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.
I’m guessing you had to let people know the Decepticons mean business.
You have to understand that if they encounter Bumblebee, particularly in the state that he’s in for much of the movie – where he’s lost his voice, he’s lost his memory, he can’t really fight. He’s just trying to find his way…
And Cliffjumper is similar to Bumblebee, as far as their size and what they do.
And again, that’s all by design. That’s essentially what they would do to him. He would not meet a very nice end. But you have to understand that if they encounter him, that it’s bad. It’s really bad for our hero, that things are not gonna end well. And it’s also, on some level, a subtle – or not so subtle nod, depending on your point of view – nod to the 1986 film. Which, I remember when I saw it, was essentially destroyed by. They murder every single one of our favorite characters.
I know exactly how you feel. Especially after watching so many episodes of the animated series, and you get to know all these characters, and they’re all dead within like ten minutes.
I know! Like, oh my god, they killed off Optimus Prime?!?!
And then it became, “I guess we’re supposed to like Hot Rod now?” Nothing against Hot Rod. But I came to see all these other Transformers and they’re all dead.
We see Bumblebee watching The Breakfast Club and you see Judd Nelson do his whole fist bump. That’s something that he mimics and that was a little nod to the ’86 movie as well, where Judd Nelson voiced Hot Rod. Or, Rodimus Prime, depending on how you look at it.
And not to mention “The Touch” is in this movie.
I love me some Stan Bush. It was either going to be that or “Dare.” And, to me, it has to be “The Touch,” but I do love “Dare” as well.
Shatter and Dropkick, voiced by Angela Bassett and Justin Theroux are great. They are new characters, but did you consider using original Decepticons?
Yeah, there certainly was some of that thinking. The thing I was really excited about with these characters was the idea of bringing Triple Changers to life in the first meaningful way that we’ve seen on the big screen. And that was a ton of fun. And also another way to showcase how Bumblebee is completely, utterly screwed if he encounters these guys and they have powers well beyond his. But, yeah, there was some thought about that. And I considered that a great deal. But in the end, without spoiling anything, but where these characters end up going, I wanted to make sure, you know where I’m going.
Let me put words in your mouth. “Well, I guess we can’t use Skywarp in the next movie.” Or whoever…
Right. All that. So it’s that sort of thing, exactly.
What was your first Transformer? Like most kids I wanted Optimus Prime, but my parents bought me Huffer instead. “Hey, he’s also a truck, just as good.”
That is amazing. You know what, I could be wrong, but I think the first Transformer that I had was actually Megatron. And I think it was before I fully knew these characters at that point. And the idea that I could turn this robot into a gun, I felt was the coolest thing in the world. A Walther P38. Because then you could also pretend you’re James Bond, you could do all kinds of different things with it.
I was reading the other day that it can be tricky to sell Megatron online, sometimes there are restrictions.
Well, because they’re worried because it looks way too much like a real gun.
It did. I mean, if memory serves, it did look pretty much like a real gun.
When we go to Memo’s room, how much time did you spend detailing what would be in there? I could not stop staring at his DC Super Powers and Marvel Secret Wars collection.
[Laughs] You know, Memo’s room was a trip. We only see it very briefly in the movie. But it was essentially a carbon copy of my bedroom when I was a kid.
Okay, did you really have a The Thing poster? Because I feel like that’s retcon in that we wish we had that poster. In reality, I had a Michael Jackson poster. I feel like there were very few kids who were cool enough to have a The Thing poster.
No, I definitely did not have a The Thing poster. I was certainly not that cool. But the film is meant to, on some level, pay tribute to the titans of ’80s cinema and one of those is John Carpenter. There are subtle nods throughout that pay tribute to John Carpenter. And that was one way to do that. But no, I wasn’t that cool. But virtually everything else was in my room.
Without getting into too much detail, the way this movie ends, it does set up what could be a full-on movie version of an episode of the old animated series. Where it’s like all your favorites are here. Is that where this is going?
No, it certainly could go that way. I mean, I’m not a prognosticator. I’m not a crystal ball, I don’t know where it goes from here. I wanted to treat this movie as a self-contained story, and so I wanted to make sure it had a beginning, middle, and end.
Which it accomplishes.
But, of course, I wanted to pay tribute to both fans of the live action franchise as well as the cartoons. And also hopefully craft a story that people who have no familiarity with the Transformers whatsoever can sit and enjoy and not be lost and have a good time. So, it’s just trying to balance all those things. For me, looking forward, yeah, I could absolutely see the series going in that direction. And, on some level, I would love to see that. I think it would be a ton of fun. But it’s impossible to say. I think, in the end, the audience and the fans, they’ll decide if they want more of these kinds of things. They’ll tell the powers that be and then I’m sure they’ll respond appropriately.
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