Yesterday I attended a preview screening of footage from the new Transformers movie in London. It consisted of four scenes from the film and security was extra tight. That meant that I had to check in my mobile phone in with security and rely on the old fashioned pen and notebook to convey what unfolded before me.
I was three rows from the front, just behind the guys and girls from Empire magazine. The crowd was the usual folk who attend film screenings: like me they were from print, TV, radio or online outlets, invited to check out one of the big summer releases of 2007. The last time I went to one of these was a preview screening of 20 minutes from King Kong back in November 2005 when Universal showed an unfinished cut of the fight scene involving Kong and the dinosaur.
But this was a little different. Once the cinema had filled up Debra Shepherd, the Marketing Director of Paramount UK, took the stage. She thanked us for coming along and then introduced the producer of the film, Lorenzo Di Bonaventura. He gave a brief introductory speech about the four scenes we were about to watch. He said that we would see four sequences, two involved the military (although he did stress that the context of the film was that the US army were fighting the evil transformers and not just engaging in jingoistic military nonsense) and that the other two scenes were more character based.
He also stressed that the footage was scored to a temp track and that the robots were not “fully rendered” (i.e. the special effects aren’t finished yet, as the movie is still in post production). However, he seemed in good spirits and appeared genuinely excited to unveil the footage. Anyway, he left the stage and the clips began…
Clip 1: It all began with a sequence you may be familiar with if you’ve seen the trailer. It is set in Qatar and involves the US military coming across a helicopter that transforms into a robot that starts destroying their airbase. Funnily enough the temp track was from Black Hawk Down (a film produced by Jerry Bruckheimer – who ha s worked with director Michael Bay in the past) and I have a feeling it was a sequence from early in the film, introducing us to the Decepticons (for the uninitiated, they are the bad robots). It involves Blackout, who is a helicopter, and sees him land, transform and then proceed to wreak havoc on the base as he tries to plug in to their computer systems. It was filled with the usual Michael Bay-isms (swooping choppers, slick editing and dramatic music) and was rather good.
Clip 2: This was a different scene entirely and showed off the lead human character, Sam Witwicky (played by Shia LaBeouf). Strangely the temp track was Thomas Newman’s main theme to American Beauty and it shows Sam at a party, exchanging some witty banter with a dumb jock. He then takes the girl he fancies (Megan Fox) for a drive in his car, which I’m guessing is Bumblebee. In this scene it seems to be trying to help him woo his girl by switching certain songs on the radio. It was funny and both actors showed they could hold their own in a film that is action and SFX heavy.
Clip 3: This appeared to be a sequence from the second half of the film where Sam has to deal with Autobots (Optimus Prime and Bumblebee) back at his house and moving around his garden. They want a pair of glasses (which I think is something to do with his grandfather, although I can’t be entirely sure) and the main thing is that Sam has to keep his unwitting parents from realising that giant robots are walking around their garden. It was pretty funny (some good gags about masturbation, strangely enough) and, like the other scene with LeBeouf, made you think that there was more humour and character to this film than was expected. John Turturro then turns up as the head of a government agency (the secret “Sector 7”) who are looking for the robots.
Clip 4: The final clip then returned to Qatar for a sequence you might be familiar with from the trailer as Captain Lennox (played by Josh Duhamel) and his unit of troops fight Scorponok (a robot like a scorpion) in the desert. It was well staged and although from the look of some shots the effects weren’t totally finished, it still conveyed the scale of the robot and how it interacts with the military trying to destroy it. Although Bay isn’t renowned for his subtlety as a director, in this bit he demonstrates again that he is highly proficient at blowing stuff up.
So that was it. Although it is impossible to judge a film from viewing a few isolated scenes the general mood seemed positive amongst the audience and I think there was enough here to suggest that Transformers could be a similar hit to Independence Day.
It is opening in a summer filled with sure-fire sequels (Spider-Man 3, Shrek the Third and Pirates 3) but what might make it stand out like that 1996 hit is the fact that it doesn’t have any A-list stars, it is concept driven (the Transformers have a cult appeal amongst a certain demographic who grew up in the 80s) and the fact that there is a lot of heavy duty action.
But how will it do? Only time will tell.
Transformers opens in the US on July 4th and in the UK on July 27th
> Check out the official website
> Find out more about the film at Wikipedia
> Watch the trailer at Apple
> Find out what Empire thought of it
> IGN on the same footage screened at Showest about 2 weeks ago