Trans­form­ers is go­ing back To ba­sics wiTh The ’80s-seT Bum­Ble­Bee, as di­rec­Tor Travis knighT Tells richard ed­wards

SFX - - Contents -

Trans­form­ers rewinds to the ’80s as ev­ery­one’s favourite weaponised Her­bie gets his chance to shine.

Star Wars toys were al­ways the top of any Christ­mas list, he-Man fig­ures had their par­tic­u­lar pump­ing-iron charms, and even the a-team’s minia­turised in­car­na­tions came with cool lit­tle ac­ces­sories such as back­packs, walkie-talkies and, er, mul­ti­ple as­sault weapons. how we loved it when a plan came to­gether on the kitchen ta­ble…

But for a cer­tain gen­er­a­tion, few toys could com­pete with trans­form­ers. Not only did you get a cool-look­ing ro­bot for your par­ents’ money, the fact they were fa­mously “in dis­guise” – along with some im­pres­sive feats of small-scale en­gi­neer­ing – meant you also got a lorry, a sports car, a metal di­nosaur, a replica of a cas­sette player, or what­ever else Ja­pan’s best toy de­sign­ers could come up with.

“I was a child of the ’80s,” says travis Knight, di­rec­tor of new trans­form­ers movie spin-off Bum­ble­bee. “I grew up lov­ing these char­ac­ters, know­ing these char­ac­ters and their sto­ries. when the trans­form­ers first ar­rived they were un­like any­thing I had seen be­fore. I thought they were com­pletely awe­some, this idea that there are these things hid­den in plain sight, that all of the ar­ti­cles around us have an in­ner life. I thought that was re­ally fas­ci­nat­ing.”

the Bum­ble­bee of the ti­tle is one of the orig­i­nal gen­er­a­tion of trans­form­ers and a key player in the five Michael Bay-directed movies. as a long-stand­ing fan of the fran­chise, Knight be­lieves ’Bee, with his char­ac­ter­is­tic yel­low liv­ery, was the log­i­cal choice to head­line the first spin-off movie.

“of all the trans­form­ers, the one that had the great­est affin­ity for hu­man­ity was Bum­ble­bee,” he ex­plains. “he was the one who was most like us, he was the one who res­onated with me as a kid. of all the trans­form­ers, he was the one.”

“I think it’s the com­bi­na­tion of the fact that he’s this fierce tough sol­dier, he’s op­ti­mus prime’s right hand, but he’s also just in­cred­i­bly sweet and lov­ing and loyal,” adds Bum­ble­bee screen­writer Christina hod­son. “there’s a youth about him, he feels younger than some of the other au­to­bots.”

and for those kids who grew up on those orig­i­nal trans­form­ers back in the ’80s, the new Bum­ble­bee is de­signed to hit plenty of nos­tal­gia but­tons – hav­ing gone through Michael Bay’s live-ac­tion trans­form­ers movies in the sleeker, more top Gear-friendly form of a sporty Chevro­let Ca­maro, he’s re­verted to his orig­i­nal stylings as a beaten-up Vw Bee­tle.

“For me Bum­ble­bee was al­ways a Volk­swa­gen Bee­tle,” Knight tells SFX em­phat­i­cally. “that’s the way I was ini­tially ex­posed to him, that’s the toy that I played with. that’s Bum­ble­bee.”


of all the big movie fran­chises, trans­form­ers is an anom­aly. Five in­stal­ments in, it’s been lu­cra­tive to the tune of bil­lions of dol­lars – and has made in-roads in the Far east that other sagas could only dream of – yet its mix of slow-mo ro­bot-on-ro­bot car­nage and com­plex mythol­ogy has tended to leave crit­ics cold. It’s also strug­gled to at­tract the deep, un­con­di­tional love

30- and 40-some­things will al­ways lav­ish on Star Wars and the MCU. para­mount re­alised a few years back, how­ever, that if they were go­ing to pro­long the brand’s big-screen pres­ence they prob­a­bly had to ex­plore new direc­tions. their bright idea? Bring to­gether 14 scripters in a Tv-style writ­ers’ room to thrash out fu­ture ideas for the saga. last year’s King arthur-in­spired the Last Knight was the first project to emerge, with Bum­ble­bee the sec­ond. “there was noth­ing wrong with the cy­cle we were in, but we were a lit­tle trapped,” trans­form­ers pro­ducer lorenzo di Bon­aven­tura told SFX last year. “I’ve been in­volved in a lot of movies that have been suc­cess­ful enough to get to se­quels, and you sort of fall into a pat­tern un­in­ten­tion­ally. you’re trapped in a way by your own imag­i­na­tion, and adding other peo­ple’s imag­i­na­tions changed the course of it. I think for all of us one of the hard­est chal­lenges to keep go­ing on a fran­chise is how you keep your­self per­son­ally in­ter­ested and ex­cited about it.”

so if you’d lost faith with trans­form­ers movies that had be­come pro­gres­sively more bloated and over­wrought since the Ca­maro model Bum­ble­bee first came into shia Labeouf’s life 11 years ago, this might be the film to win you back.

It cen­tres on me­chan­i­cally gifted teen Char­lie wat­son (hailee ste­in­feld) get­ting her first car on her 18th birth­day, fall­ing in love with it… and then dis­cov­er­ing that it’s ac­tu­ally a 20-foot-tall metal alien from the planet Cy­bertron. that means ma­jor echoes of the orig­i­nal, where ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer steven spiel­berg sug­gested the fo­cus should be “a boy and his car” as much as ro­bots in dis­guise.

“that’s very much what in­spired me with this one,” says hod­son, who also has DC’s harley Quinn-fronted Birds Of Prey movie on her slate. “I re­mem­ber the first time I turned the keys in my dad’s car when I was 14 or 15, and that amaz­ing feel­ing of bring­ing a big hunk of metal to life. It feels so in­cred­i­ble, so to take that one step fur­ther and make it a ro­bot is the great­est thing in the world. I was al­ways in­spired by that small, in­ti­mate con­nec­tion be­tween the two of them.” the spiel­berg con­nec­tion didn’t end there. “those great, pow­er­ful am­blin films of the ’80s, when I came of age, re­ally stuck with me,” says Knight. “they re­ally ex­cited my imag­i­na­tion, and got me to think about sto­ry­telling in a dif­fer­ent way. the clas­sic am­blin films would al­ways evoke three beau­ti­ful re­sponses in me. It was won­der, it was laugh­ter and it was tears. trans­form­ers fused with that film­mak­ing phi­los­o­phy of those great am­blin com­ing-of-age sto­ries of the ’80s felt like a per­fect mar­riage.”

In other words, think Et or Grem­lins with the cute friendly alien/furry crea­ture re­placed by a cute friendly gi­ant ro­bot who’s more likely to guz­zle gaso­line than raid the con­tents of your fridge.

“the film is a two-han­der,” ex­plains Knight. “one of the hands is hailee ste­in­feld’s hand and the other is a com­puter-gen­er­ated hand, and they’ve got to be as com­pelling as each other. you can’t have hailee giv­ing this beau­ti­ful lay­ered per­for­mance and then Bum­ble­bee be­ing a vis­ual ef­fect. he’s got to be

as much an ac­tor as hailee is. I’m so proud of the work that the crew did, be­cause you ab­so­lutely buy into him as a liv­ing, breath­ing emo­tional thing.” as an au­to­bot scout on earth, Bum­ble­bee’s here on his own while op­ti­mus prime, Jazz, Iron­hide and the rest are still back on their home planet of Cy­bertron. In trans­form­ers movie chronol­ogy, that places the ac­tion in the late ’80s, some 20 years be­fore the first movie, when the ro­bots in dis­guise are yet to be­come city-trash­ing head­line news. “[set­ting it in the ’80s] felt con­sis­tent with the di­rec­tion of the story we were do­ing,” ex­plains Knight. “the mid-’80s was when the trans­form­ers first ar­rived on our shores, and it felt like if we were go­ing to go back to the be­gin­ning to show where this char­ac­ter came from. this was a nat­u­ral place to be­gin. It was also a pretty ex­cit­ing time both in terms of the mu­sic and the fash­ion, the de­sign, and yeah, the nos­tal­gia. “we also had a great GoBot gag that alas didn’t make the fi­nal cut,” Knight laughs, al­lud­ing to tonka’s ri­val ro­bots-in-dis­guise toy line. “It was self-in­dul­gent, and more for me than any­body else, but I’m sure it’ll make the DVD ex­tras if any­body buys DVDs any­more!”


Does set­ting the film in the ’80s mean Knight sees it as a pre­quel?

“I did want to make sure that an au­di­ence could come into this film know­ing noth­ing about the trans­form­ers and still know what was go­ing on. It doesn’t pre-sup­pose any fa­mil­iar­ity with these char­ac­ters, but there’s all kinds of lay­ers in there for peo­ple who are fans of the fran­chise, both in terms of the orig­i­nal car­toons and Michael’s films.”

as well as Bum­ble­bee get­ting a Beet­ley makeover (see plan Bee over­leaf ), De­cep­ti­cons such as fighter jet starscream and cas­sette player (yes, re­ally) soundwave come in a colour­ful liv­ery more in tune with the ’80s car­toon than the Michael Bay movies, where the vast ma­jor­ity of Cy­bertro­n­i­ans came in the same brand of dirty sil­ver – in ap­ple terms, it’s prob­a­bly space grey.

Bum­ble­bee was a very po­lite din­ner party guest.

Travis Knight puts his own spin on the Trans­form­ers.

Hailee Ste­in­feld plays Char­lie, the teenage girl who dis­cov­ers Bum­ble­bee.

They could only meet in rooms with high ceil­ings.

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