When Michael Bay, cinema’s reigning champion of vehicular carnage, thinks
your idea for an explosive, special-effects-laden blockbuster is lame, you’ve
A few years ago, Bay, the director of “Armageddon,” “The Rock” and “Bad
Boys,” was in his editing room when Steven Spielberg called to offer him a new
project: an action movie about giant robots that metamorphose into cars, trucks
As Bay recalled in a recent interview, “I’m like, ‘OK, great, great, great.’
And I hung up the phone. And I’m like, ‘That sounds like a dumb idea.’”
What helped persuade Bay to take the first “Transformers” movie — which in
2007 took in more than $700 million worldwide at the box office, and whose
sequel, “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” opened Wednesday — was a visit to
the Pawtucket, R.I., headquarters of Hasbro, which creates the Transformers
There Bay, 44, was given a thorough education on the narrative embedded in
the 25-year-old toy line: a back story about warring factions of valiant
Autobots and nefarious Decepticons who bring their battle to Earth from their
home planet, Cybertron.
Bay was sold.
“I don’t consider this a toy,” he said. “It’s not. To me it’s the furthest
thing from it. It was about the mythology and that there was a story here.”
For Hasbro, this summer will see not one but two of its most lucrative
properties spun into big-budget movies. The “Transformers” sequel will be
followed on Aug. 7 by a live-action adaptation of its G.I. Joe toys, called
“G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.” The pair of films is the payoff of a
strategy that the toy company has been cultivating for nearly a decade: infusing
movie-friendly story lines into its popular playthings and teaching Hollywood
that these stories can be translated onto cinema screens. It’s an approach that
many other toymakers also are taking, unwilling to cede theater marquees to the
creations of comic book publishers such as Marvel and DC. As fans and
collectors know, the Hasbro toys have histories that stretch back for decades.
The original G.I. Joe, a 12-inch-tall soldier known as “America’s moveable
fighting man,” was introduced by Hasbro in 1964. After the Vietnam War, Joe’s
connection to the U.S. military was played down, and in 1982 the soldier was
recommissioned as a pocket-size special missions force of numerous agents. The
Joe team was given a nemesis, Cobra, a ruthless terrorist organization (back
when such things seemed suitable for youthful reveries).
Two years later, Hasbro imported a series of action figures created by the
Japanese toy company Takara, consisting of robots that disguise themselves as
vehicles and other technology, calling them Transformers.
The G.I. Joe and Transformers toys, and their comic book and cartoon
spinoffs, dominated the marketplace in the 1980s. But in the 1990s, their
popularity faded as children turned their attention to newer phenomena such as
Pokemon and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.
“There’s certainly a fad element to what kids are into,” said Gareb Shamus,
the publisher of the collectibles magazine ToyFare. Some properties, he said,
“just need to take a breather.