Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Live Free or Transform...Hard

As you may or may not have inferred from the title of this entry, I'll be doing a comparison of the two biggest films for this 4th of July holiday: Live Free or Die Hard and Transformers. I'm basing this idea from another site, but I'm going to add a few of my own categories to the mix and they'll face off to see who the ultimate summer movie is this year. Let's get ready to rumble!




Story:

Die Hard: John McClane returns to action as the country's infrastructure is threatened by a deranged ex-government employee. McClane, not exactly up to date with technology, uses the help of Matt Farrell, a computer hacker kid who is wanted by the government. An algorithm (or something) that Farrell created is being used by the compu-terrorists, and Farrell must use his knowledge to stop them before the entire country is relegated to the technological stone age. McClane must keep him alive and, later, save his daughter, who is taken hostage by the terrorists.

Transformers: Sam Witwicky is thrust into the mix of an interstellar war between the Autobots and the Decepticons in this highly anticipated fanboy film. When the Decepticons realize that Sam's great-great grandfather's glasses are the key to freeing their leader (Megatron) and taking over the universe, they crank it into gear to beat the Autobots to the punch. But Optimus Prime and his band of warriors won't take that sitting down: they must protect Sam long enough for him to grab the Allspark (a life-giving device from their home planet of Cybertron) and keep it out of Megatron's hands for good. All the while, Sam attempts to impress Mikaela Banes, a classmate of his that becomes embroiled in the carnage.

Normally, I would reward originality over a sequel any day of the week. However, in this case, I'm making an exception. Transformers is definitely more fresh, but originality can be called into question because the concept is based off the television show and animated movie in the 80's. LFoDH is by no means more original, itself a sequel to three previous films, but Live Free or Die Hard was a great sequel, and in this summer full of sequels gone bad, I'm going to say that's the most important aspect here.

Winner: Live Free or Die Hard

Actors:

Die Hard: Of course, we've got Bruce "The Grimace" Willis coming back as one of the most "wrong place, wrong time" action heroes ever, John McClane. He's stellar as usual, and this time he seems genuinely surprised at the fact that he can pull off near-physically-impossible feats, wowing at his own actions just as much as the audience does. Justin Long (Dodgeball, those "I'm a Mac" commercials) turns in a good performance as the young computer hacker, being the vessel the audience vicariously lives through to witness the ridiculous antics of McClane. And Timothy Olyphant (horribly miscast in the upcoming Hitman movie) is believably excellent as Thomas Gabriel, the miffed government worker bent on showing the U.S. a thing or two about their perceptions of national security.

Transformers: Don't get me wrong, I love Bruce Willis more than the next man. But there's no way that he and Timothy Olyphant can stand up to the bevy of talent assembled in Transformers. Jon Voight, Bernie Mac, Hugo Weaving, Tyrese Gibson, Shia LaBeouf, John Turturro, and Darius McCrary (Eddie Winslow from Family Matters) stand out as an ensemble cast that puts LFoDH to shame. Even though their performances weren't as iconic as Willis', the sheer numbers of big-name actors here give Transformers the win in this category.

Winner: Transformers

Realism:

Die Hard: I said it as soon as I left the theater - Live Free or Die Hard was more like a Transporter movie than a Die Hard movie, and I absolutely loved it for that. Realism was thrown out the window in favor of a fun summer movie that allowed John McClane to shine as an everyday superhero in a summer of larger-than-life webslingers and pirates. Ramping cars into helicopters, shooting fire extinguishers, rolling out of vehicles at high speeds, dangling in elevators shafts, jumping from exploding planes to concrete slabs, and more - all in a day's work for J-Mac.



Transformers: As ludicrous as McClane's actions may have been, there is no way that I'm going to say that Transformers is more realistic than LFoDH. Not gonna happen. Alien creatures that look like cars? Searching for a map engraved on a kid's great-great grandfather's glasses? And they find the kid through his eBay account? Come on. You expect me to believe that the Autobots have a perfect grasp on the English language because they absorbed it through the internet? Do you know how many typos are out there on the web? And don't even get me started on the scene where the Autobots were fully transformed into GIANT ROBOTS right outside Sam's house, crushing the garden and smashing lawn ornaments, and the parents didn't see or hear them at all. Also, I think the portrayal of the government's reactions to their respective situations was a lot more legit in Die Hard than Transformers, where the U.S. didn't even try to evacuate the city that was being completely destroyed by the Transformers at the end of the flick.

Winner: Live Free or Die Hard

Mentor Computer Geeks:

Die Hard: Kevin Smith plays the Warlock, a thirty-something-year-old man who lives in his mother's basement and is the mentor to Justin Long's Matt Farrell. Personally, I'm not a fan of these type of characters - the whole "middle-aged guy living in his mom's basement" thing wore out a long time ago. It's not really that funny anymore (Although Will Ferrell's character in Wedding Crashers did give it a glimmer of humor for a short while). Anyway, Kevin Smith is pretty much a nerd in real life, so this was some great casting and it was cool to see him and Bruce Willis act opposite each other on screen. Another key point is that Warlock actually DID SOMETHING to help our hero and his young compatriot at the end of the movie...he used the CB radio to contact Bowman to call the cavalry in to the warehouse.

Transformers: Anthony Anderson? Are you serious? What a joke. That man is the physical manifestation of the word "stereotype." He's been in some of the worst movies of the past fifteen years: Big Momma's House, See Spot Run, Kangaroo Jack, Exit Wounds AND Cradle 2 the Grave, Scary Movies 3 and 4, Agent Cody Banks 2, and King's Ransom just to name a few. Dis-mal. He plays Glenn, a hacker who lives with his grandmother (sigh) and plays Dance Dance Revolution. Correct me if I'm wrong, but have you ever seen a black guy play DDR? I haven't. He utters the stereotypical token black phrases, and got a big laugh from the 7-15 age group in my theater during the scene where he "comically" eats donuts and gets interrogated. He also was barely capable of wiring the computer to produce Morse Code at the end, which wasn't really even that important anyway. All that did was send an air strike to the robot battle in the city, and those robots would have taken each other out anyway. Thousands of innocent people had already died, so it didn't really make that much of a difference. Actually the only thing that did was get the pilots of those planes killed by Megatron, so he was indirectly responsible for killing those soldiers instead of helping them. The only thing that makes me even consider giving this category to Transformers is the presence of Maggie Madsen, played by the Australian Rachael Taylor. Good looking and incredibly talented in the ways of hacking, she outwits the best of the best in the government and discovers the secret behind the attack in Quatar...it's not the Russians or the Chinese, but aliens. However, the complete lack of realism behind these events actually taking place coupled with the facts that Anthony Anderson is horrendous and Kevin Smith looks like he belongs in a basement gives the win to LFoDH.

Winner: Live Free or Die Hard

Hero:

Die Hard: Is this even an option? John McClane versus a robot that I have no history with? I grew up with John McClane - I know many of you watched the Transformers show (and animated movie) when you were growing up, but I wasn't one of those kids. Granted, I had some of the toys (Megatron was supposed to be a tank!), but I never religiously watched the show. The Die Hards, on the other hand, have been a staple of my movie-watching career ever since my parents deemed me old enough to feast my eyes on Nakatomi Plaza. This category (like most of them, I guess) is personal, and I'm going with what I know.

Transformers: Optimus Prime is cool and everything, but he's not capable of the ridiculous one-liners ("I was out of bullets." "Yeah, I saw it - I did it!") that McClane fires off. And I think we all know that one-liners are absolutely imperative when it comes to who we look up to as heroes.

Winner: Live Free or Die Hard

Protagonist:

Die Hard: From what I've seen, Justin Long is a pretty cool cat. His character was pretty insecure though, tiptoeing through the movie not quite sure of how to help and what to do next. He's good when he's got a computer in front of him, but aside from that he's honestly pretty useless as a protagonist. You rooted for him a little bit, because in a sense it was like rooting for yourself, watching McClane move from location to location killing terrorists, dropping one-liners, and being a badass. We needed Matt Farrell to survive in order to follow McClane, but he wasn't the most important character in the movie.

Transformers: Shia LaBeouf is great. He's my favorite young actor right now, and I'm sure he won't disappoint in the upcoming Indiana Jones movie where he plays Indy's son. In Transformers, Sam is without a doubt the main character. He is a young kid who is just trying to get a car to impress a girl. Who can't relate to that? When he's caught up in this insane plot involving aliens, he doesn't freak out too much...he just rolls with it. As opposed to the audience's need for Matt Farrell merely to survive in LFoDH, the audience needs for Sam to succeed in Transformers. There's a big difference, and the audience is emotionally invested in Sam's every move. No matter how critical you are of this movie, you've gotta admit: you'll root for Sam by the end of the movie. This is due in part to the writers drafting a great screenplay, but is mostly accomplished by LaBeouf's natural charm.

Winner: Transformers

Special Effects:

Die Hard: The special effects in LFoDH were pretty awesome, especially with explosions coming as often as they did and there being as many gun shoot-outs as there were. But there's no comparison when it comes to overall special effects between these two movies.

Transformers: Michael Bay said Transformers had some of the most difficult renders in ILM (Industrial Light and Magic) history, and he didn't let me down. I've never seen so much debris in a movie in my life. There was so much destruction in this film. That city was completely ravaged by the end of the battle between Megatron and Optimus Prime, with buildings being completely torn apart and shattered glass everywhere. It didn't really have the "huge summer movie explosions" that we've come to expect from films like Independence Day (which, let's face it, sets the bar for every 4th of July release), but the explosions were more concentrated and spread out through the course of the movie. They didn't wait for just a couple of scenes to use up all their explosions; instead the filmmakers kept the action at a high rate and good pace without sacrificing graphics along the way, which is commendable. Aside from all this, the Autobots and Decepticons looked absolutely amazing...there were always moving parts on them and they were incredibly detailed. Plus, there were some cool car chases (a Michael Bay staple), so I was happy.

Winner: Transformers

The Girl:

Die Hard: Mary Elizabeth Winstead is definitely quality. She's got that girl-next-door hotness that makes her seem almost attainable to non-actors, like she'd be cool to hang out with. That vibe is rare these days in young actresses. She played McClane's daughter Lucy, which is kind of like a movie version of Brooke Hogan - you don't want to mess with her dad. Actually, Lucy could hold her own pretty well, punching one of Thomas Gabriel's lackeys in the face with a swift right hook. She did a good job portraying the not-so-helpless damsel in distress.

Transformers: Everyone is going to be talking about Megan Fox after they see this movie. She is the definition of hot. Mark my words, fanboys everywhere will have posters of her adorning their walls, right next to their pictures of Cobra Commander and Darth Vader. So what if she's not a great actress? ("Why don't you try sacrificing something in your perfect little life?") She's got plenty of time to learn...and as long as she keeps learning on the big screen, guys everywhere will be happy. Nobody said that the three Jessicas (Alba, Biel, Simpson) were good actresses, either - and they get work all the time. Megan Fox is here to stay.


Winner: Transformers

Patriotism:

Die Hard: I think this is the most patriotic film of the franchise, and definitely the one with the most political commentary. While the entire movie was basically a swipe at the U.S. Government's ineptitude under President Bush (the Hurricane Katrina references, all the government computer agencies being completely incompetent), it still had a strong patriotic message throughout the whole movie. There were American flags everywhere, and the entire country was being attacked, as opposed to Transformers where it seemed just a small squadron of soldiers and one city were destroyed. The whole "I'm not a hero" speech from McClane was awesome, and really reminds us of the true heroes in this country who help us out on a daily basis. I almost wanted to join the police force right after I left the theater.

Transformers: This, too, was a very patriotic movie. Oh sure, there were some shots at President Bush in this one, too ("I need a ding dong."), but it still had the overall air of patriotism. It wasn't quite as overtly patriotic as LFoDH was, because there weren't an overabundance of American flags hanging in every third scene, but it was still patriotic. Muscle cars, eBay, robots - the whole thing screamed capitalism and Americana at its finest. The everyman and his girl banded together to do what's right and were willing to sacrifice their lives if necessary for the common good. That's what America is all about. Even the cinematography (which was very similar to LFoDH, but more stylized) and the color palette chosen for the movie gave off a patriotic vibe. Nicely done, filmmakers. Greg said that he wanted to join the military right after he saw this, but I didn't have that same reaction. Unlike LFoDH, in which a police officer saves the day, a kid and his giant robots saved the day in Transformers while the government failed to get organized and do anything about it.

Winner: Live Free or Die Hard

Final Score: Live Free or Die Hard = 5, Transformers = 4

Wow, that was a LOT closer than I thought it would be. I had no idea what the final score would be when I started this. Cool. Anyway, I really, really enjoyed both of these movies to the utmost degree. I absolutely loved Live Free or Die Hard, and Transformers was everything it was hyped up to be. Hopefully I didn't ruin anything for you - after all, they're just summer movies: you don't have to think too hard to enjoy them. Go see both of these movies in the theater...it's totally worth the price of admission. Summer entertainment at its finest. This was fun. Until next time...

2 comments:

John Schneider said...

The only movie that would sweep these categories is this summer's must see film: THE EPIC QUEST FOR SCHNEIDER. It's bonus features alone have already won 6 Golden Globes; imagine what the film will win!!

Boomer said...

Benis,
Excellent post. Haven't seen Die Hard yet, so I skipped those and will come back to read later. But I just wanted to say great job on The Epic. I watched it with Joe a few days ago and was very impressed.