Idol Chatter

transformers_idol.jpgLike many in the nation this week, I took advantage of the gloomy fourth of July weather and headed into the dry confines of the local cineplex to take in “Transformers.” My expectations were mixed: Many renderings of favorite cartoons on the big screen have been less than stellar (“He-Man,” “The Flintstones”), but coming from Michael “Armageddon” Bay and Steven Spielberg, I figured it couldn’t be totally bad.
I was, in fact, pleasantly surprised. At 2 hours and 20 minutes, the film is way, way too long; but, Bay certainly knows how to direct action-adventure/sci-fi, and there was plenty of humor and celebrity cameos to go around.
Based on the mid-80’s cartoon series, which was based on the toy line from Hasbro, the film enhances the backstory of these “robots in disguise.” Having battled until their home world of Cybertron was destroyed, the Autobots (The good guys) and the Decepticons (The Bad Guys) are on a race to find “The All Spark,” the mysterious energy source cube from which all Transformer–sentient mechanical beings–life evolved. Of course, the All Spark has found its way to earth and humans are now involved, including an assuming geek named Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf).

Initially, the film seemed to be imbued with the same gravitas as the re-imagined “Battlestar Galactica,” with a gritty military opening salvo and sinister set-up, but once Autobots leader Optimus Prime (now looking like the boys from CMT’s “Trick My Truck” got a hold of him) opens his grill, that seriousness of purpose dissipated a bit.
But remember, Steven Spielberg produced this film, so there is a takeaway here. And that takeaway is “no sacrifice, no victory,” a favorite saying of Sam’s great-great grandfather. While Bay has always received great cooperation from the armed forces and uses them to great dramatic effect here, the motto does not necessarily apply to contemporary military operations. Instead, it applies to our protagonists, Optimus Prime and Sam. While in the end it is Sam’s potential sacrifice that ensures victory, it is pacifist Prime’s insistence that the human race is worth saving, and his willingness to sacrifice himself in order to do so, that makes him a kind of Cyber Christ figure.
Megatron, leader of the Decepticons (brilliantly voiced by “The Matrix’s” Hugo Weaving), thinks the human race should simply be wiped out, or enslaved, as they are a silly species. But, Prime believes that humanity has not yet fully matured. “Freedom is the right of all sentient beings” he says, “We cannot let the humans pay for our mistakes.” And Optimus Prime is willing to sacrifice himself to save humanity, telling Sam that in order to stop Megatron, Sam must plunge the All Spark into his chest, killing himself, but stopping Megatron from getting the powerful cube.
As Wikipedia notes, throughout the various incarnations of the series, “A tragic constant of the character [Optimus Prime] is his predilection for self-sacrifice; Prime (and later, his modern namesakes) is almost sure to meet his end and later return to life (sometimes more than once).”
Sure, I could get really philosophical and ask if the Transfomers are here to to transform the human race, to help us better ourselves, to help rid us of our daily deceptions–but it is just a movie based on a hugely popular line of toys. But, at the risk of sounding corny and cliche, there is more to this movie than meets the eye.

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