“Bumblebee” shows us what might have been.

Credit to James Raiz, @boxofficeartist

Today I saw the new Bumblebee movie, after swearing off future Transformers flicks in 2014.

The original cartoon was excellent, tentpole stuff. A true staple of the 80s. When big screen graphics finally got to the point where they could handle a realistic adaptation, we got stuck with whatever Michael Bay felt like shoveling on us.

The first film was…adequate, but flawed. So audiences lined up for the second one, which was…hella flawed. But it gave us great visuals! So we lined up for the third film, which was flawed but better than the second.

Since the franchise was trending upward, audiences lined up for the fourth film…

…and it sucked tailpipe. Hard. 2014 was when I realized I was the problem. Paramount kept heaping money on Bay because people kept seeing his crappy movies, hoping they would get better, that we should just put some makeup on this one and it wouldn’t happen again.

I boycotted the 5th film, which still made a ton of money, but was universally panned as being manure.

Then I heard about Bumblebee.

I wasn’t optimistic, until 2 things happened: first, I heard Michael Bay wasn’t in charge (though he got a producer credit, probably on a technicality). Second, the trailer was awesome.

You could clearly see the original Transformers, with their original voices, looking like their original forms during a fight on Cybertron! No spiky metal turds that were indistinguishable one from another!

I was in. So I went and saw it.

On its own, the film was good. Compared to the last five, it was great. Here is why.

  1. Respect for the source material. Within the first two minutes, you see cameos on the fly from Autobots and Decepticons who look recognizable by their shapes and colors. Arcee was the first one I spotted, followed by Brawn and Ironhide. Then Soundwave, Shockwave, Starscream, Skywarp, and Thundercracker. Cliffjumper even had a speaking line or two. And Ravage! Above all, Optimus Prime was there, looking correct and proper, and of course, killing any bad guy in sight without hesitation.
  2. A human lead who didn’t suck. Hailee Steinfeld (name?) was really good. Convincing, realistic, showed emotion, had heart. Her supporting cast had slightly fewer than one dimension each, which works if you are John Cena, but not if you are her emotionally demanding family.
  3. Just enough to legally bind it to the original film franchise, with enough changes to work as a reboot. No spoilers, but while the movie begins with a fight on Cybertron, and we see Sector 7 at Hoover Dam with a young Agent Simmons (John Tuturro’s character later on), the story wraps up in such a way that it porks the timeline from the 2007 film. Which is fine with me. I know I want decades between reboots of anything, but with Transformers, no. Give me that do-over NOW.
  4. Easter eggs. Won’t list them all here, but when Bumblebee played “You got the touch” on his stereo, I squealed a little.
  5. Maybe we can get a full-on makeover of the Bay cesspool, with someone sane at the helm. I can’t say this enough. Make the rest of the movies over from here. Hell, give us a sequel called Optimus Prime, and round out the trilogy with Megatron, who, by the way, does not appear in this film. Again, in the original timeline he is technically frozen in Hoover Dam…but the story on Earth plays out as if this is not the case…

Guh. I will shut up now. Just go see it, it is a fun romp that is worth the money. There are some poorly acted teen drama tropes that happen for…I dunno, checkbox reasons, I would count those as the major weakness of the film. The action scenes were great, the effects were top notch (you can actually see what is happening when they fight), and DAMN dude, Bumblebee is a scrappy, brawly, dirty fighter. He takes his hits, but he also kills like six Decepticons one-on-one in this film.

That’s all folks. See the movie. Reboot the rest. Get back to work.

80 years ago this Christmas, Karel Čapek died. So what?

Think about what sci-fi would look like without the term “robot” in it. Think of all the properties that would be vastly different, or gone altogether.

No C-3PO, and maybe no R2-D2 either.

Image result for c3po and r2d2 No Terminators, which probably means no breakthrough role for Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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No Optimus Prime, no Autobots. No new Bumblebee movie this weekend.

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Nope.

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Sorry, childhood.

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Will Robinson died because nobody was there to warn him of danger.

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Virtually no career track for Isaac Asimov, as presently constituted. The dude wrote an entire library of robot stories.

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Not to say someone else wouldn’t have eventually come up with the idea of man-shaped machine that could think for itself, and give it a name that would become universal around the world, but we’re going off of what did happen in our timeline.

The writer responsible for this massive genre cornerstone was none other than Czech author Karel Čapek, pronounced “kuh-RELL CHAP-eck,” who died on Christmas of 1938. Here is his Wikipedia article, and a picture of him.

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The term “robot” comes from a Czech word for “labor,” which was a central theme of the play he wrote, Rossum’s Universal Robots, set in a future where the robots performed manual tasks for humans, then eventually rose up and took over, and achieved sentience bit by bit.

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The play is about 60 pages long, and I meant to have read it before doing this post, but work and life have taken my focus and it fell down the list of priorities. Nevertheless, as we humans like to celebrate round numbers of anniversaries, I wanted to give his legend a boost on his 80th.

Personally I’m grateful for his work. Transformers and Terminator both came out in 1984, the year I was born, and they’ve had a massive influence on my creative work throughout my whole life. Robots have always been my thing and I’m sure I’ll write a lot of stories about them in different ways.

Between Stan Lee and Karel Čapek, I’ve been thinking a lot this fall about what kind of mark I want to leave on the creative world during my time. It will be a lot harder than it was in their day; competition is stronger and more plentiful, and it’s hard to stand out. Will I ever revolutionize sci-fi and fantasy like these men did? It is my hope, and can only happen if I work at it.

I do have the great fortune to stand on the shoulders of giants in my time. Thanks for your stories, Karel Čapek. Keep resting in peace, and Merry Christmas to you all.

Now get back to work.