30 June 2009

Transformers: the cinema of spectacle

A real zeitgeist piece in the New York Times:

Assembling the “Transformers” creative team took more convincing. Like [Director Michael] Bay the screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (“Star Trek”) were reluctant to be involved. “There’s no win in a screenwriter for this,” Mr. Orci said. “It’s going to be a giant toy commercial no matter what we do.”

You're not kidding, Roberto.

I admit I saw the first 'Transformers' movie on DVD with my son and I enjoyed it. I loathe Michael Bay films (like 'Pearl Harbor'), but here at least was a perfect meeting of sensibility and subject. Unlike, you know, history and stuff...

I hesitate to be too cynical about this kind of filmmaking, if only because I know that it's close in spirit to the motives of the Lumiere brothers and innumerable other showmen who came after them, who hawked the Cinematograph, the newest wonder of the age, around theatres, pubs and circus tents all over the world. Cinema as pure spectacle. Roll up, roll up! See the bearded lady, the snake man, Siamese twins - and pictures that move!

While I haven't seen the sequel, all reports so far indicate a non-stop collage of explosions and kinetic energy with non-existent plot or characterisation. In other words, a TV commercial.

Appropriately, the projects have largely been driven by toy manufacturer Hasbro.

Hasbro meanwhile is continuing to expand its presence in Hollywood. Last year it announced a deal with Universal in which at least four more of its best-known brands, including board games like Monopoly, Battleship and Candyland, would be turned into movies by industry heavyweights like Ridley Scott and Gore Verbinski. Under this same deal Mr. Bay’s company, Platinum Dunes, is developing a film based on Ouija, Hasbro’s ghost communication game, and Brian Grazer is producing a film about Stretch Armstrong, the company’s goop-filled, elastic-limbed superhero.

I can't wait. Yet more movies costing more than the GDP of several nations exploring the dramatic possibilities of board games. I look forward to the movie version of 'Tiddlywinks' directed by Darren Aronofsky.

Someone should put the idea to the English Tiddlywinks Association. They could be on to a winner.

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