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Part I

In a recent casual conversation about movies, someone asked for my opinion on the best way to adapt a film from a certain existing source without upsetting the fans of said existing source. I told him the answer was simple; don’t do it at all!

For the right amount of money, a studio can buy the rights for any book, comic or TV show and adapt it into a movie. As the opening credits roll, you will see the important words, Based on a (novel, series, screenplay) by (author, writer, artist). When you see those words, brace yourself. Whatever you loved about the original material…whatever you held dear about the characters…whatever you thought you knew…it all may have been thrown out the window.

Nostalgia is a double-edged sword, and Hollywood gets to feel both sides. I have never witnessed a better example of this than Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg’s latest project (and the “certain existing source” I was asked about); a live-action adaptation of the much-beloved 80’s cartoon, Transformers.

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For the unfortunate uninitiated, the Transformers are a race of alien robots who can “transform” into objects such as cars, trucks, planes, stereos, guns and much more. To sum up over twenty years of continuity, there are good Transformers (Autobots, Maximals, etc) and bad Transformers (Decepticons, Predicons, etc), and the good guys have to stop the bad guys from doing the bad things that bad guys do. There. To enjoy the upcoming Transformers film, that’s all you need to know.

Wait. What? There’s more to it than that? If you have spent any time on one of the many Transformers related websites or forums, you’d see that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Of any movie that has been made over the last few years, none has drawn the ire of “fan boys” quite like Transformers . From the choice of director to designs, story and actors, everything regarding the film is being placed under a microscope. For many, the production of Transformers started off on the wrong foot from day one, with the choice of director.

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Michael Bay is one of Hollywood’s biggest names. Known for such films as The Rock, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor and Bad Boys, his specialty is the big-budget, special effects-driven, summer popcorn movie. I like to categorize Bay’s work as Murphy’s Law movies. Murphy’s Law states that “whatever can go wrong will go wrong, and at the worst possible time.” Take that theory, add a romantic side story, a few explosions and some of the biggest actors in the world, and you have everything you need to make a typical Michael Bay film. It was precisely for those reasons that producer Steven Spielberg thought Bay would fit in perfectly as the director of the Transformers movie. It’s hard to argue with the decision, based on Bay’s track record and expertise, but Bay isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. He has a knack for sacrificing story for the sake of action, and has a tendency to make actors with great ability as believable as B-movie extras. But who’s thinking about depth of story and character when you’re making a movie featuring huge transforming robots? Apparently everyone.

The continuity of the Transformers now goes back over twenty years. Starting out as a Japanese toy line, most of us were introduced by the Transformers cartoon series that began in 1984. One of the most popular cartoons in history, it has spawned numerous other cartoon series, as well as comic books, toys and other products based on the core idea of transforming robots. There has been the occasional wannabe that rode the coattails of the “Robots in Disguise”, such as Go-Bots, but none have lasted as long or held as much of a nostalgia factor as Transformers. With such a long history, there is an abundance of material to draw from when adapting a story for the screen. This can be a benefit and a curse.

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There are many different factions of Transformers fans. One such faction are the G1 loyalists. G1 refers to the first generation of Transformers on screen, which are the original 1984 cartoon series and characters. While not the actual first generation of Transformers, these are the first to be introduced to us through the series. To these fans, some might call them purists, the original series is the greatest and the only worth-while section of Transformers history. While it’s hard to argue with the original being the best, fans of every incarnation of the Transformers exist, and most are just as loyal to their versions as the G1 purists are to theirs. Kids now, in 2007, are watching episodes of new Transformers series and have no concept of G1. It would be easy to take the first few episodes of the original series and make them into a script for a two hour movie. The challenge comes in how to introduce the rich history of the Transformers to a whole demographic of people who know nothing about them, without alienating (or boring, for that matter) the existing fans, not just of G1, but of all incarnations.

So, where do we begin? I’ll discuss this and more in Part II.