Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Optimus Prime and Superman

They're both red and blue, super strong, aliens from other worlds who have come to protect us. Really, Optimus Prime and Superman aren't that different in concept. They stand for the same things, they're virtually invincible and they're so perfect it can be easy to not appreciate them.

I didn't like either character much when I was growing up. I was much more a Batman and Spiderman fan. But as time has passed I have managed to appreciate the two big red and blue guys. I suppose it doesn't hurt that I saw some actually cool Superman stories. I have to give credit to Paul Dini and company for finding a way to make Superman a character I could actually care about. And retroactively I've come to a somewhat more generous view of the character Optimus Prime even as my nostalgia for the actual Transformers cartoon has virtually evaporated.

We could say to ourselves that people are too cynical and sophisticated for heroes, for characters willing and able to fight for the oppressed and all that. But it seems that's just one of the lies we tell ourselves. We haven't become too sophisticated for heroes. We haven't become too jaded for being interested in someone to save the day. We may have gotten too obsessed with the idea that our heroes need to be just like us, which was not always a very high priority.

Michael Bay's pending cinematic masterpiece

Or not!

Personally I think Michael bay was born to make this movie. I don't anticipate a movie that is going to be:

1) thought-provoking,
2) full of finely drawn characterization of dynamic and three-dimensional characters
3) grapple with the subtleties and ambiguities of acting as moral agents in an ambivalent or hostile universe
4) any basic continuity in narrative or moving parts

But you know what? I don't care. These were all shortcomings of the original cartoon. To suggest as some have that Transformers as a TV show broached on the issue of debate about preservation and stewardship of environmental resources and that the Autobots and Decepticons represent different attitudes about environmental utilization during the Reagan era as an allegory about something on the order of pantheism and dominion theology gone awry ...

Well, that's like suggesting that you are being fought over by two vampires and one vampire is the bad guy because he just wants to suck you dry and go home and the other is the good guy because he wants to suck the blood from you in measured meals and is asking for permission. They're both still blood-sucking vampires, right? I suppose one could be the "good guy" for asking permission.

I realize for some of you Transformers fans this analogy seems unfair and I don't pretend that it is. Hey, I liked the show when I was a kid, too, but it hasn't aged as gracefully as Batman and Superman cartoons from the 1990s or Pinky and the Brain. A lot of cartoons in the 1980s were made to help shill toys. That doesn't automatically count against them, really. But attempting to overlay a grander philosophical vision on a toy-line like Transformers only gets you so far.

There's probably nothing in Michael Bay's film that will be as painful and absurd to watch as some of the stuff I saw in the original animated film, let alone the stuff I didn't stick around to see when I tried watching the film at the age of 21 at the behest of a friend. I didn't even stick around for the part my brother-in-law told me about where all the robots start dancing to Wierd Al's "Dare to Be Stupid", which he described as the most poignant congruence of musical soundtrack and cinematic image he'd seen in a while. Hey, he's tougher than me, he watched the film to the end! I had to shut it off around the time Hot Rod became a central character because I was too flabbergasted by how cloying and annoying it all was. My apologies to anyone who loves the movie but it just didn't grab me.

But I have such low expcations for this Michael Bay film that if it's basically like The Rock I'll basically be happy with it. For now Hot Fuzz is still the film to beat for my experience of cinematic pleasure this year.