Enjoy this guest review from Jonathan Chang, production designer, model builder and general movie enthusiast. WARNING NOTE: “IMAX Digital” is different than the traditional large-format IMAX experience reviewed here, so be wary of the theaters who try to mislead you.
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In TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN, director Michael Bay — well known for his ability to capture exquisite explosions and fast-paced visuals tailor-made for his core audience of young males — continues to deliver the action and carnage with more of everything I can remember enjoying from the film’s predecessor. This time out, he’s armed with IMAX cameras, filling the screen with heaps of robot-on-robot destruction that once again proves, as THE DARK KNIGHT did last summer, that the IMAX experience is far beyond that of the normal theater-going kind. When Devastator — the largest, most complex evil-robot-from-hell in the Decepticon’s arsenal — appears, filling the entire IMAX screen with countless moving parts and combining pieces, one can’t help but feel tiny by comparison. In a box office where visuals are steadily becoming more and more digital, TRANSFORMERS REVENGE OF THE FALLEN highlights the theater-going promise of putting the audience alongside the protagonists, giving us a true sense of size and scale. From a technical standpoint, the film achieves a level of computer-generated realism and hugeness that far exceeds the first film and expectations alike.
It’s only from a story perspective that the film fails to satisfy, as its long, drawn-out plot finds our protagonist, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) chasing down answers for why he’s seeing visions connected to the Transformers and their never-ending civil war. All the robot characters from the first film and then some (32 additional robots, to be exact) make an appearance, but only a few are given a real chance to shine: Autobots’ Bumblebee (Sam’s personal protector) and newcomers Mudflap and Skids (voiced by Tom Kenny). Played mostly for laughs (and maybe a bit for the kids, who will undoubtedly be buying the toys), most of the humor in this sequel lands right in the same category as the first film: dated. Its 90’s slang and callbacks to catch phrases of yesteryear provide plenty of mental groans as the film progresses through its bloated 150 minute runtime. One thing can, however, be said about Bay’s inability to keep his films at a reasonable running time: at least he keeps it moving at a brisk pace and makes sure there’s plenty going on for everyone to look at.
But in the end, when we — the young, eager males of the world, that is — march to the theater to buy a ticket to TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN, we don’t buy it for the story, or the performances, or any of the typical things we ask our movies to deliver. We demand action, effects, and things blowing up on a scale we’ve never seen before, bigger than anything we could possibly imagine. We want to see the United States military mobilize against an unstoppable force never encountered by armed forces anywhere. We want to see chaos unfold on-screen, giving us all the digital destruction we could ever ask for, while keeping us moderately entertained with antics and jokes, and perhaps the occasional hot babe. I think it’s fair to say that Michael Bay delivers that here with his first foray into filming for IMAX, and my guess is that we’ll be seeing much, much more in the future from Bay and his alien robot friends.
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So you heard it here first. Transformers 2 features lots of explosions and special effects. I’ve also heard that there is a new duo of Autobots that tries to make comedy out of racial stereotypes. If this is true, expect some controversy to ensue. There’s no way that should be happening in a big-budget, Steven Spielberg-produced summer popcorn flick.
Jonathan will be seeing the movie again soon in a conventional theater, so hopefully we’ll get an update of how the generic version of the film compares to the IMAX version. Much like Dark Knight, Transformers II switches between scenes shot in IMAX and in 35mm, the 35mm shots appearing ‘letterboxed’ in a sense. Not to worry, the switching between formats is “seamless,” he said.