ROBERTO ORCI, ALEX KURTZMAN,
and LORENZO di BONAVENTURA on
'TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN'
Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for Radio Free Entertainment
June 19, 2009
Following up on the huge success of 2007's Transformers, Revenge of the Fallen thrusts audiences into the heart of robot-smashing carnage. In this second installment of the franchise, the heroic Autobots and their valiant leader Optimus Prime (voice of Peter Cullen) answer the call to protect earth from destruction at the hands of the malicious Decepticons and an ancient, evil known ominously as The Fallen. Caught once more in the middle of this alien war is Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), despite his best efforts to lead a normal life as a newly enrolled college freshman and build his relationship with his girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox).
In this interview, screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (Star Trek, Mission: Impossible III) and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura talk about the making of the movie.
MEDIA: When you first approached this script, what served as the general basis for the story?
ALEX: I think that we knew that there would be an expectation of the sequel to go deeper into the mythology of the Transformers, so the idea, looking back at the comics and at the cartoons, was that they'd been on earth for a long time--there was a deeper connection between humans and the robots. And that led us to thinking, well, if you go back to early ancient civilization, what's the first thing that comes to mind? And that's how the pyramids came into it.
How does already having the first film as a completed, finished product impact your approach to the sequel's script? Does it prompt more people to interject their ideas for the second movie?
ROBERTO: Well, the one benefit is now you've seen it, and now we've been inspired by what ILM has done. And everyone knows it works--now it's not a question of "Should they talk or not?" and "Are people going to believe it or not?" So you can really just jump right into it. The first movie was very much a mystery, so that by the time the Transformers arrive, you want them, you're hungry for them. We don't get that benefit in the second movie. Now everyone knows who they are, now they want to see them from the very beginning. So that helps. On the other hand, now everyone knows what Transformers is, so everyone is caught up with all of us as the filmmakers, and so therefore everyone does have stronger opinions about Transformers. But there's no such thing as a bad idea. You should be able to hear any idea from anybody and evaluate it. You can never hear too many ideas, you know?
With Optimus Prime being arguably the most important character to fans, why did you choose to focus less on him and more on the humans?
ROBERTO: Because the audience is the human characters, so the idea is you want to see it through their point of view. I remember a lot of fans questioned whether or not there should be humans in the first movie at all. And we always felt they're robots in disguise, and for that to work, they have to be hiding from somebody, right? So the idea itself prescribes a human element.
ALEX: Yeah. I think also, you have to use Optimus in a very targeted way. The most important thing for us is to make sure that the integrity and the voice of the character as was created by the cartoons a long time ago is very much in place. And we spent a lot of time talking to Lorenzo and talking to Hasbro about how everyone perceived him very much as an Arthurian knight. So I think making sure that his voice was clear, making sure that his story in relation to Sam's story was very parallel, was important. And ultimately, Optimus relates very much to what happens to Sam in the movie. And Sam has to essentially rectify a mistake that he made. So Optimus plays a presence, a big part of the movie, even when he's not in the scenes with Sam.
LORENZO: And also, when we sat down to discuss the first movie...There are a lot of people who don't know anything about Transformers. And the only way to get them an access point was humans. So for the hardcore Transformer fan, or the loyal Transformer fan, it might have been enough. But for the [non-fan], we made a decision that you needed something else to relate to. You needed that. [pauses] And they're expensive as hell, so the more you use them, the more it costs. [laughs]
How much intervention was there from Michael Bay in regards to the script? Was there ever a concern that the action overpowered the story?
LORENZO: "Intervention." I like that word! It presumes far too much control over these guys. [laughs]
ALEX: We've never gotten the note "there's too much action" before from Michael Bay. Michael has never had that note for us. But here's the thing: We never start the script from a place of action. We never sit down and go, "All right, here's our action scenes." We say, "What's the character story here?" And then once you start talking about the character story, the action scenes evolve out of it. And I think we always feel as audiences that the action scenes are only as good as the audience's investment in the character. So if you're not invested in the character, then the action is just a lot of noise. And our goal is always to try to make sure that that scene serves some plot point. Michael obviously likes his action scenes, and he has very strong instincts about what he wants to do. So a lot of our job collectively is to figure out how to keep the story alive in that.
LORENZO: The design that these guys came up with is that the first one is "boy gets car, gets girl." So there's a rite of passage that all of us can relate to some version of that--and if it wasn't about a car, it was about something else. And the design here is "What is it like to become an adult, break away from the nest?" All the things that these guys built into this story, you're constantly feeling, I think, related on a personal level to some aspect of that journey. So when it gets interrupted by the action, in a sense, you're invested in what's going on. Another way of looking at what Alex was saying.
ALEX: Yeah. The sequels that we loved growing up were Superman II and Terminator 2 and Aliens. And the common denominator in all those movies--aside from the fact that they stood on their own, you didn't have to see the first movie to see the second movie--was that the hero was challenged in some very fundamental way. The best sequels are always a "refusal to the call" story, and then the consequences that follow. And that ended up being what we built Transformers on.
How was your experience of working closely with the military on this production? And why so much focus on the US military, as opposed to the armed forces of other countries?
LORENZO: You know, the way to look at it is if you're going to fight these 32 to 125-foot robots, who else would you fight it with? It's interesting, we just went through a whole international tour with this, and obviously international [reporters] were asking us a lot about why the American military. And our answer sort of was, "Well, if we were living in one of their countries, we would be using their military, I think." You know, [director Michael Bay] has a long history of meeting with the military and having them in his movies, and all of us have had some different experiences as well. What they bring to it is, obviously, a sense of reality to the movie. But for us, what is most interesting about it is our actual interaction with them. Because you actually get to see these people who have made a life choice, and the honesty of that choice comes through each and every time you meet these guys. So for us, that's the really exciting thing. We get to hang out at the base and see the joy they get out of being part of us, and also see us get affected by their level of commitment. Because you know...We're in Hollywood, and we're a little bit more spoiled than they are.
ROBERTO: And there's also a thematic connection, which is it's the human military that are the heroes. The technology's a cautionary tale...Part of the reason why the Decepticons all tend to take the form of military machinery...The idea is that you must not separate the humanity from the machine, or then you have a problem.
How do you feel about featuring GMC cars in the wake of General Motors' embarrassing bankruptcy and subsequent bailout?
LORENZO: We like GM. [laughs] I mean, they got some cool cars, we like their cars, they've been very supportive to us. We hope that we can help them out of their trouble in some small way by highlighting the good things about their cars. I mean, they didn't do anything wrong to us, so you know... [pauses] I mean, I'd like a Bumblebee.
Many fans were excited that Frank Welker reprised his role as the voice of Soundwave. But why didn't the character sound more like he did in the original animated series?
ALEX: We actually tried it. We had his voice like that for a long time, and what we found in the mix was that it was almost impossible to understand what he was saying. So we ended up having to filter.
LORENZO: He delivers really important information in the movie, too. [laughs] Because if you can't understand him, you have some real serious plot issues.
Where do you see the franchise going with a third feature film?
LORENZO: We don't really think about the movie until after it opens up, to be honest with you. We're all a little bit superstitious about it. And also, there's sort of an arrogance about a presumption of success. I mean, obviously a movie like this is going to be out there and the audience is going to come, and one presumes that there's going to be a certain level. But we, on the first movie, felt the same way. We never talked about the second movie script, the notion, till well after the movie had opened. And we're going to do the same thing with the third. You get two advantages by waiting. One is that you get to find out what the fans really liked, and if there are things they missed, and if there are things that didn't land properly, you know? And the other is that you can focus all your creative and all your emotional energy on this one.
ROBERTO: But I'd like to see Optimus Prime run for the Senate.