Tuesday, July 17, 2007

More Than Meets the Eye

For some reason, I'm going to write about Transformers, one of this summer's "tentpole" movies. First, though, a little about me.

For anyone who might read this that doesn't know me personally, I am a bit of a pop-culture, um, follower. Maybe that's not the right word. I'm not ashamed to read Entertainment Weekly. Maybe I should be, but I'm not. I do quite well shouting answers along to VH1's "World Series of Pop Culture." What I mean is, even though I don't have the time (and really, thank God I don't) to see every movie that comes out or listen to every Grammy-nominated album (or even watch the Grammys), I tend to have a rough idea of what's going on in America's great cultural offal. As such, I have a passing interest in some of the bigger movies of the summer. For example, I'll want to see Spiderman 3. I probably won't see it, but I'd like to.

Which brings us to Transformers. I don't want to see it. Not even 10 minutes of it. Not for the effects, not for anything. I'm completely numb to the trailers. I've read a few reviews and some articles (like the one in EW, and the one in Wired), but not because I'm excited to see the movie, more because I'm curious why it's such an event. If I were smarter, I could claim that it's anthropological curiosity.

I was 10 or 11 when the toys came out. Fifth or sixth grade. Which means that I'd given up action figures more or less by then. I boxed up my GI Joes and so on in 5th grade (I remember this really clearly) and gave them to the son of a lady my mom worked with. So, when the toys came out I didn't play with them. I think it was probably 6th grade when they started to get more popular and then maybe that same year when the TV show came out, but I just never got into it.

Bear in mind, I still watched cartoons. "Thundercats" and "Dungeons and Dragons" and so forth. The idea of robots turning into cars always struck me as lame. Well, really, it's because the robo-cars are from another planet really that's lame. To me, if the robots were just manufactured on Earth and piloted like military craft, it wouldn't have been so lame. But sentient robots from another planet who turn into Earth cars, many of which are American makes? Weak.

I didn't get it then why this weak-ass premise would be so popular. I don't get it now, either. It pushes my suspension of disbelief to its limit.

Like, okay, you've got these alien robots. This alone is okay.

Alien robots that are sentient. Again, I'll follow you there. I've read a decent amount of Sci-Fi (more Sci-Fantasy, than hard Sci-Fi), so I'm good so far.

Sentient alien robots who can turn into vehicles. Still okay. Sounds like a nifty idea. Who built them? Why are they here? I'm willing to follow the story to find out.

Sentient alien robots who turn into the same vehicles we have on Earth.

Wait. Hold up, man.

Why do they turn into Earth cars? I don't get it. What purpose would this have served on their home world? Were they designed by aliens who want to infiltrate Earth and take it over? Kind of. Maybe. If that's the case, I can work with it. Earth under attack from alien forces is a classic sci-fi storyline. I'm with you.

But wait. There are two factions of robots. There are bad robots and good robots and they all turn into Earth cars. This is bullshit. I give up.

See, I'm pretty open minded. To blindly swallow American culture requires a paralyzed gag-reflex and a fairly open mind. I'm there, but this Transformers thing is too much.

Look at this thing:

Really, it's a pretty stupid looking robot and a pretty stupid looking truck. Fold in a backstory that has an 11 year old calling "Shenanigans" and the whole thing just blows.

So that's why I'm so mystified that this thing got greenlit and a gimongous budget and all the rest. Not only that, people are going nuts for it. I feel like such a foreigner when there's a big American cultural event in which I can't muster even a passing interest.

To relate this to something of a bit more substance, I'll just mention that it bothers me because it fails to follow a pretty basic rule of storytelling. Things can happen in stories that don't happen in real life. This is especially important in some of the genre fiction, such as horror, sci-fi, or fantasy. So while things can happen in a fictional world that might not happen in OUR world, these events or creatures or sentient robots have to at least make sense in THEIR world. When there's a disconnect, an event or a character that spills outside of logic in too many directions, the reader or the 11 year old kid or the 34 year old pop-culture "scholar" (HA!), gets jolted right out of the story. Tolkein took me to Middle Earth. If, though, Gandalf had rolled up to Bilbo's house in a tricked-out Mitsubishi Eclipse, I would have lost touch with Tolkein's world. And the more that happens between writer and reader, the harder it becomes for the reader to get back into the writer's world.

Thanks, you've been a great audience.

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