BuMbLebee i Can Travis Knight deliver the emotionally driven, ’80s-influenced spin-off that Transformers fans have been waiting for?
The buzz on the new Transformers spin-off.
When Michael Bay first brought Transformers to the big screen in 2007, they truly were robots in disguise, all but unrecognisable from their early ’80s toy and then cartoon origins. Now, six films into the world-conquering franchise, the Autobots and Decepticons are getting a restoration job to be much more familiar to older fans, and it’s all thanks to the new director on the block.
“Travis grew up with this generation of Transformers and we’re really paying homage, even in the designs,” says producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura about Travis Knight, director of new spin-off movie Bumblebee. “It’s really influenced by Generation 1.”
With a successful career in animation, it’s clear that Knight brings
a fresh perspective to what has become (with combined box-office takings of $4.4bn) one of the highest-grossing film series of all time.
His only other directorial credit to date is for the Oscar-nominated Kubo And The Two Strings and, before that, his best-known work was as lead animator on the critically acclaimed likes of The Boxtrolls, ParaNorman and Coraline. The intention is obvious: Knight is bringing a fresh and heartfelt approach to these giant alien robots – a very distinct change from the Bayhem we have seen so far.
“The fact that we are able to go back 30 years gave us some liberty to play around with different aspects of the film, including the aesthetic, the design and the tone,” Knight explains. “I wanted to try to evoke the feeling that the initial wave of Transformers had conveyed. Those things were magic to me. They were wondrous.”
The ’80s period is really just a fortunate result of tackling what was always the project’s greater ambition: to produce a more emotionally invested Transformers film. “We really listened to the fans and they were very vocal about getting to know the Transformers better than what we had done in the past,” di Bonaventura reveals.
If fans are clamouring to get under the hood of the Transformers as characters, then it seems that loveable Beetle Bumblebee was the first and most obvious choice. “Of all the Transformers to focus in on, to tell a story that was meaningful and intimate and personal and had a deep emotional connection, it felt like he was the perfect one,” Knight says. “He has the greatest affinity for humanity, and I think that’s an interesting thing. Why is that? He’s a stranger in a strange land – why does he connect with us in a way that the other robots don’t necessarily? I thought this film offered us an opportunity to explore not only why that would be about him, but also what that says about ourselves?”
To get to the root of answering these questions, Bumblebee goes back to the setup of the first Transformers film, which was originally suggested by executive producer Steven Spielberg: the focus should simply be on a boy and his car. For this spin-off, it fell to the Beard again to set the direction. “Spielberg is the one who originally said ‘let’s do a girl and an Autobot’. And the story sort of spun out of that,” grins di Bonaventura.
The girl in question is Charlie Watson (played by Hailee Steinfeld), who is feeling at a loss as she turns 18, still grieving the death of her father while her mum remarries. She discovers a damaged, yellow Volkswagen Beetle in hiding, who naturally happens to be a battlescarred Bumblebee, and they forge a friendship that helps each other through their respective difficult times.
“In a way, it’s a rite of passage for both characters,” di Bonaventura explains. “And both characters need to lean on one another and grow because of the other.”
Knight would go even further: “The film, if you get down to the alchemy of it, essentially combines my love for Transformers and my love for Spielberg, and my love for Amblin. It’s, ‘What if we took this giant canvas of mythology that’s been built up for the last three decades and focused in on a very small corner of that and tell a story that’s richer, that’s more personal, that’s more character driven, and is more like those films that
I grew up loving?’”
So is this the future of the Transformers franchise? Smaller solo stories that build up into larger crossover movies? “I resent the term ‘cinematic universe’. I think we’re allowed to explore different aspects of the greater story,” di Bonaventura says, revealing the current plan for the ongoing series.
“We will do another ‘big’ Transformers movie,” the producer continues. “We’re in talks right now with a few writers about it. And we hope we can come up with an Optimus story that’s worthy of telling as well. And we’ve had a lot of talk about doing an animated version of the origin story of the Transformers.”
For now, though, all focus is on the success of Bumblebee, a film that has yet to prove that a tonally different kind of Transformers movie can even work alongside the action-packed, skyscraper-smashing world of its box-office-busting predecessors.
Knight admits that making it was a challenge: “It was important for me that things were consistent across the franchise,” he says. “There’s a lot of different Easter eggs and things within the films that fans can enjoy, but it was very important for me that this was a standalone story that you could watch and enjoy without any knowledge of the Transformers franchise. And I think we’ve succeeded in that.” MLo
‘IT COMBINES MY LOVE FOR TRANSFORMERS AND MY LOVE FOR SPIELBERG’ TRAVIS KNIGHT
ETA | 26 DECEMBER / BUMBLEBEE OPENS ThiS ChRiSTMAS.
bot buddieS Hailee steinfeld stars as troubled teen Charlie, who chances across the battleweary autobot.
friend or foe? John Cena plays the shadowy sector 7’s agent burns (above).robot wars the decepticons are ready to bring their fight to earth (far right).beetle mania bumblebee returns to his original Vw beetle shape, rather than the muscle car of the bay years (bottom right).
team bumble Jorge lendeborg Jr.’s memo with Charlie (top).