MCN Columnists
Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

Transformers in My Mailbox

At the end of last week’s column, which was about unnecessary sequels being released this summer, I implored readers to send me e-mails if they were actually fans of the first Transformers movie and let me know why. I had stated that I didn’t know anybody who actually enjoyed that film, which was true.  But now I’ve had the most e-mails I’ve ever received in my life, all from Transformersfans who passionately – and for the most part, reasonably – explained what they enjoyed about the film.  I usually get about five to ten e-mails for every column; for this one, I received about seventy-five.

Originally, I was going to post one e-mail and publish it as a foot-note on a different piece, but considering the outpouring of support, I figured I would run three of the most passionate and intelligently written e-mails and respond to them.  The majority of the e-mails I got were from folks who were expressing their enjoyment of the film, but I also got a large number of e-mails agreeing with my take.  I’m going to print three e-mails from defenders of the film, who all made really solid arguments.

I can’t say that I agree with any of the e-mails in terms of the merits of the film, but I will begrudgingly accept that now I know some people who liked it.

Fine, I’ll chomp that fat, juicy bait you flung out. Yes, I enjoyed Transformers. I can’t really mount a passionate defense. Two years later (and only having seen it the one time), I can’t tell you much about the plot. And I cringed as much as anybody at the “hide the Transformers in the back yard” scene. But you know what? I’m going to see the sequel. On the big screen. Maybe IMAX, although I’d never pay a full 18 bucks to see anything (yay for discount passes!).

I thought the first act of the original Transformers absolutely worked. I bought the high school get-the-car/get-the-girl vibe of it all, Bumblebee’s “radio” voice had a goofy charm, and the menace of those initial robot attacks felt real and urgent in a Terminator-ish kind of way. After that first act, yeah, there was plenty of meandering, some unnecessary subplots I can’t really remember, and the aforementioned awful stabs at comedy. But I walked out of the theater having forgiven all that.

You know why? Because a giant robot jumping into the air, turning into a jet, and flying off to go blow more stuff up is cool. Ditto with a roller-skating giant robot dropping its shoulder to smash through a city bus. In fact, a giant robot doing just about anything (other than hiding from mom and dad in the gazebo) is flat-out badass. I’m sorry, it just is. And that was some gorgeous robot FX work with some nicely choreographed massive destruction.

I’m 35 with a wife, three kids and a mortgage. I don’t like Ultimate Fighting, energy drinks, Nickelback or Maxim Magazine. I watch way more Turner Classic Movies than Spike TV. I got myself a film school degree that says I should know better. But dammit, sometimes the movies just make me feel like I’m a 10-year-old kid again. And 10-year-old me would’ve loved the hell out of Transformers.

Okay, that wound up semi-passionate, if not objectively convincing. Although I’d say I’m not the only one tossing out objectivity if you thought Iron Man was any more of a treat for the brain than Transformers. Fun? Sure. But smart? Seriously? Did your theater shut down the projector before the third act? (“No no, folks, trust us. It’s better this way.”)

Yours in liking stuff for unquantifiable reasons,

-Brandon Sawyer

The thing I love about this e-mail is that it reminds me of a column I wrote a couple of months ago about the thin line between loving and hating a movie.  When someone loves – or even just likes – a film, they are able to forgive that film for all of its flaws (for instance, as Brandon notes, the “backyard” scene).  When someone doesn’t like a film, all they can see are those flaws.  Sometimes a movie just “works” for you and sometimes it doesn’t.  A film likeTransformers is utterly dependent on it working for you on a purely visceral level; if it doesn’t work on that level, as it didn’t for me, then there’s no other way to enjoy the film.  Even the most ardent supporters of the film would agree that it’s not one with a whole lot of depth to it; and that’s fine, not every film needs to be profound, but if it’s not then it better work on the surface-level that it is aiming for.  For me, it did not, but clearly it did for Brandon.

And I still stand by my comment that Iron Man was a more enjoyable thrill-ride – despite the admittedly poor last half hour – because I felt connected to it, I was with it; I found the action, the stunts and the effects to be more heart-pounding.  But more than that, I didn’t feel like it insulted my intelligence.  Look, I can suspend my disbelief enough to think that giant robots that look like cars have invaded earth and are fighting one another, I can totally accept that.  But I cannot accept things like the “backyard” scene where giant robots are walking around a backyard and not one neighbor looks out their window?  Nobody hears them stomping around when they weigh several tons?  That, I cannot accept.


I read your stuff all the time and I enjoy your articles. But on this subject, we’ll have to agree to disagree.

Megan Fox got it exactly right with her quote. The Transformers movies aren’t meant to be art — hell — they aren’t meant to be anything at all but crazy summer fun. Buy a popcorn and a coke, disengage from reality and your stress, and just watch shit blow up. Real f’ing good. They are special-effects movies, made by the premiere guy in this realm (Bay), and starring young, hot, disposable talent. If you haven’t met or spoken with one person who says that they enjoyed the first Transformers, then either you don’t get out enough, or all of your friends are snobs (or some are lying).

Movies don’t make $750 million worldwide because people didn’t like what they saw. People went back for 2nd’s and 3rd’s on the first Transformers. And it’s gonna happen again with the sequel. $1 billion worldwide has to be their goal. I see this franchise mimicking the same box office trajectory of the three Pirates movies. Look…I’m not pretending to believe that Bay is a serious filmmaker with lofty aspirations to the Oscar and that his work on the Transformers movies suggest any furthering of his storytelling abilities. They are simple movies. Fighting robots. Boy gets girl. More fighting robots. Yes — the plotting is definitely idiotic, but the plot DID make sense (the first time out at least…haven’t seen the second one yet but I absolutely cannot wait). The action is hardly “unfocused.”

Bay’s eye for detail and his demand for photo-realistic CGI is unmatched at the moment. NOBODY makes action movies like he does. All of those silly arguments that people lob against Bay’s style over how you can’t follow the action in his films is just crazy…people aren’t paying attention!!! I have watched the first Transformers countless times, especially the climactic battle, and never ONCE did I ever not know what was going on, or who was who, or where the robots were in relation to one another. I just don’t get all of the hate. This whole “shaky-cam” nonsense needs to stop. Spielberg recruited the perfect choice of director for these movies…now if only Bay had been able to sneak the reboot of Superman into his schedule. I still think he’s the perfect choice for the man of steel.

But back to Transformers — these are movies primarily made for 10 year old boys and for 30 year old boys (like me!) who want to have some fun, look at gorgeous cinematography, ogle the ridiculous hotness of Ms. Fox, and watch the shiniest looking CGI that $200 million can buy. I don’t work for Bay nor do I have any stake in how well the movie does — all I am is a passionate movie lover who loves to see big, expensive things get cinematically destroyed during the months of May through August. The movie world is a lot like going to Baskin Robbins — there’s 31 Flavors out there. Of course, you’re entitled to wipe your critical ass with Bay’s product, but at least see the film first before running a smear piece. And at least have the smarts (and integrity) to acknowledge that Bay is a special kind of genius with movies such as these. He’s got the sensibilities of an eight year old, something that these movies require of their maker.

Keep up the great work over at MCN … I really do enjoy reading your work. Oh, andTerminator: Salvation, for the record, was an amazing waste of time, money, and effort. Skip it. The film is a total piece of garbage. I hope I never see another Terminator movie for the rest of my life. McG needs to be stopped…right now.


Again we have a polite, well-reasoned response to my question, explaining and detailing why this man likes the film…while also simultaneously, shrugging off the fact that “the plotting is definitely idiotic.”  Maybe if it wasn’t such a simple story, it would have been a better film; then again, maybe if it wasn’t so simple, not as many people would like it.  And that gets to the heart of the matter with this – and with most – films: is the film being made because somebody was moved by the story or is it being made because someone was interested in making money?  Now, just because the answer is probably the latter, that doesn’t mean that the film is bad, nor does it mean it has to be a certain way.  I thing my biggest problem with many blockbuster films is that the makers of these films feel that they have to be plotted and shot and cast a certain way in order to appeal to a wider demographic.  They are put together like paint-by-numbers, rather than artist drawing what he feels.

I got a lot of e-mails that said, “well, what did you expect, it’s a film based on a toy franchise.”  Well, Pirates of the Caribbean is based on a theme park ride and a lot of films are based on novels and memoirs, what’s the difference?  The source material of anything does not necessarily mean jack.  And because this is a film franchise that is based on toys – or a cartoon – that means it should have more freedom than the adaptation of a popular novel, not less.  It should mean that you can take the concept of a Transformer and do anything you want with it.

This was, in my opinion, the best e-mail I got that defended Transformers:

The first night my family got a VCR, we watched Transformers: The Movie. It was also, as far as I can remember, the first film I watched on videocassette. My dad, my brother and I quoted the movie for decades. “Arbulus, look! It’s Unicron!” and so on. But that’s not why I love Transformers.

My favorite toys were Transformers. They were part action-figure, part puzzle. As a child, I couldn’t even look at a common household item or vehicle without imagining what it would be like if it transformed into a giant, walking robot. Or at least if I had the toy version. But that’s not why I love Transformers.

In grad school, Florida State, I saw Transformers in digital projection. I saw it again on IMAX. I even drove back to my parents’ house in North Carolina unannounced just so I could surprise my dad and my brother, and we could watch it together, just like the old days with Unicron beaming off of our old VCR.

But that’s not why I love Transformers.

I love Transformers because it knows exactly what it is, and does exactly what it says it will do. It is a pure action-adventure film, and nothing else. It has all of the bloat of Pearl Harbor and Armageddon, and none of the pretentiousness.

Think of all the cool things that happen in that movie. Tanks get flipped like frisbees. Buses torn in two. Giant robots plunging themselves into skyscrapers. By all rights, the film should have a beastly body count. It’s guilt-free mayhem. It’s Coke Zero. It’s popcorn. And it’s completely unapologetic for it. This is the film where Optimus says ‘my bad,’ just because it’s funny. The film where a car radio plays wingman for our hero. The film where a kid is tackled by a SWAT member into a pool for no good reason.

We know how big, loud, and dumb summer movies can be. But all those trappings about fighting South African diplomatic criminals, or saving your wife’s plane before it runs out of fuel, or freeing a colony of mutated, oppressed Martian citizens are all those are. Trappings. Excuses. The “real” reasons to care and invest in the explosions and shootouts. No matter how much garlic and parmesan cheese you put on your gourmet popcorn, buddy, it’s still a big old bucket of popcorn.

And what’s so wrong with that? What happened to films earnest enough to say “I wanna shoot people and blow things up!”? What happened to our Robocops and our Lethal Weapons and our Predators and Die Hards? They became preachy, message-driven, watered-down, politically-correct soapboxes. Sure, Transformers is PG-13, and knows it. But, it’s just as refreshingly irresponsible about property damage as any high-octane 80’s flick.

This is the true genius of Transformers. It’s a story about giant machines that want to blow up evil giant machines that want to blow us up. The End. I, as a human, don’t want to blow up, but I don’t mind seeing objects and buildings get blown up. And if you can come up with an excuse to make a film whose sole purpose is blowing things up? What purer film is there? It’s sheer genius.

Yeah, Iron Man was smarter. Dark Knight was deeper. I dare say Incredible Hulk had better chemistry between the leads. But for non-stop, explosive thrills, Transformers just can’t be beaten. Sometimes, I want a fistful of popcorn. Sometimes, I want to laugh at the guy who ate a plate of donuts and should have known better. Sometimes, I want a car chase to suddenly morph into two giant robots battling. Sometimes, all an epic story boils down to is “they’re gonna get us!” “Nah-uh, let’s get them!” And sometimes, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Transformers knows this. And that’s why I love it.

Kevin J. Johnson

I think this is one of the most interesting defenses of Transformers I’ve ever seen because Kevin clearly accepts the “flaws” of the film to the point where he doesn’t see them as flaws anymore.  It’s almost like he thinks of Transformers as a porn film without the set-up, without the “acting,” just straight to the action.  And that’s a point of view that I can see and understand.  But, I must disagree on comparing it to a film like Die Hard or Robocop; the former has an emotional center to it because it’s about a man trying to save his wife.  The latter is an unbelievably profound satire about violence and media.  So I don’t thinkTransformers has anything to say on the level of those films, but I think that’s Kevin’s point; that Transformers doesn’t have anything to say and that’s what makes it enjoyable.  I don’t see it that way, but I can understand and respect that point of view.

Finally, to be completely fair, I’m going to give the last word to Transformers producer Don Murphy, who wrote me this e-mail:

You slam the enjoyment factor of Transformers which made me puzzled- there are hundreds of people on my message board every day clamoring for the next one and analyzing it already. THEY enjoy them. So I assumed you are just an idiot looking for controversy and attention- I mean, you did just dismiss tens of millions of people for liking a film you didn’t like right?

But then I read your line about there being no humans in the cartoon and realized that you are just dumb. Because that is where the Shia character comes from- right down to the name. And his dad. So….bzzzt you lose.

Thanks for playing.

– Noah Forrest
June 15, 2009
Noah Forrest is a 26-year-old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writers and do not neccessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon