24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Transformers

'Transformers: Dark of the Moon': Is 3-D back or is it just, well, an illusion?

July 5, 2011 |  7:33 pm

Photo: A scene from "Transformers: Dark of the Moon." Credit: Paramount In the run-up to "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," many of those associated with the film tied its fortunes to the overall fortunes of 3-D. Paramount executives privately said this would be a test for how much consumers like the technology, which is used to unusually splashy and in-your-face effect in the robot threequel.

Director Michael Bay even sent out letters imploring viewers to see his film in 3-D, and asked projectionists not to skimp on bulb quality. "Let's make the audience believe again," he wrote to theater operators.

When it finally opened last weekend, the Shia LaBeouf action vehicle seemed to provide an affirmative answer to those who question the z-axis's future. "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" took in 60% of its receipts in 3-D in this country and 70% internationally. Those figures offered a sharp contrast to 3-D filmgoing of some other recent movies ("Green Lantern" collected just 45% of its receipts from 3-D locations, for example) and prompted both pundits and Paramount to proclaim an, ahem, bright spot for the format.

Rob Moore, vice chairman of Paramount, acknowledged the recent domestic backlash against the technology but said "Transformers" had overcome it. "In the U.S., we had to win a lot of people back to 3-D," he told my colleague Amy Kaufman.

The totals indeed suggest that an appetite for 3-D hasn't completely evaporated. But there are also a number of factors that argue that 3-D may still not be nearly as healthy as this weekend’s numbers imply. Here's a quick rundown on why skepticism may still be in order.

--The 60% figure is a percentage of receipts, not admissions. And 3-D tickets cost an average of about 45% more than 2-D tickets do. So while the percentage suggests a heavy skew toward 3-D, the actual number of Americans who chose to see "Transformers" in 3-D compared to 2-D is roughly even.

--The figures don't take into account how many theaters were showing the movie in 2-D in the first place, a decidedly shrinking number (given that more theaters are converting to 3-D and studios are pushing theaters for as many 3-D screenings as possible). So there's no way to know from the percentages how many filmgoers actually wanted to see it in 3-D -- and how many preferred 2-D but weren't given the chance.

--These numbers speak only to how people chose to see the movie, not what they thought of it once they did. A sizable number of filmgoers may have come to see 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon" in 3-D. But the measure of the format's long-term popularity is not box office but the post-screening grading system CinemaScore. And CinemaScore doesn't break down grades by format, so there's no concrete way of demonstrating whether all the people who came to see it in 3-D actually enjoyed the experience more than their 2-D-viewing counterparts.

--Even if they did enjoy it, "Transformers" is a movie that Michael Bay took the time to conceive of and shoot in 3-D, and with the top-line cameras developed by James Cameron ("Avatar") to boot. Not every filmmaker has shown that commitment (and in any event, not every filmmaker has the budget to do so). Which potentially makes this win for the format more of a one-off than a trend.


Transformers, a U.S. hit, soars even higher abroad

3-D in the movies: Getting in too deep

Hollywood sequels bite into a new crust

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: A scene from "Transformers: Dark of the Moon." Credit: Paramount

Critics agree: Michael Bay is better than Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts

July 1, 2011 | 11:24 am

1 There’s no question Michael Bay can crush giant robots. Now the “Transformers” director has flattened Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts.
While reviews for Bay’s “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” were scarcely glowing, they were nonetheless superior on average to the notices given Hanks and Roberts’ “Larry Crowne,” the romantic comedy that Hanks also directed and is  opening this weekend against “Transformers.”

According to two of the three most prominent movie review aggregation sites — Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic — the third “Transformers” film received better marks than “Larry Crowne” by a slim but consistent margin, even though critics largely disliked both films. 

Rotten Tomatoes assigned “Transformers” a score of 37% positive reviews compared to “Larry Crowne’s” 35%, while Metacritic favored the intergalactic robot story over the Hanks movie by a 42 to 1 41 margin. Movie Review Intelligence, the third big aggregation site, gave "Larry Crowne" the narrowest of victories, with the Hanks movie rating 47.1%, barely surpassing the 46.6% for  “Transformers.” 

While critics for years have loved to trash Bay’s movies, the contempt they dumped on Hanks and Roberts was remarkable for its ferocity. 

Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times said “Larry Crowne” is “an inside-out movie, acceptable around the edges but hollow and shockingly unconvincing at its core. When that core is two of the biggest movie stars around — Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts — it’s an especially dispiriting situation.”

In the Wall Street Journal, John Anderson wrote: “As difficult as it is to dislike Mr. Hanks, it takes no effort to all to develop an aversion toward ‘Larry Crowne,’ the alleged comedy being perpetrated today by Mr. Hanks; his director, Mr. Hanks; his producer, Mr. Hanks; and the co-writer, Mr. Hanks. It is a distinctly painful experience.”

Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune said the film “offers zero surprises, but — fatally — no wit, and only the thinnest sort of synthetic charm.”

One of the few nice “Larry Crowne” write-ups came from Boxoffice magazine’s Pete Hammond, who said the film is “a perfect summer comedy for grown-ups looking to escape robots and superheroes.”

At least the “Larry Crowne” reviews are not the worst in either actor’s career. Hanks’ “The Da Vinci Code” was savaged even more brutally in 2006, while Roberts’ “Valentine’s Day” a year ago earned materially lower marks.


Critical Mass: 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' gets thrashed (who knew?)

Hollywood sequels bite into a new crust

Movie review: 'Larry Crowne'

 -- John Horn

Photo: Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks in "Larry Crowne." Credit: Bruce Talamon/Universal Pictures

Photo: Bumblebee in "Transformers: Dark of the Moon." Credit: Paramount Pictures

Hollywood sequels bite into a new crust

July 1, 2011 |  9:00 am

Photo: A scene from "Transformers: Dark of the Moon." Credit: Paramount Pictures / Associated Press Last year, Domino's Pizza made headlines when it launched a campaign acknowledging that the pizza it had been making up to that point had been, well, pretty bad. "There comes a time when you know you've got to make a change," the company's president said in a television spot, as a customer Tweet about the pizza tasting like cardboard flashed across the screen. The badness, the executive promised, would go no further.

Domino's brand of mea culpa marketing (radical transparency, as Madison Avenue called it) impressed some pundits. It was rare for a company that big to so bluntly admit its shortcomings, let alone to try to use the admission in its favor. Of course, this sort of honesty didn't really cost Domino's much, because it wasn't trying to sell pizza made in the past. In fact, it was kind of brilliant: it simultaneously made the company appear candid while still touting a new product.

The Domino's campaign came to mind as Hollywood rolls out its big-budget sequels. The recurrence of summer cinema's most familiar names is supposed to provide a serving of comfort food. But in the case of some franchises' third and fourth installments, it's served to remind us how much we didn't like the second and third installments.

So studios and actors have made an admission. Yes, yes the last movie in our franchise wasn't that good, they've said. Sorry for not telling you that then. But this time we've gotten it right.

Leading the charge has been Shia LaBeouf, star of this weekend's "Transformers: Dark of the Moon." "We screwed up but we'll do better" has practically been a mantra for the young actor as he makes his publicity rounds. "The second movie we were making on the fly and it was too convoluted," LaBeouf told my colleague Rebeeca Keegan, one of several interviews he gave to this effect. "This movie's very different ... more story line, clearer thought."

Similar spin came, albeit privately, from producers and  executives close to "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" and "X-Men: First Class," both fourquels whose third installments were seen by many as the cinematic equivalent of cardboard pizza. The previous films did get over-freighted and confusing, they said, but now we've gone back to the franchise's roots.

Critics and average filmgoers seem to be picking up the mantle too, noting almost reflexively when describing a new sequel it may not exactly be an Oscar winner, but at least it's better than the previous film.

The obvious problem with all this, of course, is that it sets the bar kind of low. But it also presents a more subtle issue, one that speaks to how and when studios decide crank out another installment in the first place. Years ago when fan word of mouth went sour on a sequel, that could well stop a franchise in its tracks. (That was often true even when the film took in more money than its predecessor -- e.g., "Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade" in 1989). But in the era of the never-ending sequel, a badly received follow-up isn't a franchiser-killer -- it's just another step on a path to redemption.

The honesty tack worked for Domino's. The company saw sales climb by double digits after it went candid. But the formula may not be easily replicated. The bad taste from the second "Transformers" looks like it could affect "Dark of the Moon," which is on pace to make considerably less over its first six days of release. It may not be long before there's a mea culpa for the new film -- just as soon as the fourth "Transformers" begins rolling out.


"Transformers" will detonate the weekend competition

"Transformers" actor Shia LaBeouf, rough edges and all

Movie review: "Transformers: Dark of the Moon"

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: A scene from "Transformers: Dark of the Moon." Credit: Paramount Pictures / Associated Press


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...




Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: