02 December 2007


A lot of people have hated on this movie for a number of reasons, and I will admit that some aspects of it are totally whack, but still, I enjoyed the hell out of it. It hit all the right notes for me. I mean, look, it's just awesome. It's a movie based on toys for goddsakes, and goddamnit, it's a great time.

First and foremost, the action sequences are fucking bad-ass. Watching them transform just never gets old. It's neato. The 'splosions are totally sweet. The high speed chases are cool. It's big budget and beautiful and just really fucking neato. If that's not enough for you, then don't bother seeing the movie, because at the end of the day, that's really what it's all about.

Now, a big part of the reason that I enjoyed the movie is because, like many of my favorite action flicks, it seems to have its tongue firmly in its cheek. If you really take this movie at it's word, then sure, it's stupid. But I am fairly convinced that you're not supposed to. Wayne Booth sort of argues that if ascribing irony to a work makes you appreciate the work more than you have license to proceed (which I think might be a somewhat dangerous claim, in other realms), which is an interesting approach to take, and definitely something I find myself doing. I love action movies. I love them even though I realize that they are often ridiculous. I would like to think that the people who create this thing that gives me so much pleasure are like me, and realize how ridiculous this stuff is, even if it is enjoyable. But the other marker of irony is disjunction between what is expected in a given context and what is delivered. Excessive praise, lofty rhetoric in quotidian contexts - good indicators of irony. It seems to me that the movie is obviously being ironic because at moments it's so goddamn ridiculous that I just don't believe that you're meant to take it seriously.

Case 1: One of my friends was protesting how preposterous it is for the autobots to be hanging out in a kid's backyard undetected. He found this really irritating - "What? Like nobody is gonna see them? That's just stupid". But that, I think, is exactly the point, and that's why it's funny. It's totally absurd for a 2-story tall robot to hide behind a lamppost. That's why it's amusing. Stop taking it so damn seriously.

Case 2: Meanwhile, with the autobots lurking in the yard, aforementioned kid and his parents are having a family moment. The kid starts spewing pop-psych babble. His mom, half-cocked, starts discussing masturbation. His Dad is jumping into the bathtub (what's the bathtub doing there?) in fear of earthquakes. The characters are so exaggerated and caricatured that there's no way they could be meant seriously. The drop-dead gorgeous girl who has a juvenile record, knows everything about cars, and is worried that she seems superficial? She wears her narrative functions on her sleeve (as does everyone else in the film). There is no way that anyone could see these characters as real people. At every moment, they are obviously saying and doing whatever it is that will be most entertaining and/or most useful to the plot. There's no attempt at realism. Two words: John Turturro.

Case 3: Every time one of the characters starts waxing profound on the human race, freedom, etc, the camera starts checking out cleavage. Ok, you can see that as some kind of subliminal attempt to promote the ideology of freedom by unconsciously triggering pleasurable associations, but the simpler explanation is that the director knows as well as I do that this stuff is garbage, and finds a way keep the viewer entertained during this necessary formality. I don't want a more rhetorically glamorous or more well-thought out articulation of the autobot ideology. I want it to be short and sweet and served up as necessary to advance the plot so that we can get back to the 'splosions, and hey, I'm more than happy to look at boobs while we're doing it.

Ok, that said though, there's one mildly disturbing aspect that I only realized retroactively. This movie made me, for the first time in my entire life, cheer for the armed forces. For one brief shining moment, I was fully within the mode of idealizing marines, the air force, whatever, as the epitome of the heroic. I suppose that's easier to do when they're fighting alien robots instead of people, but wow, I was sitting there thinking, my god, these are extremely brave people who do very dangerous things (and are totally badass). I've never really felt that way before. And it was so transparent, that well-worn trope of the soldier eager to meet his baby daughter for the first time but serving his country first, but for once, it totally worked on me. Kind of odd.

Secondly, man, the more I think about it, the more appalled I am by the depiction of black characters in the film, which was, I suppose, a continuation of the caricaturing in general, but much more problematic to me. Definite minus. Enough of a minus that I can't recommend the movie to others without that qualification. It's pretty effin' racist.

But man, the action sequences are sweet as hell.


Anonymous said...

have you seen the film "breaking and entering?" couldn't find it in your site, but thought you might be interested in it. saw it a couple nights ago and really enjoyed it. on the flipside, didn't enjoy "notes on a scandal" though it might be worth checking out.

culture_vulture said...

Looks good, thanks. I've added it to my netflix queue. I thought Notes on a Scandal was incredible (don't remember if I ever wrote up a review for it) - what didn't you like about it?