James Cameron and Michael Bay have many things in common. They are both dynamic, powerful and (in some respects) controversial filmmakers. They both have reputations as exacting taskmasters who will accept nothing less than as perfect a product (meaning as close to their desired vision) as is possible to achieve. They are also the men behind two of the top grossing films in Paramount Pictures history, Titanic and Transformers 2. Of course, Cameron’s other film, Avatar, hails as the top grossing film of all time…ever…anywhere in the known Universe.
Last night, we had the opportunity to attend a special event in Hollywood at which nearly fifteen minutes of footage from Transformers 3 was screened. Both Cameron and Bay were present at the event, and the two men engaged in a moderated conversation about 3D, and the use of 3D in Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Bay (who was under some amount of pressure to do so) was initially resistant to shooting the third instillation in his Transformers franchise in 3D. A conversation (or a few conversations) with James Cameron, however, helped to persuade him that his film was uniquely suited to 3D.
Bay is a self-proclaimed lover of “old-school” movie-making. The director extols the virtues of 35 mm film, prime lenses, and the tactile nature of classical filmmaking. “3D isn’t like that” Bay told audiences, “It’s all 1′s and o’s.” Meaning that the bulk of the decisions that are made that will effect the final look of the film exist in a digital reality.
When Bay visited the set of Avatar, he recalls Cameron telling him enthusiastically “Weta has some great algorithms!” To which Bay responded, “What the f*** is he talking about?”
According to Bay, Cameron eventually convinced him to give 3D a go when he said, “Michael we’ve done everything. You’ve got to look at this as a new toy, another fun tool to use to create the experience.” Bay quipped that Cameron had “sunk the Titanic” and as such could rightfully say he had done everything, whereas Bay himself still had a few things left to do.
Despite his initial resistance, Bay was convinced that the technology made (and makes) sense for Transformers 3. The two men did seem to have some differences of opinion, but both agree that a high-octane, visceral blockbuster summer thrill-ride like Dark of the Moon absolutely lends itself to the medium. This reporter has to agree with that assessment. Bay warned the audience before the footage was screened that some of the shots were not finalized, and some of the 3D elements were not fully in place (as there is a mix of native 3D and post-converted 3D in the film). The 3D that we were able to see, however, did in fact work to support the footage as an immersive, crystal-meth-level-intensity action film.
We will have more on the conversation, including footage from the event, this coming Friday. In the interim, we offer some insight on the nearly fifteen minutes of 3D footage we were able to view from Transformers 3, which included (roughly) five minutes of the film’s opening and a ten-minute montage of additional scenes.
Yesterday we were able to bring you the first clip from the film, which introduces Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), Sam Witwicky’s (Shia LaBeouf’s) new love-interest. We hadn’t seen much from Carly in the previous trailers, and the clip really only offers a flavor of what she will bring to the film, but does give a sense of a more high-brow lover than Megan Fox’s Mikaela Banes.
Carly made a minimal appearance in the footage screened last night (essentially the same shots we had seen in the trailers). What we did see, however, was the entire moon-landing sequence – including a bit of background on the cargo that crashed on the moon in the midst of the war between the Autobots and Decepticons. We also got a look at a mix of archival and (what must have been) performance capture footage depicting JFK.
WARNING!!! MINOR SPOILERS BELOW!!!
The Five Minute Opening
We open on Cybertron where the war between the Autobots and the Decepticons rages. Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) gives a solemn account of the history, and ultimate demise of the planet. We watch as what he describes as the last hope of the Autobots is shot down by the Decepticons and crashes on (yes) the dark side of the moon.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch (if by ranch we mean New Mexico in 1961) scientists “witness” (a.k.a. detect) the crash on the surface of the moon. Here’s the bit that the conspiracy theorists are going to love: As previously mentioned, archival footage of both JFK and the Appollo 11 launch are intermixed with a CGI reinterpretation of the events, which imagines that the Autobot crash was the real reason for the race to the moon.
More than that, we see a tech at mission control in Houston cut the live news feed as soon as Neil Armstrong delivers one of history’s most famous (and still goose-bump inducing lines), “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” As soon as Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are free of the prying eyes of the public, a voice comes in to say, ”Neil, you’re dark on the rock. Mission is a go. You have 21 minutes.”
The two astronauts make their way to the wreckage (which dwarfs them in size) and soon discover that beneath the dust is what appears to be an enormous mechanical face. All interested parties come to the alarming conclusion that we are, in fact, “not alone.” The two men do some minimal exploration and then must leave. Again, via a mixture of archival footage and CGI we witness the men arrive safety back on Earth to an exultant public response – a public too distracted to see that a metal suitcase marked “Top Secret” is making its way to an undisclosed location.
Meanwhile, back on the moon, one eye in the enormous mechanical face (that we presume belongs to Sentinel Prime) begins to shimmer and come back to life. Camera zooms into said eye and its inner-mechanical-workings which “transform” into the title, Transformers: Dark of the Moon.
End opening scene, begin footage montage.
The Footage Montage
The montage consisted (mostly) of a series of action sequences, some of which were expanded versions of what we have seen in the trailers – some of which we are certain are going to (as intended) absolutely blow the minds of audiences. These were by far the most compelling moments of the footage that was screened. The idea of rewriting such a pivotal moment in our shared history is always somewhat interesting, but the CG footage of JFK went a bit into the “uncanny valley” (granted we were given the disclaimer that not all of the effects are done, so we can expect to see an improvement in the final version). In any event, action is really where Bay shines, and he is clearly pulling out all of the stops for this film.
There is a base jumping sequence that is truly innovative in addition to being an incredible technical feat. Bay reported that it (understandably) took months to get the clearances to shoot the scene, and painted a hilarious image of Shia LaBeouf sitting in his underwear eating breakfast and suddenly seeing four men fly past his window.
The most memorable sequence is one we don’t even want to ruin for you. It is easy to imagine that it will be fodder for next day “water-cooler” exchanges and all we will say is this: It involves Shia, Bumblebee, a high speed chase, and some genuinely spectacular reflexes — not to mention the best ever use of the Transformers ability to transform. Prepare to be impressed.
[END OF SPOILERS]
Early reviews for Dark of the Moon have been overwhelmingly positive, and we must concur that (from what we have seen of the footage) fans of the first Transformers film, and Michael Bay fans in general, will probably walk away from this movie completely satisfied. Of course, no full review can be given without having seen the film as a whole. We will say this however: If what you are looking for are creative, “holy s**t, did that just happen?” action-sequences; stunningly-gorgeous-people-in-the-midst-of-life-threatening-scenarios; giant robots fighting each other; intermittent moments of palpable charm (via Shia LaBeouf), and a bit of summer escapism — then this film is in all likelihood tailor made for you, and just might have you once again shouting “Transformers, f*** yeah!”
Transformers: Dark of the Moon opens in theaters on July 1st.
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