No exaggeration — Transmorphers is movie diarrhea

August 5, 2009

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FROM JASON’S ETERNAL DISMAY — I have seen the face of evil, and it is Transmorphers.

God damn you to hell, Netflix. I finally decide to sign up, and this is what you give me? Sure, I asked for it. Sure, I sat and watched it. Sure, I’m a sucker for a terrible movie. But even my ironic and self-flagellating love of horrible C-list films didn’t prepare me for this.

Let’s start with metrics. Netflix users give Transmorphers a 1.9 stars out of five. More discriminating users of IMDB give it a 1.9 out of 10 — making the 2007 film from The Asylum the single worst-rated movie I have ever indulged in, worse even than Going Overboard starring Adam Sandler, heretofore believed to be the single most despicable film in circulation.

The Asylum, of course, is the direct-to-video “mockbuster” filmhouse behind other such gems as The Terminators, Street Racer, Universal Soldiers, Snakes on a Train, and The Da Vinci Treasure. They even drew very direct legal ire from Fox not too long ago for… wait for it… a release called The Day the Earth Stopped.

From the jacket: A race of alien robots has conquered the Earth and forced humanity underground. After three hundred years of domination, a small group of humans develop a plan to defeat the mechanical invaders in the ultimate battle between man and machine.

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Not only does Transmorphers (originally titled Robot Wars) prey on its obvious titular counterpart (it was released a week prior to Michael Bay’s Transformers), but it also cannibalizes conventions from The Matrix and The Terminator. There are lots of sunglasses at night. There’s a hidden city full of human resistance fighters (that might as well be Zion). There’s lots of faux leather. The robots have plunged Earth into eternal darkness. There’s EMP. There are machines that think they are human. There are armies of bipedal robuts and what amounts to Skynet controlling them all.

Thank god there’s no time travel.

There’s also an awkward lesbian subplot, an implied sex-bot, effects that look like Ray Harryhausen crammed them onto a mid-90s CD-ROM game, long and preachy expository scenes filled with the worst kind of dialog, even lousier delivery, and what I can honestly say is the most “amazing” green screen speeder bike chase ever captured on film.

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I’m trying not to embellish here. There’s very little praise I can conjure though for a film where the same person shouts that the attacking robots have “breached all perimeters” not once, not twice, but three times — about 15 minutes apart each time. You can only breach all perimeters once. After that, they’re all breached.

In short, Transmorphers has all the style and substance of Cleopatra 2525, all the originality of a knock-knock joke, and all the sophistication of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. And it seems to be made completely in earnest.

I guess writer/director Leigh Scott understands at least that this isn’t Lawrence of Arabia. On his blog, he wrote:

The idea of trying to make a futuristic period piece with giant robots with the budget of the average AFI short film was a challenge that I couldn’t resist. While most people in Hollywood marvel at their own excess, I have often been obsessed with the exact opposite; doing the impossible for absolutely no money. Was it a disaster? Sure. Was it fun? Absolutely.

Later on the same blog:

Look, genre movies are a mathematical equation. 50% visuals. 50% sound. So, there was a sync issue on Transmorphers…there goes 50%. Then we couldn’t afford a dolly so take away 10% of the visuals. Dock it 10% because we didn’t discover the awesome set that is featured in the first ten minutes until months after principal photography. Then take away 20% because the film is called Transmorphers and the robots are lame and don’t really Transmorph that much. So, you have 10% of a movie there.

There are some films that are so bad you groan, and it’s fun. This one, though, transcends that feeling. It’s the kind of movie you inflict on unsuspecting friends as revenge for dating your little sister. It’s the kind of movie you pop in to clear the room when unwanted guests are camping out at your house. It’s the kind of movie that you use to pry information out of terrorists in a ticking time-bomb scenario. It’s the kind of movie you use to punish small children for wetting the bed.

Don’t watch it. I already watched it for you, and the scars aren’t likely to heal anytime soon. To my dear friend Richard Smith, I’d be willing to pit Transmorphers against APEX any day.

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Wallpaper of the Week: Devastator

May 11, 2009

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FROM JASON’S DESKTOP — Maybe historians will call this The Summer of Nostalgia, or maybe I’m just getting to an age where I notice that everything old is new again.

I’m talking about movies, of course, and (as usual) about the resurgence of the 1980s pop culture I loved so much (to the point of wearing Optimus Prime Underoos as a five-year-old twerp).

This season sees a swell of iconic small-screen sensations at the cinema, with Star Trek, X-Men, Terminator, G.I. Joe, and Transformers getting franchise sequels and reboots. Fear not… The A-Team movie isn’t slated to launch until 2010.

I’ve already talked about the one that I think will be the biggest nerd-gasm of the bunch — Star Trek — but I’m getting more excited as Michael Bay and company leak an increasing number of teasers and stills from the set of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, due out June 24.

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Don’t get me wrong. I normally cringe at Bay’s name because he’s all about popcorn and explosions rather than characters and plot innovation. But giant robot movies aren’t about the later, and nobody should expect them to be. They are about enormous alien machines giving each other the smack-down and threatening the fate of Earth. Revenge of the Fallen will be about lasers and special effects. It’s not like the source material is a deep well of emotion that must be respected. So go Bay!

To rouse my enthusiasm, recent HD trailers for the film show the unmistakable form of Devastator, the giant combined robo-form of the evil Constructicons (see the very bottom image).

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I love seeing Devastator in the old Generation 1 cartoons. He was huge, lurching, animalistic and simple-minded as well as insanely powerful. He gave the Autobots a run for their money and shook up the internal Decepticon power structure. Plus, he boasted the same awesome baddy color scheme as the best of villains: Purple and green.

I never felt Devastator got enough love.

The Joker stylings are ditched in RotF in favor of a more naturalistic approach, and it’s impossible to tell from the trailers whether he’ll get even as much screen time as Scorponok did in the 2007 iteration.

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Either way, I’ve packaged up a few Devastator wallpapers here for you. I had to go a-hunting, because there really are very few large-scale Devy images on the web — and right now, they are all mostly pointed at the RotF concept art desktop (above). As always, they are in 1024 x 768 resolution.

Click the thumbnails in this post to enbiggen.


YouTube Cinema: Transformers the Movie (1986)

May 7, 2009

The treacherous Decepticons have conquered the Autobot’s home planet of Cybertron. But, from secret staging grounds on two of Cybertron’s moons the valiant Autobots plan to take back their homeland.

FROM JASON’S ENERGON STOCKPILE — Blah blah blah, Optimus Prime Dies. Youngsters crying. Childhood trauma. Yada yada yada.

There. It’s out of the way. Now let’s get down to some far more interesting aspects of one of the most memorable movies of the 1980s.

Watching Transformers the Movie (again) this week on my 42-inch plasma, I was shocked by how good this 23-year-old ‘toon looks. Each cell is a mash-up of deeply-inked shadow and ambient electric light washing over hard metal, and all of it comes through in the same supra-bright color I remember drinking in as a six-year-old.

The terrestrial backdrops are breathtaking, and even more amazing are the emminently-intricate planetscapes of Cybertron, Junk, Lithone, and Quintessa. This isn’t some minimalist Nicktoon. The depth of detail really is staggering: Each scene is filled with all the ports, exhaust grids, data banks,  gears, axles, and metal plating you’d expect from enormous robuts.

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Sure, some of the sequences have a ropey Scooby Doo feel (watch Soundwave carry Megatron’s body away from Autobot City). But there is more anime than Hanna-Barbera here — which makes sense, since Matrix Forever (as it’s called in Japan) was made by Toei Animation.

Toei is the powerhouse studio behind some of the most memorable anime and cartoons of the past three decades: Galaxy Express 999, Sailor Moon, Inhumanoids, Robotix, G.I. Joe, Mazinger Z, Voltron, Dragon Ball, Getter Robo, Fist of the North Star, Captain Harlock.

And through it all, Transformers the Movie is a spectacle of pure size. Everything is huge — not just Cybertron and the planet-sized Unicron, but the size of the cast, the epic battle between Optimus Prime and Megatron, the assault on the Autobot stronghold, the galaxy-spanning plot and civilizations, Devastator, the shock of the many, many deaths, the impact of Starscream’s demise, and the rise of a new leader to take season three and beyond in a completely different direction.

Who doesn’t want to see a showdown between the Constructicons and the Dinobots?

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And then there are the subtle touches that send us nerds into an orgasmic froth — like when Megatron pulls out his laser sword. Because any Star Wars devotee will know that director Nelson Shin designed the lightsabers for Episode IV: A New Hope.

Speaking of which, one IMDB dweeb really made me smile by drawing character comparisons between Star Wars and Transformers the Movie (of course, they are fairly standard Campbell-ian archetypes):

Hot Rod = Luke Skywalker
Springer = Han Solo
Arcee = Princess Leia
Optimus Prime = Obi-Wan Kenobi
Galvatron = Darth Vader
Unicron = The Emperor with the Death Star as his body
Junkions = Ewoks

All that Arthurian “hero’s journey” nonsense aside, I still think that 1980s cartoons made villains more appealing than the heroes, just like with G.I. Joe.

While the Autobots were chunky, moralistic, painted in prime colors (no pun intended), and slightly boring, the Decepticons were sleeker, all angles, and secondary colors. They also had a far more dynamic range of models — where the Autobots were, well, autos, the Decepticons were tanks, jets, guns, and even motherfucking astrotrains.

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The Decepticons also had much more social intrigue, with the morbid comedy of the Starscream vs. Megatron rivalry. None of the Autobots tried to usurp Optimus’ authority, but on the other side there was constant scheming and power-shifts.

Need more of an argument? Let’s consider the worst Autobot: Perceptor.

The robut-cum-microscope was the only Transformer my parents ever allowed me to have, saying he was non-violent and (even worse) educational. He doesn’t shoot. He just talks a lot and sees things from far away. Great power, douche-bot.

He would never have survived as a Decepticon. Megatron would have crushed him under heel for being a useless turd.

Other Autobots go down like punks in the film, taking a single shot to the chest and oozing black smoke from their lifeless corpses. Ironhide, Brawn, Ratchet, and Prowl are decimated in a matter of a 20-second space battle. They barely pull their guns.

The only other real criticism I have is that the 1986 flick suffers from a distinct lack of Megan Fox.

Oh, and that Rodimus Prime is a glorified Winnebago. WTF?!


YouTube Cinema: Robotix

March 16, 2009


Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6
Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11
Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15

FROM JASON’S ROBOT AND DINOSAUR OBSESSIONS — Robotix was to LEGOs what MASK was to Hot Wheels. It had a limited release, an oh-so-brief flare of popularity, and then collapsed into obscurity when marketing agents turned their backs on it.

A product of Toei Animation — the Japanese studio that gave rise to both Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata — Robotix was a typical 1980s cartoon enterprise in that it was a blatant vehicle for a toy line.

The “Motorized, Modular Building System” made by Milton Bradley was comprised of interlocking blocks, gears, differentials, winches, tires, and sci-fi accouterments. It was a worthy antecedent to the far more successful LEGO Mindstorm franchise, and is surprisingly still sold today (though by a different manufacturer and distributor). Every set made is still backward-compatible to the original 1984 systems.

Those systems were the byproducts of a 90-minute movie which aired just once in 1985 as part of the syndicated Super Sunday. The Marvel Entertainment block ran several serialized ‘toons, including Jem, Bigfoot and the Muscle Machines, and Inhumanoids. It split Robotix into 15 six-minute shorts. Jem and Inhumanoids became popular enough to warrant full-length treatments, but at the end of their respective runs, Bigfoot and Robotix got stomped into cartoon purgatory.

I was five years old, living in Oregon at the time, and happened to see a couple of those episodes. Like any true 1980s man-cub, I was captivated by the Eastern animation idea of mecha; I was equally caught by the magnetism of GoBots, Transformers, and RoboTech, Exo-Squad, AT-ATs and AT-STs, Centurions, and of course Voltron.

So I was stupidly happy when a family friend (I believe it might have been a sometime babysitter) purchased a Robotix kit for me that Christmas. Certain clickable pieces, which themselves resembled smaller red-and-chrome robots, remained in my possession for years, finding an out-of-place life in the ol’ LEGO bucket.

They may still be there, hidden away in my parents’ attic, held hostage along with some action figures and comic books until such time as I give my parents some grandchildren.

Some awesome person posted the full Robotix series on YouTube two years ago, and it has yet to be yanked down on any kind of copyright claim, which is excellent because the ‘toon is only on DVD in the UK.

Helmed by Wally Burr, voice director of G.I. Joe the Movie, it’s rendered in the same detailed anime style of the 1980s’ most memorable 22-minute-long toy commercials. It’s also got some of the most interesting pulp plot elements: Stars going nova, lizardmen, giant robots, benevolent supercomputers, suspended animation, alien spirits transfered into machines.

And it seems as though Burr tapped some of his old Joe buddies — who geeks will recognize as some of the biggest names in the voice business — to star. There’s:

  • Peter Cullen, who was Pincher from GoBots, Zander in G.I. Joe, Optimus Prime in Transformers, and Cindarr in Visionaries.
  • Frank Welker, known for playing Scooter from GoBots, Megatron in Transformers, Torch in G.I. Joe, and Slimer in The Real Ghostbusters.
  • Pat Fraley, aka Marshall Bravestar, Krang on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Max Ray on Centurions, and Ace in G.I. Joe.
  • Corey Burton, who was Spike in Transformers, Tomax in G.I. Joe, and Dale from Chip & Dale’s Rescue Rangers.
  • Michael Bell, who had big roles as Duke in G.I. Joe, Lance in Voltron, and Prowl in Transformers.
  • Arthur Burghardt, who was Devastator in Transformers, Destro in G.I. Joe, and Turbo in GoBots.

Robotix also had narration by Victor Caroli, who did the same type of voice-over for Transformers: The Movie in 1986 and several of the television series’ episodes.

That, and many stylistic choices (such as the rock-anthem theme that’s one-half “who you gonna call” and the other half Max Hedroom), made it obvious Marvel was trying to capitalize on the Transformers craze and hoping to spur a similar sales frenzy.

Sadly, it didn’t work.

It’s a shame, because as such things go it wasn’t a bad story line, boasting a bit more complexity than most children’s adventures of the day. Of course, Robotix had the normal, innocent lack of moral ambiguity as most shows; the bad guys were determinedly evil, the good guys irreproachably ethical. But it also cooked up some interesting Cold War metaphors, and served them on a plate of techno-imagination to a pre-computer-literate audience.

Oh well.

I guess I pine a little too much for these old-style cartoons. They seem so much more detailed and rich and imaginative than the line-and-paint-bucket-fill computer-aided works aired today by Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. And believe me, I’m tired of the modern “burps and farts are funny” and “wacky, zany people doing anti-social and ludicrous things” mentalities.

I wish we could go back to blasting through the universe in spaceships that look like oversexed submarines with fins, and exploring the jungles of exotic planets filled with dangerous and mythical inhabitants.


Wallpaper of the Week: Megatron and Optimus Prime

January 23, 2009

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FROM JASON’S WALLPAPER FOLDER — I was fiddling around again with video editing and decided to show you my desktop, which is cubed out with Yod’m 3D, a French-language virtual desktop app that gives you four separate work spaces.

Linux users already have this functionality, and I don’t understand why Microsoft hasn’t done more to make it Windows-native; the ability to place different apps on different desks is tremendously useful, especially when working on large projects on a small, single monitor (I’m still in the dark ages with a 4:3 15-inch).

Anyway, two of the walls in the video above have already been wallpaper of the week, and I decided to post the third here as I am on a bit of a Transformers kick after watching the 1986 animated movie again (it looks amazing on the 42-inch plasma in my living room).

Like any boy raised in the 80s, my allegiance will always be to Generation 1. When Rodimus Prime stepped in, I largely stopped watching the cartoon, so I’m not sure if the tanked-out versions of Megatron and Optimus Prime below are cannon. Honestly, I’ve thought more than once about getting into the Transformers comic books, if only economics allowed. I hear they’re much darker than anything else in the franchise.