I like taking a close look at characters, actors, directors, producers and other major players in the film adaptations of the TRANSFORMERS franchise. I think that, by taking a close look at some of these key figures, we can better understand the way the films ended up being presented to us. From Michael Bay´s heavy handed treatment of stereotypes, to Lorenzo Di Bonaventura´s incredible track record at Warner, via Mark Whalberg incredibly colorful life, it´s a fun way of delving deeper into a franchise that, for the most part, a lot of us take for granted. Today, I´m looking at Sam Witwicky, as played by Shia LeBeouf in the first three Bayverse films (not the cartoons, mind you; that´s a story for another time).
RELATABLE GEEK (if somewhat creepy)
The thing with Sam is that he is, at the core of the character, a relatable geek. He´s not 100% geeky, though, and to be honest, I´d have preferred it if he liked, say, Nintendo portables. But nobody´s perfect. He´s also not in the oil business, so that´s another knock to the roots of it all. But in the end, in 2007, I found it easy to relate to his desire to fit in, to have a partner, to have independence, to have a car. Sure, the way he went about it was everything from dangerous, to creepy, to outright irresponsible (come on, you can do a better geneology assigmnent than that, Shia). But I would have liked an old yellow Camaro. It would have taken me a few visits to the best Australian casinos, perhaps, to make enough to buy one, considering it´d be a much more expensive proposition in my native Paraguay than the $4000 Sam and his dad paid (dubiously named car salesman) Bobby Bolivia for a friendly autobot. But, yeah… I can relate, Sam. I can relate.
WITH GREAT POWER, COMES…
A story of Spiderman proportions the first trilogy ain´t, but we have to admit that, for a teenager, it must have been pretty difficult to deal with the responsibility of being part of saving the planet from alien robots. Huge, killer alien robots. Once again, putting myself in his shoes, I wonder how much I would have done differently to Sam. I mean, sure, we can get aspirational about it all, but if we want relatability, setting the creepy, peeping-tom attitude aside, I would have struggled to find my moral compass should the fate of humanity rest on my teenage shoulders. As a matter of fact, I had already served in the army before I turned 20 years old, so I can relate quite closely to having to reset one´s mentality in exchange for the greater good. It was very difficult to do in real life, so I´m not too sad about the fact that Sam isn´t perfect in his coping. OK, the whole creepy eBay user name thing and the way he views women isn´t optimal, but we gotta remember this is coming from Michael Bay, who, lest we forget, asked Megan Fox to wash his supercar as part of her audition.
Here´s the thing: for all his faults, Sam Witwicky carried the first three films of the franchise as a central character, and those films are, to this day, the most successful in the history of TRANSFORMERS. It´s not a perfect portrayal of a perfect character, sure, but did he really deserve to go out the way he did? A couple of movies later, a family member is named as the last surviving Witwicky and that´s that, the hero of the first three films is erased from lore? I think they might have gone a bit too far with that, to be honest. I can put some cash on black at the best online casino that even the most jaded TRANSFORMERS fan would have cheered to see Sam´s legacy celebrated, say, in BUMBLEBEE. At least a nod. Or perhaps have Whalberg´s character acknowledge how hard it is for him, as a grown adult, to deal with all of this, and how hard it must have been for other people who had been in his place. In the end, the makers fell out of love with Shia and Sam and they got the boot. It doesn´t help that Shia went a bit bananas during those years. But, personally, I think he deserverd better.
So, is Sam Witwicky a bad guy in the films? Is Shia´s portrayal of such an imperfect character flawed enough to say he´s bad? I don´t think so. That´s why I believe it´s important for us to consider the context in which these films are made. We´re seeing it all through the Bay windows (pun intended) and I take that with a grain of salt. I think there was a lot to relate to in Shia´s portrayal of Sam, and I wish he would have gotten the chance to showcase a better version of himself. Or at the very least, not be killed in a footnote.