A few weeks ago, we were honored and elated to receive an invitation from a P.R. firm working with Hasbro and Paramount on the upcoming Transformers movie. The event description, was a bit vague but more than enough to pique our interest!

Director Michael Bay, Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks Pictures and Hasbro will give a special look inside Transformers, one of this year's most anticipated live-action feature films..." 

More than five and a half months before the film's premiere, the event was to be located in Manhattan, NY near Times Square and the Hasbro Toy Fair exhibit hall.  As you might imagine, I quickly made plans to attend!

The theater held approximately 250 people.  Invited guests primarily included corporate partners of Hasbro, Paramount and DreamWorks Pictures, with a small section set aside for Media.  I met representatives from IGN, retail executives from Toys R Us, Target... corporate partners such as Pepsi (I think, not sure about this) and many others.

Upon arrival and check-in, we were asked to check our coats and any recording devices.  No movies, no pictures, no audio (sorry!)  Unfortunatly, that also meant no laptops (for note taking).  So with pen and paper in hand, I took notes the old fashioned way.

We were ushered into the theatre following a brief gathering/arrival period where we were treated to drinks and goodie bag complete with candy, gourmet chocolate covered caramel popcorn... (Yeah right, as if I might actually take my eyes off the screen for a nanosecond to eat something! ;)  In front of the movie screen was a stage with 4 movie studio executive chairs. When the event began, the seats were occupied by special guests:
Brian Goldner, Hasbro Chief Operating Officer and Executive Producer of the film
Michael Bay, Director
Adam Goodman, I thought they introduced him as an executive with Paramount, although I've found several sites that list him as DreamWorks Head of Production... 
and a 'moderator' whose name and title I couldn't write fast enough, Ray (sp?) Chainess (?) who may have been with DreamWorks.

Following introductions, the moderator conducted a brief question and answer.  The first issue addressed was, "What got DreamWorks interested in Transformers?" Adam talked about DreamWorks place in the market.  That relatively speaking, they're a "new" company and looking for a franchise, a 'signature' piece and they think they've found it in Transformers.  He then talked about the substantial resources they're putting into the film.  He said it'll be the largest international marketing campaign they've ever done, more than the Mission Impossible movies, more than ...others (which I couldn't write fast enough!)... 

He went on to discuss another very interesting point of view, which I had never considered.  (paraphrasing)  "Let's look at what big budget movies we have coming this summer."  He rattled off: "Harry Potter 5, Spider Man 3, Pirates of the Carribean 3, Die Hard (what is it 4, 5?), Shrek 3,  Oceans 13 (which is Oceans 11 part 3...  Sure, they'll be good movies, but there is very little that is new.  DreamWorks was  looking for something fresh, something the movie audience has never seen before and Transformers is it!"

It may have been Adam who talked about the specifics of why Steven Spielberg was so interested in Transformers.  "Steven has always been a fan, his kids have the toys and love them...  In Transformers, you have a property that is already recognized and well known across the world, and yet there has never been a movie!  They can tell the story that they want, make it the best movie possible.  At the same time, it offers the challenge of doing effects that have never been done before."  He used words like "revolutionary" and "breath taking!"...  He concluded his portion of the discussion by addressing reasons why Steven knew that it was Michael Bay who was the man in Hollywood he wanted to direct this film...

As exciting as it was to hear studio executives talk about the considerable resources that would go into marketing my all-time favorite property, it's what Michael Bay had to say that really got the crowd excited.

He started by answering the question: Why was he doing Transformers and described the first phone call he got from Steven Spielberg about the film.  Steven had made his pitch and said, "Michael, I don't want you to answer right now.  I want you to think about this and call me back."  He continued, (paraphrasing) "So I hang up the phone, and the very first thought out of my mind is, "I do not want to make a toy movie!  Then I flashed back to my days as an intern at ILM.  I was 16 and had a summer job filing story boards.  I remember telling one of my friends, 'yeah there's going to be this movie out this summer called Raiders of the Lost Ark.  And it's going to SUCK!.'  Then I took a deep breath and thought, hmm, Maybe this Steven Spielberg guy knows a little something about movies.  Then I thought about the idea of making a car chase, then watching them transform at 80 miles an hour.  In the span of about 30 seconds, I went from thinking no way, to wow, this could be something really great.  I was sent to "Transformers School" gesturing to Brian Goldner.  It took me about 5 minutes to see what what they had to show, and that was it.  I KNEW I wanted to make this movie..."

He talked about the actors, starting with Shia LaBeouf.  He got a good laugh when he described him as, "really not that good looking.  WAIT!  Don't tell him I said that!"...   Then followed up with, how Steven describes him as a young Tom Hanks.  That it's not about his looks but this wholesome charm which makes him the one to play this part...  After other kind words about Megan Fox and others, he began to describe the scenes that we were about to see.
* even if they look finished to our eyes, they aren't done
* most other scenes from the film are not so far along.  
* The process of image rendering takes ~35 hours per image!

The crowd erupted in applause as the lights went dim and the scenes started rolling.  We were treated to four.  The first was somewhat familiar having seen the trailer, only much extended.  I'm believe it takes place fairly early in the film when Blackout (Helicopter, with Scorponok) travels to and takes out Saxon Air Force Base.  Next came a scene with Sam Witwicky, Mikaela and certain beat-up old yellow camaro, presumably before his alien nature and robot form is revealed.  The third scene comes later in the film, Sam and Mikaela arrive back at his house with an Autobot escort.  The fourth and final scene involved a fire fight between a group of marines and Scorponok.  We did not see Megatron, we did not see any robot fight scenes.  We did hear Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime and what a joy it was.  Even though he spoke in a hushed voice so as not to attract unwanted attention, it only took one line, "Autobots, fall back." to know that G1 Optimus Prime was BACK! 

At this point, I am tempted to launch into blow-by-blow detail.  Recounting every second I can (and maybe I will for a later report if enough people would like).  But the truth is, there is absolutely no way I can do it justice.  I think you are best served by telling you my impressions of what I saw.

In interviews and message boards I've heard many people involved with the film say something to the effect of, "just reserve judgment until you see the film.  Wait until that first moment, when you see one transforming and if at that point you're not convinced, then fine..."  It sounds cliche, but it's absolutely TRUE.  Understand, the tiny little millisecond glimpse you get of Blackout transforming in the movie trailer is NOTHING!  "Teaser" is right, you just have absolutely no idea how great it looks until you're seeing it larger than life on the big screen.  Furthermore, regarding all the skepticism of model and character art I've read...  You know, people get on various message boards and start flaming the designs.  Let me tell you, until you see these things move, you've seen NOTHING!   There is not a single image I've seen on the internet with all lighting... effects that come close to doing justice. 

Since day one, one of my biggest concerns has been the fear of seeing too many humans.  I used to want this picture to be all about the bots.  I don't want any "worthless fleshlings" taking up valuable screen time that could be used for Autobots or Decepticons.  All I can say is that it's a good thing I didn't get to vote!

You see, the argument sounds very similar to one we've heard before in previous Transformers cartoon series.  "We need to have humans to add perspective..."  But in the end the perspective is lost and you find yourself wishing with every passing moment that ...Kicker, Rad, etc...would just get crushed under some very large robot foot and never be heard from again.  Yeah, the argument sounds familiar, but there's one major difference.  A live action film is a LOT different than a cartoon and having humans actually does add perspective; more than I EVER would have dreamed.  In live action, this formula WORKS.  

Of course, it doesn't hurt that Megan Fox is easy on the eyes, but there is another, more important factor.  These humans are well written and interesting.  Which brings me to another surprising observation.  There is a lot of humor in this film.  It was abundant in every scene we saw and adds an extra, unique layer not present in an average summer blockbuster.  Whether it's a scene with Sam (Spike) nervous while trying to make a good impression on Mikaela, or a group of Marines fighting for their lives against Scorponok, Bay and the writers kept the audience laughing and heart's pounding at the same time.  Don't misunderstand, I'm not talking cheap one-liners. I'm talking well played physical comedy mixed with dialog that's just plain well written.  It reminds me a bit of a film like True Lies, where the audience is blown away with the Schwarzenegger action scenes and laughing at the same time.  Bay compared it the film to "Back to the Future". From what I've seen, I'd say it's a cross between True Lies, (action and humor), Star Wars (amazing effects) and E.T. (capturing the moments of wonder and awe.) 

Yeah, I admit my opinion is biased, I obviously love Transformers and I'm a long far cry from being a Hollywood insider, but I know a good movie when I see one.  If the scenes we were treated to are a fair indication of the film as a whole, this picture will be quite a treat and enjoyed equally by Transformers die-hards and non-fans alike.  You want my opinion?  I think Michael Bay is a pro's pro.  He sat up on stage, in contrast to the other other executives.  It's not like they were nervous, but next to their suits and ties, he sat with jeans and a comfortable button-down cotton shirt, looking and acting as cool as a cucumber and proceeded to blow us away.  After seeing what I've seen, I am convinced that what Spielberg, Goodman, DeSanto... and others have said about Bay, being THE man for the job, is not just lip service. It's the truth and I'm happy to know that the Transformers are in his capable hands.  


Still looking forward to that car chase ending in an 80mph transformation,
- [email protected] 

Images below are not from the event, They're for reference purposes, borrowed from IMDB.com and Michael Bay's personal web page...


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