Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Transformers Movie Preview Event, New York, NY (part 1)

A few weeks ago, we were honored and elated to receive an invitation from a P.R. firm working with Hasbro and Paramount on the upcoming Transformers movie. The event description, was a bit vague but more than enough to pique our interest!

Director Michael Bay, Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks Pictures and Hasbro will give a special look inside Transformers, one of this year's most anticipated live-action feature films..."

More than five and a half months before the film's premiere, the event was to be located in Manhattan, NY near Times Square and the Hasbro Toy Fair exhibit hall. As you might imagine, I quickly made plans to attend!

The theater held approximately 250 people. Invited guests primarily included corporate partners of Hasbro, Paramount and DreamWorks Pictures, with a small section set aside for Media. I met representatives from IGN, retail executives from Toys R Us, Target... corporate partners such as Pepsi (I think, not sure about this) and many others.

Upon arrival and check-in, we were asked to check our coats and any recording devices. No movies, no pictures, no audio (sorry!) Unfortunatly, that also meant no laptops (for note taking). So with pen and paper in hand, I took notes the old fashioned way.

We were ushered into the theatre following a brief gathering/arrival period where we were treated to drinks and goodie bag complete with candy, gourmet chocolate covered caramel popcorn... (Yeah right, as if I might actually take my eyes off the screen for a nanosecond to eat something! ;) In front of the movie screen was a stage with 4 movie studio executive chairs. When the event began, the seats were occupied by special guests:
Brian Goldner, Hasbro Chief Operating Officer and Executive Producer of the film
Michael Bay, Director
Adam Goodman, I thought they introduced him as an executive with Paramount, although I've found several sites that list him as DreamWorks Head of Production...
and a 'moderator' whose name and title I couldn't write fast enough, Ray (sp?) Chainess (?) who may have been with DreamWorks.

Following introductions, the moderator conducted a brief question and answer. The first issue addressed was, "What got DreamWorks interested in Transformers?" Adam talked about DreamWorks place in the market. That relatively speaking, they're a "new" company and looking for a franchise, a 'signature' piece and they think they've found it in Transformers. He then talked about the substantial resources they're putting into the film. He said it'll be the largest international marketing campaign they've ever done, more than the Mission Impossible movies, more than ...others (which I couldn't write fast enough!)...

He went on to discuss another very interesting point of view, which I had never considered. (paraphrasing) "Let's look at what big budget movies we have coming this summer." He rattled off: "Harry Potter 5, Spider Man 3, Pirates of the Carribean 3, Die Hard (what is it 4, 5?), Shrek 3, Oceans 13 (which is Oceans 11 part 3... Sure, they'll be good movies, but there is very little that is new. DreamWorks was looking for something fresh, something the movie audience has never seen before and Transformers is it!"

It may have been Adam who talked about the specifics of why Steven Spielberg was so interested in Transformers. "Steven has always been a fan, his kids have the toys and love them... In Transformers, you have a property that is already recognized and well known across the world, and yet there has never been a movie! They can tell the story that they want, make it the best movie possible. At the same time, it offers the challenge of doing effects that have never been done before." He used words like "revolutionary" and "breath taking!"... He concluded his portion of the discussion by addressing reasons why Steven knew that it was Michael Bay who was the man in Hollywood he wanted to direct this film...

As exciting as it was to hear studio executives talk about the considerable resources that would go into marketing my all-time favorite property, it's what Michael Bay had to say that really got the crowd excited.

He started by answering the question: Why was he doing Transformers and described the first phone call he got from Steven Spielberg about the film. Steven had made his pitch and said, "Michael, I don't want you to answer right now. I want you to think about this and call me back." He continued, (paraphrasing) "So I hang up the phone, and the very first thought out of my mind is, "I do not want to make a toy movie! Then I flashed back to my days as an intern at ILM. I was 16 and had a summer job filing story boards. I remember telling one of my friends, 'yeah there's going to be this movie out this summer called Raiders of the Lost Ark. And it's going to SUCK!.' Then I took a deep breath and thought, hmm, Maybe this Steven Spielberg guy knows a little something about movies. Then I thought about the idea of making a car chase, then watching them transform at 80 miles an hour. In the span of about 30 seconds, I went from thinking no way, to wow, this could be something really great. I was sent to "Transformers School" gesturing to Brian Goldner. It took me about 5 minutes to see what what they had to show, and that was it. I KNEW I wanted to make this movie..."

He talked about the actors, starting with Shia LaBeouf. He got a good laugh when he described him as, "really not that good looking. WAIT! Don't tell him I said that!"... Then followed up with, how Steven describes him as a young Tom Hanks. That it's not about his looks but this wholesome charm which makes him the one to play this part... After other kind words about Megan Fox and others, he began to describe the scenes that we were about to see.
* even if they look finished to our eyes, they aren't done
* most other scenes from the film are not so far along.
* The process of image rendering takes ~35 hours per image!

The crowd erupted in applause as the lights went dim and the scenes started rolling. We were treated to four. The first was somewhat familiar having seen the trailer, only much extended. I'm believe it takes place fairly early in the film when Blackout (Helicopter, with Scorponok) travels to and takes out Saxon Air Force Base. Next came a scene with Sam Witwicky, Mikaela and certain beat-up old yellow camaro, presumably before his alien nature and robot form is revealed. The third scene comes later in the film, Sam and Mikaela arrive back at his house with an Autobot escort. The fourth and final scene involved a fire fight between a group of marines and Scorponok. We did not see Megatron, we did not see any robot fight scenes. We did hear Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime and what a joy it was. Even though he spoke in a hushed voice so as not to attract unwanted attention, it only took one line, "Autobots, fall back." to know that G1 Optimus Prime was BACK!

At this point, I am tempted to launch into blow-by-blow detail. Recounting every second I can (and maybe I will for a later report if enough people would like). But the truth is, there is absolutely no way I can do it justice. I think you are best served by telling you my impressions of what I saw.

In interviews and message boards I've heard many people involved with the film say something to the effect of, "just reserve judgment until you see the film. Wait until that first moment, when you see one transforming and if at that point you're not convinced, then fine..." It sounds cliche, but it's absolutely TRUE. Understand, the tiny little millisecond glimpse you get of Blackout transforming in the movie trailer is NOTHING! "Teaser" is right, you just have absolutely no idea how great it looks until you're seeing it larger than life on the big screen. Furthermore, regarding all the skepticism of model and character art I've read... You know, people get on various message boards and start flaming the designs. Let me tell you, until you see these things move, you've seen NOTHING! There is not a single image I've seen on the internet with all lighting... effects that come close to doing justice.

Since day one, one of my biggest concerns has been the fear of seeing too many humans. I used to want this picture to be all about the bots. I don't want any "worthless fleshlings" taking up valuable screen time that could be used for Autobots or Decepticons. All I can say is that it's a good thing I didn't get to vote!

You see, the argument sounds very similar to one we've heard before in previous Transformers cartoon series. "We need to have humans to add perspective..." But in the end the perspective is lost and you find yourself wishing with every passing moment that ...Kicker, Rad, etc...would just get crushed under some very large robot foot and never be heard from again. Yeah, the argument sounds familiar, but there's one major difference. A live action film is a LOT different than a cartoon and having humans actually does add perspective; more than I EVER would have dreamed. In live action, this formula WORKS.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that Megan Fox is easy on the eyes, but there is another, more important factor. These humans are well written and interesting. Which brings me to another surprising observation. There is a lot of humor in this film. It was abundant in every scene we saw and adds an extra, unique layer not present in an average summer blockbuster. Whether it's a scene with Sam (Spike) nervous while trying to make a good impression on Mikaela, or a group of Marines fighting for their lives against Scorponok, Bay and the writers kept the audience laughing and heart's pounding at the same time. Don't misunderstand, I'm not talking cheap one-liners. I'm talking well played physical comedy mixed with dialog that's just plain well written. It reminds me a bit of a film like True Lies, where the audience is blown away with the Schwarzenegger action scenes and laughing at the same time. Bay compared it the film to "Back to the Future". From what I've seen, I'd say it's a cross between True Lies, (action and humor), Star Wars (amazing effects) and E.T. (capturing the moments of wonder and awe.)

Yeah, I admit my opinion is biased, I obviously love Transformers and I'm a long far cry from being a Hollywood insider, but I know a good movie when I see one. If the scenes we were treated to are a fair indication of the film as a whole, this picture will be quite a treat and enjoyed equally by Transformers die-hards and non-fans alike. You want my opinion? I think Michael Bay is a pro's pro. He sat up on stage, in contrast to the other other executives. It's not like they were nervous, but next to their suits and ties, he sat with jeans and a comfortable button-down cotton shirt, looking and acting as cool as a cucumber and proceeded to blow us away. After seeing what I've seen, I am convinced that what Spielberg, Goodman, DeSanto... and others have said about Bay, being THE man for the job, is not just lip service. It's the truth and I'm happy to know that the Transformers are in his capable hands.

Still looking forward to that car chase ending in an 80mph transformation,
- perceptor@unicron.com

Images below are not from the event, They're for reference purposes, borrowed from IMDB.com and Michael Bay's personal web page...

Thanks for visiting!
Lukis Bros
Transformers Collector Site

Transformers Movie Preview Event, New York, NY (part 2)

(PART 1) PART 2: This is the story of one fan's dream come true. Actually, truth be told, I never could've envisioned anything quite this amazing, but that's pretty much how the night unfolded. It's like with Peter Cullen, whose voice is ingrained in my psyche as the hero of my youth, the first time I heard him speak live to an audience. It was a relief to me when I found that as a person, Peter Cullen seems as genuine and compassionate as Optimus Prime, the character we love him for. It was the same sense of relief I had with this opportunity to meet Transformers Movie Director, Michael Bay. It's great to know that the person we've heard so much about online (good, bad and otherwise) is a cool, down-to-earth, nice guy; someone I'm happy to cheer for!

Okay, so first I have to back up. On my way to the airport, I stopped at the only theater I've yet seen that has a Transformers Movie poster in it's "Coming Attractions" area. I asked to speak to the manager and explained the truly bizarre trip I was about to make. Basically, I (not too proud) begged him to loan me his Transformers the Movie poster. He gave me a smirk and asked me to wait while he, 'checked into it.' He came back with a long black cylinder and handed it to me. "Here you go. We have an extra." Exasperated, I offered to pay him. He refused. "It's promotional material, it would be illegal for me to charge you for it..." (Good thing, because he could've talked me into paying a lot! :) So with my prize in hand, I made my way to New York.

autographs from Greg Lombardo, Marketing Director, Hasbro Toys, Inc. and
Tom Desanto, Transformers Movie Producer

Autograph from Aaron Archer, Transformers Design Director, Hasbro Toys, Inc.

While many of the events and our impressions from the Transformers Movie Preview Event are described in our first report, I'd like to take this opportunity to describe what happened immediately after the scenes were shown. So, the lights turned up slowly and I knew that the audience, composed mostly of corporate executives was in no hurry, but would move surround and meet Michael Bay. My window of opportunity was a narrow one, so I wasted no time. I briskly walked to the front of the theatre where Michael Bay was just rounding the corner of the front row of seats, making his way up.

I maneuvered in front of him and he looked me in the eye. I extended my hand and we shook. "Mr. Bay, my name is Kevin and I have been a fan of Transformers for 23 years. This has been an incredible experience and I wondered if I could trouble you for a quick autograph?" I'm sure I didn't sound so smooth. That was nerve wracking! "Oh, absolutely. I'd be happy to", he replied and looked for a place for me to set down the poster where he could sign. He motioned toward the stage. Why don't we set it down there, where it's nice and flat." He turned to walk forward and just then came Brian Goldner, the Chief Operating Officer of Hasbro. "Michael, I'd like to introduce you to someone, Jerry Storch (I think, I'm not sure about this name) is the CEO of Toys R Us...

Ha ha ha. I had a nice quiet chuckle and took a step back. See, the truth is, this was not a 'fan event'. It was mostly for executives, which is why I felt nervous in asking the question. But you know, you only live once and I had given it a try! I'm not sure who she was, but a female in a sharp business suit turned to me and said with with a rather disapproving sort of look, "I don't think that's going to happen," glancing down at my poster. "No problem. I understand," I said sincerely.

So, I stood back, watched and listened. A large crowd was gathering around the director and moving. Next thing I know he's 4-5 rows distance away. I'm there, just soaking everything in, by this point I figured getting the autograph was a lost cause. I didn't mind. I had given it a shot and was smiling, still enjoying myself thoroughly.

THEN, I hear Michael break into his conversation with Mr. Storch. "Excuse me a minute. I really want to sign this gentleman's poster." He turned around and for a brief moment all eyes turned and looked at me. I was in shock! Michael Bay had just interrupted his conversation with the CEO of Toys R Us and the COO of Hasbro, to autograph my movie poster! (Notice that he didn't say, "I have to..." or "I should..." he said, I want to...")

I probably stood for a minute with my mouth hanging open. The female who, "didn't think it would happen' handed me her notebook to use as a backer so he could make his signature and move on. I thanked him emphatically then tried to just get out of everyone's way!

I had to catch my breath as I returned to the midsection of the theater where the webmasters of other Transformers Fan Sites ( bwtf.com, seibertron.com, tfw2005.com, altered states...) where visiting. Wow, I was a happy camper. As if that wasn't enough, Greg Lombardo, Hasbro Director of Marketing strikes up a conversation with me(!), "so what did you think?" I told him that although Transformers is a 23 year old franchise, that it feels like I had just witnessed its beginning! To what extent Transformers, Optimus Prime, Megatron, etc... are cultural icons now, this film will change everything for Transformers (for the better) and I think it's going to be great!

We talked for quite awhile before I asked for his autograph, followed by Aaron Archer, Hasbro Transformers Design Director. Greg then pointed me in the direction toward the front of the theater, "now there's a guy whose autograph belongs on your poster, Movie Producer Tom DeSanto." (Don Murphy was not in attendance as far I know.) This was a cool meeting too. The crowd had thinned out and I walked back to the front of the theater and introduced myself. He too was happy to sign and asked, "So, who should I make it out to? 'From one fanboy to another'!" We had a good laugh and I thanked him for taking the time and soliciting the input from fans, through Don Murphy and other message boards... He seems like another down to earth, great guy and I'm glad he's a fan of Transformers!

I had just picked up my things from coat check, when I had the opportunity to shake hands and meet BRIAN GOLDNER Hasbro COO. He too asked me what I thought. Wow, I told him much of the same as I had said to Greg Lombardo. That this is just the beginning of Transformers and how much I expect this to be a GREAT film. Quite sincerely, he thanked me for all that we do as a fan-site of Transformers. He told me that he had insisted on various sites being invited and how glad they were that we made the trip. He went on to say that this Preview Event is not an attempt to 'bribe' any site into reporting favorably. I was taken aback when he emphasized that we should, "keep on doing what we do." To report what we liked and what we didn't. Sorry Mr. Goldner, but personally, the whole experience left me quite blown away and I honestly can't think of anything not to love. My concerns for the film have been erased. These beloved Transformers characters are in some very capable hands and I cannot wait for the 4th of July!

More images related to the movie preview night:

another pic,
Bay Autograph

Brian Goldner, Hasbro COO, Executive Producer, TF Movie

" Reserved for Media" Press badge indicating our seats in the theater

Free T-shirt as gift for attending:
men's, front
men's, back
women's, front

Optimus stencil
OP stencil close-up,
close-up, back

band/bracelet 1, 2, 3, 4

Transformers portable cell phone charger(!):
1, 2, 3

Thanks for visiting!

Lukis Bros
Transformers Collector Site

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Prequel Comic Review

Transformers Prequel issue 1
Unicron.com has been given the opportunity to take a sneak peak at Transformers Movie Prequel comic issue 1 of 4. I plan to review this issue without giving away to many surprises for those who would like their comic and movie experience to remain unspoiled.


The art in this issue is first class. Don Figueroa has done a tremendous job giving us a whole slew of protoform Transformer art to really drool over, based on movie styling, of course. Along with a couple of extra characters that may be found on the toy shelves, but not on the big screen, our main stars of this issue are a pre-earth form of Bumblebee, Protoform Optimus Prime, and Megatron. Optimus looks just like the protoform toy showing up on toy shelves anytime now. Megatron is represented as he will in the movie and in toy form. Don’s depictions of Megatron are seriously bad… in the best possible way. He makes this Transmetal-2-esk Megatron design look seriously scary. Finally Bumblebee is drawn quite a bit differently than we will see him in the movie. He’s a lot bulkier, only vaguely yellow, and the only big similarities that jump out are the fins he has on his collar bone area, and his head is somewhat reminiscent to the movie BB’s head. I like what they’ve done in this respect with the toys and comics. It makes sense that a Transformer’s robot mode would change in appearance quite a lot by gaining a new alternate mode.

Lastly, the coloration in this issue is magnificent. The style and quality of the coloring job done on a drawing can totally make or break original line art, and the coloring that’s been done in this issue makes every image simply pop of the page and awe the reader.

Josh Burcham has done an excellent job conveying the destitute/last resort mood of this story in a low saturation color pallet and sets the stage for the atmosphere of a story revolving around the leaving behind of one’s broken home world on a quest with small chance of success. The art in this issue conveys the darkness and realism of our heroes who are doubting their desperate actions, and Megaton’s very unexpected twisted ambition for power.

Story: some spoilers

Premise: The mysterious and extremely powerful Allspark created all Transformer life and sustains Cybertron itself. It is protected and cherished by all Transformers. Optimus and Megatron co-ruled Cybertron in peace for generations: Optimus fair and Megatron firm, but “something change in Megatron” Now Megatron wants the Allspark in his possession and will stop at nothing to get it. Megatron also appears to have some mystical link to the Allspark that not all Cybertronians have and perhaps has the ability to harness its power for his benefit. He’s got a bit of a cyber-voodoo atmosphere about him and the looks to make it a believable characterization. This comic makes me much more excited about Megatron. He seems a lot less like many previous Megatron incarnations, and a little more like a huge scary as hell and fearsomely powerful Emperor Palpotene. This makes me much more accepting of his drastically different physical characteristics.

While we get a some insight into Megatron’s character, we get a much closer look into another character that is heavily developed in this issue alone. Bumblebee is the star of this comic. Being told from his point of view he seems to be our primary narrator. I won’t spoil the plot of the issue, but I will say that I’m glad that there’s at least some explanation for his later… communication quark, to be perfectly vague. (again, so much better than him just being born that way.) This issue gives a lot of depth to Bumblebee and wraps him up with a lot of self doubt and a very humble heroic disposition.

My only criticism is that I it’s a little hard to keep the Autobots separate particularly in the fight scenes, you find yourself asking “Wait, who’s this guy? Where did he come from?” We do get to see one other Autobot referred to by name, but I won’t ruin the surprise of whom. I will say however, we have confirmed that there will be a deluxe version of this non-big-screen character in the movie’s toy lineup. We also see anther movie style G1 character in the comic, but he is not referred to by name. We know who he is only because of some early movie character concept artwork we’ve seen with his name one it. It would have been nice to have a few more non-big-screen movie-continuity characters fleshed out in the comic, but they seem more like filler characters. Perhaps this is in an issue yet to come.

Overall impression:
It’s a great story with fantastic art. I didn’t feel quite fulfilled by the end of the issue, but then again it’s the first issue of 4 so I guess it’ll keep me coming back. I was happy to see some cameos of a few other fan favorite characters, and would love to see more. I went into it still unsure what to think about Megaton, and finished the comic thinking “he is going to be one seriously scary evil overlord.” Final thoughts: Buy this comic. It’ll give you some real material to get you prepped for the movie. Weather you’re a collector or new to Transformers this issue will get you into/interested in a couple of the movies’ key characters, and its main plot device.

Rating: 8 out of 10