Film Review: Bumblebee (2018)


In an effort to watch more movies this year (no, this isn’t some resolution that will die off in six weeks, this is just a general quest to catch up on what’s hot at the local picturehouse), it’s time to reinvigorate the Barry Norman section of this blog with the first film write-up of 2019, Bumblebee.

First, let’s travel back to 1987. Aretha Franklin has just become the first woman to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The Simpsons airs for the first time and Luis Suarez chews his way out of his mother’s womb. Meanwhile, an eight year-old me is playing with his figures of Optimus Prime, Beachcomber and Cosmos, fighting the ongoing battle against the evil Decepticons right here on Earth. As it turns out, also in 1987, a young mechanically-minded girl called Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), mourning the death of her father, encounters a rusty yellow Volkswagen Beetle at a junkyard and is swept into a similar robotic war.

After five live action films of increasing ridiculousness, the Transformers movie franchise is rebooting, and with Bumblebee, it’s taking us back to the very start in more ways than one. War is raging on the robots’ home planet of Cybertron and in a desperate attempt to regroup, a scout named B-127 is sent by Autobot leader Optimus Prime (voiced once more by the legendary Peter Cullen) to the planet Earth. Crash landing straight into a training exercise by specialist military unit Sector 7, B-127 is left dazed, confused and in hiding. After being taken in by Charlie, the newly-monikered Bumblebee finds himself battling to avoid detection by Decepticons Shatter and Dropkick who are intent on destroying the Autobot resurgence before it even begins, all the while being hampered by the additional threat of Sector 7 led by former US Army Ranger Jack Burns (John Cena).

Making his live action directorial debut, former musician and animator Travis Knight has been given the green light to deliver a Transformers spin-off that works through a lightness of touch and a focus on what made the toy and cartoon franchise so popular in the first place; heart. In the main, the robots here are all distinguishable in look rather than just being different shades of steel (see anything that Michael Bay directed previously) and personalities also shine through. There’s a warming sense of humour here as well, with Charlie’s family offering some good comic relief and Jorge Lendeborg Jr’s Memo character full of charm rather than being another generic sidekick to act as a plot device. Even the use of incidental characters such as policemen, neighbours and college acquaintances seem to be plucked straight from other 80s classics like The Breakfast Club or Smokey & The Bandit, expertly helping to paint a rich period picture.

Special mention also has to go to Bumblebee’s soundtrack. With the film being set in the late 80s, Knight is given a vastly diverse array of music to work with from The Smiths to Bon Jovi to Duran Duran, and each time a song is used it enhances the story perfectly. It almost feels like repeat viewing of the movie is needed to pick out all the little flourishes and nods buried throughout, whether it’s the music, the minute detail in the Cybertron scenes (where even the weapons perfectly match those we placed in the hands of our favourite robots 30 years ago) or the links to the rest of the movies in the series; Bumblebee really is reboot, origin story and the missing link between toys, cartoons and films all in one.

Yes there are a few moments you can telegraph a mile off and some of the sentiment may veer towards the mawkish, but Bumblebee is still an exciting, action-packed love letter to a more innocent time. By bringing together what the fans have always wanted from a Transformers film, Knight has nailed what the original cartoon taught us; good can and will triumph over evil and it’ll have a crazy, yet fun time in doing so.

Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim
Jaeger bomb.

With a tag line that simply states ‘Go big or go extinct’ you’d be forgiven for thinking that Pacific Rim is the latest in a long line of hoo-rah America saves the world flicks from Michael Bay. But strangely, you’d be wrong.

All the signs are there especially in the first three minutes of the film as it delivers more explosive exposition than a closing Columbo monologue. Mankind is balls-deep in a war with alien lizards (nicknamed Kaiju) who have crawled through a deep-sea intergalactic portal. Initially, the military responds with a largely ineffective tank and fighter plane-led onslaught but as this becomes more and more pointless and the Kaiju become bigger, the world joins forces to build powerful, giant robotic warriors, the Jaegers.

Piloted by two mind-melded human pilots, these massive mechs do a good job of seeing off the toothy titans and make their pilots as famous as rock stars, until they eventually prove too ineffective against the relentless threat to mankind. Turning to massive sea defences rather than the offensive but costly Jaeger programme, the world prepares to dig in; that is until one man decides there’s one last mission left in the towering tin cans yet.

Let’s not beat around the bush, this film is essentially Godzilla’s extended family versus a team of armoured-up Power Rangers in a desperate battle for the planet, so what is it that makes this one stand out from your usual apocalyptic summer blockbuster?

First and foremost (and most intriguingly) it’s the choice of Guillermo del Toro as director. The auteur more renowned for taking on terrifying nightmarish art house horror like Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone does brilliantly well combining story with spectacle, and the film is surprisingly pacy for such a considered director.

The cast is also pretty low key for a major studio release and punches well above its weight. Leads Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy, once of Byker Grove!) and Rinko Kikuchi (The Brothers Bloom) have only notched up 60-odd screen appearances between them and nothing of this scale, so it’s brave to have them piloting the movie. Of course, they’re more than ably assisted by Idris Elba’s spectacularly monikered Stacker Pentecost who adds humour alongside an upper lip so stiff you could rest your cutlery on it.

Sadly, numerous cliches do appear during the film. Burn Gorman’s nervy, stuttering scientist Gottlieb is the usual lazy blockbuster English stereotype whilst Charlie Day as Dr Newton Geiszler plays the kind of role that Rick Moranis was doing in his sleep 25 years ago, but the pair are still likeable enough to bring some decent comic relief to proceedings, especially during the latter’s interactions with a suitably madcap (long-time Del Toro collaborator) Ron ‘Hellboy‘ Perlman.

A couple of plot holes threaten to derail the movie, mainly when it comes to believing mankind’s been doing so well for years without using the most basic of tactics, and despite the vague ‘the aliens have been evolving’ excuse you can just about forgive the shaky logic long enough because THERE ARE GIANT ALIEN LIZARDS AND ROBOTS FIGHTING EACH OTHER.

Now, giant robots, that rings a bell…Pacific Rim will no doubt be compared to Transformers but whereas the latter drags out its kiddie-friendly scene setting and annoying moralising into three hours, Pacific Rim is all about the spectacle. The effects are dazzling, especially in 3D and on an IMAX screen and this is one film that uses the extra dimension subtly enough to truly immerse the viewer during a breathtaking 130 minutes. You’ll be rooted to your seat wondering if a tumbling tyrannosaur is going to fall into your lap.

The size and scale (ho ho) of this film is pretty much unmatched, and the dialogue is tongue in cheek enough to poke fun at itself without taking anything away from the seriousness of the situation the characters find themselves in.

Strangely, there’s an odd shoe/foot fetish throughout the film without a single toe appearing in the flesh. Whether it’s the numerous shots of the Jaeger pilot’s metal stormtrooper boots, Ron Perlman’s gold leaf brogues or the lost shoe of a young Kikuchi, Del Toro lobs the lost and found metaphor in there frequently to give the movie real sole.

Is this film predictable? Of course it is. Does the macho factor ramp up to at least 179? Damn right, soldier! But beneath all the bluster and ridiculousness, Pacific Rim does what few summer blockbusters can; chuck their all into being a dino-sized lump of epic filmmaking, that any audience from 12 to 120 is going to love for sheer spectacle and ambition.

Massive Attack v Adam Curtis @ Mayfield Depot, Manchester – 4th July 2013

Massive Attack v Adam Curtis
Massively impressive.

At the last Manchester International Festival in 2011, I witnessed Damon Albarn step way out of his comfort zone and into Modern English Opera folklore. Refusing to take an easy route to success, Albarn entranced me with a poetic, moving tale of an English legend, through a medium I never dreamt I would witness live.

As the time arrives for this year’s festivities, it’s the turn of creative mastermind Adam Curtis, in collaboration with iconic tripsters Massive Attack, to bewitch us all once more.

Taking place in the disused, colossal Mayfield Railway Depot in the heart of Manchester, this is the tale of…well I’m not entirely sure I want to say. Revealing too much to those still to see it would take away some of the experience’s impact and do a disservice to its creators, but what I will reveal is that the show covers a lot during its 100-odd minute runtime. The film, first and foremost, takes us through the lives of a variety of powerful people and events from the latter half of the 20th Century. It also explores the influence of the media and big business, the impact of technology’s growth, and then picks out some lesser-known characters whose lives and ideals touched the lot.

A combination of stark imagery, historical footage that veers from disturbing to quaint along with bold written comment, the film is supported by a stunning score from Massive Attack who fade in and out like narrative ghosts. Performing classic songs as well as creating some absorbing soundscapes, Robert Del Naja et al are ably assisted by The Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser and reggae singer Horace Andy who are both spell-bindingly brilliant.

Being the first night there are, understandably, some technical issues. Some people struggle to see all the lower-down subtitles, whilst the projectors for the band’s screen misalign briefly towards the end. The pounding soundtrack does also drown out the spoken narrative on occasion, but largely, the impact of the cavernous venue and the whole set up is impressive and immersive.

It’s also a pretty hot and intense experience, especially with the bar closing once everyone is pig-penned into the main auditorium, and the sheer size of the screens, lights and sound certainly aren’t for those of a nervous disposition.

But is the experience thought-provoking? Yes. Does it take place in an excellent, atmospheric setting? Certainly. Does it feature killer tunes? I can still feel them reverberating through me now. Is the political commentary somewhat forced? Most definitely. But despite this and Curtis’ narrative meandering waywardly on occasion, it can’t be denied that this is an enthralling, hypnotic shared experience of quite some grandeur and ambition.

Surviving The Zombie Apocalypse – 2.8 Hours Later Style

When I think about the zombie apocalypse, I don’t tend to think of it as starting in Manchester and involving more orienteering than the average cub camp. But when the opportunity arose to play kiss chase with the undead on a dark Thursday night, I jumped at the chance.

Let me rewind a little. A while ago, some of us at work were discussing horror films, tv shows, and video games, as per usual, when the subject of survival tactics in the event of a zombie holocaust arose. After discussing how to defend deserted castles and the best way to make supplies last, we stumbled upon a company running something called 2.8 Hours Later. Being big fans of the namesake films, we explored it a bit more.

It turned out that it was in fact a city-wide zombie chase game, the objective being very simple, get from checkpoint to checkpoint without succumbing to the ‘infection’. The game takes place on specific dates in selected cities around the country and begins in a secret location. From there you are given co-ordinates, and using a map you move from one place to the next chatting to the odd survivor and obtaining important information along the way.

As part of a colleague’s 21 years of service at our company, we bought him four tickets to the Manchester one and left it up to him who to invite, knowing that we could snaffle some more tickets if he had a few interested parties.

As they day of the event drew near, we started to research what we could expect. We didn’t want spoilers as such, just a bit of a head’s up as to what may occur and how the whole thing worked. We saw videos on YouTube of zombie hen parties, car park horror and mad sprints to the safety of the finish line. All of which seemed pretty ruddy TERRIFYING.

On the day itself, it’s fair to say that a fair few nerves were jangling. We prepped by buying torches, expecting a few pitch black haunted house style moments. Other than that we didn’t really have much else other than ourselves to rely on when we hit the first location in a slightly less than salubrious locale in darkest Ancoats. After a briefing and a bit of a queue, the four of us were released along with our two additional team mates with the simple job of heading left and then right, and it wasn’t long before we encountered a lady in a dressing gown, out in the street.

Not too uncommon a sight in the area, we soon realised she was actually our first zombie apocalypse survivor. She told us that she was looking for her paramedic husband and gave us the co-ordinates of where she heard there may be more survivors. Following the road around, we had our first undead episode. Feeling cocky, and seeing the slow pace of the zombie in question, we decided to sprint nearby rather than taking a wider berth. It wasn’t until halfway down the street that we realised there were three and that their taste for human flesh gave them a decent lick of pace.

Arriving at the next location, we waited outside a small housing showroom. One slight problem with the game appeared to be that the sheer amount of players meant there was some bunching at key locations, but it did thin out later on. After a bit of a queue our group was let in by the salesman. As the situation turned nasty, we were ordered out directly past two zombies, our legs a blur as we pegged it clear.

Heading towards town we entered a church. The vicar was sat near the altar, deep in prayer. Knowing we needed information, we accepted her offer of helping to pray for the missing, only for her to lash at the nearest of a group as it became apparent she was chained up and infected.

Next up, we encountered an office block and were let in and told to follow a stairwell up. After a fair few flights, we emerged onto an empty, but brightly lit office space…with a zombie in the middle. Needless to say we wasted little time in hurtling to the door, and up another flight, only to encounter another member of the undead. Another quick trot and we came to the office boss who gave us further co-ordinates.

As we headed towards central Manchester it started to dawn on us how odd it probably seemed to the Thursday drinkers and shoppers that loads of luminous-arm banded people were navigating around the city. But it wasn’t until we got to the main shopping stretch, Market Street that things got even stranger. Realising we had to get from one end to the other, we soon noted that to do so, we’d have to run through a group of three or four zombies.

As they shuffled around they appeared harmless enough, so I chose a pretty direct route, only to find that they were quick. Very quick. I didn’t look back as I was very much in flight mode, but by all accounts they were on my shoulder for much of the dash. We lost a team member in this section, discovering she’d been tagged as she ran through. The tagging took the form of the zombie touching you, which meant you had to stop and be marked by said zombie, and at the end of the game, everyone was scanned for signs of having been caught.

At the bottom of Market Street we encountered the paramedic we had seen in the picture earlier. After telling him we’d seen his wife previously, he gave us a map reference for St Anne’s square, another prime, busy, city centre location. The task here was to help a diabetic lady by getting her some of her sweets from outside a shop on nearby King Street. This truly was a challenge considering the road was relatively narrow, and filled with shoppers. Oh and three prime zombies.

This was our first real attempt at tactics as we tried a few times to draw them from the bag and allow another runner to go for the target. After a few attempts we succeeded and headed back to receive our reward.

Our next location was outside Urbis, where a scientist was claiming to have found a way to tame the zombies. She encouraged us to get closer and even pet them, before once again, the inevitable happened and they ran directly for us. Another brilliantly jumpy moment, which we laughed about as we went on our way. We eventually got to a skate park where a woman was asking for help for her prostrate boyfriend. Not trusting the situation this time we were quick to get our next location and prepare to dash, as sure enough he rose to his feet and chased us out.

Approaching two and a half hours in, we presumed the end was near, and encountered the safety of a pub housing a single lady. Once again though, all was not as it seemed, and in a brilliant nod to Shaun of the Dead, the opening bars of Don’t Stop Me Now struck up on the jukebox and a zombie appeared behind her. Not hanging around we, legged it once more and onto our final location.

We encountered a square, on the other side of which was the solace of the survivor camp. Unfortunately, the narrower of the two routes through had two female zombies lurking, whilst the other was a wider path but had two male zombies present with a couple more tucked around the corner for good measure. After a few test attempts, we all ended up choosing different tactics. I preferred to try the wider route and it was here that I was finally infected, on the home stretch.

We got to the end, pretty exhausted but exhilarated with the reward being a zombie disco full of survivors alongside the infected players who had been made-up to look like the undead.

A few members of the general public along the way did ask what we were doing and we were happy to give out free promotion for something which can only be called a very different way to spend an evening out and about.

Yes it was just a game and we weren’t going to get chomped for real, but I fully admit that I took it all pretty seriously and even succumbed to a few zombie movie cliches in my attempts to survive. Overall, the night turned out to be a brilliant, exhilarating, energetic event that any genre fan should have a go on. Be prepared to run, be prepared to be scared. But most of all, be prepared to be entertained by a great one of a kind night out.

Batman: The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises


One of the best things to come out of the so-called ‘Noughties’ was the emergence of a new generation of film directors who, as fans of the medium, have taken on epic projects with fanboyish enthusiasm.

The trend arguably began with Peter Jackson, that cult splatter movie helmer, when he was given the green light to turn one of the world’s greatest texts into a multi-million dollar, three film, 10 hour masterpiece. But the impact of another auteur, Christopher Nolan, on today’s movie industry simply can’t be ignored.

A hot property in Hollywood despite having only directed 10 films and still only being 42 years old, Nolan instantly showed a gift for celluloid storytelling with his breakout film, Memento, and it wasn’t long before he was tapped up to relaunch one of the greatest superhero sagas of all time; that of the Dark Knight.

Batman Begins was a stunning introduction to a new, grittier, blacker than tar hero, set in a very real world, albeit populated by lunatics, thus staying faithful to the source material. Casting was nigh on perfect, with Christian Bale’s ‘proper actor’ chops gelling well with his ability to beef himself up and be believable in the more physical aspects of the role.

Although a very good film, the sequel, The Dark Knight was overshadowed, just as The Crow had been, by the death of one of its leads and so after a four-year break, everyone was desperate to see how Nolan would wrap up his trilogy of Gotham City tales.

The Dark Knight Rises is epic. Epic in scale. In ambition. In drawing together everything that had been laid out in the previous two films. It’s equally impressive in featuring over 70 mins of footage in IMAX; the most ever recorded in the format for a single movie. Yet this film isn’t a three-hour balls-out action blast; it’s a thoughtful, morally complicated tale and one which raises as many questions as it answers.

Picking up eight years after The Dark Knight, Batman has been absent from Gotham since taking the rap for the murder of Harvey ‘Two Face’ Dent. Bruce Wayne is similarly retired, hobbling around Wayne Manor with a walking stick, a recluse with his back turned on his former billionaire playboy ways.

When a body is washed out of Gotham’s sewers, Commissioner Gordon (a typically brilliant Gary Oldman) and the city’s police raid the underground maze, only to be attacked by a sinister masked villain who is planning something pretty  serious for the residents of Batman’s hometown.

The villain in question, Bane, is a terrifyingly real one in many ways. As a modern-day terrorist, gone is the comically weak Bane of (whisper it) Batman & Robin, replaced instead by Tom Hardy’s realistically muscled-up lunatic. His plan to destroy Gotham City via an atomic bomb fashioned from a Wayne Enterprises clean energy reactor is pretty standard of a big movie villain, but the way he cares little about his employees and his employers gives him a terrifying, maniacal edge. There were early questions about the clarity of Hardy’s dialogue whilst wearing the mask and on occasion you do have to work a little bit to pick out every last word, especially with the sometimes over-bearing musical score blasting at you. But largely the beast’s intentions are more than clear and his almost Vader-like utterances come across as brilliantly warped and dictatorial.

One thing this film simply doesn’t focus on is Batman’s detective work, instead leaving Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake, to lead much of the investigation. So when Bane has his first encounter with the Dark Knight pretty early on, the result is exceptionally brutal and punishing. Excellent fight choreography proves quickly just what Batman is up against but even so he doesn’t bother with gadgets and toys, feeling instead that matching strength with strength is the only way to go. And when the comic-book fan pleasing “breaking” occurs, it sends more than just a shiver down the audience’s spine too.

Nolan makes one key decision throughout this movie; despite the title, the film is not there to build towards a Hollywood-style resurrection crescendo. In fact on the two occasions when Batman does return from the brink, it is handled so simply and subtly you could blink and miss it. Wayne simply goes back to what he knows, his faith restored, slotting back into the piece effortlessly.

And then of course there’s Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman, Selina Kyle. Eyebrows were initially raised at that particular piece of casting, but Hathaway pulls off the morally ambiguous role brilliantly, showing just the right balance of sexuality and brutality, without being a ridiculously vamped-up nymph. Her goals are very clear even if her alliances are not, and not only does this work alongside the original comic book character, it also ties in nicely with the parade of shady types populating the film.

The dialogue between the lead characters is sparky and fresh, avoiding too much comic japery or ridiculous shoulder-crying. When Michael Caine’s Alfred talks to Bruce, you can see the passion in his eyes and when Wayne and Kyle meet you don’t instantly presume they’re going to get it on there and then but this doesn’t reduce the impact of their dynamic one iota.

Throwing in cameos from Cillian ‘Scarecrow’ Murphy and Liam ‘Ra’s Al Ghul’ Neeson also don’t distract from the main thrust of the film, they simply tie things up nicely as the plot thunders along. Even during the foreign prison-based exposition halfway through, the flow feels natural and the countdown to destruction more than real.

If there is going to be a criticism of this film it is that the ending could be seen as a little twee. It’s left relatively open to interpretation and the Internet is already a-buzz with opposing theories as to whether it is gloomy or euphoric, but that is the beauty of Nolan’s storytelling – it is up to the viewer to decide.

You could probably also get picky over why Wayne Enterprises crumbles, when it has been pretty obvious to the world that a giant masked terrorist happened to be in the Stock Exchange when it all went down. You might also wonder why Bats keeps up the husky voice even when Kyle knows his true identity, but these are minor and petty issues in a hugely enjoyable climatic spectacle.

The Dark Knight Rises is certainly more than a fitting way to conclude the Nolan/Bale era, and whoever throws on the cowl next certainly has their work cut out.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon – A Critique

There’s a lot to be said for the ingenuity of turning a simple toy line into a cartoon and comic book, an animated movie, a series of live action movies and back into a successful toy line again. In the 80s, Transformers and their twisty turny limbs and sometimes lethal choking hazard weaponry were all the rage, and why not? Kids loved them because they were big giant robots with massive laser guns. Parents didn’t mind them because they hoped it would teach their children patience and how to read instructions for fear of snapping off Megatron’s head with an incorrect rotation in the transformation process.

But trends don’t last forever. Despite creating new Transformers in the comics in order to set up back stories which expanded the toy range, Power Rangers took over at the top of letters to Santa Claus in the mid-90s, and it looked like another childhood memory had gone into obscurity. That is until Michael Bay and his penchant for blowing things up got involved.

When the franchise-rebooting Transformers live action film was released in 2007, it was pretty much everything a fan could want. The robots and transformations were convincing and largely faithful to the Generation One comics (although some vehicle modernisation had to, and did happen). There was humour. There was a great turn from Shia LaBeouf. There was even a not dissimilar Transformers backstory, beefed up by a Government conspiracy subplot which didn’t feel out of place. Oh, and there was Megan Fox, the hottest mechanic since Mike Rutherford spent too long in his sunbed.

In 2009, Revenge of the Fallen continued the saga, adding a bit more character depth, loads more giant robots beating all shades of hell out of each other, and an even more ridiculous plot around some long lost Cybertronian wanting to destroy the sun in order to provide a new energy source for the Transformers’ home planet.

So, as we reached 2011, a new Transformers film appeared on the horizon, Dark of the Moon. Early teaser trailers showed links to the original moon landings, along with that trademark clank-clunk transformy noise. Excitement levels raised, we all waited patiently for the summer to arrive.

The story of Dark of the Moon is pretty much a combination of the first two films. Long lost Cybertronian in a bit of a coma? Check. Over the top plot to restore Cybertron to its former glory by destroying the human race? Check. Government cover up around 60s space experiments now coming back to haunt us? Check. Humans continuing to fire pop guns at giant robots despite having experienced their ineffectiveness in the previous two films? Check.

In summary, it’s revealed that the Apollo 11 mission in 1969 was actually instigated in order to investigate a crashed alien space ship (the Ark), with Neil Armstrong and the gang taking a quick detour to the other side of la luna to see what was inside.

Cut to modern day, and Optimus Prime and the Autobots have an alliance with US military forces and help out across the globe to try and keep the Earth nice and peaceful. On investigating a potential Decepticon sighting at Chernobyl, Prime realises that he should probably go and recover some cutting-edge Cybertronian technology that was on the Ark before it falls into the wrong hands. Sure enough, the “Pillars” on board the ship are part of a plan to return Cybertron to its former glory whether the rest of the Universe survives or not.

It’s a decent plot that doesn’t try to overcomplicate things, adds the G1 “Ark” story (admittedly with some differences) and also offers an excuse to get most of the original cast back together (Sam is trying to get a job, his parents come to visit, later he needs the help of Lennox and the rest of the old NEST team to save the day).

It’s also nice to see Bay continue to gradually introduce classic Transformers, (Shockwave! Laserbeak!) and some that have only had fleeting appearances get some more screentime this time out (Soundwave, although sadly not in classic 80s boom-box form).

Throughout the film though, you can’t help but feel that something is missing. In the previous movies, Prime, Megatron, Jazz, Bumblebee and others have all had limbs and more forcibly amputated in their battles with each other, and yet they always seem to come back for more punishment, so you never really feel that there is any danger of anyone getting permanently sent to the great rust bucket in the sky. This doesn’t stop Bay killing off a fair few classic characters, but you can 99% guarantee they’ll be back for the next installment.

The film also seems to miss Megan Fox. I know what you’re thinking, that it only misses her due to her previous form with regards slow motion chest-related action, but in all honesty, Sam’s new love interest Carly Spencer (played by Brit model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) is far too weak to give some of her lines the kudos they need.

There also seems to be some inconsistency with the effort put into how the Transformers look and act. As with the previous two films, the Autobots tend to be more colourful and distinctive whilst the Decepticons can easily be confused in hectic battle sequences as they all seem to be relatively generic grey metal shapes and pointy teeth.

The relationships between the robot characters don’t seem to have changed much either, and in fact the original cartoon gives more character to some of them. The films seem to continue to rely on the mutual hatred between Megatron and Starscream rather than exploring Soundwave’s unswerving loyalty or the Autobot’s different opinions on the worth of humans which used to throw up some morality in the original series.

But for all the niggles and nit-picking, what do people really go to a Transformers movie to see? That’s right, giant robots ripping each other’s limbs off in a series of car-to-robot-to-helicopter-to-robot scraps the likes of which haven’t been seen since this kid’s bedroom circa 1987.

Dark of the Moon certainly takes the franchise to the next logical level whilst also providing some closure to key plot arcs that have spanned the past five years, presumably setting up a reboot in three or four years with some new cast and crew onboard.

Overlong? Probably. Best taken with a pinch of salt? Completely. Most importantly, great fun for all the family? Definitely. An intelligent enough blockbuster that showcases classic, simple storytelling alongside big dumb fun, with enough nods to nostalgia to keep new and old fans happy throughout.

3D – The New Betamax?

If you’ve read more than one or two posts on this blog, you’ll be aware that I’m rather partial to a bit of technology and a nice new shiny gadget. Whether it’s the latest videogaming platform or a new electronic abacus, I like to keep abreast of what’s going on and I hate to miss out. This week though, I’ve found myself taking a bit of a step back to think about what exactly is the ‘next big thing’ in a world of ever expanding technological boundaries.

Having seen two 3D films in two days (Green Lantern and Transformers: Dark of the Moon), and with the imminent release of the world’s first 3D mobile, the LG Optimus 3D I’m really starting to wonder if this is one technology too far. Yes, the world in which we live is not as flat as the screens we are constantly watching and in movies, the 3D effect can sometimes add an extra layer of immersion, but 3D has already proven to have its drawbacks.

1) You end up looking like a bit of an idiot. Yes, that’s right, apart from the Nintendo 3DS and the aforementioned new LG handset, 3D is generally viewed using a pair of 3D specs, the likes of which wouldn’t have looked out of place in late 80s Star Trek. Sitting in your living room wearing these is always going to make you feel a little silly, especially when you forget to take them off to answer the door to the Avon lady.

2) Autostereoscopic 3D (the 3DS etc) has to be viewed from a very specific direction to actually work, and has been reported to cause a few headaches after prolonged exposure. I’m not one to support a scaremongering ‘technology’s bad’ story such as this usually, but surely this one can’t be good for our kids.

3) The 3D effect of movies, sports and TV is largely pointless. Having watched football in 3D, the general result was a headache, albeit with a few good camera shots of the crowd which added real depth. But who watches football to look at the crowd? Similarly, whenever a film tries to put extra effort into very obviously ‘directed for 3D’ scenes, the result often feels forced. The Final Destination, I’m looking at you.

4) It’s pricey. Not only do additional pairs of 3D glasses for home use cost in the region of £100, buying films in 3D and the TVs and Blu-ray players to view them on can soon put a major dent in the bank balance of us normal folk.

3D televisions will obviously come down in price and be more affordable to the average family in the next couple of years, and the PS3 offers a cut-price 3D media player, but is 3D the game-changer that people are predicting or could it go the way of Betmax and HD-DVD before it? It’s gotten to a stage now where roughly 60% of new film releases are also watchable in 3D, however appetite of the cinema-going public isn’t necessarily matching this growth, with box office takings for the 3D version of the latest Pirates of the Caribbean film accounting for only 38% of its total revenue in the US.

Don’t get me wrong, our viewing pleasure can be improved and HD was a revelation. The difference to anyone with even half decent eyesight was staggering, but 3D promises things will jump out at you to add even more to your optical experience and it isn’t always the case.

The clue to the success or failure of 3D could lie in its origins. Let’s not forget this is far from new technology, and indeed the first 3D film process was patented in the late 1890s. A 3D image of Queen Victoria was even on display at the Great Exhibition in 1851. So why haven’t things moved on that much in over 150 years?

One of the reasons could be the perception of 3D being a gimmick. I loved seeing comics and photos in red/green anaglyph 3D in the 80s but it didn’t mean I wanted to watch all of Jaws 3D bathed in a mysterious multicoloured glow. Similarly, I haven’t bought a 3D TV due to not wanting to give my cat something else to chew on.

The crux of the matter is this; 3D is only possible by in some way making our viewing less comfortable. Watching TV or a film is, and should always be effortless. You sit there passively watching a screen and things happen in front of you. Having to charge up your special specs beforehand just adds a level of complexity, and I’d argue it’s one that we don’t necessarily need. Here’s to the wireless.