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A Transparent Transformers Retrospective

So now it’s out there, in all its glory. Smashing non-sequel single week box office records worldwide and winning the marketing hearts of people from all walks of Transformers history. Hopefully your fears and prayers for Michael Bay to not totally botch your childhood were answered in full, and his innate ability to shower an audience with napalm-drenched action scenes remained perfectly in place.

A different sort of approach to movie making was necessary for director Bay to not totally alienate an entire generation of people wanting to see their hero, Optimus Prime (who had previously passed away in the animated 1986 Transformers: The Movie) back in full 30-foot form.

With Bay’s past car chasing, bomb-laden efforts, there was good reason to believe that he would take the throne on this project and drill it right into the ground. But, in true style, the director took time early on in production to read through online forums and make decisions based on what fans were thinking when the movie was first announced.

This “Power of the Forum” may have potentially saved Transformers from totally disconnecting with any target demographic whatsoever. Granted Megatron, formerly a pistol, was now a jet and fellow Decepticon Frenzy (previously a cassette tape) was now a radio, but that didn’t seem to shake moviegoers as they crammed into theaters to help the movie rake in $152 million in its first week.

The lasting effect of the Transformers franchise stretches back to the early and mid-1980s, when we latched on and tuned in every week to the essential half hour toy commercial and watched our larger-than-life robotic heroes smash each other to bits across the galaxy.

Once the Autobot-Decepticon war died down after about two years of relentless marketing gimmicks and American living rooms full of die cast metal toys that were nearly impossible to transform from machine to robot and back, all was sound on the alien front. Then, without warning, the children of the age of Prime were doused in re-released toy runs, cheap plastic knockoffs, and weird regenerations. (Optimus Primal, anyone?)

Fast-forward 20 years to the announcement that Transformers is going to be made into a live action movie. Blogging and forum frenzy ensues, with the entire online community up in arms about the whos, whats, and wheres of this new adventure. Bay, who was initially slammed after being chosen as director, has a rare advantage over others in this arena.

After his Pearl Harbor “success” in building relationships with the Pentagon, Bay can order F-16s and tanks on the cheap and easy from the government like many of us can order fries and a milkshake. Add the not-so-clever product placement, which as a marketing ploy was a staple of the original series, including Chevys and game consoles, and you have yourself the basic frame of a modern day action flick.

With the addition of brain-shaking CGI courtesy of Industrial Light and Magic and a slapped-together script that takes on one of the most sought-after remakes in history, and you have yourself one hell of a blockbuster.

Beyond the trend of big name Hollywood blowouts of explosions and battles in Anytown, USA, Transformers has a special place in the hearts of many of us who looked up to Optimus Prime, the primordial leader of all Autobot kind, as children. We expected the live action to be a true modern adaptation to our childhood memories and from the looks of it, through the throngs of marketing and all, it has been bone-crushingly delivered.

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