Robots in Disguise: A Review of 'Transformers'

I have to admit that despite considering myself a good robot geek, and despite the fact that my first Roomba was named Optimus Grime, I had never actually seen the Transformers. Still, not knowing anything about the originals, the movie was decently entertaining...

The movie is not for anyone who wants a plot. However, the movie is certainly for those who want to see giant fighting robots who transform to and from pretty cars. It's kind of fun to see the mechanisms that manifest themselves between car + bot (for example, the transformer who was "skating" on his wheels even when in bot form). There are a couple of amusing lines thrown in about robots (and Japan's robot technology relative to the US). But really, it just comes down to the fact that giant fighting robots are awesome.

It was kind of funny to hear "Megatron", "Cybertron", "Autobots" and "Decepticons" and all these words that sound so horribly cliched, only to realize that really, the Transformers are the ones that created these cliches, right? This franchise is why those words are cliched. Ah, it all comes full circle.

One interesting component of this movie that I see in lots of robot movies is the idea that robots are always a superior race who feel sorry for us. In the movie version of I, Robot, for example, VIKI takes it upon herself to save humanity by violating the First Law of Robotics, extrapolating her own Zeroth Law (No robot shall allow humanity to come to harm...). Similarly, in Transformers, Optimus Prime gives a lengthy speech about our young civilization who has yet to grow and mature, and how they must protect us and allow us to make our own potentially catastrophic choices, and they are something of parent figures to us as a species. This theme is a particular interest of mine and part of why I'm so into robots -- why do we always create robots to take care of us and look after us? If we're creating them (whether physically or through literature/film/etc), why aren't we also more capable of taking care of ourselves than they would be? And I mean this in every sense, from the robots that clean things for me to the robots that save my species and very existence. I'll touch on this more in future entries that look at books, movies, and other entertainment for your inner robot.

As with most sci-fi movies, there are technical things that tick me off. For example, the NSA chick spouting off random things about Fourier transforms and quantum mechanics didn't really convince me at all that she knew what she was talking about. The roboticist in me was very upset that when they talked about the Beagle 2 mission, the footage they showed was actually of the current MERs, Spirit and Opportunity. The nerve of these people!

But then I read this very poignant comment on Metafilter:

I enjoy how the real-life limitations of SD cards and computers ruin your suspension of disbelief, but giant alien (yet humanoid, conveniently!) robots who crash-landed on earth (in America, conveniently!) to find a big cube that can create life, and who can look like anything they choose by scanning it but still go through some weird transforming process to subsequently change between (only 2) shapes (and only cars for the "Autobots", conveniently!), does not, in any way, impinge on your suspension of disbelief.

Well said, modernnomad. Well said.



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