Maybe, just maybe, once the Transformers started hanging out with characters from King Arthur lore, it was time for a reset of sorts. Or, maybe it was time for a reset long before that as Michael Bay’s rude and crude version of Transformers had a way of wearing out their welcome fairly quickly. Longtime fans know that, deep down, these characters had heart, but in the Bay versions they were mostly just loud and crass. But, the Bay versions made a lot of money, until they stopped making quite as much. Now, here comes Bumblebee.
So, now it’s Travis Knight at the helm (best known for his work directing the Lakia stop-motion animation films like ParaNorman and Kubo and the Two Strings), working on a script written by Christina Hodson, bringing us a kinder, less crass version of Transformers that more resembles the original animated series emotionally and physically. (In the first five minutes of Bumblebee we meet a plethora of original, generation one-designed Transformers that I like to refer to as “Transformers porn.” If you’ve been dying to see Soundwave on the big screen, with his old school voice, eject Ravage into battle, then you are in for a treat.)
Set in 1987, the focus of the story is on Bumblebee and his relationship with a loner, Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), and her Gobot-loving neighbor, (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) who both help Bumblebee hide from two evil Decepticons until the rest of Bumblebee’s Autobot friends show up. It’s a much smaller Transformers story than we are used to and it’s a welcome shift. And when talking to Knight, it’s apparent he loves two things very much: Transformers and the 1980s popular culture. And this shows in Bumblebee.
Did you think you were going to sneak that reference to Gobot Magazine past me?
You know what? I’m glad you caught that, but we had this great Gobot bit where we talk about Gobots in one iteration of the film that I wanted to keep. I held onto it as long as I possibly could, and ultimately we cut it out just for pacing. The rhythm of the film is one of the things where sometimes you have to sacrifice things that you love for the betterment of the movie. So there was this Gobot gag that we actually had in the movie that I ultimately had to cut out, just because of timing issues but, oh my god, I loved it.
I kept wondering if Memo is reading GoBot Magazine, and then he meets Bumblebee, he’s got to be at least familiar with the whole concept of robots turning into vehicles.
Certainly. But the difference between fantasy and reality is pretty significant. We’ve all seen superhero movies, or vampire films, or what not, but if you actually discover one in real life that would be a different story.
I assume the cut scene involved Memo?
It was definitely something to do with Memo and I think it might actually be in when we do the deleted scenes and extras and all that kind of stuff. I think we might actually see that come to light. I hope so, because it was a lot of fun.
The first five minutes of this movie on Cybertron, all the old Transformers show up in their original forms. I applauded maybe five times. My editor wouldn’t let me put “Transformers porn” in the headline of my review.
[Laughs] Oh? It made me happy, too. That was probably the giddiest I ever was over the course of the making of the movie, doing that part of the film. Just because it was full-on nine-year-old me trying to bring that part of the thing that I’d loved to the big screen. The opening of the animated series, it starts with the final moments of the Fall of Cybertron.
And the first characters that you see are Bumblebee and Wheeljack. As they try to find a new home. And this was an opportunity for me to set the stage for what this film was. And a sense that Bumblebee is essentially alone. He has to find a new home. And his family’s been ripped away from him. But to do it in a way that was punchy and exciting and it also paid tribute to those Transformers stories and characters that I’ve known and loved since I was a kid. And so I just stuffed it with every single thing that I loved about Transformers. It’s packed to the gills with nonsense, but it was so much fun bringing to life.
Soundwave has the old Soundwave voice back. I’m going from memory, didn’t Frank Welker do that voice in the animated series?
Yeah, I’m pretty sure he did. He didn’t on this film. We used a lot of those same processes to try to capture Frank’s voice.
I don’t even think I’m exaggerating, within five minutes we hear Howard Jones’ “Things Can Only Get Better,” Bon Jovi’s “Runaway,” and Duran Duran’s “Save a Prayer.”
It might be a little overindulgent, all right?
I feel like not only were you putting all your favorite Transformers in this, but also all your favorite songs.
Well, that’s exactly right, because that’s exactly what I did. You can appreciate it, that was the era that I came of age. And so setting this film in 1987. It felt like, let’s lean into that. And so going back to my own experiences and drawing from those things that I absolutely love from that era, it felt completely natural to pour all that stuff into this movie. And I’m glad you appreciate it, because it was a lot of fun for me to do.
It happens early in the movie, but all I’ll say is, poor Cliffjumper.