Last week we were lucky enough to attend a fan event courtesy of Paramount, Hasbro and Michael Bay. It was a full day of awesome, capped with a trip to Michael Bay’s offices and a 30 minute preview of the movie at IMAX headquarters. This footage was shown at CinemaCon this week, and will be shown to fans all over the world on April 4th in a special IMAX presentation. We initially were told that specifics were on lock down but got the go ahead to share right as I was going offline for a couple days. Doh! In case anyone is just joining us or you want another perspective, read on to check out thoughts and pics from the event!
Preface: The Paramount Super Fan Event
Last week Paramount invited about 30 fans from all around the world to take part in a day long event focused on Transformers. It started out with things that were cool on a personal level, but not really ground breaking news. We got to hit the Transformers ride at Universal Studios, we ate lunch as a remote control Sqweeks zoomed around, we did a Paramount Studio tour like the one you can do yourself if you are in the area. All very cool things but hard to relay in real time CNN style.
There were several Transformers focused things on the Studio tour of note – in the lobby area there is a giant slab of Allspark from the first movie hanging on the wall. Halfway through you hit a prop depot of sorts where large props from all types of movies were present, and there were many Transformers focused ones. The original Peterbuilt Optimus Prime from Movie 1 was there, along with a giant robot mode Bumblebee statue. I believe that was used in the movie where he was frozen and being rolled into Sector 7 on the Hoover Dam. Also present were some of the angel statues from Movie 1’s building scene with Sam and Megatron and a Prime head from Revenge of the Fallen. These things are just littered around the room and it was cool getting up close and personal. You can experience these yourself if you do the tour while in LA.
The Technicolor Building and In-Progress Editing
After the tour was done, we got to hit the Technicolor building where they were in-progress editing the movie. Think of this area like being in a movie theater, but the back half levels off and there are sound boards like a recording studio, monitors, several rows deep. Their on-monitor setup was intense, thousands of individual files in pull lists on one screen, and them being layered and positioned to match what’s on the screen in the other. Levels, timing and quality adjustments for each were being applied. We got to see a scene where Cade and his crew were being chased and they retreat into a building. Only, there was no regular sound or music – just the effects played. So footsteps, gunshots, glass breaking, creaks, you name it. All were individually being synced up with what we were watching.
It was explained that this is done for 3 main areas – music, effects like here, and voice. They then do a final mix of the three and balance it all out again. It seems like a loooong tedious process so hats off to all doing that work.
Next we got to play with the big toys. Well kinda. Paramount rolled out a selection of vehicles from the movie including Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Crosshairs, Drift, Barricade and newbie Mohawk who’s a custom motorcycle. We shared early pics of all this last week from the event, refined versions are below. This was our second time doing something like this, as we visited the set back in August as well. Still super cool, who doesn’t love being around (or driving, or having) bad ass cars.
From here, we took a break then started the good stuff…
Visit to Platinum Dunes / Bay Films
We were bused out to Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes offices, with a big “Bay Films” logo on the building. We didn’t know we were going here or what to expect until we got there. Walking in here, the first thing I thought to myself was “oh, this is where all the cool stuff goes”. No pics were allowed, but it was damn cool. Right in the lobby is a giant Bumblebee head, probably 2.5 to 3 feet tall sitting on the receptionist counter. The Nokia box where they zapped the little guy in Movie 1, just sitting there. One of the Pillars from Dark of the Moon rests in a corner. The Super Bowl Doritos Prime vending machine, filled with actual Doritos (and other things). In a conference room, a dead body replica from Bad Boys is in a glass case. Not to mention a life size TMNT movie Raphael (about 7 feet tall) guarding it all. It was like the Paramount depot but just Bay stuff, and secondary to the actual offices that are there where people work.
After we ogled at all this for a bit, the man himself rolled in, Michael Bay. He introduced himself to each of us and then took us up to his office, which he relayed he’s rarely in as he works from Miami a lot. He went through and spoke about his initial entry to the franchise, saying he wasn’t a fan at first but is now. The conversation bounced around a lot, going from the current movie, to the state of 3D, filming on IMAX 3D for most of the film, probing us on where we were from and what we do, and so on. It was a very relaxed chat.
From there, he took us through the facility where even more folks were editing, working with ILM remotely via their custom network. Bay mentioned that he has it set up where his team here and ILM in their multiple locations can be routed to him in real time where he can check in on any terminal and make real time comments from his spot in Miami. He stays involved and makes sure everyone is on point down to the finest detail.
After this, we went into an editing room where MB was able to pull up footage and show us clips as he explained it. Another two monitor setup allowed him to pull clips from a file list into a program on the other where he could play, fast forward or rewind etc. This sounds trivial, but this guy was traversing thousands of files, loading 4k video with zero delay and zooming forward and backward without blinking. My rig slows down when I open Photoshop, just saying. What’s crazy is that the entire movie was probably sitting right there in thousands of individual files.
Most of what we saw here were extended versions of the medieval segments seen in the trailer. We got to see various shots in different forms – no CGI, with wires and green screens mixed in, pre-vis, which has 1982 Tron looking placeholder CGI in place of the final stuff, and then final scenes that were done (or almost). I’ll go into more detail below about each major segment of footage we saw, including this. Key here, it was cool seeing how they shoot real physical stuff, explosions, fights, stunts, and layer all the CGI in. We’ve all probably seen this via Blu-Ray extras for other movies before, but we were watching the Director play and describe what he was GOING to do, not done yet. Seeing stage 1 and 2, then saying stage 3 is being worked on, probably in the other room. That’s what was cool. He knows in his head what it’s going to be, since before he probably shot it, and we are seeing it half way there. You could tell he had itchy skin letting people see his unfinished work all throughout the day. Anyone who does any form of creative work in stages knows this feeling.
From there, dinner, where he also popped in and chatted with the group again. It was surreal eating tacos and drinking beer with other Transformers fans, and Michael Bay just stopping by your table and BSing.
And then, the really good stuff jumped off…
Cinemacon Preview Footage at IMAX Headquarters
Back on the bus, this time to IMAX’s LA Headquarters. This is not a public theater, various companies use this facility to test and work with IMAX footage. Again, we had no idea this was coming until we got there. We all funneled in to an upper tier IMAX theater where Michael Bay let us know what we are about to dig into. Basically, we saw segments of the movie, out of order, and chopped up a bit even within the various blocks. This was shown at Cinemacon this week, and we are late with our review, but at the time we were the first to see any of this footage beyond the trailers. In all we saw about 30 minutes. I’ll break down what and thoughts for each segment below.
Medieval Times Battle
This is a big ass, full on, Game of Thrones style battle. Horses, armor, knights and all the chaos that hand to hand combat entails. We see King Arthur talking with what we assume are members of the Knights of the Roundtable, specifically Lancelot, as the battle rages. They are getting their asses handed to them and it looks like they are about to lose. Arthur tells the group to hold out hope for Merlin, but the group isn’t buying it.
We cut to Merlin who’s not as epic as you expect, he’s hitting the bottle on his way through the countryside on horseback. We swap in and out of that a bit – the battle and Merlin’s travels – until Merlin gets to what looks like a giant cave opening in a mountain, but when it pulls back you can see that it’s actually an exhaust to a Cybertronian ship, G1 Ark style but covered in vegetation. Merlin announces himself like he knows someone is inside…
From there, we cut to the three headed dragon seen in the trailers, swooping into the raging battle we were at earlier. He’s the decisive factor here as he begins to wipe out the troops. Before we cut out, we see that the Armor the Knights are wearing is More Than Meets the Eye…
The Chicago Kids
We then flip to another scene referenced in previous trailers and teasers, one with Isabella Moner’s character Izabella interacting with kids playing hooky in the ruins of Chicago. They begin being chased by a bi-pedal droid and Izabella jumps in to save the day since she’s obviously more experienced living in this war zone. Through their conversations we get the fact that she’s on her own, and her only buddy is the yellow robot seen in the trailer who looks like he’s on the way out. He’s called Canopy and basically acts as cover, let’s assume his alt mode is Isabella’s house. The droid catches up and is about to get the kids when Mark Wahlberg’s character Cade swoops in with Bumblebee to save the day. Bee takes out the driod, Cade grabs the kids, and off they go.
Next, we are back at Cade’s Junkyard, as pics of his family are shown inside. Grimlock is on site and we see Cade yelling at him like a pet dog. Cade and Izabella go through a moment where he’s telling her she’s a kid, go home, etc – she relays she has no one, tears, etc. We get to see Slug and the mini-Dinobots here, as they’ve all adopted this locale as a home base. Crosshairs and Bee have a shoving moment showing that there is still internal Autobot strife.
Unfortunately, all this activity has lead the human forces to his doorstep, Josh Duhamel’s Lennox and a squad of SUVs are on the way. This looks like it will lead to the trailer shot of Grimlock taking one on the highway.
We now cut to Cade, Izzy and Jerrod Carmichael’s Desi on the run in a town. They are running from both Lennox’s TRF (Transformers Response Force) and at least some Decepticons as Barricade was seen in some shots here and the editing room earlier in the day. They head into an abandoned building, where drones are following them, they look like mini Tie-Fighters, like double the size of a Tie-Fighter toy from Hasbro. They aren’t looking to kill initially, and have a specific target. After some ruckus, the group runs into Cogman in an elevator. Cogman is a 4+ foot tall robot, looks almost steam punk. Lots of bronze and gears going on. He doesn’t have a visible alt-mode here, and that’s because later on in the next scene we learn he’s a Headmaster. Cade gets knocked out the elevator, more high jinks ensue, and eventually we get to a point where Cogman can shine. He’s proper, almost butler like, which is fitting because his voice is by Charles Carson, the butler from Downton Abbey. He explains to Cade that his master wants to see him, he is the chosen one, and he needs to leave his friends in order to save them. Izzy and Desi go with Crosshairs, while Bee and Cade move on to meet Anthony Hopkins’ character Sir Edmond Burton.
The Castle & Sir Edmond Burton
We start here with Cade and Bumblebee walking across a big open field. A tank fires on them startling them both. Sir Edmond is watching them arrive as an old WWI style tank slowly and painfully transforms behind him, parts falling off as he does so. He reprimands the Tank-bot and apologizes, saying he isn’t all there due to being old. Fast forward a bit, and Hot Rod zooms onto the scene, tossing Laura Haddock’s character Vivan Webley out of the car as he transforms. She’s pissed, and is trying to escape from Hot Rod like she doesn’t know what’s going on.
Cut inside, and Sir Edomond has Cade and Vivan in a study with Cogman present in the wings. They banter, trying to figure out why they are there, and something Cade says makes Cogman flip out and attack him. Apparently Cogman goes back and forth between proper butler like servant to Sir Edmond and a violent psychopath. He calms down and they continue. Sir Edomond goes into a story explaining the history of Transformers on Earth. It dates back to the Knights of the Roundtable, where we learn the knights all had Cybertronian counterparts. They were there to help humans realize their potential, and look for the 13th Knight, The Last Knight. They’ve stayed throughout time in all eras to present day, were Cogman still serves the same family (Sir Edmond’s). Obviously names change via marriage and so on over the years, so Sir Edmond Burton may belong to a certain long running clan with a very familiar last name that any Transformers fan should know. G1 or Movie fan….
In this scene, we get more of why they are here, more of the underlying story arc for the movie, and all the movies before it, the beginning of the tie-together. An expanded version of the Hopkins narration in the trailer, with visuals. This explanation / flashback fades into Cade and Vivian reacting to it, where we see them travel underwater via submarine in pursuit by Lennox and TRF, see the ship rise and Bee/Prime fight. Basically all slightly extended versions of what we’ve seen in trailers.
However, it’s still not enough to fully reveal what is going on. I even said after the footage to Michael Bay that I’ve been paying attention since day one of this film, visited the set in August where I saw a full room of concept art, saw all the footage earlier in the day, just saw 20 minutes here, and I still can’t piece together what’s going on. He laughed, clarified it was done on purpose like that. There is still more to be revealed before (or when) this thing hits theaters. As of now I don’t think they’ve done one of those “show the whole movie before it drops” scenarios.
To wrap up, I think this movie is on target, but it’s all about the final package and it’s execution. It seems a bit more focused. There is more underlying world building going on, even from just the scenes we saw. It’s still a Michael Bay, Transformers Movie-verse style movie. The action, visual grandness we expect is still there. The rushed intensity of the actors due to s*** blowing up around them is there. But when it does calm down, there seems to be more going on other than cheap jokes and tight clothes (which I’m OK with within reason 🙂 ). Noticeably absent was footage or explanation of Optimus Prime or Megatron. So that whole thread still hasn’t been revealed. Nor has the horns in the trailer coming out of the ground. Or what is attacking the moon and scraping our surface, or why. Or why Bee and Optimus are fighting. Or who the Creators are that Prime’s talking to. So, if those things are handled well in the non-action scenes the way things in what we saw were, we should get a solid outing this go round.
I am OG, was a kid when Transformers first dropped. It took a while to adjust to the Movieverse. But, 10 years in, it’s still going strong. There is a whole generation of kids and fans that consider it their primary Transformers experience now. And I’m cool with that. I just want whatever they do to be good, regardless of it matching anything in previous lore. They seem to be working in elements, being inspired by more than just names and occasional alt modes now. Refinement of the formula, not a drastic change. If that’s executed well here and beyond this movie then Transformers can stand toe to toe with any big name franchise. It’s the final execution and sticking with it past this movie that matters, so time will tell!
I’d like to thank Michael Bay, Paramount and their entire PR staff, and of course Hasbro for keeping us in the mix and holding this event. Keeping fans involved before, during and after the movies is important and they seem to be way more open to that this time around. It can help steer the franchise and make it better for everyone involved.
Check out some more pics below, and feel free to ask questions on the 2005 Boards, I’ll answer anything I can!