BuM­bLe­bee i Can Travis Knight de­liver the emo­tion­ally driven, ’80s-in­flu­enced spin-off that Trans­form­ers fans have been wait­ing for?

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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



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).

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