Michael Bay, James Cameron Talk 3D, Preview Impressive 'Transformers' Footage

Paramount unveiled 20 minutes of footage from its upcoming summer tentpole at a special event co-hosted by THR.
Jaimie Trueblood
Paramount unveiled 20 minutes of footage from its upcoming summer tentpole at a special event co-hosted by THR.

After Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, it’s kind of hard to get excited about a new Transformers movie.

The last outing made $836 million worldwide at the box office but left a bad taste in many a mouth, especially with its incoherent story. Director Michael Bay has even acknowledged how bad it was.

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But guess what? After last night, there is reason for hope. Maybe even concrete proof.

Paramount unveiled about 20 minutes of footage from Transformers: Dark of the Moon at a special event on the studio lot co-hosted by THR titled "3D: A Transforming Visual Art." The evening was a conversation between Bay and James Cameron (moderated by THR’s Jay A. Fernandez) about the 3D, but let’s face it, what most people wanted was to taste some Transformers appetizers to see if the main course coming on July 1 is something they want to devour.

Call me hungry, because what they showed was impressive.

[SPOILER ALERT] First up was the opening prologue of the movie, with Optimus Prime’s voice telling the history of the long-ago war between the freedom-loving Autobots and tyranny-dreaming Decepticons. The camera swoops up and down through metallic canyons as small spaceships chase a larger one. The scene is reminiscent of  the opening of the original Star Wars, with the camera positioned under the ships, as well the X-Wing fighters zooming through the canyons of the Death Star  You’re immediately sucked in, with a big rush coming from the 3D.

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Once the escapee ship crash-lands on the moon in 1961, a cool blending of history and storytelling occurs as Bay and Co. show how the Autobot crash precipitated the race to the moon, using real footage of space launches and Walter Cronkite mixed with Bay’s usual sweeping camera work to tell how Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin retrieved something special from up there.
The rest of the footage was a collection of images and scenes: Shia LeBeouf and Bumblebee, opulent settings as only Bay can film, new girl Rosie Huntington-Whiteley as only Bay can film her, basejumpers diving through Chicago, buildings crumbling down as robots fight, new cast member Ken Jeong pulling out a pair of guns while yelling “Who wants some dinner now?!”
One quick sequence shows an Autobot in car mode with Shia in the front seat, speeding along a highway when another car explodes, causing Shia’s car to lose control. In slo-mo, the car morphs into a robot while flying through the air, Shia is propelled forward screaming for his life, and the robot swats debris away and snatches him, before morphing back into a car. The theater burst into applause after that sequence.

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Then it was another extended sequence focusing on what might be called the Battle of Chicago. Insiders say the centerpiece of the film is a 45-minute all-out, city-razing action sequence in which the Army and Autobots duke it out with the Decepticons.
The footage revealed troop-carrying helicopters approaching Chi-town and getting attacked by Decepticons, with our heroes Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson and other soldiers leaping into a basejump dive through the city. There's an amazing shot of men diving while a helicopter, in flames and hulled, slowly sinks by, narrowly swiping them. In another shot, men whiz by buildings while one soldier falls, burning, to his death.
We’re in war film territory! This is serious stuff for a Transformers movie. Dark even.
Bay described on stage how he saw some basejumpers on 60 Minutes and said to himself, “They have to be in this movie.” He had them perform the stunts for real. Winning permission to shoot them flying through the buildings in Chicago took a year.
That, to me, is what makes this movie interesting. The sheer scope is mind-boggling. This isn’t Avatar, a film largely created in a studio space. Bay, who once dismissed 3D as a gimmick, has now taken Cameron’s 3D cameras into the real world. Never before have the Transformers looked more alive and more massive than they do in 3D. Paramount has a movie that fans will need to see on the big-screen and in 3D.
Cameron said he had to convince Bay to try 3D for this movie. On stage, Bay and Cameron squabbled like two old hens over the format, Cameron its ever-faithful defendor while Bay kvetched at the technical issues and headaches. Still, Bay said he came away respecting 3D. He wanted Cameron to approve of his work, and the Titantic filmmaker said he did.
Of course, we only saw partial footage. A collection of images out of context can easily color your perception. It’s all going to depend on how engaging the story is. Several people who have seen the film (some with connection to it, some not) have said the movie is as good or better than the original.
Paramount is unveiling a new trailer this Friday, which they also showed, and, coupled with the footage screened, we could be seeing a tired and bloated franchise find new life.