What’s the deal is an age old, Wednesday tradition dating back to the nineteenth of November 2014, and then skipping a week, and then going for a bit, and then skipping two weeks for Christmas. In this time, it as a segment, as I as a writer have tackled some big topics, and gained a loyal fan base (thanks Mum), but now it’s time for something slightly different. Last week I wrote an article explaining why I felt that seven time Razzie award nominee Transformers: Age of Extinction, was a better film than six time Oscar nominee Boyhood (Pah! Only six). A lot of people agreed, that I was an idiot. One of those people was Third Act Film’s very own Chris Elliot, a man slightly less opinionated, but much more cynical than I am. So for the first time in the long history of What’s the deal, we have a guest writer! He’s thrown a little something together to explain why I am such a tool, and why you should all hate me. Enjoy!
Like you, I read Todd’s article on why Transformers: Age of Extinction was better than Boyhood and, this being the internet, I typed out a calm and measured response. Sort of. More or less. Ish. As it turns out, after some research online, if you press the Caps Lock key a second time, it actually turns off (Did everyone know this? Are they teaching this in schools?). Once I removed all the slurs and offensive comments about Todd’s questionable heritage however, it did end up looking a bit like a redacted CIA document.
So I took a deep breath, went to my happy place (i.e. watched Guardians of the Galaxy) and tried to approach my response in a thoughtful, Ghandi like manner.
Now I think I can understand why Todd took the approach that he did. Films are a kind of art and all art is subjective, so any two people will see a film differently. Yet there is a certain kind of critic that will only enjoy “real” films – those weighty, character driven dramas – and looks down on anything low brow, like action films, comic book films, sci-fi etc. And this is what links both Boyhood and Transformers, because both of those films have experienced a huge amount of people jumping on the bandwagon. Boyhood, with people overlooking its flaws in order to praise it and Transformers 4 with critics especially, rushing to completely slate it. So I understand why Todd reacted by trying to show that Transformers 4 was the better film. It’s just a shame that he’s wrong.
Todd’s argument really hinges on the idea that, as a drama, Boyhood isn’t that good and as a mindless action film, Transformers 4 was. Which is where I have to disagree. Just look at those Rotten Tomatoes scores where this is shown clearly. Critics love Boyhood, with a 98% fresh rating, audiences “only” really liked it, with an 86% rating. This fits for me, as I found Boyhood to be wonderful but way too long. One big oversight in an otherwise great film and hence why it didn’t make my top ten of the year.
Compare that with Transformers 4, which critics hated, at 18% fresh and audiences thought was, at best, ok with 53%. Ouch. For some perspective, the first Transformers film came in at 57% critic and 86% audience and one of Michael Bay’s better films, The Rock , came in at 66% critic and 86% audience. Making Transformers 4 not only the least popular Transformers film but also a bad Michael Bay film.
Todd argues that Boyhood was too long, he didn’t relate to it, and the main character was uninspiring. I agree it was too long, however, I did relate to it. For me the first two hours was a great nostalgia trip and the performances were all pretty good. As for the last fault, I think sticking to the original title of 12 years would have helped. I think the focus was meant to be the passage of time and how people change, unfortunately for Linklater, 12 Years a Slave came out in the same year and the title had to change instead. Boyhood, while still being a decent title, puts the focus on one character rather than the ensemble cast as a whole.
With Transformers 4, Todd attempts to defend the genre of mindless action blockbuster (or average male power fantasy), which can be done. Look at the success of the James Bond films, or even one of Michael Bay’s good films like The Rock or Armageddon. Look at the undisputed king of popcorn blockbusters, Pacific Rim; so very dumb, so very awesome and rated 72% fresh by critics and 77% by audiences. It is possible to make a mindless piece of spectacular nonsense that is not complete garbage.
Now Transformers 4 is a little maligned, in that it did improve on some of the mistakes from the first ones. In other words Bay got rid of Shia LaBeouf and stopped letting epileptics film his fight scenes. Unlike Todd, I am not willing to gloss over the poor acting, the needless and ridiculous racism and sexism, the gaping plot holes, the spontaneous character changes, the boring CGI fight scenes,…. I could go on forever. Everything Transformers 4 did, has been done better, sometimes by its own franchise. In his own argument, Todd lists a half-dozen films which did everything better, including Interstellar, of which I am not a fan.
Which brings us to the elephant in the room, what Todd refers to as “a gimmick”, Boyhood and it’s 12 year filming. First off, let’s take a moment to think about the audacity of what director Richard Linklater achieved here. He made a film over 12 years. 12 f******g years! Imagine going to a studio and just trying to get funding for this disaster waiting to happen. Try to imagine all the hundreds of things that could have gone wrong here. While lead actor Ellar Coltrane is no Daniel Day-Lewis, he’s not that bad either. What were the odds that Linklater could cast a 6-year-old and reliably get a decent teen actor at the end of it? What if he hit 18 and decided he didn’t want the film released? What if his family moved to Outer Mongolia for work? What if he died? What if any of them died! The sheer nerve and technical ability needed to take a story and make it work over that period of time and have it not turn into an incoherent mess, is breathtaking. This is one of the reasons why Boyhood is gaining such respect and like Todd suggests, it is easy to overlook the story for the achievement.
Yet, can you really say that it didn’t affect the story? With age comes perspective. Perhaps the reason Patricia Arquette’s performance is nominated for an Oscar is that she changed as a person over 12 years and so changed as an actress as well. Her acting was based on her personal experience. It’s one thing to be young and pretend you’re feeling old, it’s another to have actually started feeling it.
Todd also argues that Linklater could have just taken a series of child actors and nobody would have been interested, somehow ignoring the fact that nobody has ever done that either. How hard can it be to find twelve boys that all look the same, sound the same, have the same mannerisms, are the right ages (or look it – they can’t shrink between the ages of 13 and 15) and are all decent actors? Uh, quite hard actually. Maybe impossible.
On the other hand we have Transformers 4 – entirely gimmick free right? Except for the Dinobots, who appear TWO HOURS AND FIFTEEN MINUTES INTO THE FILM! Oops, sorry, my finger slipped. Once they’re here, Optimus Prime beats up their leader and threatens them before riding one into battle. Unquestionably cool? I suppose it would have been if they hadn’t shown it in the trailers, but in character? A necessary part of the story? Not so much. Since when does noble, decent Optimus Prime threaten anyone with death if they don’t follow him? Not really inspiring at all. The Dinobots were simply there to make you watch the film.
All this ignores Transformers 4‘s biggest gimmick, which was its shameless courting of Chinese box office money. Halfway through, the film relocates to China because….reasons. Which I can live with, I suppose. There’s no reason in the plot that everything has to take place in the USA, even if it is jarring. The casting of asian pop star Han Geng in the vital role of “convertible passenger” was, naturally, gimmick free. As was holding a televised talent show in China to fill similarly essential roles like “woman in elevator” and “assistant to Minister of Defense”.
What this boils down to is a difference in approach. Linklater tried “a gimmick” that furthered film as an art and fed into the story. Michael Bay prostituted the story in whatever way was needed to pass the billion Dollar mark. Ultimately, while I appreciate what Todd tried to do, he picked a God-awful film to do it with. Transformer: Age of Extinction is a bad film and in no way beats out Boyhood.
Is Boyhood or Transformers the better film?
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