Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Great American Blockbuster

Transformers 2: Revenge Of The Fallen
Directed By Micheal Bay

Transformers 2 Revenge Of The Fallen is an American blockbuster par excellence, it has everything you might expect in a terrible soulless summer extravaganza, dazzling state of the art special effects, stock characters, genteel racism, sexism, jingioism, and a pornographic worship of military technology and intervention; it is also appallingly entertaining.Sometimes to understand an animal it can be beneficial to look at its shit, to discover what it has eaten, if it is healthy, if the environment it's feeding off is healthy, etc. Some may suggest it's just easy to learn about an animal by just watching him, by I think this academic tendency must be resisted, in favor of getting our hands dirty and really smelling the flavor and texture of the beast.Culture's are like animals and to learn from them, it is sometimes important to look at their shit and waste, which brings me to my beloved Micheal Bay's Transformers 2 Revenge Of The Fallen.This as I have said, is a film that has everything. Like most mainstream Blockbuster's (which are a genre unto themselves, as concretely defined and text-book, as sci-fi, romance, horror, etc., this film wants to please everyone to snare as many demographics in it's web as humanly or robotically possible. The difference between high art and low art films is that, as far as analysis goes, high art films are analyzed for intent, and conscious manipulation; what does the director, film makers mean? Vs. low art films and commercial films which have to be read unconsciously, why does the film maker believe this will appeal on the mass market, and why does it appeal, not to our conscious mind, which might scoff at the bad acting, poor plot, and idiotic concepts, but to our unconscious id, which enjoys enjoyment on sex, violence, shinny colors, and binary oppositions, etc.Transformer's appeal (as of today its the second highest grossing film of all time after the Dark Knight 2, to show you how fast that title can change) comes, from it's wholehearted embrace of cliche. I agree with Roger Ebert when he says "The day will come when Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen will be studied in film classes and shown at cult film festivals. It will be seen, in retrospect, as marking the end of an era. Of course there will be many more CGI-based action epics, but never again one this bloated, excessive, incomprehensible, long (149 minutes) or expensive (more than $200 million)." I think it may be wishful thinking though that this is the last of it's kind, as it made enough money, so that the voices of a few angry critics, and disappointed fans, will be in the long term dwarfed, by an easy opening weekend high gross and the avalanche of media attention that will ensue.The story is about the Autobots vs Deceptacons, yet again, only this time they are fighting to use a sliver of the energon cube destroyed in the first film, to locate the matrix of leadership, which will activate a giant machine that can harvest whole suns, and convert them into more energon(transformer food). This is all revealed over 2 plus hours, of bad jokes, punch-lines after good guts beat up bad guys "I rise, you fall", and explosions set to sl0-mo as whispery women sing and the audience mirror-fights the actors in who can look more dazed and confused.Our hero, Sam, is going off to college and has the remainder of the energon cube downloaded into his brain and cant stop writing in transformers speak, meanwhile his roommate runs a robot obsessed conspiracy website, and Megan Fox stands around and looks pretty.Our first image of her is bent over a motorcycle like a Maxim spread (Bay asked that she go from a B cup to a C cup for this movie, sequels gotta go big ya know), while even the robots are saying things like "boy your hot, but your not too bright are you"(the same robot humps her leg for awhile later). There are also two robots called the twins, who speak fluent hip-hop jibberish, have gold teeth, and cannot read; of them NY Times critic Manohla Dargis writes, "the characters...indicate that minstrelsy remains as much in fashion in Hollywood as when, well, Jar Jar Binks was set loose by George Lucas.".Consulting my chart for racist caricatures in American literature Fredrik Stromberg's " Black Images In The Comics: A Visual History" , the twins are most clearly a modern update of the pickaninny: (of course Stromberg claims with much evidence that Mickey Mouse was also a pickaninny in his beginnings, and he's had a pretty popular run over the years too). Screen Writers of the film responded, "It’s really hard for us to sit here and try to justify it. I think that would be very foolish, and if someone wants to be offended by it, it’s their right. We were very surprised when we saw it, too, and it’s a choice that was made. If anything, it just shows you that we don’t control every aspect of the movie."Though in fairness, Transformers is an immigrant story, in the first film we learn the Autobots and Deceptecons learn English from imitating radio transmissions (Bumblebee can only speak in radio and film quotes), so it only makes sense they might take whatever accents are most popular. And you only have to turn on any radio playing modern mainstream hip-hop to know where the twins get it from. I had always assumed or imagined somehow that Optimus Prime was black, but apparently it's this guy,, whose also the voice of Eyore from Winnie The Pooh.Arvia Glass is from South Central LA, her house was a few blocks away from ground zero in the Riots, and she recently spent a few months in Anchorange, Alaska, studying the Russian language (and to train as one of Sarah Palin's secret anti-KGB elite no doubt). When she got back, we watched a program on the history of the Anchorage drug trade (the city she had stayed in and remembered pleasantly enough), and she noted, how the gangbangers talk and dress the same way they do around her neighborhood, even though these were mostly Inuit and Native Indians gangs. Memes move in mysterious ways. My point is, lets not get too caught up demonizing the most casual racisms of the film (really of which the reading joke is most unforgivable), while the Depections of non-Americans in military zones, I would think is really the worse, and the one I imagine will go most un-noted.
What further fascinates about T2 is the highlighting of Military tech, with half of every battle sequence designed to resemble an Army commerical; men in uniform hurrying this or that machine in a high tech parade. Theres a scene that shows us one of our more futuristic toys, the rail gun: told a story of mass disaster where our military attempts fail, and is a kind of thematic neutral half way point for disaster films, between the cynicism of something like Return Of The Living Dead, (where after a long night of surviving wave after wave of un-killable zombies a group of punks and a funeral director finally contact the military asking for help, and are responded to promptly by the mass bombing of their entire city), and Bay's Transformers. Theres a Washington pencil pusher and nay sayer invoked, to ensure the audience not identify too much with military authority, but fear not, the generals in power don't listen to this unlikely guy any more than anyone else. He exists souly so the army guys can still hold their status as rebels, who play by their own rules, etc. The great battle is finally underway, in the same desert battle of the first film, as if in the very same village(or set).Whats more racist and disturbing than anything else in the film, is how easily the Egyptians are shot out of the sky, while American bombers never miss their mark, to how easily the fact that the town was occupied with people when the soldiers enter, and is completely bombed off the face of the earth in the ensuing battle.We are presented with no images of the villagers escaping, they are simply forgotten by the film, as they are in real life, and the battle steam rolls along.This all being said, there are highlights of some inventive robots that resemble panthers, women with metallic frog tongues with fleshly ends, robot slugs that sift through your mind, robot satellites who interrupt global transmissions, and a female Autobot who is three motorcycles controlled by a single consciousness.Rather than spend time looking into the weird and fantastic of it's own universe, the film would rather speed us along a traditional action adventure plot, with a young boy who must come to believe in himself. He even meets a wise old sage, in the ancient Jet-Fire, a Deceptocon defected to the Autobots side, with an aluminum beard. There has not been an action film like this in a very long time, no one seems as willingly to open himself up to the dancing oracle that is the focus group and projected earnings than Micheal Bay.Because of this we have a film, which adheres strictly to the white boy's adventure with the impossibly attractive girl (the greatest of the films special effects), with shakin and jivin robo jesters, an ocean of high tech military equipment at his beck and call, and the eternal saga of the Rock-EM-Sock-Em robots continued, into our deepest past, and unto our future.I had hoped that Micheal Bay would finally dispense with plot altogether and give us two hours of unabridged robot fighting, but I may have been expecting too much. Still this is the perfect fourth of July movie, as I type this the last crackle of fire works is going off, the display of bright lights could have been the rockets red glare of the films explosions.Don't get me wrong, this film is entertaining, from start to finish, and it does have one or two genuinely exhilarating moments, in fact on the whole it's a successful blockbuster, but most Blockbuster's are shit, this one just happens to be King Of Turd Mountain. We all owe it to ourselves, to take an occasional sniff at what were all eating, excreting, only to have it re-packaged for us to eat again. In the hopes we might one day be less environmentalist in our thinking, and start recycling less.


neillgrant said...

GREat REview! So is ARvia really part of Sarah Palin's secret anti-KGB elite? Haha

Joe Sylvers said...

I can't say much just that her withdrawl from the governers mansion, is not as it seems...