Grabs courtesy of James Ratte at Accumulating Gravity
OK, I finally saw it. In optimal conditions, no pun intended. It was the 10 PM showing on July 4th, so we literally had the theater all to ourselves. Got a parking spot right outside the front door. The environment is usually very important to me when I'm watching a movie - and this was definitely a movie where I wanted to pay close attention - so the absence of NJ knuckleheads was appreciated.
Now, I didn't go into this film expecting a masterwork of modern cinema. I've seen all of the bad reviews, so my expectations were low. But the reviews haven't stopped people from swarming into the multiplexes, given that it's earned almost $300 million domestically and twice that worldwide. It's Crystal Skull all over again- everyone busts on it but can't help but see it. More on that later.
I understand a lot of the criticism this film is receiving and I'm not going to argue with it. I will say, however, that it seems to me Michael Bay was going for a live action Anime/Manga approach with this film, particularly with all the kineticism and hyper-goofiness and jerky transitions, as well as the multiplicity of characters running on and off screen without any introduction or exposition. This is the same kind of ADHD storytelling that makes most Anime completely incomprehensible to anyone born before 1990 or so. Perfectly appropriate to the subject matter (in theory, at least) but not necessarily to the live-action format.
The missus and I both agreed that the animation on the robots was truly awesome, and would have been a lot more effective had they kept their damn mouths shut. But they also would have been a lot more frightening, which may have kept younger kids away. But when the Transformers were fighting, the effect was pretty damn impressive.
The film really set off some subconscious bells and whistles. One of my earliest 'secret sun' dreams from my childhood actually had a giant robot stomping through my old neighborhood, and I caught some of that vibe throughout the film. But so much of this movie seemed plucked from my subconscious- and was filled with some pretty startling personal syncs here and there. More on that later, too.
Back to the complaints- I really didn't care for the sound design. Given their size, the Autobots should have had disturbingly mechanical voices drenched in reverb, particularly Optimus Prime. All of the voices were too cartoonish, and made zero sense in the environments these characters were living in. During the battles I also had a hard time keeping track of who was who. It would have been nice to see some color design on the Decepticons, since they all tended to look the same.
OK, enough of that. What about the symbolism? Well, it's as in-your-face as the rest of the movie is. A movie about fighting robots from outer space (especially one that starts out in New Jersey and ends up in Giza) is not going for subtlety. The whole plot revolves around this struggle between the Fallen and Optimus Prime, with a whole host of characters revolving around that. But the conceit of it all centered on resurrection, not only of the Fallen but Optimus himself.
Did I mention this all takes place at Giza?
The whole thing is a Jack Kirby Eternals comic come to life* with the Primes bearing a very strong resemblance to the Celestials, the only difference being that the Celestials would sooner incinerate your solar system than turn into a stupid truck, buddy. Certainly the Tomb of the Primes at Petra strongly resembles the Tomb of the Celestials in my beloved Eternals #1 . None of this should be surprising at all, given that a good chunk of the Transformers' original backstory was worked up at Marvel Comics in the early 80s.
So before we look at the ritual drama lurking just below the surface narrative, let's look at our cast of major characters and their mythic parallels. Of course, I'm going to give the game away (hell, I did with the post's title) but the devil is in the details, isn't it? Be advised that the roles jump around a bit in the film- exactly as they do in the ancient mythology.
• Sam Witwicky plays the part of Osiris (yes, Osiris) before his encounter with the Doctor, and plays the part of Horus thereafter.
• Mikaela plays the part of Hathor in California, Isis in New Jersey and then Hathor again in Giza. Confused? Good.
• Leo Spitz plays the part of Thoth/Hermes.
• Alice (don't ask) plays the part of Nephthys in her role as seducer.
• Seymour Simmons plays the part of Anubis.
• Optimus plays the part of Ra in life, Osiris in death and Ra again when resurrected.
• Megatron plays the part of Set in his post-unification role as the destroyer of Osiris (Prime).
• Jetfire (or "Set-Fire," as I like to call him) plays the part of Set, the ally of Ra.
• Finally, the Fallen plays the part of Apophis, the great serpent who swallows the Sun.
Got all that? Well, from there it's simple- The Fallen wants to consume the Sun to power the Decepticons and Optimus Prime and his gang aren't having any of that. Like Apophis, the Fallen is primeval being who exists only to destroy. He battles Optimus Prime, who like Ra is also one of the original gang of space gods. The battle hinges on the Matrix of Leadership, a totem that both revives Optimus and powers the Sun Harvester (and reminds us of the Udjat's role in the battle against Apophis).
The crucial player in the drama is Jetfire, a Decepticon who changes sides and joins the Autobots. This mirrors Set's role (which prefigures the expulsion of the Hyksos, whose primary god was Set) in the battle againt Apophis, albeit a bit retroactively. The voice actor who portrays Jetfire is British, which is usually Hollywood's shorthand for "gay bad guy," but gives him a working-class British accent, which usually signals a good guy.
Sam is Osiris who is seduced by Alice (an android working for Megatron) but is then ritually embalmed (the Doctor tries to pluck his brains out through his nose in the Egyptian style) and then rises again as Horus, who is trying to resurrect the fallen Osiris Prime (who is killed by Megatron). Orion's Belt is a key plot point in the story, as are the pyramids themselves.
Mikaela flies to New Jersey to be with Sam just as Hathor left Dendera to be with Horus at Edfu and we see them confess their love at Giza (and in between there's the obligatory seduction by an imposter). Leo is the information gatherer like Thoth and Seymour runs a meat shop reminding us of Anubis and his role in the dressing of the dead and the weighing of the organs on the Scales of Justice. He also protects the Giza necropolis by ordering the air strikes.
OK, OK, just your average monomyth, hero's journey, whatever, go back to sleep. But this Aphopis thing is grabbing my attention, especially since the Apophis asteroid was first spotted 5 years and 5 days before Revenge of the Fallen opened in the US. Add to that the killer asteroid movie Michael Bay did a few years back. And there is all of that "17,000 BC" stuff in there which follows the X-Files' mytharc in more ways than I previously realized. And lo and behold this is Spielberg's second AAT blockbuster in as many years.
What's up with that?
TO BE CONTINUED
* I don't know if Kirby was aware of the Transformers, but if he was I'm sure he would have been kicking himself for not thinking it up himself. I'm sure there are dozens of similar concepts in his comics that I'm not recalling at the moment - and there was an animation concept for Ruby Spears called "Cary Becomes a Car."