did I realize what a dick that made me!

  7. 7 Boris
    July 4, 2011 at 11:54 am

    Now that you mention it, perhaps I should fire up the old UK VHS tape of “Shadow Dancing”, turn off the color on my old CRT and see how that looks.

  8. 8 darthmojo
    July 4, 2011 at 8:01 pm

    Actually, the UK VHS tapes are one of the best sources to watch B5; as I’m sure many of you know, the DVD release was a bit of a mess. The FX shots are all cropped to widescreen, so about 30% of the image is gone and the shots were never artistically designed for widescreen. Also, I dont remember all the details, but the NTSC show was, for some crazy reason, mastered in PAL and then converted back to NTSC. All the converting from 24fps to 30fps to 25fps then back to 24fps wreaked havoc on anything involving visual effects, from the all-CG shots to the live action composites.

    This is why VHS tapes are the “truest” version of the show. Laser discs might be good too, but I don’t know enough about the LD releases to say for sure.

    It would be great if they’d go back to the 4:3 D1 broadcast masters and just release those on DVD.

    THAT would be the show as everyone remembers it.

  9. 9 episode73
    July 4, 2011 at 8:43 pm

    Did you catch the Trek references? Especially those spoken by Nimoy aka Spock himself? Stuff about the ‘needs of the few/ many outweighing the needs of…’ and about ‘being your friend, always’? Thought they were really neat nods…

  10. 10 ScottA
    July 6, 2011 at 9:32 am

    Thanks for the info on the B5 DVD releases. I never could figure out why the special effects looked SO MUCH worse than I remembered them. When I got the season one DVD, it had been a few years since I had seen them on tv, and I remember thinking, “The special effects aren’t THAT old. Why do they look so dated???”

    Now I know why.

    And, incidentally, that season one set is the only one I bought. I watched the tv show religiously, recorded them on VHS, and even showed the series to a friend a couple of years later and we both got completely and totally addicted to the show. (It works so much better when you watch one episode after another after another.) We watched it all weekend long, every weekend, for a few months.

    But that DVD just killed it for me. Maybe someday they’ll rerelease it in the “proper” 4:3 without all the digital frame conversions. But I doubt it. And, unfortunately, I long since threw away ALL of my videotapes during a move. They just took up too much space. :-(

  11. 11 Anonymous
    July 6, 2011 at 8:16 pm

    You’re back! Awesome! What has Mojo been up to now that Caprica is over (please say Blood and Chrome!) Gotta say I agree with your critique on the films with one exception: The writing of the first two.

    “By the grace of the All-Spark, the writers of the first two films were joyfully missing from the credits of part three and you can feel the glory of their absence from start to finish.”

    I’m not going to lie and say the second one was any good (it wasn’t) however the writers of the first one (which I will admit was decently written in terms of a boy and his alien car/E.T. sorta way) Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman, and the writer of the third film (Ehren Kruger) all worked on ‘Revenge of the Fallen’. So with that much decent talent, the fault of the poor second film can rely on: 1. The writers strike, only allowing the writer’s 4 weeks to write a script that should have taken twice the time so they could do it right, and 2. The fact that Orci and Kurtzman also wrote Star Trek, which came out around the same time and is arguably a superior effort to most Sci-fi out there today (I’m looking at you Skyline). The first films writing is a matter of opinion really, I thought it was as least presentable, and I will agree that part 3 had probably the best story of the trilogy of Bayhem. I just don’t think it’s really fair to blame Orci and Kurtzman for the faults of the second film considering that Kruger was also co writer on it, and the demands all three faced at the time to both meet deadlines and obey the guild.

  12. 12 darthmojo
    July 7, 2011 at 2:58 am

    Star Trek references? I didn’t notice any… Oh wait do you mean that line “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,” as spoken by Nimoy? I almost missed that one, it was such a subtle reference it almost got past me. It would be like Mark Hamil in a new movie saying “may the force be with you;” that kind of under the radar, “fan boys only” sort of reference can be hard to spot! But thanks for bringing it up, it’s unlikely that readers of this blog are hardcore enough to have noticed the reference.

  13. 13 episode73
    July 7, 2011 at 9:45 pm

    Here’s hoping we see more awesome posts from you, Mojo, and not have to wait till Star Wars Episode I comes out in 3D. May the Force be with you… indeed!

  14. 14 CenturionTerminator
    July 12, 2011 at 8:29 pm

    I can’t wait to see this movie on the big screen. And it’s nice to have you back. I missed you!

  15. July 25, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    I have a facebook friend that did some of the work on T3…towards the end some of the scenes were using upwards of 240 million lines of code, and 288 hours per frame to render.

    …several robots, a falling building, and lots of glass…all shiny and reflective…I believe it.

  16. 16 MarkHB
    August 2, 2011 at 9:16 am

    I got the Trek References. T’other half was wondering why the hell I was giggling so much.

    Then again, I don’t get out much.

  17. 17 Dan Ritchie
    September 29, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    Hey, Mojo, how about a prize for your next contest, like a copy of PD Howler?

  18. April 7, 2012 at 9:36 pm

    I agree that the 3D was good, well composed, and that the slightly reduced pace of cutting and shakiness made the film far more watchable and coherent than the previous entries. But I disagree about the film not having Optimus-sized plot holes. In fact, I would say the film has a couple of glaring Unicron-sized plot holes.

    Of which I will gladly speak, thank you. SPOILERS AHEAD:

    The biggest plot hole is the crux of the entire plot. The Decepticons know about the crashed Autobot ship on the moon and its contents. They attempt to cover it up. But secretly, they’re really trying to get the Autobots to find out about it. They’ve known about this thing since the 70s, apparently, and have been working with key humans to discourage further moon exploration. Already this is strange. Why did they want the Autobots to find out about it? So that they would go to the moon and retrieve Sentinal Prime and revive him WITH THE AUTOBOT MATRIX, because Sentinal Prime is the only one who can activate the Space Bridge.

    Wait, why did I put that bit about the Matrix in all caps? Because this is the biggest plot hole in the whole film, or part of it. The Decepticons did not that the Autobots had the Matrix until Transformers 2, because they did not have the Matrix until Transformers 2. Their whole plan, which we have been led to believe goes back to the earliest days of our space program is based on the assumption that some time in the future, Autobots would get the Autobot Matrix and be able to revive Sentinal Prime so that Sentinal Prime could activate the Space Bridge. But wait… there’s more…

    Sentinal Prime has already made a deal with Megatron — PRIOR to his crash on the moon. Prior, in fact, it would have to be, to Megatron being frozen in ice on Earth. Which means prior to the 1800s at least. Which begs the question: why did the Decepticons shoot down his ship, and cause him to crash into the moon, and go offline, requiring the Autobot Matrix of Leadership for reactivation? If he had already made a deal with Megatron, why didn’t the other Decepticons just let him go about his business? And why did they make this deal at all if Megatron felt like he had a legit shot of finding the All Spark (which he must have thought since he then set out to find it, and got to the right planet, but for some reason neglected to winterize)?

    And what is the deal with the space bridge anyway? Well, apparently it can teleport an entire army of decepticons that have been waiting, buried under the moon’s surface to Earth. Wait, what? They were on the moon all along? Why didn’t they just fly to earth? Like, during all those fights in TF1 and TF2, when things started looking dire for the ‘cons, why didn’t they radio to their moon buddies and say, “Hey guys, a little help?” When did those decepticons get to the moon? Why did they bury themselves? What were they waiting for?

    And the grand master plan is to use the Space Bridge to bring Cybertron into Earth’s orbit. You know where I’ve seen this before? In “The Ultimate Doom” — a multi-episodic arc from the G1 Transformer’s cartoon. Except in the cartoon, the ‘cons intend to harness the energy from all the crazy geologic disruptions caused by bringing another planet all up in Earth’s grill. Since the Decepticons were always POWER hungry. What’s their plan in DOTM? To use HUMAN BEINGS as slaves to help rebuild CYBERTRON. Okay… just a second, let that sink in. The GIANT ROBOTS that sometimes turn into CONSTRUCTION EQUIPMENT (and within the context of the movie can choose whatever alt mode suits them at that moment) are going to use, tiny, squishy, PUNY FLESH CREATURES to rebuild their ROBOT PLANET? That’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard. It would take fifty humans fifty days to do the work that Long Haul could do in a few minutes. Their slave population would be dead before they’d made a dent on the work to be done. This is, frankly, terrible planning by Megatron AND Sentinal Prime. AND, it’s a plan they seem to have been working on for quite some time. So long, in fact, that you would think Megs would have piped up when The Fallen announced his plans to destroy Earth’s sun and thus ruin the genius fleshling slave plan.

    These issues alone would have been enough for me to lose track of what was happening, because they don’t make any sense. BUT, the movie wouldn’t be a modern summer blockbuster without some run of the mill plot holes, like, you know, Trailbreaker or Ironhide sized plot holes. Such as:

    Laserbeak is instructed to kill Professor Chang, who has left Greendale Community College in favor of some private contractor. He’s still insane, though. Laserbeak is told to make it look like a suicide. Because the ‘cons don’t need any more loose ends or something. So, Laserbeak breaks into the guy’s office, and pushes him out of a window. Okay. Kind of messy, kind of high profile. But, mission accomplished, now all you have to do is sneak out of there, Laserbe… OH CRAP, WHY ARE YOU SHOOTING UP EVERYBODY IN THE OFFICE?!?! So, Laserbeak blows his cover — remember, these are meant to be robots in disguise — and goes on an insane shooting spree, in an attempt to kill Sam. Or… to make Sam think he’s trying to kill him?

    A bunch of humans are falling down a collapsed building. They’d be able to hang on, and not fall to their doom if only they had a grappling hook. Which Sam has. He was given it by the stupid looking Q transformer, who may have even been named Q. Does he use it now? No. No he does not. In the situation that any sane person would use their climbing gear, Sam does not. He later shoots a robot jet in the eye with it.

    Megatron has been in hiding since the end of TF2. What better place for a giant robot that turns into a vehicle to hide than: The African Savanna. Yup. Does he hide in an old junkyard? A crowded vehicular park? No. The middle of nowhere. So that when a bunch of vehicles mysteriously converge on this spot, nobody could possibly take notice. Certainly not any governmental organization monitoring the world for Decepticons.

    When the ‘cons finally take over with the help of their johnny-come-lately moon friends, they BANISH the autobots, sending them off into space on some crazy shuttle. This is a dumb plan, when they could have just destroyed them, executed them, deactivated them. Except that this is ALSO a plot from a G1 cartoon. And I guess that’s what they were going for here, taking children’s cartoons from the 80s, and then filling them up with the annihilation of an entire American city, and the death of millions of humans. So anyway, the Autobots go, and the shuttle is destroyed. Without the Autobots around, the Decepticons begin to murder and crush and destroy everybody. For a really long time. They’re shooting humans with the Spielberg War of the Worlds guns, they’re trashing cities, they’re piloting jets. Wait, what? Yeah, Decepticons — many of whom actually ARE jets — are flying around in other jets. Do those jets transform? Do they trade places like the Junkions that ride other Junkions? Nope. They just decided they needed one-man vehicles. This is insane. Anyway, after some serious crimes against humanity, the Autobots reappear. When asked where they were, Optimus “Freedom is the right of all sentient beings” Prime explains that humanity had to be shown that the Decepticons couldn’t be trusted. So, in order to illustrate this point, the Autobots dipped out long enough for entire cities to be destroyed. That’s… that’s some tough love, Prime. Like, and kind of a dick move. And a little bit out of character for the guy.

    Those are just some of the many, many ways in which this movie doesn’t make any sense. And what’s weird is that we all sort of felt like it was better while watching it. It’s not, the story is a mess. But the film is so much more watchable that I think we all sort of assumed we understood what was going on, even though it’s not possible to understand.

    And as far as characters go, once again we spend a lot of time with Sam, some time with some random human antagonist, and a little bit of time with Optimus Prime. The rest of the ‘Bots get basically no character time, although Bumblebee gets screen time. There are some new guys who are referred to as The Wreckers, which I believe was the name of Springer’s team back during G1. Well, I couldn’t tell you the names of these Wreckers, or what they were all about. In a classic Bayian move, these guys have crazy voices that we’re meant to mistake for characters. I would have learned more if they had just stuck a Tech Spec up on the screen.

    Did I mention that it’s a very cool looking movie?

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July 2011

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