A notable entry of the mockbuster era, Transmorphers - in league with War of the Worlds 1 and 2 - really helped solidify The Asylum in the cultural consciousness as an independent studio worth watching. Facing lawsuits - there were none - from Michael Bay and Hasbro, The Asylum brazenly forged ahead and released this dystopic sci-fi/action epic. It goes as follows:
After the discovery of life on a distant planet - 20 million miles distant, a nice nod to Ray Harryhausen, perhaps - we foolishly try and make contact. Decades we wait, and then the response? Full-on alien-robot invasion, one that obliterates 90% of the Earth's population and paves the way for the rest of the alien-robots to re-settle our planet. These robots? Transmorphers. It's up to what remains of humanity to act as our last defenders.
Cut to outer space, where a military guild ship has caught hints of a robot advance. The impending course of action causes a bit of a rift in the crew, half of whom side with the lady General (Eliza Swenson) and want to respond diplomatically, the other half on the side of another officer (Jeff Denton) who wants to respond with guns blazing. As a sort of compromise, or stalling tactic, a team of elite space-marine-type-folks are sent out to recover a bot for studying purposes. This is where the hunt begins, not so much on the marines' part as much as on the part of the warrior-alien-robots they presume to hunt. Excellent sound effects abound.
When they discover the coming battle is too big for just the team to handle, the military resorts to awaking a pair of problem-soldiers (Griff Furst and Matthew Wolf) from cryogenic stasis to lead the assault. Naturally, they're a little pissed about being frozen - Griff Furst for the physical act of being frozen, Wolf for the fact that in the interim, his ex-wife has become the new wife of...wait for it...the lady General! (wha-?)
This is the oft-spoken-of lesbian subplot mainstream media chose to latch onto in their mentions of the film, but honestly people, isn't that just lighting fires to watch them burn? I mean, aside from her body, Megan Fox looks like a unibrowed transsexual right out of the salon (no offense to transsexuals, or salons, only Megan Fox). Where's the brou-ha-ha in that thing making out with the Even Stevens kid?
I digress, but it doesn't matter, because from here on out the film becomes a cat-and-mouse game of intergalactic Risk, man versus robot for the supreme control of the others' right to live. The rest is yours to discover.
I will say, however, that overall Transmorphers was a nice sci-fi (that is, heavily technological) /post-apocalypse (that is, ruined landscape, decimated population, fight for survival) hybrid that plays like Starship Troopers set in a Warriors landscape. The sound editing wasn't so great on my copy, but the FX are amazing in design, if not comparably fluid in execution: at times the robots come off a little too 2-D, but for direct-to-DVD they are exceptional, and believable enough for your buck. The battle scenes are especially spectacular, enough so to make you overlook any technical short-comings if you allow yourself to get lost in the sheer artistry and resourcefulness of low-budget filmmaking.
As for performances, this one's peppered with a score of great ones from Asylum regulars. Jeff Denton (The Beast of Bray Road, The Hitchhiker), as mentioned, plays the stern officer itching for a fight, and as such he pulls off the HMFIC* role to a T, stoic and stern, the blue-collar translator to Eliza Swenson's more-polished authoritative general. The lovely Ms. Swenson (Dracula's Curse, Frankenstein Reborn) inhabits the role of the General as a cold, distant and emotionally detached administrator, in short the perfect commander. Visually Ms. Swenson comes off as a young Angelina Jolie meets Amanda Seyfried, which is a beautiful, beautiful thing. But her most powerful asset is her ability, for someone so petite, to fill the screen with her strength, an insane amount, like the button that unleashes the bomb. No wonder she's been employed by The Asylum seven times (catch her next in director Leigh Scott's The Witches of Oz).
Unfrozen soldiers Griff Furst (Alien Abduction, The Hitchhiker) and Matthew Wolf (The Apocalypse, Dragon) are a gruff but wry duo, a blend of humor and action. Furst comes across as the space-Maverick to Wolf's Goose, but in the former's case, even badder-boy, grizzled and dashing, a charming machine of a soldier. He's never been more likable, or formidable.
Other notable performances in this large ensemble cast come from Asylum regulars Shaley Scott (The Hitchhiker, Invasion of the Pod People) - who as a firestarter is deliciously meddlesome, insidious and mayhemic in a Serpent-queen kind of way, if that makes any sense, which it totally does to me; she's got blue eyes that'll burn right through the screen - Michael Tower (30,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Dracula's Curse), Sarah Hall (When a Killer Calls, The Hitchhiker), Erin Sullivan (Monster), Noel Thurman (Supercroc, Universal Soldiers), Jason S. Gray (Universal Soldiers, The Da Vinci Treasure), Jessica Bork (Dragon, The Hitchhiker), Thomas Downey (The Beast of Bray Road, King of the Lost World), Monique La Barr (Death Racers, 666: The Beast) and even a few more.
Of course, this giant cast is brought to you by none other than Leigh Scott, who comes across as very loyal for how often he uses the same folk. Mr. Scott wrote and directed this film in ambitious fashion, complete with split-screen and a grayed color-scheme that played together to form a claustrophobic, prison-like future from which there is no escape but full-blown revolution.
Though alike in name and concept, the story of Transmorphers is its own, independent of the Hollywood version, and, in that regard, is a successful futuristic-actioner. It's arguable that Leigh Scott mastered the mockbuster, and I think the best proof is right here.
* Head MotherFucker In Charge