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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Transformers-The Last Knight, Review by Siraj Syed: Michael’s Bay Watch

Transformers-The Last Knight, Review by Siraj Syed: Michael’s Bay Watch

A lot of words related to media get either entirely new meanings or stretch their known meanings to the limit and beyond, once you have watched Michael Bay’s Transformers.

It is far too tempting to let the last Knight remain as it is, without getting punny. I saw the film last Night (Wednesday late afternoon, to be precise), and I often felt that last Night was never going to end. It eventually did, and exiting audiences at the Mumbai preview were greeted with a lethal dose of rain that led to cancellations of 192 local train runs. A few knights in transformers (read cars/taxis) offered lifts to stranded film-buffs like yours truly, though the drive back home took just about as long as the stay on the seat in the cinema. Of course you must blame the torrential downpour. But some blame must also be apportioned to the floodgates of computer graphics that were opened (torn apart?) on the screen in IMAX 3D.

3D means three dimensions, with the dimension of depth added, making scenes have length, breadth and depth. Sadly, depth is largely missing in this film, which is high on length and full on breadth. In all fairness, why blame the inanimate glasses for whatever stuff they had to behold for the eons they were perched on human noses and ears, in some cases being add-ons, second spectacles to sight-challenged wearers? They were merely doing their job. And let’s not get into questions like job satisfaction, shall we?

There’s a popular acronym mouthed at every media gathering in the last two years or so—OTT (Over The Top). Whosoever is the wise guy or savvy dame who coined the term “ain’t seen nuthin yet”, if he/she hasn’t seen, and heard, obviously, Transformers 5. How dare you use OTT to describe anything but Michael Bay’s film wonder on thunder? Now how do we deal with Transformers? The word comes from electricity, but here, so shocking is the voltage of the film that all insulation, silicone or any other cone, will not be able to shield you from the nerve-piercing current and critical radiation (and I am definitely not referring to radiation as a beautician would).

Who is transforming what? Yes, we all know it is a toy game franchise. Cars become weapon-wielding monsters before you can say “Ignition”. Okay, we’ll take that. But here, everyone and everything is becoming everyotherone and everyotherthing, across 1600 years! I cannot bet how many, but a few sane viewers who keep trying to make sense of the millenniums-spanning epic are going to be transformed into numbskulls if they sit through the around two-and-a-half hour overture to who? King Arthur, and Lancelot, and Knights of the Round Table and Merlin, the Magician, across two and a half planets? No, we cannot take that.

Frankly, they swapped the trailer for the film. What I saw cannot but be an extended trailer, a first of its kind, ‘director’s cut trailer’. The film itself... being slated for release after the blockbustering over the trailer subsides, which could easily take a couple of years (Transformers Universe: Bumblebee, is scheduled for release on June 8, 2018, and a sixth film is scheduled for release on June 28, 2019). Problem is, what then happens to numero five and a half spin-offo and numero sixo, of which we were given a teaser at the end credit titles? Here’s a transformative idea, for sure. Release the same as King Arthur, alias Optimus Prime. Franchise fans by the millions (billions, anybody? Naw...only kidding) and ignoramuses will lap it all up, the cognoscenti will never go to see the film, which leaves only the critics. So now you know what kind of job we have. They never give us a choice—one day it is BayWatch, which is eye-candy, the next, it could be Transformers: The Last Knight, which has close shots of a thousand types of eyes and eyeballs, including Megatron and Unicron, Optical (sorry, it is mus, not cal, but never mind) Prime and Bumble Bee that as it may, very few of them human, and only one genuine babe to watch. (Egads, they already have a longer version of the film in place! No kidding? In a safe place, I presume).

There are four ways in which a moviegoer assimilates a film: advance reading or media browsing, seeing, hearing and/or post event research. In essence, seeing and hearing are the most crucial, and a film is therefore called an audio-visual experience. Some fringe makers have made silent films after the advent of the talkies, and still been understood. Transformers 5 makes sure that neither the visuals nor the audio are given any chance with the audience. Cutting is frenetic, dialogue to dialogue, action to action. Silences....what are those? In frame parlance (before digital came around, but still valid), you need four frames for any shot to register on the human eye. So, the fastest cut can only be four frames long. Hundreds of cuts in Transformers 5 must have been very close to, if not exactly, four frames long. Breakneck!

Three scenes bring humour to the fore, and the laughs are more than welcome. One is when a group of old women, including the heroine's mother, are trying to match-make for her, and the two are in a room upstairs, searching the for an ancient object. How 'double entendre' can you get! Next comes a scene wherein Anthony Hopkins secures a back-door entry (no pun intended) into 10 Downing Street, and orders the PM around. It is Hopkins again in the third fun moment, commandeering a submarine in a manner that elicits chuckles. Very unfortunately, all three gags are in the wrong film, but nevertheless, they are more than welcome.

Who is playing who? Read on.

Mark Wahlberg as Cade Yeager (could you have guessed the spelling?), a widowed father of a young daughter, and struggling inventor.

Anthony Hopkins as Sir Edmund Burton, 12th Earl of Folgan, last surviving member of the Witwiccan (witty?) brotherhood, an astronomer and historian who knows about the history of the Transformers on Earth.

Josh Duhamel as William Lennox, a U.S. Army Colonel and an unwilling member of the Transformer Reaction Force.

Laura Haddock as Viviane Wembly, a single and eligible Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford, also a descendant of Merlin.

Isabela Moner as Izabella, a street-wise tomboy who was orphaned.

Stanley Tucci as Merlin, King Arthur's wizard and Viviane's ancestor.

Liam Garrigan as King Arthur, the legendary knight who first fought the Saxons along-side the Knights of Iacon.

Wahlberg looks confused but is helped by some witty lines, which he shares with Haddock and Moner.

Hopkins acts a lot through his eyes, as usual, which convey feelings of deep anguish, intense anger and high levels of psychosis. Turning Merlin into a caricature works, and Stanley Tucci delivers. Then there is John Turturro as Seymour Simmons, a former government agent with Sector Seven and N.E.S.T. turned successful writer who hides out in Cuba, and became allied with the Autobots prior to the events of Age of Extinction. The above three lines are the result of research, since one could not get any clue about what he was up to, always mumbling on the phone, in Cuba.

They needed seven writers to work on the Hasbro Toy tale, including Akiva Goldsman. Then they handed over what they had made to six editors. In my opinion, the editors were six too few, and, maybe, the writers, six too many.

Cutting edge technology and out-of-this-world aliens do not add up to a watchable experience. Director Michael Bay (The Rock, Armageddon, Pain & Gain) might have taken a lot of pain over this one, only the gain has not followed. After so many hits over 22 years, why does he not trust his audiences enough to let the scenes sink in and let the viewers absorb them, instead of treating them as a firing range for a barrage of missiles?

Incidentally, what should a sequel to a Last film be called? The Least?

Rating: * ½




About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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