optimusmegatron.jpgChildhood-dreams-turned-technological-spectaculars have been a dime a dozen lately. They’ve even made Winnie the Pooh into a 3D adventure, for Pete’s sake. It seems nothing is sacred, untouchable, or unfathomable. Not everything was made for a digital revolution, but no one seems to be able to sit on their hands long enough to think twice about destroying the integrity of the subject.

But at least one team of transforming robots was ready to be manhandled into a flaming ball of awesomeness.

Transformers (2007) begins with godlike voice of Optimus Prime (the ultimate good guy) telling the story of how the Autobots (good guys) and Decepticons (bad guys) traveled through space trying to find a cube called the Allspark, a mysterious technological phenomenon that makes sentient life in the shape of giant transforming robots. Cut to a classroom on Earth where Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is giving a presentation on his famous adventurer great-grandfather Captain Witwicky’s trip to the Arctic Circle and subsequent madness. After talking his way out of flunking the project for trying to sell his ancestor’s possessions to get money for a new car, Sam meets his dad to go shopping a ride. They happen upon a Camaro that suddenly appears in the used car parking lot. The car turns out to be Bumblebee, an Autobot in disguise. It is only when Barricade (a police car with To Punish and Enslave written in dainty cursive on the side) corners Sam and asks for Captain Witwicky’s glasses that he posted on eBay that Bumblebee comes to the rescue for the first of many jaw-dropping battle scenes. Soon we find out that they have to save the world by destroying the Allspark to prevent Megatron (the ultimate bad guy) from creating a whole new race of Transformers – and that we get to watch the best computer graphics/special effects seen in movies yet. Period.

The movie multitasks with other plot lines: the Secretary of Defense (Jon Voight) is on high alert because an attack on a military base in the desert from an unknown entity; the Decepticon Frenzy is constantly trying to hack into government files on Captain Witwicky and the expedition; soldiers from the destroyed base are trying to get in contact with the U.S. government with information on the attackers; Sector 7 agents, specifically Agent Simmons (John Turturro) are interfering with Sam and the Autobots; Sam gets a girlfriend, etc. etc.

As can be imagined, there is very little characterization and lots of cheesy lines, as well as a regrettable amount of bathroom humor. Even so the film manages to pull off the effects and the acting. It contains plenty of funny moments though, which tend to make up for the shallow characters and barely-there storyline. But who cares, right? Transformers were made to be dolled up, not laden with philosophical undertones and humanist perspectives.

1984-transformers.jpegIf there’s any fault to be had, it’s with the refusal to admit too much of the any of original Transformers TV series (Transformers 1984-1987; Beast Wars: Transformers 1996-1999; Beast Machines: Transformers 1999-2001) deeper philosophical leanings. Why does Optimus Prime defend humans? Why is Megatron so bent on destroying life? What is the cost of power? What does it mean to live? The movie tries to touch on these points but only manages a few one-liners – though one movie can’t be expected to summarize 23 years of legendary toys, children’s TV series, and Transformers valentines in nearly 2 1/2 hours.

Transformers is an excellent example of what a summer action blockbuster should be like and can only be done justice on the big screen.