The new 'Transformers' film is better, says its director, and not just because it's embracing 3D technology - it's more intriguing. Sandy Cohen reports.
Director Michael Bay promises the third Transformers movie is way better than the second.
The 46-year-old's pride was bruised after part two of the franchise, 2009's Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen did a bang-up job at the box office (bringing in more than US$400 million in the United States alone) but was roundly beaten up by critics.
Rolling Stone's Peter Travers said the movie was so "beyond bad, it carves out its own category of godawfulness". It won the Razzie that year for worst director, worst script and worst film.
Now, Bay is back with Transformers: Dark of the Moon, which arrives in cinemas worldwide after having its world premiere at the Moscow Film Festival last weekend.
When asked to describe the new movie, Bay says, "it's a lot better than No. 2. This one is much more of a mystery. It's really epic in scope, it's got more heart.
It's kind of back down to basics. Movie two, we kind of went off on a tangent."
That tangent brought Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) and his giant robot friends and foes to Egypt, where he and the noble Autobots fought to save humankind - and the Earth and the sun - from the evil Decepticons.
While LaBeouf said the second film was "just far too complicated", volume three is "simple enough to be able to enjoy".
"It's without a doubt our best film."
Besides a more straightforward plot, Transformers: Dark of the Moon introduces new cast members Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Patrick Dempsey, Ken Jeong and English former Victoria's Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who replaces Megan Fox as Sam's love interest. (Bay has told GQ magazine that executive producer Steven Spielberg demanded he fire Fox after she compared Bay to Hitler.)
Dark of the Moon also introduces a whole new dimension as Bay's first 3D film.
Though he didn't initially embrace the technology, the film lent itself to 3D "because of the size differential between robots and humans. You can really feel it," he says.
Shooting in 3D affected Bay's filming style, requiring longer shots and wider frames. It's more expensive and more time-consuming, but ultimately Bay found he enjoyed "sculpting with space" and pushing the boundaries of the technology.
He shot more than half the footage with 3D cameras, including soaring images captured by wing-suited stuntmen flying off high-rise buildings.
"We were able to strap that camera on things that it's never been on before," he says. "You look at it and you just know it's real. You can't fake that stuff."
Only 10 to 15 per cent of the movie is completely computer-generated. The remaining footage was carefully converted from flat images to dimensional ones by a team of more than 5000 artists who spent a year on the project.
Even Spielberg gave the 3D his thumbs-up, Bay says. "Spielberg said to me, 'This is the best 3D I've ever seen'. And, you know, he doesn't blow smoke."
Transformers: Dark of the Moon opens with the historic American moon landing, which ends up being more than an exploratory mission advancing the US space programme and national pride. It turns out a Cybertronian spaceship crash-landed there and the astronauts are there to investigate.
Like the second Transformers flick, this story spans the globe, from China to Africa to Angkor Wat, hence the Moscow premiere (the previous Transformers was China's biggest box-office hit to date).
Bay says international test screenings of No. 3 have impressed audiences so far.
"Honestly, they've had a field day making fun of me, but people go to my movies in droves," he says. "You can't do movies for critics. You've got to do movies that you like and you feel in your gut and hopefully the audience likes."
This time, the sprawling story culminates with skyscrapers toppling on Chicago's Michigan Avenue. Peter Cullen, who voices lead Autobot Optimus Prime, says Bay was like the chief of his own army during the making of Transformers.
"I compare him to Norman Schwarzkopf - you know, Stormin' Norman. Here's a guy in charge of this massive undertaking, and he gets it done," says the veteran voice actor.
Despite a history of action-packed box office juggernauts, Bay says with the longer shots and 3D action scenes, "this one really tops myself".
LaBeouf says pride also had a lot to do with it. "Everybody just fired on another level on this movie. We all have a lot of pride, you know. And so everybody came to really play this time."
Who: Michael Bay
What: Transformers; Dark of the Moon, the third in the franchise
Where and when: Screening at cinemas now in 3D and 2D