And things will never be the same again

One distingushing theme or feature of science fiction stories is the premise that things will be permanently altered at the end of such a story. The narrative will reflect irrevocable change, and discourse will never be able to do a U-turn or remake what has come on before (at least not in most sci-fi plots anyway).

This is what makes science fiction different from action/thriller stories or movies. In the latter, there is usually a resolution where the imbalance or conflict at the story’s beginning (a murder, disappearance etc.) is somehow restored through the solving of the crime and/or the arrest or death of the perpertrator(s). In the former genre, this imbalance is more often resolved (or in some cases, not resolved) with the appearance of new factors that don’t always restore the balance, but change the whole nature of the balance or give the story a new direction (e.g. a new generation continues the conflict. or the ecology of the planet is permanently changed, or some variant twist).

Basically, in science fiction (and fantasy) stories, there is a change in the status quo.

TransformersSo it was with the movie Transformers that I watched, which opened in cinemas worldwide recently.

Or somewhat, anyway.

At the end of the movie, there is a scene (apologies for the spoilers) where some of the surviving protagonists, both human and robot, relax and gaze into the sunset.

There, there is a spoken revelation implying there might be other survivors out there (the noble Autobots in particular, and also the evil Decepticons as a possibility) and that our planet Earth may have just experienced the first of many conflicts to come between the two robotic armies/factions (erm, peoples?).

If one considers this, even superficially, it drives home the truth that our world will never be the same again.

The movie shows an “advanced technological civilisation” making our planet their battlefield. A keen observer would note that the body-count – mostly human, many civilian – became very significant by the end of the movie, not to mention the damage to the infrastructure of one or two major American cities and a village in Qatar.

It also shows a perchance for military or militarised solutions in conflict, what with both the good and bad guys off-loading their arsenals at and into each other. Military-equipped Transformers and the US military provide the mainstay reason for the action in this film, for what would such a conflict be without the use of guns of various calibre, grenade and rocket launchers, missiles, lasers, tank and multi-barrelled cannon, robotic throwing blades, particle beam weapons and other snazzy projectiles that probably haven’t been imagined in the real world yet?

And my feeling is that this will be permanent. Irreversible. One change being the increased militarisation of our societies where, in our case, there won’t be living, breathing (well, sort of) good-guy transformable giant robots to protect us – from ourselves.

Against this backdrop – the beginnings of such a change in the world, where things will never be the same again – what hope do we have?

I am probably giving more credence to this movie than it actually deserves. It certainly didn’t emphasise this theme of irrevocable change, and I don’t think it will resonate with the majority of audiences. After all, most will be there to watch a movie…a movie that I’m not actually revealing much of.

(And some of you might’ve thought up till this point that this was going to be a movie review. Hah.)

As a Transformers fan from way back in the ’80s – I practically grew up with the cartoon series, the animated movie, and the toys – I found this live-action (and heavily-CGI) film both enjoyable for its mindless fun and disappointing for pandering to the lowest common denominator.

There is a lot to criticise about the Michael Bay-directed film, like the lack of a strong and cohesive storyline, the not-so-subtle crass ideas of patriotism and military recruitment, the crude sexist and racist elements, the blatant product placement for General Motors vehicles and Ebay, the absence of any real characterisation (of both the humans and robots), trite dialogue and pseudo-profound one-liners…I could go on and on, but one can read these criticisms elsewhere.

Ultimately, it’s a typical Hollywood action flick – no matter how interesting the concept, how engaging and humorous the lead character, or how impressive the special effects are.

But I took heart in at least one thing. In one scene, Optimus Prime said, “Freedom is the right of all sentient beings.”

The Autobot leader’s line is an extension and reflection of what is found in the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If that is a theme or concept that was unintentionally brought out in the movie, it doesn’t matter. Not even if it runs against the spirit of the times. Not even if we cannot seem to re-dress or resolve the imbalance at the beginning of the story.

Simply because it is a positive counter to all that bedevils human society in these times; it is a start, and that has to count for something. And for those who know me, that’s a theme I cannot criticise or argue with.


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