Readers, I made a grave error last week. Misled by a usually reliable Internet source, I listed the running time of the third Transformers film as 99 minutes. In fact it is 157.
Consider for a moment the meaning of those extra 58 minutes of your life. Fifty-eight minutes in which to hear a computer-generated robot sing the chorus to “We Are Family.” Fifty-eight minutes in which to watch the film’s recent-college-graduate “hero” (Shia LaBeouf) hunt for a job. Fifty-eight minutes of his new girlfriend (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) crooning over him as if she were his mother, while director Michael Bay’s camera explores the former Victoria’s Secret model’s curves with a whole different kind of affection.
Fifty-eight minutes of counting off the reputable thespians (John Malkovitch, John Turturro, Alan Tudyk, Frances McDormand) who pop up to bark military orders, or to offer broad comic relief that isn’t a relief so much as a pointless diversion from the film’s genuinely funny side — namely, how seriously Bay takes it. Fifty-eight minutes of slow-motion explosions, elegiac montages and tattered American flags. Fifty-eight minutes of giant CGI trash heaps using wacky accents to deliver lines more appropriate to Saturday-morning cartoons than to a $195 million spectacle. (Gloating Decepticon to human: “I love it when your little insect feet try to run!”)
Fifty-eight minutes to damn writer Ehren Kruger with faint praise for hammering out a reasonably coherent plot. (It involves the moon landing, a crashed Autobot spaceship, some pillars of power and the voice of Leonard Nimoy.) Fifty-eight minutes to realize you still can’t be bothered to care. Fifty-eight minutes to wonder if Bay sometimes thought he was making The Last of the Mohicans instead of the world’s loudest toy commercial.
As the old saw goes, those are 58 minutes you’ll never get back. Let’s add about 50 minutes that are more of the same, and 10 minutes of credits. Now, what about the rest of Transformers 3?
As a reward for your patience, you will watch about 40 minutes of Chicago being destroyed by giant robots more convincingly than any city has ever been trashed on film by giant anything before. In the right theater, you will see this in clear, sharp, bright 3-D, and a few shots, most of them involving humans airborne or in peril, will take your breath right away. You will finally get a good look at that mammoth, razor-scaled metal serpent from the trailer, which shears straight through skyscrapers. Its name is Shockwave, and, no, it doesn’t deliver quips, accented or otherwise. Finally, you will thank Bay for holding his shots a few milliseconds longer than usual, so you can actually tell what’s happening.
But, really, does it matter how many minutes Transformers: Dark of the Moon runs, or what they contain? If you’re eager to experience this slow-motion collision of state-of-the-art virtual reality, military melodrama, soft-core porn and cartoon, you probably already have. If the only two-hour-plus film that tempts you this summer is The Tree of Life, no one need tell you to steer clear.
The only moviegoers likely to be lured by the promise of a tidy, 99-minute Transformers are those who harbor no love for the franchise but deem their summer incomplete if they haven’t viewed at least one movie featuring huge explosions. Full disclosure: I am one of those hedonists. And I’m here to warn the rest of you.
I did not go in expecting to care about the love triangle of LaBeouf (petulant), Huntington-Whiteley (decorative) and Patrick Dempsey (standing out in this cast as a reasonable facsimile of an adult male). I enjoyed the only parts of Dark of the Moon I could: those that demonstrate how far Hollywood has come in the weaving of sublime and scary illusions since the first full-scale use of digital effects in Titanic. Now, if only they’d do something with that technology that isn’t an expensive version of a kid grabbing two toys and smashing them together.