There’s no nice way to say this, so I’ll just come right out with it: Michael Bay’s Transformers is premiering at the 2007 Los Angeles Film Festival on June 27. Transformers. You know, for kids. See, they’re robots that turn into cars and trucks and airplanes. Why? Because they make neater toys for Hasbro to sell that way. Maybe there’s some slice of the Transformers mythology I’m missing that rationalizes it, but I’m not fooled. It’s no coincidence that the first sentence of the description of the movie on the LA Film Fest website incorporates three registered trademark symbols: “In the film Optimus Prime® and his Autobots® take on Megatron’s Decepticons® with Earth as their battleground.” Do I have to send anyone any money for typing that sentence? Should I make the check out to Michael Bay personally? Don’t tell me the movie is not primarily a monster born of marketing and greed because I’m not buying it.
This isn’t meant as another anti-Transformers rant. I admit that a movie with robots slugging it out and wrecking crap has a certain basic appeal and there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. My question is whether such a thing really belongs in a film festival that is ostensibly intended to promote independent and foreign cinema. The festival is sort of loosely justifying the movie by tying it to a series they’re running called L.A Destroys Itself. The series includes Earthquake, Escape From L.A., Miracle Mile, Night of the Comet and Them!; all movies where the City of Angels takes a beating. Fair enough, but Transformers is pushing it a little I think.
In the best case I suppose, premiering Transformers is harmless and it gets a little attention for the festival and maybe helps them sell a few more $350 passes. The thing is, I don’t think this is the kind of exposure the festival needs, not if it’s a festival that wants to be taken seriously.
I also worry about the slippery slope that’s created as big mainstream films continue to turn up at prestigious festivals. Sundance has cleaned up its act supposedly, but plenty of other festivals continue to nurse at the teat of big studio product. These films already tend to blot out the sun when it comes to smaller independents and foreign films. Such films depend on festivals for their very survival and now they’re being asked to compete with the majors in the one place they should be protected.
I don’t know. Maybe it doesn’t mean anything. Maybe the LA Film Festival will make gobs of cash they can turn around and use next year for more independent and foreign films and maybe every one wins; Michael Bay, the festival, the audience, Los Angeles and maybe even Optimus Prime® himself.
I acknowledge there are realities of the marketplace and making movies has always been a for-profit enterprise, but how far are we going to lower the bar? With Transformers, it feels like the Los Angeles Film Festival has crossed a line.