writing

what i learned from transformers

The movie, not the toy.  I finally got around to watching the 2007 film last night after working on typing a good portion of the evening.  Before I go on, I have to admit it was fun.  It has several, terrible flaws, but the humor is (mostly) good and it’s over the top in a way that makes watching it enjoyable.  Megan Fox’s character, Mikaela, was my favorite out of all the characters, though John Turturro was a close second.  And the CG!  Wow, that was awesome!

The best part, though, was realizing I could learn something about writing from it.  Some of it was stuff they did right, and some was stuff they did wrong.  I provide any writers out there the list I made in case someone like me becomes part of your audience.

WARNING:  The following list contains spoilers.  Or at least information that, if you haven’t seen the film, might give away some plot twists.  There aren’t many but they do exist.  Kind of.

Things I learned from Transformers:

  • Your hero must deserve his ending – he must be intelligent enough for it, prove tenacious, determined, and loyal (i.e. willing to sacrifice for the good of all).  And if he can’t be intelligent, he at least has to be loyal and teachable.  Or maybe just loyal.
  • Don’t make it easy for people to find each other.  It kills suspense.
  • Don’t confuse your audience – either in battle scenes or character scenes.  If you have a quirky character (like John Turturro’s) make that clear from the start.
  • Avoid using more than one popular song, especially if it’s pre-2000, and especially if it’s because the car wants two people to hook up.  While we’re on the subject…
  • Don’t have robots encourage mating among humans.  It’s just creepy.  And don’t have them mention that a male wants to mate with a female.  It’s obvious and crude (no matter how scientific you try to make it sound) and doesn’t endear the robots to people like me.  And especially don’t have the robots watch while the main couple are making out on top of another robot.  Again, creepy.
  • Avoid racial stereotypes, even if you have a reason for them, and especially if you have the opportunity for a character to create himself.
  • Avoid outdated terms.  For example, “World Wide Web”.  I haven’t heard that term since I was a young mom in the early oughties (2000 to 2002).  But that’s the term the Autobots–who should know better since the Internet was how they learned language–used.
  • Depth in female characters is always welcome and can save a movie.
  • Pretty, intelligent, brave girls can also save a movie.
  • If you can’t be coherent, at least be funny.  It’s a preemptive move against the hecklers.
  • Make sure the surrounding people aren’t sleepwalking.  Do not have robots that look like a collection of Ginsu knives walking through a crowd of people unseen.
  • Make the tech solid.  If you mention a “spider virus”, explain what it is and why it’s important to the plot.  If you have a cryogenically frozen giant robot in the middle of the Southwest that’s been there since the beginning of the 20th century, explain the refrigeration used to keep that robot from waking up as you transport it from the Arctic to the Southwest and further explain how they were able to hide the cost of keeping a robot like that frozen using early 20th century technology through the Jazz Age, the Great Depression, World War II, etc. especially when cost like that can cripple a nation (was the Great Depression caused by Megatron?).  I mean, just look at what the cost of Chernobyl has done to the Ukraine.
  • On a related note, don’t let your robot use a keyboard.  Ever.  (BTW,  wouldn’t it be cooler to have the robot hack into a network by directly accessing the cables that connect the network?  You know, find a cable that runs along a deserted highway and force the heroes to track it down?  Oh, yeah.  It’d be hard to get a fight scene from that.  Never mind.)
  • Don’t stuff too much story into too small a space.  It doesn’t make the movie feel rushed;  it makes it drag.
  • Know your audience.  Transformers did well because the people who made it knew who would buy tickets to see it:  teenage boys (drawn in by the special effects), older “boys” (who remember the toys), and reluctant girlfriends.  They covered all bases.  The teen boys got great action sequences with fantastic special effects (and “hot chicks” who are also smart).  The older guys got to ride the wave of nostalgia.  And for the girls, Mikaela and her surprising intelligence.  Brilliant.

The biggest problem in the movie, and the one I found most interesting from a writing perspective, was the Transformers themselves, both Autobots and Decepticons.  Not the way they looked, but the way they behaved.  That deserves a longer post and I’m not sure I’ll have the time to write it.  I’ll see what I can do.

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