transformers logical sense

The Transformers films — or at least the three sequels to Michael Bay‘s first film in the series — disregard story concepts left and right. Characters are secondary to spectacle; geography and time are subservient to the impact of a beauty shot; standard narrative building blocks regularly fall by the wayside. So how does one write one of these films? We talked to Ehren Kruger, who has written all three Transformers sequels, about the process of putting a film like this on the page.

If you need a capsule version of our short conversation, it is this quote: “When you’re talking about aliens, robotic machines which disguise themselves as vehicles and animals, you start to make your peace with the idea that logical sense doesn’t have to be the be-all, end-all.” Which means that the creators of the Transformers films are throwing logic and narrative structure out the window consciously, if not deliberately. For a bit more exploration of that concept, read our short interview below.

Did you begin with a directive like “put Dinobots in the movie”?

There was a version, once upon a time, where they were not going to be in the film. This was going to set them up for later on. But the more we talked about it, the more everyone got excited about those characters and their visual potential. Everyone agreed “why wait, let’s play with them now.” And this movie always did deal with origin stories and creation stories. It always opened as this movie does. So they were an element that we always wanted, yes. And it seemed like the time was right. If you’re going to tell a story about the creation of the Transformers, and the creation of life on Earth, they fit in there. They would not have fit in previous stories.

This film is not strictly a part of series continuity as a whole, bucking the concept of maintaining rigid connectivity from one sequel to the next.

We wanted some sense of continuity in terms of the previous films. Those films exist in this universe. But we did want to come at it from the perspective of new human characters, and new Autobot characters around Optimus Prime, who kind of vectored into the franchise from a totally different direction. And it is kind of it’s own thing. It is sort of a reboot, and sort of a fourth movie, or third sequel. It’s its own animal, but this franchise has always been its own animal. It’s as much a circus or a Super Bowl as a regular movie.

How do you write for Michael Bay’s style?

Writing for Michael is very — he’s a very sensory director, and sometimes an “overload” director. He’s someone who is always looking to top himself, certainly from an action perspective and a stylistic perspective. So very early on we’re throwing ideas back and forth. We talk about sequences and visuals and moments. Whereas in some other films, or “ordinary” films, you might be very slavish to story and narrative first, and logical sense above all. When you’re talking about aliens, robotic machines which disguise themselves as vehicles and animals, you start to make your peace with the idea that logical sense doesn’t have to be the be-all, end-all. It needs to be amazing fun for the audience. They need to be swept up, and be promised that they’re going to see things that make it worth spending money on a ticket.

This film, and some other Transformers films, does away with, for example, some basic connective tissue between story sequences.

At moments it is quasi-experimental, yes. You have to understand, with a big summer movie like this, especially this franchise, [Michael Bay] doesn’t quite look at it like competing with movies. He looks at it like “should I go see Transformers, or spend a day at Six Flags?” There’s a big spectacle quality to it that he is promising, and that is one of the things that makes this franchise different than your X-Men, Spider-Man, or Planet of the Apes films. It’s something this series does that is its own style. That is all part of the package. Some days, it’s like writing a Cirque du Soleil show.

Would some of those quasi-experimental aspects be received differently if there was a name on the tin other than Michael Bay?

Like… Nicolas Winding Refn? Yeah, maybe! It probably wouldn’t have the box office. [Bay] is a populist entertainer, and he’s delivering spectacle the way that P.T. Barnum promised. Every time out, he delivers it. He pushes ILM and effects companies to do things they’ve never done before. He always wants to push thrills, spectacle, humor, and fun. Somewhere way down the list is “all the ‘i’s must be dotted” for old-fashioned narrative practices.

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Transformers: Age of Extinction is in theaters now.

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