DOTM went to the discount theater, so Mrs. Bus & I drove down and watched it. I'm glad I experienced it, and I'm glad I didn't spend much.
First, let me say that the movie is bad, and yet fascinating, for reasons those who made it almost certainly don't know. The trick, as it were, is to try and figure out what movie they utterly failed to realize they were making. Second, I made this post a small bit at a time, with no editing. This always summons the teal deer. If you do not enjoy such livestock, you might as well step off the bus here.
When I think of DOTM, I think "potential". It has some very fine moments that could potentially have been built into an excellent Transformers movie. It also had potential to become other things.
DOTM is a minor dub away from becoming a hilarious stoner comedy.
You can't watch people smash through glass, slide down glass, then smash through glass again to avoid the jagged wreckage, without thinking, hmm, what if Ashton Kutcher was in this? Dude, where's my driller?
But the stoner movie doesn't happen.
DOTM is also a Kubrick away from being a brilliant war satire.
It's insidious. In full Tom Clancy mode, we see our finest military minds at work...and it's played totally straight. They do seem competent. The drama builds, and I'm being perfectly honest - it builds well. Then the thrilling martial music rises as our heroes sally forth, and you feel so damned proud, and you watch those ships whop-whop out loaded down with death in every form, and it is heavy metal righteous, because this world is sometimes a bad old place, and sometimes someone needs to die...
...and then we discover that Commander Wile E. Coyote has told us to loiter by a building, which happens to have nasties perched on the other side, and deploy the men in Acme wingsuits.
Then they die, in a sequence long enough for the slowest viewer to digest the futile stupidity of the operation.
Or...go back to the building sequence, where in classic action-movie form, the forlorn hope has one shell, one shot, a tenuous perce; one desperate shot at success. Again, it builds well. The pulse pounds, and we beg the celluloid gods to favor the heroes, to allow, for this time only, a deviation from what life has trained us to expect from such maneuvers...
It fails. The one shot fails...but the heroes don't get the lesser prizes the Hollywood deities offer, a quick trip to the Valhalla of the bold, while we curse the gods who cheat the courageous...No. They're plunged into the aforementioned stoner hell, where nothing makes sense. They're held up to ridicule. 'So these are your heroes, viewer? Ha! You are a fool...'
Ice water to the mind. The filmmakers construct an image, and deconstruct it with a single stinging blow. It's as if you've been recruited, and are just about to sign, and the officer reaches over to shake hands...
...and punches you in the face.
This kind of story might bring Heinlein to Vonnegut. It attacks the obstacle to peace that Patton would be pleased to run tanks over...the kind of arrogant
stupidity that brings neither victory nor coexistence. Forward the Light Brigade. You stupid sons of bitches....but the chord isn't struck.
There's a grimmer satire at work. There's a terribly beautiful depiction of the ruin of war, brought shockingly home by the familiarity of the fallen icons. Amtrak cars piled up. Chicago is dead. A more powerful society has seen yours as an obstacle, and so your city must die. The soldiers recoil. Why? Have they not seen such things before? Maybe they have. Perhaps it is not the sight they are recoiling from, but the knowledge...
The images are breathtaking. The message is loud. We haven't had a chance to erect the walls in our mind, the partitions that divide and defend our allegiances. We haven't had sufficient time to hate either side; the destruction is too rapid, and the unknown robots look too much like our friends for revulsion to set in. Then the filmmakers remove any chance of letting us off easy. An alien crashes, and as we watch his terrified struggle to get free, against all odds, our sympath arise. His desperation and pain overcome his bizarre appearance. He is trapped...trapped in a thing larger than he is...the metaphor is quick and sharp. He is against us...and yet...he is us.
Suddenly the heroes come and tear him to pieces.
We will kill them all. It's a simple statement of fact...
Is there any way to miss the fearful neutrality of this scene? Did you think this was an action movie? Did you think we were making this easy for you? No. This is war. Your city is dead. The pretty young girls Billy Pilgrim stumbled upon have been cooked to ash. This pilot is an enemy. This monster is you. Stop the stupid wars.
Well, there is one way to miss it. You could be one of those who made the film.
And then the sex. This is a big thing; humans like the sex, but one might wonder - what would a movie be like, if robots wrote the sexy bits?
How about a high-concept version, eh?
I find Rosie W. to be quite attractive. Even better, she's got the accent. Is there anybody on Earth, male or female, who can resist an English accent? Well, of course, there isn't. The Brits are only immune 'cause it's endemic. A human who can resist an English accent is clearly an alien impostor. This is what makes the UK so dangerous.
But I digress. This movie was made by aliens.
How, when I find R H-W to be easy on the eyes, and when so much of her is consistently on display, does Mr. Bay manage to make her so unsexy? it's not that she's unappealing, it's that the appeal is so utterly devoid of that thing which makes the heart quicken. She's not a terribly bad actress; she plays her role adequately. The Megabum speech actually works, and she makes a nicely unruffled counterpart to Sam's adolescent jerkitude...but when she's next to the car, which one is made of flesh and blood? I find my brain won't bother with either...
It's not her. It's the director. He objectifies her to such a clinical degree that it doesn't connect with me as a human, but as a draftsman.
It could work as a sly response to the critics of his last movie. Obscenity is a matter of presentation, not object, and the final element lies in the mind of the viewer... "when a man looks lustfully at a woman, he has already committed adultery with her in his thoughts". The guilt lies ultimately with the observer, and yet it is the observed which draws the censure, and the censor...
Nope. The message is latent, but not brought out, because the messenger is completely unaware of it.
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Now available in stores.
Some analysis requires textual support.
Now for the dark heart of the oeuvre, the Faustian masterpiece, the deconstruction of a light cultural icon. Optimus Prime... the starkly bipolar knight-errant, and his slide into insanity.
You feel for Optimus Prime. There is a small scene where he refuses to transform, before delivering the platitudes. It's slightly unnerving...you get the sense that he is not completely right...and yet he sounds all right,isn't he? It doesn't matter that he's just attacked one group of humans at the bidding of another. That shouldn't hurt anyone, right? The scene with Sentinel works well, too. It's played well by the actors & animators alike. Optimus feels genuinely devoted to Sentinel, almost pathetically reverent.
And the last scene. Some people hate it.
It's almost perfect...except...well, wait.
Megatron strides in, in his haughty rotting arrogance, and Prime destroys him in a murderous rage...and it's just right, even if the movie has gone out of its way to invoke sympathy for the Decepticon devil, and instill us with some appreciation for his fallen nobility. The point driven home isn't that Prime is right...that's what people are saying, but it's completely screwed up. The point is that Prime has been wronged, and he's taking it out on Megatron.
Then Sentinel...pathetic...defeated...with one final chance to eke out sympathy, to show his point of view... he does it. For us. Not for Prime. Prime kills him...and that is perfect, because Prime is wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong...but humanly wrong, understandably wrong. Sentinel was his last hope for decency in his world, the last ideal he could hold on to...and the ideal was a traitor.
It's horrible. It's dark.
It's a terrible thing to do to our Optimus Prime.
But then the scene goes wrong...
This is a story, not life. In life there may be delayed payback...but a story must finish before its end. Prime has blown the last prop out of his world. Now it must come down. He may calmly make a speech...calmly walk away... and calmly shoot himself. He may continue shooting the lifeless corpse, over and over, screaming at it, accusing it, until he runs out of ammunition, or somebody stops him. On perhaps the most hopeful note, he may sag down like a shattered pillar that can no longer stand without the massive beam that was pressing it down, binding its blocks together...
The scene should leave us quiet.
None of this happens. The movie tries to pull off an heroic ending. Prime gets up, stands up straight. He seems a little upset, but not much...and among the wreckage, the ruins, the death...they all lived happily ever after? Even this could work, playing off its own dissonance... but no such thing is done. It leaves us with the disquieting vision of an Optimus with a wall down his mind. On one side, a hollow nobility. On the other side, a murderous beast...
...and even that could work if the film-makers knew they were showing it!
But they didn't. They're clueless.
..and that's the biggest problem with this movie. It musters great power and imagery to carry nothing. Montages flash by with memorable scenes but a dreamlike detachment from the film's own reality. Plot is presented but not interpreted, messages are set up and left undelivered. Beauty is shown, ugliness is shown. Our guide points, then turns to us...but his face is a blank. We are not to feel. We are recording machines.
Ultimately, the film is empty. It is a world of wonders stripped of glory, and terrors stripped of impact.
...and could this not be a message as well? No. The film-makers don't know it...
It is entirely up to the viewer to make a film out of this mess.
Edited by Autobus Prime, 04 October 2011 - 04:09 PM.