The Curse of the Geek Movie

Updated on February 11, 2022

I shouldn’t get my hopes up, really.

Transformers 3 (sorry, Transformers: Dark of the Moon) comes out this weekend, and I am very excited. This is not only because I found Transformers 2 (er, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen) to inexplicably be an important and artful film, but out of a genuine interest in seeing it. To be entertained.

I shouldn’t get my hopes up, really. There is an infinitesimal chance that Michael Bay’s third outing will truly be a great movie — one which elicits genuine joy in me — so I don’t instead have to cling to some esoteric intellectual thesis about its themes and capturing of the zeitgeist and whatnot. No, I would like to go in and have a great time with a movie about giant robots beating each other up while things explode in slow motion. I pray desperately for this.

Because it’s hard out there for a geek.

The geek has had it good this past decade, starting out with Bryan Singer’s X-Men, which showed that, look! Those superhero movies can be a bit serious, respectful of their source material, and still be excellent! In a decade that has seen lavishly-produced versions of Watchmen, Hellboy, and Scott Pilgrim, it’s easy to think that geek movies — even the most obscure and non-mainstream friendly properties — are now normal. That they can, should and will come out with frequency, and arrive in a state of complete excellence.

The truth is, if you told me even five years ago, that someone was making a live-action Transformers movie, I would have told you that it would be crap. And crap not simply because the chances of getting it right (or at least right as a geek defines it) was slim to none, but that Transformers removed from its 1980s cartoon and comic book origins was almost inherently going to suck.

The problem with geek properties is one of context. Alan Moore famously maintained that a movie version of Watchmen was a bad idea, because he understood that the power of that story lay within the specific medium of the comic book, of seeing that story unfold nine panels a page over twelve issues. Could you make a Watchmen movie? Sure. Could it be entertaining? Sure. Would it have the same impact as turning the page on the final issue and seeing the aftermath of it’s central climactic event unfold over pages? No, of course not. And failing that, would the filmmakers substitute that with something that was equally moving, in a cinematic way? …Would they even know where to look?

Movies themselves have a great deal of power. You can do things in a dark room with a flickering projector and ninety minutes or so that could boggle the mind. But this is also true of comic books, and novels, and video games, and very often, it is these unique strengths that make the best of each medium amazing. You can’t walk into the same river twice, as the saying goes.

When I rail against failures like Green Lantern, or praise surprises like Thor, it’s ultimately because of their qualities as movies. Thor is a great movie, Green Lantern is not. I’ll easily overlook changes from the source material if the results are quality entertainment (I remain one of the biggest fans of Sherlock Holmes — yes, even over that insipid, boneheaded TV show that everybody loves).

I will definitely be queuing up for Transformers 3 this weekend. I will sit back and smile and shake my head at the Michael Bayness of it all, and fondly remember the 1980s cartoon I grew up loving. The geek inside me will scream bloody murder at every misstep, every last frame of film that does not pay obeisance to the temple of my childhood heroes. But I’ll tell it to be quiet.

It’s only a movie.