Thomas the Transforming Tank Engine

08-Mar-12 7:12 PM by
Filed under Humor; Comments Off on Thomas the Transforming Tank Engine

I'm not trying to be hip when I say "I liked Transformers before Transformers were cool." Because the fact is that Transformers aren't cool — not since Michael Bay got his filthy paws all over them and turned Optimus Prime into a vengeful sociopath. Maybe it's not fair to have high standards for a children's cartoon based off a line of toys, but as an adult, I've revisited many of my childhood's fondest memories, and few have stood up as well as the original Transformers animated series. Even today, when political pundits write stirring calls for action and cite the Transformers ethos, they are referring to the source material, not Bay's adaptation.

But I understand that franchises must either adapt to the times or make way for new properties to ensconce themselves in a child's heart. Perhaps a combination of those two approaches is the way for Transformers to remain both relevant and beloved. Why not meld it with a proven entity? Thomas the Tank Engine has been around since 1946, but as my nephew demonstrates, he continues to be popular with kids.

An enterprising artist named James Farr sees this as a natural mashup and has created an entire series based on the idea. "Thomas the Transforming Tank Engine defends the Island of Sodor against a host of villainous engines bent on destroying the world" in… TRAINSFORMERS.

There are at present four videos, with new ones announced via Facebook and Twitter. My favorite is the second video, as it seems the most perfect amalgam with the least backstory needed — though the stories do seem to get darker and more violent as the series progresses.

How long before Michael Bay ruins this indie effort with a big-budget blockbuster?

See also the 2009 mashup, Transforminators.

(Hat tip to Alon Waisman)

Transformers: Revenge of the Foul

18-Jun-09 5:35 PM by
Filed under Films, Humor; 3 comments.

This Friday, the sequel to the 2007 film Transformers will land. Based on my experience two years ago, I am confident in my decision to not support the new movie. It's not that the original was bad (though it was); it's that it deviated too significantly from my expectations. Lowering my expectations helped me enjoy the second Fantastic Four film more than the first, but in the case of Transformers, my expectations are fixed not in terms of quality, but of subject matter. I grew up on the Eighties cartoon (which is soon to be re-released on DVD) and consider it the quintessential version of giant, extraterrestrial, shape-shifting robots fighting each other in our own backyard. I respect that changes need be made when adapting this story to a new medium, but making it into an adolescent, anthropocentric comedy crossed the line.

I'm amazed that these movies are written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, who brought us not only the entertaining (but predictable) Mission:Impossible III, but more significantly, the recent reboot of Star Trek. How can the same team produce such divergent quality? But then, if my idea of a good movie is Orson Welles playing a toy, then maybe my perspective is skewed.

Regardless, I expect Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen to not be this summer's only disappointing film about robots. What if those two movies didn't just morph, but merged? Would they form… Transforminators?

Or maybe Transformers on its own already has more robotic characters than even we realize:

Though obviously a spoof, this concept isn't altogether foreign. The movie S1m0ne suggested something similar, in which the protagonist created a completely artificial actress whose performance indistinguishable from authentically wooden acting. Though the film was fictional, the recent 'Emily' image metrics demonstration showcases the ability to generate a computerized face from a real one.

Now if only they could make computerized computers that can change shape, act, and star in a critically successful film…

(Hat tip to Blake Patterson)

Super Bowl Trailers

02-Feb-09 12:13 PM by
Filed under Trailers; 2 comments.

So I guess there was some sort of game on television last night, and it was supposed to be a big deal. Or something. I must've missed whatever it was — but when I woke up the next day, I found a bounty of newly-released movie trailers. Let's take a look at a few of the geekier ones.

First up is G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Though I'm encouraged to see one of my favorite actors, Dennis Quaid, the team he's leading does not have much chance to shine in this particular trailer. We see too little of the colorful heroes and villains like Snake Eyes (played by Ray Park) or Destro that made the cartoon so memorable.

Next up is the return of G.I. Joe's Eighties contemporaries, those robots in disguise, in Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen. Readers to Showbits will recall that I absolutely loathed the original film, and nothing in the sequel's trailer indicates a departure from that model — though the scope of the new robots piques my interest:

Finally, there's yet another adaptation of a television show, this one a live-action series from the mid-Seventies: The Land of the Lost. With few exceptions, almost anything Will Ferrell stars in is going to be a silly spoof, and this film looks to be true to that trend. Though the original series could definitely be described as campy, it was no Gilligan's Island, which this version appears to be:

The above movies are just three of the many upcoming films being adapted from television shows. Other trailers that debuted yesterday and are now available online include a mix of new and old:

2007: The Year in Review

04-Jan-08 12:19 PM by
Filed under Films; 3 comments.

It's time for a brief look back at 2007 — brief, because my theatergoing is not what it once was. The number of movies I saw in theaters has fluctuated wildly since a decade ago, though it seems relatively constant over the course of this millennium:

1995: 22 1996: 43 1997: 70 1998: 53
1999: 37 2000: 30 2001: 12 2002: 16
2003: 15 2004: 11 2005:  9 2006: 14

This past year was very similar to its predecessor, with me taking in 15 theatrical films. It is not the prohibitive cost that keeps me from seeing more movies: a genetic condition permits me free tickets to any movie, anytime. It's more a matter of the time investment and working around the theater's schedule, whereas I can watch as much of a DVD as I want, whenever I want. Theatergoing also has a more social element than sitting at home in my pajamas, so I'm further limited by other people's geography and availability. Add in the fact that I don't have TV service and thus am not exposed unwillingly to commercials and trailers, and it takes some other rare factor, such as brand recognition, to make me aware and interested enough to warrant seeing a film.

Of the 15 films I saw in 2007, the best were Live Free or Die Hard, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and National Treasure: Book of Secrets. (I'd include Star Trek: The Menagerie as a theatergoing experience, but it technically was not a movie.) All three were rock'em, sock'em good action flicks that may've relied on tried-and-true formulae, but executed with finesse and humor.

This year's most disappointing movies were Spider-Man 3, 300, The Simpsons Movie, and The Golden Compass. And downright loathsome was The Transformers, which I recently saw the RiffTrax version of. Sadly, even Mike Nelson and crew could not improve on The Transformers, as I found it even more tedious on a second runthrough. Again, each of these films was based on an existing property, which perhaps led to high and ultimately unfulfilled expectations.

Which of 2007's films did you enjoy the most or least? Did I miss any you recommend?

Less Than Meets the Eye

25-Jul-07 5:14 PM by
Filed under Reviews; 7 comments.

A live-action movie based on a 1980s cartoon? Even if I loved Transformers as a kid (and the original show has aged surprisingly well), I didn't have much hope for Pearl Harbor director Michael Bay to translate this children's property into a successful summer blockbuster film.

Yet after hearing positive word-of-mouth for Transformers, I allowed my expectations to be raised… and therein lay my downfall.

For anyone mentally above the age of, say, 30, and is therefore unfamiliar with this franchise, here's a synopsis: the Autobots and Decepticons, from the planet Cybertron, are benign and malevolent robots that disguise themselves as Earth vehicles. In this film, they've come to our planet to recover the Allspark, the non-sentient cube of unknown origin that first breathed life into their mechanical bodies. Control of the Allspark will grant its wielder mastery over all robotic life, whether it be used for niceness or bad.

(more…)

To Serve and Protect

01-Jul-07 12:49 PM by
Filed under Films, Television; 6 comments.

Speaking of top films lists, Entertainment Weekly has published, in preparation for Transformers: The Movie, "our 10 favorite mechanical men (and fembots) in movie history". The list honors good guys such as the Iron Giant (a hero after my own Superman-inspired heart, and the subject of scrutiny in the film studies course I taught), Data, and R2-D2 and C-3PO (who I'd never consciously realized to be an Odd Couple) — but also appropriately celebrates the persistent destruction wrought by darker cyborgs, Robocop and the Terminator (the latter described as "an all-purpose golem").

These two futuristic deathbringers represent possibly my favorite action films ever: the original Robocop film and the second Terminator. The former is a haunting tale of a man robbed of his family, his memory, even his emotions — everything but his career. He uses that sole connection to give his life purpose and, eventually, his audience a TV series that I actually enjoyed. The latter is a villain sent from the future to alter the past… but for better, or for worse? Plot twists, character dynamics (especially the humanity of the Terminator and lack of same in Sarah Connor), and awesome action sequences make this a film that's more than meets the eye.

Too bad these two robotic icons never encountered each other… or did they?!

The Year In Preview

25-Feb-07 10:51 AM by
Filed under Films; Comments Off on The Year In Preview

Seeing as how the Oscars are to be presented tonight, I thought it time to stop looking backward to the best (and worst) of 2006, and have plotted my moviegoing for 2007. The pickings are slimmer than I thought.

Movies I want to see this year:

Spider-Man 3 (May 4th)
The Transformers (July 4th)
Harry Potter (July 13th)

Movies I wouldn't mind seeing:

Ghost Rider (now playing)
The Astronaut Farmer (now playing)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (March 23rd)
Shrek 3 (May 18th)
Sin City 2 (September?)

Movies that I can't believe they're making out of TV shows, whether or not they'll be out this year:

The A-Team
Get Smart
I Dream of Jeannie
Land of the Lost
Love Boat

Or video games:

Dead or Alive (June 22nd)
Prince of Persia
Soul Calibur

Or other franchises:

Hot Wheels
Jurassic Park IV
Underdog

What about you — what looks hot, or has you bothered, in 2007?

More Than Meets the Eye

30-Dec-06 10:06 AM by
Filed under Films, Television; Comments Off on More Than Meets the Eye

New trailer for The Transformers is up.

One person on TheForce.net writes that all his doubts and skepticism about a live-action film based on our favorite childhood cartoon have been erased by this trailer. I don't see how that's possible; it looks like a bad Sci-Fi Channel action flick to me.

Fortunately, I'm getting my Transformers fix in another fashion: watching the Dungeons & Dragons complete animated series on DVD. The connection to robots in disguise: the villainous Venger is voiced by Peter Cullen, while Uni (like almost every cartoon animal ever) is played by Frank Welker. These two voice actors will be reprising their roles in next year's film as Optimus Prime and Megatron, respectively.