Friday, July 31, 2009
Video store Darwinism
So if you were following my "Most Recently Seen" updates (to the right), you may have noticed that I finally broke down and saw Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen last Friday. Yep, that was my big punishment to Michael Bay for making another noisy piece of idiocy full of racially insensitive robots -- to wait exactly 30 days after its release before adding my $17 to the coffers.
Hey, my friend wanted to go. I was just trying to be social.
(And yes, I did feel terrible spending more money on this movie than I have on any previous movie. It appears they've hiked the IMAX prices again, and since I bought mine online, there was a $1 service fee as well).
As with the first one, I suspect I liked it more than most of my friends -- those who saw it, anyway, since most of them were unwilling. I guess there's something about the character design of the robots (when you can see them properly), and the large-scale havoc they create, that goes straight to my id. But I did like it less than the first one, and the end was so long and overblown that I was actually falling asleep. There, Michael Bay -- there's your ultimate indictment. I fell asleep during your grand finale.
Apparently, though, if you check my "Most Recently Seen" feature again, I must have liked it well enough. Well enough to go out and rent Transmorphers: Fall of Man, anyway.
(Pause for laughter.)
Yes, you read that right: Transmorphers: Fall of Man. It's in the video store now. Go take a look if you don't believe me.
I rented it because I thought it was finally time to write about a phenomenon that has both bugged me, and made me laugh my fool head off, for a couple years now. Namely, "quickie" straight-to-video knockoffs made in order to coincide with the theatrical release of legitimate big-screen blockbusters. These pretenders have been crassly produced with the sole purpose of trying to convince a flustered consumer walking the video aisles that they're renting the Real McCoy.
Hey, it's a dog-eat-dog world out there -- if you are parted with your money over one of these hoaxes, you clearly weren't fit enough to survive.
Me? I was parted with my money (or rather, a free online trade-in) for the purposes of science. Because I write a movie blog, I thought it was finally time to see one of these movies, even though I missed Transmorphers when it was released to coincide with Bay's first Transformers in 2007. I usually try to avoid seeing sequels before the original, but I made an exception in this case.
(Pause for laughter.)
I say that it was finally time to see one of these movies. Well, what exactly do I mean by "these movies?" (What do you mean "you people?")
How about this?
Or this?Or this one?
Or any of these?
(A couple notes on this last group. While Clawed is about the Sasquatch, the poster is so shamelessly modeled after Saw that it hardly matters if the subject matter is different. The Terminators actually appeared as a trailer on my Transmorphers DVD (along with the awesomely-titled Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus). And Pirates may be the most pernicious of the bunch, as it appeared not in some special section of the Blockbuster, but in the same new release area where Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest would have appeared. I'm sure some hopeless parents were confused into buying a softcore porn starring reformed hardcore porn stars, such as Janine).
They're all funny, these naked attempts to steal our money by insulting our intelligence. Then again, maybe we deserve it -- the only way these films would even be worth making is if people bought and rented them.
But the funniest has got to be Transmorphers: Fall of Man, as even the part after the colon is an attempt to fool us, with the words "Fall of Man" clearly echoing "Revenge of the Fallen." You see, it's all about making something click in our minds. We half-remember the title -- maybe this was it after all. And since the poster art is ten times fancier looking than anything in the movie -- especially since there's nary a skyscraper nor a tank in it -- a person can almost be excused for getting confused.
And so it was that I decided I should actually view Transmorphers 2 before I wrote this post.
What did I learn?
1) It's not bad as you'd think it would be -- nor is it the least bit good.
2) Its only recognizeable star is Bruce Boxleitner. That's right, the erstwhile Scarecrow to Kate Jackson's Mrs. King.
3) It really has a lot more to do with the Terminator mythology, plot-wise, than the Transformers mythology. Yeah, the robots are disguised as everyday objects, such as cars and cell phones, initially, but once they "transmorph" a single time, they pretty much don't go back. Then they seek to bring about the end of the world -- or at least, the end of the small patch of California desert outside Bakersfield that's in the film's budget. I assume the original Transmorphers was a lot more Terminator-oriented, as this is a prequel (how sophisticated these knockoffs get) from before the machines took over. At the end, this one dude -- played by the perfectly named actor Shane Van Dyke -- becomes "leader of the resistance." His name is Con Jonner. (Okay, I made that last part up.)
4) If you are making what's known in the industry as a "mockbuster" -- I just now learned this term from wikipedia -- it doesn't actually matter if your movie is like The Terminator, or Transformers, or Driving Miss Daisy. All you're really trying to do is get people in the door. Once they've rented (or if they're really stupid, bought) the movie, you don't care if they're satisfied with their purchase or not. You're not looking for repeat customers. You're looking for a quick clutch at the money, then hopping a plane to somewhere far far away.
The article on wikipedia also reminded me of another title I'd tried to find, but struck out on: The DaVinci Treasure. Apparently, most of these monstrosities -- including a "competing" version of War of the Worlds released on video at the time of Steven Spielberg's, and this year's The Land That Time Forgot, starring C. Thomas Howell -- are the brainchildren of a "film studio" called The Asylum. Now I know.
Of course, when I told a couple people that I'd be watching Transmorphers, they wondered aloud whether it had a chance to be better than the newest Transformers. If I were a lot more mercenary or a lot less honest, maybe I'd tell you that it was. But no -- Transmorphers is pretty ridiculous, even if it wasn't as howlingly ridiculous as I hoped it would be.
Besides, when you're watching the howlingly ridiculous parts of Transformers, at least you feel some sense of the cleanliness and legitimacy that Hollywood has bestowed on it.
And, unlike those poor saps who walked away with Ratatoing, you know what you're getting yourself into.