Director Michael Bay took a break from his extremely busy schedule of putting the finishing touches on Transformers: Dark of the Moon, to show off some never-before-seen footage of the robots-in-disguise sequel to a very lucky audience at the Paramount Pictures lot in Hollywood tonight. I was one of the lucky audience members in attendance who got to see this fantastic footage, but that was only part of the allure behind tonight's event. Michael Bay was also joined by 3D pioneer James Cameron to discuss the ever-evolving state of 3D in cinema. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime event, but, before I get to Michael Bay and James Cameron's interactions, I have to tell you that I was incredibly impressed by the Transformers: Dark of the Moon footage shown tonight.
We saw the first five minutes of the movie, followed by a slick sizzle reel montage, and concluding with the theatrical trailer... although it was all in 3D. After the slick 3D rendition of the Paramount Pictures logo, the movie starts off with some narration by Optimus Prime, describing the war between the Autobots and Decepticons, all set to some wonderful battle shots depicting this epic war. Optimus goes on to explain that, as the Autobots were sure the war was lost, a lone ship was dispatched, carrying some precious cargo, which we discover actually crash landed on the moon. We cut to Earth, 1961, and see footage of military personnel scrambling about, trying to determine how to react to this mysterious crash landing. After we see some Forrest Gump-esque footage of John F. Kennedy speaking as if this moon crash happened on his watch, it seems that this movie (if not the whole franchise), is set in some sort of alternate universe... although maybe they're just playing with history a bit. They still call this first moon mission Apollo 11, as JFK is determined to beat the Russians to the moon, even though, in reality, Apollo 11 was launched in 1969. While this whole history "lesson" was a bit baffling to me at first, it didn't matter much once they actually got to the moon... because then it gets really interesting. As we saw in the first trailer, Transformers: Dark of the Moon uses the actual mystery behind the loss of transmission during Apollo 11 for its own end, in quite a nice way. While the nation is celebrating our first trip to the moon, it's all just a cover story to see what actually landed on the moon, which they discover is not of this earth. We see a NASA official terminate the transmission himself, telling the two astronauts they have 21 minutes. We cut back to the astronauts' triumphant return, the celebrations that follow, and then we see the money shot, what they actually found on the moon.... Sentinel Prime.
After that full opening sequence, we cut into a montage of interesting shots compiled from Transformers: Dark of the Moon. We start out with a few brief glimpses at Shia LaBeouf as Sam Witwicky, and the lovely newcomer Rosie Huntington-Whiteley as Sam's new squeeze, Carly. They also showed us an interesting sequence involving soldiers using these "glider suits," these full body suits that almost resemble webbed feet, which allows skydivers to actually glide/fly through the air before they deploy their chutes. Michael Bay later revealed he wrote this action scene specifically for divers like this, after seeing a demonstration of what they can do in the air. This reel also included an interesting Reservoir Dogs-like standoff between a few of the robots, our first real glimpse at a wheelchair-bound John Turturro, and an awesome shot featuring the incomparable Ken Jeong, which had the whole audience in stitches. There was also more footage of this weird pterodactyl-like transformer, which is seen briefly in the latest trailer, but there is one shot that truly sold me on Transformers: Dark of the Moon. This shot features Sam riding with Bumblebee when he transforms out of the Camaro, throws Sam into the air, swipes aside any debris coming Sam's way, and then catches him, transforms back to the car, and has Sam back in his regular seat like nothing ever happened. It was truly a jaw-dropping shot and, even if that is the best shot of the movie, I truly can't wait to see it again.
All in all, I am fully sold on Transformers: Dark of the Moon after the footage I saw tonight. However, if that wasn't enough for one night, we were treated to some wonderful banter between Michael Bay and James Cameron. One of the more impressive things about the footage is the 3D looked quite masterful, which is somewhat ironic coming from a director like Michael Bay, who had once spoken out against 3D in the past. They also showed a rather ironic clip of Michael Bay speaking at the ShoWest convention in 2009, where he expressed doubt that 3D would be here to stay. Oh how times do change, and it seems that it was James Cameron himself that helped sway Michael Bay towards shooting in 3D.
"When I heard you were considering 3D, I knew I had to talk you into it," said James Cameron, who extended an invitation for Michael Bay to visit the set of Avatar, even shutting production down for hours while he showed Michael Bay around. Michael Bay also admitted it was quite a challenge to shoot in 3D, given the pace at which he shoots.
"It was a huge challenge. We used the Avatar crew and they tried to scare us. They said, 'You can only do 10 shots a day.' I normally do 60 shots a day."
Despite those setbacks - and losing the entire first day of production - shooting in 3D did not add any extra days to the already-massive shooting schedule on Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Michael Bay also admitted that he, "actually had a wonderful time doing 3D," and James Cameron also enjoyed the Transformers: Dark of the Moon 3D footage.
"I like the depth and that you're using 3D aggressively, not that you don't do anything aggressively."
While it seems James Cameron has made a 3D convert out of Michael Bay, there is one thing he could not fully sell him on: going completely digital. Here's what Michael Bay had to say, about the unique ratio he used between digital and film.
"I don't like digital at all. We shot 60% on negative, 15% completely digital, and the rest were conversion shots."
James Cameron also addressed the trend of rapid post-production 3D conversions by studios looking to capitalize on the success of 3D.
"We have a way to get people back in theaters, but some are abusing it."
Michael Bay also added that 3D adds $30 million to a film budget, if done properly, and it seems that every penny spent was well worth it in Transformers: Dark of the Moon. I have been discouraged by the use of 3D in the past (See: Alice in Wonderland, Clash of the Titans), mainly because of the gimmicky way it was presented. While I haven't seen the full movie, it surely looks like Michael Bay has eschewed such tactics and created an enjoyable, immersive experience with Transformers: Dark of the Moon, which is quite a feat in itself for a director who wasn't even sure about the format to begin with.
That about wraps it up from my night at the Paramount Pictures lot for Transformers: Dark of the Moon, which arrives in 2D and 3D theaters nationwide on July 1. Be sure to stay tuned for any and all Transformers: Dark of the Moon news as we near its release date.