My first time posting here I´m sure we will all become good friends!
I wrote an essay hoping to help people deepen their love for this golden concept that is TRANSFORMERS.
It´s not some conspiracy thing or anything (althought the argument can be made that the film feature a bunch of masonic symbols among other things)
The following text will shake you to the core. It is my intent to permanently change the way you see not only movies but the world, life, time, sex, everything. I will achieve that goal by opening your eyes to the glory of Transformers!
The first thing one must understand in order to “get” transformers is that it´s not the work of one man. Michael Bay directs, but it is a Spielberg production, and the script comes from Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (with Ehren Kruger taking over for the in the fourth film). These writers are of course crafting said script from elements, story beats, tropes characters and concepts taken from the original series and comic books etc, that to my knowledge stem from the collaboration between Hasbro and Takara Tomy, a Japanese toy company, back in the 80´s. People often reference the fact that the original Transformers series was created to promote and sell toys as an argument for dismissing it as purely commercial, vapid nonsense. That makes no sense to me. Let us take a moment to address that infuriatingly stupid notion “toys are dumb and the stories that stem from them are also dumb” and “if something has a commercial origin that makes it corrupt and dumb also”
Dolls and toys, you can´t find a more potent cultural artifact. Mamoru Oshii made a whole film, a very complex, extremely sophisticated film (Innocence) around that basic point. Dolls and toys in general are objects with one foot in the imaginary world and another in the real one, that is, bridges children use to shape the foundations of their sense of self and meaning. They are so violent, so primal, so basic and so pure, oh the cruel force of that magical pink corridor you can find in every store in practically every corner of this planet, you come out feeling dizzy! Impossible to determine whether it stands as proof of the great single minded demand of little girls all around the globe…Their thirst for PINK…Or if it´s a terrifying example of social engineering. Toys have evolved in fascinating ways in recent decades. Boys used to get trains and trucks and soldiers, girls used to get dolls. I grew up with Ninja Turtles and Transformers for Christ´s sake, oh the colossal fantasy leap that is a TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLE when you compare it to a simple lead soldier figure! There is such insane mythical complexity in there.
The first Transformers toys acted as a bridge between Japanese animism, Christian values and tropes (the most recent film being loaded with Arthurian concepts, like the Knights of the Round Table and the Holy Grail) and the shinning utopias cars carry in them, the modernist utopias people like Disney chased after their whole lives…AMONG MANY, MANY OTHER THINGS.
Then a story grew out of the need of giving these cultural jewels a context, a universe to live in. George Lucas once said he created Star Wars so the kids could then dream within that universe, and, with the toys as tools, come up with their own stories. Which comes first; the toy, the “official cannon” or the fan work is totally irrelevant when assessing the quality of either the toy or the stories linked to it.
The Transformer stories where very interesting. Tons of “new age” stuff in them, which is a way to say the product of crazy interbreeding between east and west. Paving the way towards the realization that mythical structures converge, and the hybrid chimeras that result from their passionate clash are very fertile beasts. I won´t dwell on the series because my aim is to redeem the films in the public eye, but I can distinctly remember as a kid watching episodes involving concepts such as time travel, Stonehenge magical structures, dinosaurs, Egyptian archetypes and tropes, and a general Ray Bradbury vibe…Now that´s what I call A MEAL. So back off on calling the core concept dumb ok? Ok.
On to the films.
Rob Ager (http://www.collativelearning.com/
) wrote a great piece about E.T. that would be a great introduction to the logic behind the Transformer films. His analysis makes clear the statement Spielberg has made in interviews about E.T. being a film about divorce. It is, just as the first Transformers film is really about a teenage boy getting his first car. Understanding that basic fact is the first step towards establishing a dialog with the film. E.T. is the embodiment of Elliot´s self image as an abandoned, deformed being (emphasis on his huge sensitive heart glowing thru his chest), longing to make a telephone call (to Mexico) where his father has taken off after divorcing his mom. I could go thru the film scene by scene and try to recall and the wonderful point ROB made in his analysis…But I won´t. Just me mindful of that concept next time you rewatch E.T. and all the details will fall into place, scene by scene, confirming that interpretation…Hopefully, if not just the Rob Ager dvds, I haven´t but the man deserves to get paid for his work. All the other Spielberg fantasy films function in that same way more or less, they are mostly all about fathers stepping up and fulfilling their role and everyone lives happily ever after as a consequence. That´s the idea behind Jurassic Park, where the angry dinos act as embodiments of parental anger (the link is made in that scene where Alan Grant bullies that fat androgynous kid at the beginning of the film). By the end of the film the dinos transform into harmless pelicans and the children rest in Alan Grant´s lap sleeping peacefully…You get the idea hopefully oh God.
Transformers piqued the interest of Spielberg because he saw it could work in a similar way. In his mind the battle between Autobots and Decepticons is something you get involved in by buying a car, that is, giving your first step towards participating in the nightmare that is the industrial world. When you drive a car, you drive in roads, the same way trains can only run on tracks. Those roads have names, names that come from the past, while driving a car you enact an utopia, cars are sold as identity constructs. Owning a car is an important step towards becoming a man, becoming independent and falling into “the grid”. That´s why boys want to play with cars, to follow in their father´s footsteps and step into the world. Cars start as toys you hold in your hand, but later on become bigger than you and envelop you as you cruise at high speed thru your life. That basic size inversion is at the core of the Transformer concept. It´s evident in many scenes Where Optimus or Bumblebee hold Sam in his hand and protect him, a tiny fragile creature caught in the struggle of gods, instead of being “God” while playing with toy figures and deciding which way the story unfolds while you play…
I have to talk about Michael Bay now, before going any further.
Michael Bay was chosen to direct this film because of how close his aesthetic sense matches Japanese animation, in particular Yoshinori Kanada´s style. Now, that´s a huge thing to go into, you can watch this video, where a moron explains how Bay´s style functions (hey it´s just about layers and movement guys anyone can do THAT!). While it is true that Michael Bay is sort of a one trick pony visually speaking you couldn´t dream of a better director to helm an adaptation of THIS:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bdz1oWtYU-0
That´s the role Michael Bays plays here, he´s not the mastermind of the project, Spielberg is. He just goes at it with great fury in the only way he knows how and ascends to higher and higher levels of chaotic visual fury, which is the whole point of the franchise, a huge robot brawl where form (by form I mean animation, film, comics, videogames or toys) and content fuse into a very spicy broth of ID(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Id,_ego_and_super-ego#Id
) MUTATING dare I say TRANSFORMING matter to express its PRIMAL RAGE! “Form is ephemeral, war is forever” That profound concept is masterfully brought to life in HD real-3D 7.1 sound glory in the films.
Michael Bay also comes in with an important contribution beyond the visual style which is his preoccupation with the “American dream”. All his films feature cartoonish, excessive parodies of said concept. It can be really obnoxious when he tries to be serious, you get a soap opera propaganda film like Pearl Harbor (which ironically paints the Japanese as noble also, a total fantasy) but most of the time it´s a total joke, a cartoon. People accuse him of doing racial stereotypes but they forget that every single character in his films is a toon archetype, heroes, villains, even extras or people that come in to spout one line. How could you possibly get “offended” at a Paris scene where a man spits out escargots and threatens to punch a mime? It´s like something out of a looney toons episode, it´s like a children animated show oh I get it. Seriously Michael Bay is not racist. I mean the man made two entire films celebrating Will Smith as a huge handsome badass. In any case, Bay is a perfect fit, visually and tonally for adapting the series.
With all that out of the way (and out of my chest) I´ll get right to the good part: the language of the films themselves. I´ll be talking about facts, stuff that´s just there, “hiding” in plain sight? Not really, it´s a very explicit, very direct mythical structure, and great hordes of people ARE sensitive to it, which is why the movies are such a colossal success.
I want help people defend their love, deepen their love, and articulate their love for this franchise.
The first movie as I said before is about a boy getting his first car, the second about said boy, now older, entering college life and the third deals with him getting his first job. In the first film Sam (he´s actually named SAM) makes first contact with the Autobots, that contact is a direct consequence of his link to explorers of the past and his dad is the one buying his first car for him. It´s a classic theme you find in tons of stories, like the first Harry Potter book, where the hero finds out about a magical world, a magical big scale conflict that goes with it and plays a central role in that conflict because of a link coming from the past (like having magical parents or a great great grandfather that explored the artic) so far so good, what makes transformers unique when compared to other stories of that sort is the potency of the transformers concept, I mean the robot characters themselves. Transformers come from Cybertron, a planet completely devoured by technology, a dead world ravaged by a single binary war to the point where no life remains on it. It´s totally abstract “good guys vs bad guys” really it´s not explained at any point what the grudge between Autobots and Decepticons is, they say “Autobots fight for freedom” well what the hell does that mean really, in practical terms? Naivité like that is a very powerful thing in art since it cuts to the core of the concept as a purely emotional childish sense of “us vs them” by letting the conflict remain unadorned, plain and PLAIN DUMB you get to the truth of it. It´s completely irrelevant whether the authors do this consciously or not, I m sure you are all aware of the concept of “the death of the author” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_the_Author
). The undoing of an ideology is often brought by over identification with it, by articulating it clearly and celebrating it. The great merit of these movies is the way they expose and celebrate the furious folly of our age and all its contradictions. Unlike films like “The Avengers” Transformers achieves a deep level of self-awareness because of the nature of the core concept; the robots are aliens that change form to adapt to their surroundings. Optimus comes to Earth and takes on the colors of the USA flag (I won´t say AMERICA, since AMERICA is a **** continent not a country) creates a particular voice (unlike the Decepticons Autobots never speak in their native tongue) a whole personality construct, which makes the archetypal or stereotypical attitudes and personalities of the robots particularly magical to behold, like a thin plastic mask that hides true otherness, true alieness, no other film I can think of achieves this sense of wonder, this incredible alien creature that is pure technology, pure will, stares at us with gorgeous turbine glowing eyes and throws back in our faces a crude parody of our own culture and sense of identity. “How did you learn to talk that way? How did you learn to look that way?" Those questions lead us to the true nature of the Autobots as beings of pure language. This is made explicit in the fourth film where humanity reaches “the holy grail”. Scientists manage to isolate the substance that the transformers are made of, and it is of course, language itself. How perfectly fitting then that they refer to Transformium (the metal Transformers are made of) as “the Holy Grail” given that Optimus was stablished as a Christ figure in the second film. In the Bible Christ is “the word made flesh” and the Holy Grail the mythical cup that received his blood, is what King Arthur and his knights go on a quest seeking. The cup like structure in the film from where the sphere comes (a perfect sphere-circle is the ultimate symbol of the divine http://altreligion.about.com/od/symbols ... ircles.htm
) as the character holds it in his hands it mutates and takes the form of whatever he imagines…You couldn´t ask for a clearer illustration of “the word made flesh” aka “language substantiated”. THAT level of self awareness turns transformers into a high level critique of ideology instead while being a celebration of it. Great art functions that way, Picasso painted terrifying pictures of death when he was very old, and he did that so create a distance between himself and those pictures. By articulating who you are you immediately create a point of view outside of that identity and are therefore no longer that(http://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/upl ... -death.jpg
)…That is how evolution works. Transformers connects us to that zone of pleasure in our early infancy where our relationship towards language is still sensually palpable. It´s like saying that “hey Santa Claus isn´t really Santa Claus” he´s something beyond our world, but he adopts that form as an act of love, as an act of communication…or an act of war-manipulation, eroding Christianity(like in that first South Park pilot http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzV3boO-2SY
). In that sense the reality of Santa is far more powerful than the childhood illusion, it´s an act of will, deliberate, a lie, a mask.
I´m having a real hard time giving structure to this text. I want to jump from one idea to the next and really the films are just too rich to do justice without writing a book about them. I think I might write some more specific analysis of particular scenes in the future, it´s already very optimistic to hope you´ve read this far, you crazy kids. I want to invite you to reconsider them and look at them with an open mind, as films that explore the relationship we have to the archetypes that structure our sense of self, meaning and the utopias we fight for knowingly or unknowingly. Think about the relationship between the two planets, Cybertron and Earth, think about the precise words in the speeches Optimus delivers at the end of each film, think about the fact that Optimus calls Megatron his brother…Think about the name “Megatron”(Great Matrix) I mean it´s the same as calling yourself “Muhammed Ali”(which means “praised noble one”) a more comical example of extreme egocentrism can´t be imagined and yet said ego comes along with great power, when a creature imprisoned for millennia bursts out fighting and immediately transforms, a flower of violent will undamaged by time…what a dream! People eat their own testicles after a couple of years of solitary confinement, he´s been there for thousands of years!
TRANSFORMERS: more than meets the eye!
Give them a chance!