The Unbearable Lightness of Being Obliterated by Giant Alien Robots

I saw Transformers 3 on Monday night. It was surreal. I will have more to say later about how the movie is a work of multi-layered genius, how it proves definitively and finally that even the most profound of human connections like love and family are nothing more than a series of empty performances, that life has no meaning or purpose, and that the human soul is an impossibility. How Michael Bay did in 2.5 punishing, shiny hours what generations of existentialist philosophers had not the wit or stomach to do – he stared into the abyss, and the abyss blinked. But that is for another blog post.

Transformers 3 is a brutal assault on the optical and aural senses, a horribly written and acted monstrosity of a film that makes no sense and leaves one feeling dizzy, nauseous, and vaguely violated. But it is not without its pleasures. It was the first movie I’ve ever seen where I walked out of the theater and onto the set. The climax of the film is an hour-long assault on the city of Chicago, specifically the downtown riverfront where the theater in which we saw it is located. There are brief moments, sub-snippets in the editing orgasm that is a Michael Bay action sequence, when you can even glimpse the theater. It is a strange thing to watch the building in which you are sitting at that very moment get razed by giant alien robot missiles.

It was even stranger leaving the theater and suddenly seeing the same skyline intact again, when I’d just spent an hour watching Hollywood spend the GDP of a mid-sized Asian country destroying it in make-believe. As we walked back to the El, we passed the various corners and streets where the climactic action took place. Here’s where Bumblebee escaped the Decepticons. Here’s where Optimus Prime faced down Megatron. Here’s where Shia LeBeouf punched Patrick Dempsey in the face.

Little as I liked the movie, it was fun walking past these sets mere minutes after seeing them on screen. There was also the fun of seeing Movie Magic come to fruition. I have to admit I felt a little thrill when I realized that the giant blue block I’d seen in the back of a parking lot on my way to work last year turned out to be Starscream. I’d seen Starscream in person! …kind of.

The biggest pleasure of Transformers 3, though, was seeing my city annihilated by giant alien robots. It’s a strangely compelling and exhilirating experience watching your home be bombed into oblivion (in make-believe). No wonder Godzilla plays so well in Tokyo.

I have to admit, I even felt a little twinge of pride as landmark after landmark fell before my eyes. I’d spent countless hours sitting in darkened theaters watching New York, LA, DC, Tokyo, Paris, and other major world cities be smashed into rubble by giant monsters, aliens, asteroids, global warming, and other disasters. Now it was finally Chicago’s turn. We had arrived. Our status as a world-class city could no longer be questioned. We may not have gotten the Olympics, but we did get destroyed by half a billion dollars of special effects.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Rio de Janeiro!

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