8 July 2011

Transformers 3: Silver Screen Saucers review


TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON:

A UFOLOGICAL REVIEW

By Robbie Graham Silver Screen Saucers

NOTE: CONTAINS PLOT SPOILERS

As a child of the 1980s, I cherished my Transformers. So much so, that when my parents had friends with brattish toddlers over to visit, I would hide those wondrous transforming robot toys in a box in my cupboard – comfortably out of reach of clumsy little fingers. While the man-brat that is Michael Bay managed to behave himself – just about – with the first Transformers movie (2007), apparently he was left to play unsupervised with its sequel, Revenge of the Fallen (2009) and, predictably, he broke it.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon is Bay’s first “threequel” and yet another stark reminder why big-budget movie franchises should be kept well out of reach of Michael Bay. Indeed, from this point on, the warning *KEEP OUT OF REACH OF MICHAEL BAY* should mandatorily be stamped in bold on any movie script based on childhood playtime experiences. Hell, the warning should be stamped on all movie scripts, full-stop.

But enough Bay-bashing. The former Playboy videographer’s shortcomings as a big screen director – and they are many – have been catalogued at length elsewhere. Suffice to say, Transformers: Dark of the Moon had me staggering from the movie theatre feeling cinematically violated; which is to say, it’s at least as good as Bay’s previous movies. But really, enough with the Michael-mashing and on to the movie’s UFOlogical talking points – of which there are a great many indeed.

The movie’s needlessly convoluted plot (come on, it’s about giant transforming robots!) concerns the U.S. government’s ongoing alliance with the noble Autobot aliens whose love of “freedom” and loathing for “tyranny” has by now firmly entrenched them at the centre of America’s national security infrastructure. Having had no Deceptions (evil Transformers) to fight since Revenge of the Fallen, The U.S./Autobot alliance now busies itself by dispatching black-ops military teams around the world to assist in solving human problems, with “the world” being represented onscreen by “the Middle-East”, and “human problems” taking the form of an “illegal nuclear site” in the Middle-East – specifically, Iran.

Michael Bay directs military extras at the highly sensitive Holloman Air Force Base during the filming of Transformers (2007).

If you hadn’t guessed, Dark of the Moon “benefited” from the full cooperation of the U.S. Department of Defence. This means that, in exchange for the free use of U.S. troops and expensive military hardware – including jets, tanks, helicopters, and even sensitive military bases – in line with its standard operating procedure, the Pentagon's entertainment liaison office contractually is granted considerable control over a movie's content, from start to finish. This contractual control even extends to Pentagon staffers writing dialogue for a movie and advising on how its narrative should develop. Wonderful for the Pentagon – which walks away with a supremely glossy piece of Hollywood propaganda – less so for the cinema-going public, most of whom are blissfully unaware that the seemingly innocent piece of fluff they are watching in fact is an officially sponsored military recruitment campaign, carefully constructed to bolster the U.S. military image and, simultaneously, to manipulate public perception of hot-button national security issues – not least of all in this case, the UFO phenomenon.

HISTORY AS IT MIGHT HAVE HAPPENED

But let’s back-up a little, plot-wise. Because the aforementioned “Team Ame-robot: World Police” sequence is preceded by a rather more intriguing one: it’s 1961, and the Very Large Array (VLA) radio astronomy observatory in New Mexico is tracking an unidentified object as it ploughs into our moon. In the White House Oval Office, President Kennedy’s National Security team tells him: “We believe a UFO has crashed on the moon.” Fearing the Russians might reach the UFO first, Kennedy declares a manned moon-mission to be America’s number one priority. The space race of the 1960s is now underway.

Cut to: eight years later, and the Apollo astronauts are making their historic lunar landing. We cut between fictional sequences on the moon – where Armstrong and Aldrin secretly are examining the crashed UFO – and authentic historical footage shot inside NASA mission control where ground specialists watch with bated breath – this subtle mix of historical fact and speculative fiction exploiting real-life conspiracy theories about what the Apollo astronauts may have encountered while on the lunar surface.

Apollo 15, 1971. A UFO in the background?
Up on the moon, the astronauts make a shocking discovery in the dusty ground beneath their feet: a giant metal face, clear as day, staring back at us through Michael Bay’s camera lens. “My God. It’s some sort of… giant metal face!” declares Neil Armstrong, just in case we were unclear. “We are not alone, after all, are we?” he asks. Back on the ground, President Nixon makes his historic long-distance phone call to Armstrong and Aldrin: “Hello, Neil and Buzz. I'm talking to you by telephone from the Oval Room at the White House. And this certainly has to be the most historic telephone call ever made. I just can't tell you how proud we all are of what you've done…”

The inclusion of the Nixon phone call in the movie serves to blur even further the line between official history and history as it may have transpired behind the dark veil of national security. Nixon’s image onscreen in this context also brings to mind the longstanding rumour that Tricky Dicky himself had come face-to-face with dead extraterrestrials on at least one occasion: in 1973, Nixon allegedly took his good friend and UFO enthusiast Jackie Gleason to Homestead Air Force Base to see the bodies of “aliens from outer space.” “It’s Top Secret,” Gleason told his wife “Only a few people know. But the President arranged for me to be escorted in there and see them.”

Kennedy’s onscreen involvement in a UFO conspiracy may also lead one to contemplate the mysterious circumstances in which the real JFK died, and whether or not his assassination might in some way have been related to the UFO issue.

1963 memo written by JFK to the CIA director asking for a report on UFOs to be shared with NASA. The document is dated Nov. 12, 1963 - ten days before Kennedy's assassination.


Upon their return to Earth, the Apollo crew bring with them a case of lunar samples marked: “Top Secret SAP.” The “SAP” term – a genuine military-intelligence term standing for Special Access Program” – was brought to prominence in the UFO research field in 2001 through Steven Greer, whose Disclosure Project whistleblowers claimed that certain government and military SAPs serve as cover for highly classified and compartmentalised UFO research and development projects.

In 2010, the Washington Post ran a detailed expose of the spiralling costs and purposely confusing and labyrinthine structure of the post-9/11 US national security state. In a rare example of a mainstream news outlet drawing attention to SAPs, the Post noted that, “the Pentagon's list of code names for them [SAPs] runs 300 pages. The intelligence community has hundreds more of its own, and those hundreds have thousands of sub-programs with their own limits on the number of people authorized to know anything about them. All this means that very few people have a complete sense of what's going on.”

But back to the “threequel.” Following the movie’s prelude of alternative history, we are transported to the present day where we catch up with our everyman hero, Sam Witwicky (Shia Labeouf) and his new girlfriend, Carly (played by British underwear model Rosie Huntington Whiteley, whose performance in this movie is more robotic than those of the Transformers themselves). Thanks to his heroics in Revenge of the Fallen, Sam now has a ‘Thank-You-For-Saving-The-World-From-Aliens’ medal from President Obama and is in search of the high-powered corporate job to which all true men in Michael Bay’s universe must aspire. Tedium follows, blah, blah, awkward Michael Bay “humour,” blah, blah, more tedium, more awkward attempts at humour, and then it gets interesting…

LEGALISING THE COVER-UP

At the “NEST” human/Autobot allied headquarters in Washington D.C. (NEST standing for: “Networked Elements: Supporters and Transformers”) we are introduced to Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Mearing played by Frances McDormand. As an aside here, it is perhaps interesting to note that the real-life director of National Intelligence currently is James R. Clapper, a man who in 2010 said regarding the extreme secrecy surrounding Special Access Programs: “There's only one entity in the entire universe that has visibility on all SAPs - that's God.”

Director of National Intelligence Mearing (Frances McDormand) speaks with Optimus Prime in Transformers: Dark of the Moon


DNI Mearing reveals to Autobot leader Optimus Prime the true purpose of the 1969 Apollo moon landing and what the astronauts had seen while on the lunar surface. Optimus quickly surmises that the “giant metal face” from the movie’s opening sequence was none other than Sentinel Prime - Optimus Prime’s predecessor - and is outraged to learn that the U.S. government had kept this information from its Autobot allies. The government’s present-day secrecy on this matter, however, quickly is attributed to the policies of the past as Buzz Aldrin himself – yes, the actual Buzz Aldrin – is ushered into the room and explains to Optimus – and to us in the audience – that “we were sworn to secrecy by our Commander in Chief!” Don’t blame us, and don’t blame the military-intelligence community – blame Nixon!

There is a comparably self-serving scene for the DoD in the first Transformers movie in which the Pentagon is absolved of complicity in what we learn has been a decades-long cover-up of alien visitations. Blame for the conspiracy is instead placed at the doorstep of the extra-constitutional “Sector 7,” a “special access division of the government” established under President Hoover over 80 years ago. Crucially, the cover-up in the first movie has been conducted without the knowledge or consent of the Secretary of Defense (played by Jon Voigt), who is outraged when the truth is finally revealed to him: “And you didn’t think the United States military might need to know that you’re keeping a hostile alien robot frozen in the basement?” Significantly, Sector 7 is shut down by the Secretary of Defense at the end of the first movie for being undemocratic and dangerous. Shortly thereafter in the Transformers timeline, Sector 7 was replaced by the more democratically acceptable NEST, which is comprised of “veteran intelligence officers and special forces.”

ASTRONAUT CONFESSIONALS

Buzz Aldrin’s presence onscreen blurs further still the boundaries between UFOlogical fact and fantasy, nudging the audience firmly into the realm of hyperreality. Aldrin raised eyebrows in 2009 when he drew attention on live television to a “structure” on the surface of Phobos, one of Mars’s moons. In an interview for C-SPAN, Aldrin spoke enthusiastically about what wonders our solar system might hold for future space travellers:

“We should go boldly where Man has not gone before. Fly by comets, visit asteroids, visit the moon of mars – there’s a monolith there, a very unusual structure on this little potato-shaped object that goes around Mars once in seven hours. When people find out about that they’re going to say ‘who put that there? Who put that there??’”

Perhaps realising he was treading into dangerous territory, he then paused briefly and answered the question himself, somewhat cryptically: “Well... er, the universe... put it there. If you choose... God put it there.”

It has often been said that the best place to hide the truth is in plain sight. Better still is to hide the truth in plain sight within a fictional context. Is Aldrin – and by extension NASA and the Pentagon – attempting to alert us to a hidden truth behind America’s space program, as many would no doubt like to believe? Or, to the contrary, is Aldrin’s “confession” in Transformers an attempt to hide the truth of the moon landings – and of a related government UFO cover-up – in plain sight in what, for the most part, is an outrageous science fiction movie?

Shia Labeouf and Buzz Alrdrin
Intriguingly, Aldrin’s isn’t the only onscreen UFO confessional from a legendary space pioneer. In 2001, former senator and astronaut John Glenn – the first American to orbit the Earth – made a bizarre guest appearance in an episode of the popular sitcom Frasier, entitled “Docudrama,” in which he “admitted” in semi-comical fashion that he, as well as other astronauts, had seen “strange things” while out in space, but that he and his colleagues had been sworn to secrecy. The scene in question sees Glenn sat in a radio booth preparing to be interviewed by radio host Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer), who is stood in a separate, sound-proofed room in conversation with his producer, Ros Doyle (Peri Gilpin) - both oblivious to the fact that their famous guest has begun to spill his guts about NASA and UFO secrecy. Glenn is talking to Frasier and Ros (who can’t hear him), to himself, and, seemingly, to the television viewers at home:

“Back in those glory days, I was very uncomfortable when they asked us to say things that I didn’t want to say, and deny other things. Some people ask, you know, were you ‘alone’ out there? And we never gave the real answer, and yet we’ve seen things out there - strange things. But we know what we saw out there, but we couldn’t really say anything. And the bosses were scared of this - they were afraid of ‘War of the Worlds’ type-stuff and about panic in the streets, and so we had to keep quiet and now we only see these things in our… well, in our nightmares, or maybe in the movies - and some of them [the movies] are pretty close to being the truth.”

At the end of his confession, Glenn, realising that he was inadvertently being recorded by Frasier and Ros, confiscates the tape recording and makes a hasty exit. Naturally, all of this plays out to canned-laughter.

OTHER TALKING POINTS

Aside from its NASA and National Security policy-themed introduction, Transformers: Dark of the Moon offers little extra food for thought during its epic 157 minute running time, most of which is taken up by mindless metal-on-metal battle carnage. There are, however, just a few more points worthy of note from a UFOlogical/conspiratorial perspective:

  • The movie’s plot deals with a teleportation device which is owned by the Autobots, but which is commandeered by the Deceptacons to facilitate a full scale invasion of Earth whereby Deceptacons on their home planet of Cybertron are jumped instantaneously through space-time onto our planet. It is not only the Deceptacons that make this invasive leap across the galaxy, but their entire planet also, which gets parked in Earth orbit and looms ominously over the Chicago skyline (the Deceptacons’ hostile take-over of Earth naturally begins in Illinois(!), but – thanks to yet more heroics from Sam Witwicky and his black-ops buddies – it doesn’t spread beyond Chicago). The sight of a planetary body entering Earth’s atmosphere is a  possible allusion to “Planet X” (or “Nibiru”) an alleged planet-sized object that some believe could possibly collide with or pass-by Earth in the very near future. The Planet X idea was also exploited recently in the TV series The Event.

  • Key to the initial success of the Deceptacons’ invasion of Earth is their covert collaboration with a select number of humans around the world who occupy positions of strategic influence in government and industry. This notion of human/evil alien collaboration taps into theories popular in UFO-conspiracy lore that elements within the Global Elite are actively facilitating insidious extraterrestrial activities here on Earth.

  • At one point in the film, the Autobot/Deceptacon secret “civil war” is openly discussed by former Sector 7 Man in Black, Agent Simmons and bullish TV host Bill O’ Reilly (yes, the real Bill O’ Reilly) on Fox TV’s The O’ Reilly Factor. O’ Reilly is incredulous at the claims of the publicity-seeking former Agent Simmons; nevertheless, the idea that any serious discussion of an alien presence on earth (especially one involving an ex-black-ops agent with direct knowledge of the subject) would ever be permitted on a primetime political show is, of course, laughable.

The thing to keep in mind when watching Transformers: Dark of the Moon is that all of its content was signed off on – and indeed shaped – by the U.S. Department of Defense and NASA (which also threw its full weight behind the movie). Up until a few years ago, it was typical for the DoD to refuse its cooperation to any movie that portrayed UFOs and alien visitation as real on the grounds that supporting such a movie would be in contravention of its official policy that UFOs do not exist. In recent years, however, DoD policy regarding Hollywood’s UFO movies has shifted significantly, with the Pentagon having leant its support to a number of high-profile UFO movies, including War of the Worlds (2005),The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008), the Transformers franchise (2007, 2009, 2011) and Battle Los Angeles (2010). You can read into that what you will, although it may not be as intriguing as it sounds. This shift in policy can be traced back to 1996, when the producers of the flag-waving alien invasion movie Independence Day sought cooperation from the DoD only to be turned down unexpectedly by the Pentagon’s Entertainment Liaison Office partly due to concerns about the movie’s references to Roswell, Area 51, and a government UFO cover-up. The Air Force specifically had requested that the filmmakers remove these controversial elements from the movie’s script if they wished to receive its support.

The Pentagon, Washington D.C.

The producers of Independence Day decided to stick to their guns, however, and refused to play ball with the Pentagon. Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) was, by this point, at such a stage of advancement that anything the DoD could offer in terms of enhancing the movie’s verisimilitude (such as tanks, jets, even aircraft carriers) the filmmakers themselves could now generate digitally. In other words, photorealistic CGI was threatening the DoD’s long-established role in Hollywood. It is perhaps understandable, then, that today the Pentagon finds itself backing movies that at one time it would not have touched with a bargepole.

Still, whatever their reasons for supporting Transformers: Dark of the Moon and other movies of its ilk, whenever the DoD, NASA, or any other agency of officialdom becomes involved in shaping UFO representations through media channels, it is only right that we as politically aware viewers sit up, pay close attention, and actively engage with this material, for what may have started life as an innocent entertainment product – with a firm handshake between Hollywood and Washington – becomes propaganda.

Copyright © 2011, Robbie Graham

9 comments:

  1. You do realize that the blurring of fact & fiction exemplified by Bill O'Reilly playing Bill O'Reilly in a movie is pretty much culture wide. It happens constantly in films that are completely unrelated to UFOs.

    If one wants to read subtext in over CGI-d Hollywood time wasters like Transformers why stop at UFOs. Sentinel Prime's voice was provided by Leonard Nimoy. At one point Sentinel Prime even uses Spock's exit line, "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few," as his justification for aligning himself with the Deceptacons.
    Given America's current dislike for anything that reeks of Socialism, one could say that Bay, in an admittedly clumsy & heavy handed way, is trying to say that social concern always leads to totalitarian deals with tyrannic devils.

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  2. Robbie Graham17 July 2011 11:18

    I do not suggest that O’Reilly’s appearance in the film exemplifies the blurring of UFO fact and fantasy. Of course it does not.

    My reason for highlighting the O’Reilly scene is simply that it points to the filmmakers’ and the Pentagon’s desire to show the U.S. mainstream news media as a supremely democratic institution – one which encourages former black-ops UFO whistleblowers to speak their mind on one of the most popular political shows on TV. I point out that this notion is laughable. It is.

    As for the blurring of UFOlogical fact and fantasy – it is not often that a legendary astronaut such as Buzz Aldrin talks about an alien cover-up in a movie signed-off on by the Pentagon and NASA. I, nor anyone else, can say with certainty that there’s any truth in Aldrin’s Transformers ‘confessional,’ but I would argue that the government's possible motivations for approving such material are worthy of thoughtful debate.

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  3. I don't completely disagree with you, but the US film industry has been churning out "gee ain't America great" shinola since its inception & the US government has been manipulating the ufology zeitgeist since ufos flew into mass consciousness.

    As you point out by alluding to the Washington Post series, the US is fractured by secrecy & pathologically ill because of it.
    Imagine running a marriage or a friendship in the same manner that we allow ourselves to governed.
    That would be one sick & twisted little relationship.

    As someone once pointed out, the US was so terrified at the prospect of being infected with Communism, it didn't notice it was being infected with anti-Communism. I don't believe the Soviet Union's collapse altered that one bit. We're a paranoid lot constantly terrified that someone is just itching to invade our dysfunctional trailer park and steal our unused rights & our cheap crappy TV sets.

    I also don't believe O'Reilly was included to bolster public delusions of media impartiality & fairness. I don't think that large chunks of the US population are intellectually incapable of discerning the difference between fact & fiction or impartiality & bias.

    After all, O'Reilly plays the part of newsman O'Reilly every night on FOX, yet I doubt that most of his viewers would be able to tell that it is a fictional creation.

    Every newscast, whether FOX or CNN, is a blurring a fact & fantasy.

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  4. Robbie Graham18 July 2011 23:40

    All points well made. But I would disagree with you that large chunks of the US population are not intellectually incapable of “discerning the difference between fact and fiction or impartiality and bias.” Tell that to the viewers of Fox News – simultaneously America's most biased and “most trusted” news channel:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jan/27/fox-news-most-popular

    It’s not only American viewers who are wilfully dumb, however. UK viewers are just as bad – worse perhaps, as here in the UK we’ve convinced ourselves (or allowed ourselves to be convinced) that our trusted BBC suffers from “a left-wing bias.” Yes, really. You read that right: apparently the BBC is “left-wing.” I feel like I’m living in Bizarro World.

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  5. Yeah, I agree. I also think that anyone who allows a sentence as crappy as this one:

    "I don't think that large chunks of the US population are intellectually incapable of discerning the difference between fact & fiction or impartiality & bias."

    into a discussion about intelligence, should have his computer confiscated.

    My apologies for tripping over my own typing fingers.

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  6. Robbie, have you seen Moonshot (2009)? a TV movie about Apollo 11, that —to my knowledge— is the only one that has ever mentioned the UFO that was observed by Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins where they were en-route to their historic destination.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TpHdzssKB-0&feature=related

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  7. PS: Isn't it interesting, that in that clip they show Aldrin as the one more ready to accept an extraordinary origin for the anomalous light they observed?

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  8. Robbie Graham21 July 2011 19:27

    Hi, Red Pill Junkie. Yes, it's interesting that 'Moonshot' depicts Buzz as being the "believer" of the three astronauts. Especially as this film was made in 2009 and Buzz had played the sceptic card a couple of years earlier when asked publicly about the Apollo 11 UFO sighting:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uK5xgEJpBKM&feature=player_embedded

    Perhaps Buzz can only tell it as it happened in a fictional context. Or perhaps there really is no conspiracy and he just doesn't care if Hollywood depicts him as a UFO believer so long as he receives a nice paycheck.

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  9. NASA ARE NAZIS23 July 2011 05:38

    The moon landing was fake and the gov't is trying to build up the belief in UFOS and aliens in the public consciousness (they gave Buzzard All-grin a hall pass to start talking about the 'ufo' he saw......) to bring about PROJECT BLUE BEAM. Google it.

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