Transformers The Last Knight - Advance Footage Screening with Michael Bay
It was an adrenaline crescendo to what had already been whirlwind day which started with a visit to Transformers The Ride at Universal Studios, followed by a private tour of Paramount Pictures Studios and getting up close and personal with vehicle props used in filming Optimus Prime, Crosshairs, Bumblebee, Mohawk, Drift and Barricade...
While touring the Paramount Studios facility, we had an opportunity to go behind-the-scenes to meet with the sound editors and mixers. That day, they had been working on a scene where Cade, Izzy and one of her friends were running through an abandoned town. Fascinating for us, to see this team of roughly a dozen+ men and women working on sound effects. We watched the scene as the characters lips moved, but no sound came out - only the effects, like crunching of gravel under the characters feet, the sounds of shattering glass and explosions... No music score, no dialog. Just seeing the sound professionals doing what they do, scrutinizing every auditory detail, before it moved on to the next team for processing!
We also had the opportunity to walk through a props storage warehoue which contained Transformers treasures (more on this later!) and then spent an hour and a half tour by Michael Bay of his personal office. Here, I could not resist the temptation to ask about Unicron (story told here!) and see other effects specialists working their Hollywood magic!
Alright, so we've got to talk about footage! Hard to tell this story in perfectly linear order. So we'll skip around from seeing rough clips at Michael Bay's office to seeing near-final product at IMAX Headquarters. For instance Michael showed us a pre-edited clip of knights in battle. We saw the carefully set-up explosion where the actors were launched back on cables and others burst ablaze wearing flame-retardant suits. We watched in awe as Michael Bay tells us "Okay, this guys' getting hot!" Actor's arms flailing, "Now really hot 110 degrees." Actor in flames falls, 120 about to cook!" Actor writhing on the ground still aflame "CUT!" I'm not sure if it was the Director in front of us or a recording of him yelling it! -- immediately 3-4 set personel per burning-actors - sprint onto the scene with their fire extinguishers dousing the flames. Then, later that same evening, seeing it on IMAX size and quality, effects completed - the film opens with trebuchet launching these apparently historically accurate flaming spike balls and lands in the midst of this Medieval battle - explosioin, Knights go flying, some burst into flame, and even though I've just seen how they set up this scene, it looks absolutely real, and you're living it large on that enormous IMAX screen!
Alright, so let's talk about what we were shown. First off, these weren't polished and final complete scenes. They were snipits from certain segments of the film, carefully selected to give us a taste of what the film would be like, without giving away hardly any major plot spoilers.
The film's opening wastes no time getting to Medieval Bayhem! Amidst a battle, we are introduced to characters from the times of King Arthur. Lancelot has a conversation about how their side, which is getting slaughtered, will emerge victorious, with help promised by Merlin. The scene cuts to a not-familiar rendition of the character, from what can tell, in Transformers universe, Merlin's "magic" may derive from some other-worldly (Cybertronian, perhaps?) source! My impression here - he's a well written character, his lines are funny and hit the mark the writers team was going for. Can't remember if it was in IMAX HQ or at Michael Bay's office where we see the horse-riding Wizard gallop to a mountainside where there is the distinct pattern of a crashed ship buried in the side of a mountain. It's covered in plantlife, but it's silouette otherwise looks a lot like "The Ark" - as it appears buried in Mount St. Hillary back in the G1 cartoon.
Merlin is about to begin a dialog with the ship's resident. However, without revealing too much, the scene cuts to an extended scene of the mysterious 3-headed "Dragonstorm" in flight. Apparently, at Merlin's request, the beast joins the battle and his domination takes over. Dragon versus knight battle ensues and I was lovin' it. Look, I know there are those G1 purists out there! But I make no apologies for my love of the Beast Wars era of Transformers, and seeing a Cybertronian dragon twisting and twirling in brings me back! The scene raises way more questions than it answers though and this clip cuts out before any of my burning questions are answered.
The second segment involves Izabella and Cade Yaeger. We see them running from "TRF" (that's Transformers Reaction Force) drones. In this film, humans are still unhappy about Transformers presence on Earth, and appear to still not have figured out the difference between Autobots and Decepticons. That (Star Wars reference here) AT-ST walker -like thing you see Bumblebee taking out in the Trailer? I believe that's part of TRF, with indended purpose to hunt down Cybertronians terminate without prejudgice. So in one scene Cade and Izzy are running and encounter Cogman.
Cogman provides an opportunity to talk about the effects I was hoping to see from the "writer's room" project put together The Last Knight. Michael Bay talked about this at length in his office. I was encouraged to hear that he didn't like how each of the last four films were very much intended to be stand alone mega-stories, without connection to the rest of Transformer's bigger picture. The Last Knight is going to be different in this way. He also talked about the quality of dialog he expects to see in this film to be better than what we have come to expect in other films. To be honest, I was skeptical about this, expecting the next film to be like others, more flash than substance. I was skeptical, until I saw Cogman.
He's funny - and not like with cheap one-liners that'll make you groan. He had the audience really into his 'performance' and laughing. If what you're looking for are Cybertronians - showing personality, well written and engaging - they seem to have found their mark with Cogman. He's voiced by Jim Carter best known for his role "Mister Carter" on Downton Abbey. Cogman is butler to Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins), except with a screw loose.
The last segment involved introductions and some explanations about where this film is going. I assume it's still fairly early in the film but we see Bumblebee and Cade approach Sir Edmund Burton's castle home, where also resides a Cybertronian who transforms into a British Mark IV (World War I) tank! Introductions are made. Then we get our first glimpse of Hot Rod, who comes roaring up, carrying Vivian Wembly (Laura Haddock) seemingly spits her out of is sexy Lamborgini as he transforms into robot mode. Unfortunately they skipped some of the good stuff as surely Bumblebee and Hot Rod will have some sort of exchange here, which we did not get to see.
The next scene cut is to inside Burton's castle, where Sir Anthony Hopkins provides some explanation. There is a lot of talk about Knights - human ones of Medieval times - specifically the Arthurian Knights - of the Round Table and it is revealed we see that each of these 12 are accompanied/watched over by a Cybertronian Knight! Remember how the Dinobots took on an esthetic of knight armor? Like that, only in ancient times. Hopkins explained that there are 12 Cybertronian Knights and they are looking for the 13th, the Last Knight! as they play the role to protect and preserve the development of human civilization... Something like that!
It was following this enormous revelation, that the scene cut, theater lights came back on and Michael Bay asked a stunned audience, "So, what did you think?" We all sat in stunned silence for what seemed like a long time before we began our dialog.
I believe it may have been me who spoke first when I said, "What I think most Transformers fans are hoping for, is to see more personality in Transformers. I think Cogman was awesome, and if the rest of the Transformers personalities shine through in the rest of the film the way Cogman's does in these few minutes... Then this film could be 12-hours long and Transformers fans wouldn't mind." This led to great conversation about wanting to see personality in Decepticons, a voice for Bumblebee, etc. Here's hoping!
Sometime later, I mentioned my thought about how seeing this clip, will be interesting to Transformers die-hard fans like myself for a few reasons - like how there are supposed to be 13 Knights - and that coincides w/ how there are 13 original Primes and will be fun to speculate about that. Also, highlighting a "Search for Knights" is a recurring theme - likely unconnected but still fun to discuss - to the current popular comic series "Lost Light" and Rodimus (Hot Rod) leading a quest to find the mystic Knights of Cybertron... Could the team of writers assembled to create the movie Universe be fans/readers of More than Meets the Eye/Lost Light?! Food for thought and fun times for speculation.
Who knows how much of what we saw will make it to the final cut of the film? I'm sure a lot can and will change. But what we saw is definitely encouraging and gives me hope the the upcoming film will have more plot and substance than its predacessors. Time will tell.