Article about Movie in Star-Telegram

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Article about Movie in Star-Telegram

Postby Dragonslayer » Sun Jul 01, 2007 9:29 am

Motto: "Howdy, dammit!"
Weapon: Photon Blaster
My local newspaper, the Arlington Star-Telegram, ran an article in the A&E section today about the Transformers movie and how TFs in general have had an effect on our popular culture. It also includes a Q&A thing with writer Roberto Orci. You can read the original article here.

The Arlington Star-Telegram wrote:Rock 'em sock 'em ROBOTS
Director Michael Bay and two studios are banking on boyhood memories of animated fighting machines to make 'Transformers,' opening Tuesday, a live-action summer smash
By CARY DARLING
Star-Telegram staff writer

"We dig Optimus Prime and not Galvatron

We dig The Leader of the Pack and Da Doo Ron Ron

Spinderella and Bruce Lee, The Good The Bad and the Ugly

V for Vendetta and Into the Groovy"

-- Can U Dig It?, Pop Will Eat Itself (1989)

Ask just about any American guy bumping up against his late 20s or diving headlong into his mid-30s about one of the more traumatic events of his childhood, and somewhere on that list of painful parental scoldings and ritual schoolyard humiliations, you're likely to find this: the death -- no, make that the savage murder -- of Optimus Prime.

Didn't matter that Mr. Prime didn't really exist. He was the leader of the good-guy Autobots against the evil Decepticons, the two warring factions of changeling robots in the popular '80s Japanese-inspired comic book and animated TV show Transformers. In the 1986 big-screen cartoon The Transformers: The Movie, Optimus Prime was slain by Megatron, the dastardly Decepticon who would later become Galvatron.

"I was crying when Optimus Prime died. It was earth-shattering," remembers Justin Skattum, 26, who manages Lone Star Comics in Hurst and sports an Autobot bumper sticker on his Ford Focus. "To a 4-year-old, when that's your hero and your favorite toy to play with every day, it was like 'what are you [filmmakers] doing?' I couldn't play with [my] Optimus Prime for a month."

Paul Eaton, 28, a Chicago actuary analyst, had similar emotions. "I started bawling and my mom had to take me out of the theater," he recalls. "Optimus Prime was so important to me, I couldn't watch the movie."

"It was like they just broke all the rules," says Sam Eifling, 26, a features editor at ESPNoutdoors.com in Little Rock and a Transformers fan. "The good guys always live, and they killed the goodest guy of all -- in the first act. It was like when Superman died. It was the same level of gobsmack."

It's just this depth of emotional attachment that director Michael Bay (Armageddon, Bad Boys), along with Paramount and DreamWorks, hopes to tap into to make Transformers -- a $150-million-plus, special-effects stuffed, live-action take on the war between robots who can morph into vehicles and weaponry -- a big summer hit. The film opens Tuesday and, following in the footsteps of previous sci-fi blockbusters like Independence Day and Men in Black, its backers want to own the July 4 holiday. Toymaker Hasbro hopes to piggyback on that success with a new line of Transformers toys.

But in a world where the cinematic return of the much better-known Superman last summer was greeted with yawns while the latest installments in the Shrek, Pirates of the Caribbean and Spider-Man franchises have shown a rush of initial interest followed by steep box-office drop-off, there's no guarantee that Transformers can appeal beyond its fired-up fanboy base.

Yet those who know their Constructicons (Decepticon minions) from their Dinobots (Autobot allies) believe that Transformers, starring Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel and Jon Voight, could be the sleeping, metallic giant of the summer movie season.

"That retro pop-culture appeal brings in the fanboy audience, but hiring Michael Bay to direct puts it in another stratosphere," says Jeff Bock, an analyst for Los Angeles-based box-office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations, who says it could rake in as much as $100 million in its opening week. "By nailing down that July 4 weekend, [other films] stayed away from it. ... A film like Die Hard would have opened there previously, but now [it went] a week ahead. Expectations are high for Transformers.

"With Shia a rising star and the action, that covers a lot of demographics," he continues. "But whether they can pull the female demographic, that's the big question -- and that could push up the grosses."

Toy story

In the beginning, it was less about getting backsides into theater seats than getting toys into kids' hands.

In the early '80s, Japanese toy manufacturer Takara attempted to inject new life into its Microman and Diaclone robot toys with revamped lines dubbed Micro Change and Car Robots. These displayed the first whispers of Transformers consciousness. Hasbro bought the rights for the U.S. and created the first-generation Transformers toys. They were an immediate hit, resonating with kids on many levels.

Wired magazine, in its current Transformers cover story, speculates -- with tongue only partially in cheek -- that because so many young boys growing up in the '80s were either latchkey kids or products of broken homes, the heroic Optimus Prime became their "mech-daddy." "He was our Allfather," writes Scott Brown, "at a time when flesh-and-blood role models were increasingly few and far between."

Screenwriter Roberto Orci, 33, who co-wrote the script for Transformers with Alex Kurtzman, believes the toys tapped into an emerging consciousness about the pervasiveness of technology. "It was that ubiquitous technology was starting to surround us as children, and then [Transformers] takes it to its logical conclusion," he says.

For others, it was a less cerebral and more visceral experience.

"What really got me interested in Transformers was the packaging," says Mark Bellomo, 35, an English professor at State University of New York at New Paltz and author of Transformers: Identification and Price Guide, a bible of sorts for Transformers toy collectors. "They had this well-designed packaging for kids."

But, beyond that, the shape-shifting toy was versatile. "You could do more than one thing with the robot," says Bellomo, who estimates he has some 35,000 action figures in his collection, approximately 10 percent of which are Transformers. "And where G.I. Joe was always based in the real world, this is an entirely fictional universe."

"When I was a kid, from 6 to at least 11, Transformers were the ultimate toy," says ESPNoutdoors' Eifling. "There was He-Man, and he was cool, and Ninja Turtles were cool, but Transformers were the ultimate because they were robots and they can turn into something else, like a tiger or a plane or a dinosaur -- all of which are also awesome."

"As a child, it was seeing a plane fly over and I would be 'I wonder if it's a Transformer,'" Lone Star Comics' Skattum says. "I could look at my dad's car and hope there was a Transformer underneath. Maybe at night, it went off doing what [Transformers] do."

Yet, in addition to such feverish kid dreams that the robots -- who were billed as being "more than meets the eye" -- inspired, Transformers also came with their own detailed back story. That's what appealed to the English author Simon Furman who, as an adult, was hired as a freelancer to write Transformers comic books for the British market.

"What grabbed me first was the whole thing came fully realized," says Furman, who has written several Transformers books, including a recently revised Transformers: The Ultimate Guide and the new Transformers: The Movie Guide, which comes out this week. "It was well thought out, and all these characters within the comic came with a complete biography and profile with their weaknesses, strengths, and weaponry. It was like having a TV series' bible in front of you."

Crossing over

The animated Transformers TV show, which hit the air in September 1984, made the robots even more popular. "Man, I used to get up at 6:30 on a Saturday, with no alarm clock, and go watch the cartoon," recalls Eifling of growing up in Fayetteville, Ark. "I remember especially getting up before the show came on and just sitting in the living room in front of a dark TV. We didn't have TV listings and we didn't have cable, so I'd just get up and find it."

Of course, the whole enterprise was designed to get kids -- or, more precisely, their parents -- to buy more toys. Hence the continual onslaught of new characters and the death of some old ones, such as Optimus Prime.

"They used the cartoon as a means of getting you to buy. Every single show, they'd introduce a new character and that's a new toy you gotta buy," says Paul Eaton, the Chicago actuary analyst, who says that at one point he had "quite a fleet" of "over 50, less than 100" action figures.

The 1986 movie -- and the legions of tearful boys that followed -- kept Transformers near the front of the comic-book consciousness. While their popularity waned some in the '90s, there has been a stream of Transformersderived comics and TV shows ever since, including Beast Wars, Beast Machines, Transformers Armada and Energon.

The '80s English rock band Pop Will Eat Itself even name-checked the robots in the 1989 British hit song Can U Dig It?, ranking them along with other such pop-culture heroes as Bruce Lee, Dirty Harry and the Terminator. On this side of the ocean, there's a geek-rap outfit that goes by the name of Optimus Rhyme.

But the arrival of Michael Bay's Transformers could take it to a whole new level. That is, if it can attract female viewers as well as those too old or too young -- as in, they weren't born yet -- to care about Optimus Prime's death 21 years ago.

So, fans are ready for some compromises. With a cast that includes actresses Megan Fox and Rachael Taylor, there's bound to be a mushy love element. Already some have been complaining online about how the lovable Transformer Bumblebee, a Volkswagen originally, is now a souped-up Camaro. (Thanks to the wonders of product placement, GM is the new-generation robots' make of choice.)

Two different experiences

"You have to be realistic," says Transformers: The Ultimate Guide author Furman, who notes there's already talk of a sequel. "This started off as a toy before the cartoon show or the comic book or the movie. The Transformers took on a life of their own at some point, and it stopped being just a toy. I think it's now dividing up into people who want to buy the toys, and there's a middle ground who would just sit and enjoy the movie and it doesn't matter that the toys are there."

Others don't necessarily care if it's a crossover hit. They just want to see something they've been wanting for more than two decades.

"It's funny this is coming out the same summer as The Simpsons Movie," Eifling says. "As a kid, we knew The Simpsons Movie was coming and it never came. Twelve years later, it's coming out the same month as Transformers."

"It's Michael Bay, and that means it's going to be really good action, the special effects are going to be amazing," Skattum says. "The plot may not be that great, but the plot never was that great with Transformers. There were robots. On Earth. Fighting each other. It's as simplistic as you can get."

Maybe there won't so much crying this time around.

"I don't think it will move me, but I want to go and be entertained," he continues. "If what I've seen so far [in the trailers] continues in the movie, heck yes, I'll eat popcorn and see it a few times in the theater."

ROBOT ROLL CALL

Don't know your Optimus Prime from your Rodimus Prime? Your Megatron from your Galvatron? If you can't tell one Transformer from another, read on:

The Autobots (the good guys)

Optimus Prime Leader of the heroic Autobots. If John Wayne were made of metal and could turn into a giant 18-wheeler at will, that's Optimus Prime.

Bumblebee Loyal and honorable, Bumblebee wasn't the biggest fighter -- he transformed into a VW Beetle, after all -- but he had the biggest heart. Well, if Autobots had hearts. Many longtime fans are upset that in the movie he's now a Camaro.

Ironhide One of Optimus Prime's most reliable soldiers, his original alternate form was a van, but he's reportedly a pickup in the movie.

Rodimus Prime When Hot Rod obtains the Autobot Matrix of Leadership after Optimus Prime is slain in the animated 1986 Transformers movie, he becomes Rodimus Prime.

Ultra Magnus The commander of Autobot City, he briefly became leader of the Autobots after Prime's death, but he could not release the Matrix of Leadership's powers, which ultimately went to Hot Rod.

The Decepticons (the bad guys)

Megatron/Galvatron Watch out, Darth, you've got a competitor for your throne of evil. Megatron commands the merciless Decepticons, but after suffering severe injury in his grudge match with Optimus, he's reborn as Galvatron by the omnipotent Unicron. In the original story, Megatron turns into a gun, but in the movie, he apparently turns into a spaceship.

Soundwave A walkin', talkin' and fightin' cassette player, he's a reliable Decepticon foot soldier.

Starscream Second in command but first in bad attitude, he constantly plotted for Decepticon leadership. But you might, too, if you could shape-shift into an F-15 fighter jet.

Bonecrusher The Constructicons do much of the Decepticons' heavy lifting and dirty work, so Constructicon big guy Bonecrusher gets many chances to live up to his name.

The Humans

Sparkplug and Sam "Spike" Witwicky The oil-rig worker and his son are rescued by the Autobots after a Decepticon attack on Earth. In return, they help the 'Bots in their battle against evil. In the movie, Shia LaBeouf is Spike.

Source: Stanley Lui's The Transformers Online Encyclopedia and Simon Furman's Transformers: The Ultimate Guide.

FIVE QUESTIONS WITH . . . Roberto Orci, Transformers screenwriter

Screenwriter Roberto Orci and partner Alex Kurtzman know a little bit about taking iconic TV shows and turning them into box-office gold. They wrote Mission: Impossible III and are writing the next Star Trek movie. Both also worked on such TV series as Alias and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. So they're pros at trying to satisfy both fanboy genre conventions and general audiences. But Orci says Transformers, set in the world of warring robots, was one of their most difficult.

1 How did you condense all of the Transformers mythology into one movie?

This one was a really hard one, not just for the condensing of the history but what it should be tonally. The cynical think it's going to be a two-hour toy commercial, and those who don't just thought it was going to be a kids' cartoon. It was a perfect storm of difficulty. We read everything and went back to Transformers school until we came up with the access point of what the story should be.

2 Whose idea was it to do a live-action Transformers in the first place?

[Producer Steven] Spielberg actually approached us first. We were concerned about it being a giant toy commercial. We went in ready to say no; we didn't understand what the movie could be. The action scenes are a given. But we asked him, 'Do you agree that there should be a human story?' and he said, 'Yes, it's about a boy and his car.' Now that we knew how to access this movie, we ran with it.

3 Why Michael Bay [whose hits include Bad Boysand Armageddon] to direct?

He can handle action sequences ... We've worked with him before, and the best way to make this movie is with Spielberg's sensibility and Michael Bay's heavy action. And he's the car-action master. We asked Michael Bay: 'You like car crashes? Imagine them where the cars stand up in the middle and go at it.'

4 Some things were changed from the mythology to the movie. And why change Bumblebee from a VW to a Camaro?

It was a controversial idea, but some fans feel the human point-of-view is over-represented. We felt [the humans] would help convey the shock and fear of meeting the Transformers for the first time. Some fans wanted it to be all robots, but what we've been saying is you can't be a robot in disguise if there's nobody to hide from. ... [For Bumblebee], we're trying to update [the concept] a bit more, thinking what a teenager might want if given a choice on the lot.

5 Bay's last movie, The Island -- which you guys wrote -- was a flop. Are there any concerns that maybe Bay's golden touch may be gone?

The lesson learned from The Island is not that Michael Bay is worthless but that the business model was off. It should have been a thriller instead of a ponderous sci-fi concept. I don't think anyone thinks that proves Bay is over. So [if Transformers does very well], we may have the distinction of writing his lowest-grossing and his highest-grossing films.

cdarling@star-telegram.com
Cary Darling is the Star-Telegram pop culture critic
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Postby Hotrod » Sun Jul 01, 2007 12:14 pm

Front paged and credited!
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Postby D-340 » Sun Jul 01, 2007 1:47 pm

Great read. This part kinda hit home:

Wired magazine, in its current Transformers cover story, speculates -- with tongue only partially in cheek -- that because so many young boys growing up in the '80s were either latchkey kids or products of broken homes, the heroic Optimus Prime became their "mech-daddy." "He was our Allfather," writes Scott Brown, "at a time when flesh-and-blood role models were increasingly few and far between."


Not to get all "poor-me" here, but I did go through that as a kid. My mom was a single parent, workin' 12 to 14 hour days to take care of my bro and I. All he and I had were TFs and our Atari, and later Nintendo. But TFs were so much more important because there were not only toys, but the show as well. And Optimus Prime was the be-all end-all of heroes. Duke couldn't touch him, nor He-man or Lion-o, or another. Prime was it. That's probably why he and I are such fans to this day, with that kinda impact how could you not.

Sorry about the rant, just connected with that part of the article. Good read all around.
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