Recently, ‘Transformers’ franchise producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura sat down for an extended interview with Entertainment Weekly to talk about the new spin-off to the franchise, and what it could mean for the future. The big risks, of course, were cutting down the roster of Transformers in one movie, making the characters a bit more similar to their original 1980s incarnations, and of course, casting a female lead in a franchise dominated by men beforehand. But di Bonaventura seems confident all the changes are for the betterment of the franchise:
“If you don’t change up, you’re also taking a risk. It’s one of those things where there is no simple answer. You’re taking a risk no matter what you do when you make a big expensive movie, so why not change the formula completely and really hang in there?”
He then went on to talk about how the 5th ‘Transformers’ film was the end of the line (at least for the moment) for the main franchise films:
“The fifth one was definitely down. The audience looks for something new at some point in time, but it’s so hard to judge when. I think the lesson was, after the fourth movie, that was the when. But we didn’t see the fatigue. We didn’t see the signs that they wanted us to change up how we were presenting it…We were headed down the Bumblebee path well before the release of the last Transformers,” he says. “We had felt that with the fifth movie, we had sort of run out of room with where to take it.”
Oddly enough, one of the most controversial changes for the filmmakers apparently was the decision to make Bumblebee a Beetle again, even though that is the car he was originally. According to di Bonaventura, there was a lot of fear that fans would not react well to it, or find it all that believable.
“That was probably the most hotly contested thing, simply because: ‘Wow …. um, and the Beetle can go fast? Ooookay. But I’ve screened [a rough cut] three times, and there has not been a single comment from the audience that they didn’t like the fact that we made it the Beetle. The warmth of it certainly helps us, but also, the sheer freshness of it is really fun.”
Followed closely by the decision to cast a female lead. Luckily for them, they managed to get Hailee Steinfeld (‘True Grit’) who proved to be a huge asset for the production, with di Bonaventure talking about how she really nailed the role and was so prepped and ready every day they actually ended up ahead of schedule. He also spoke on the original impetus for a female lead coming from Steven Spielberg, who was a producer in the franchise but rarely spoke up on creative decisions:
“Steven [Spielberg] had always had an idea that a young girl and Bumblebee would be a great combination, so we headed in that direction…It’s nice it’s changing. When we were debating it, the idea of a young girl seemed to us to be a real change in our direction….What we are focused on is expanding the experience, which does expand your fan base if you get it right,” di Bonaventura says. “If you get it wrong, you’ll probably have a little backlash, but I don’t think we got it wrong. I know we didn’t get it wrong with her, that’s for sure.”
He went on to talk about the decision on when to set the story, originally wanting to avoid clashing with any current films of the main franchise, hence why they decided to go back in time to Bumblebee’s origins:
“We wanted to firmly establish when Bumblebee got here. We thought, let’s try to tell as much of the origin story of Bumblebee on Earth as we can. We have elements in Cybertron, but really Earth is where we spend our time….It gave us the opportunity to Gen 1 [referring to the original generations of Transformers from the 1980’s toys]. When you look at the robots, they’re not exactly like in the animated show, because they would look goofy today. But they have, I’ll say, a little more of the silhouette of those.”
As for the future of the franchise, di Bonaventura sounds very optimistic:
“We’ve gotten a lot of feedback from the fans that they wanted us to do a deep dive on one or two of the robots, because they wanted to get to know them better. Bumblebee was selected because he’s such a loved figure, and he’s also more emotional than Optimus. Those were the two likely characters…If Bee’s successful, we can have a Bee 2, no doubt. We have a good sense of where a second movie would go. For me, the greatest thing that came out of the writer’s room was the sense that we could go in any number of directions. It opened up our minds to choices.”
And of course, he spoke on the possibility of an Optimus Prime movie, which would get the fans very excited:
“He’s a stoic leader, and you can count on him. Whereas Bumblebee is the one who is more emotionally volatile. He has a lot of ups and downs. So it seemed like the best character to try for the first time zeroing in on one Autobot…I’d certainly like to do that [an Optimus Prime movie]. It would be a very different kind of movie than a Bumblebee movie, but equally interesting and different.”
All in all, it seems like the franchise might be heading in the right direction, transforming itself from the bombastic and explosive mess it had been into something with a bit more substance now that audiences are no longer enamored with all the special effects, and are looking for more from their robot heroes. Here’s hoping that ‘Bumblebee’ is as successful as di Bonaventura and the other creative forces believe it will be.