Welker vs. Weaving
There are people in this world who are passionate about the things they love, but people can be more passionate about things they profess to hate. They'll go to a movie, and register their disgust online immediately, like Comic Book Guy. I'll watch an episode of Lost, enjoy the storytelling and the twists(this past week's was especially twisted), and then go online to find message boards flooded with people who hate it. “I'm done with this.” “This show sucks.” “That didn't answer any questions!” The haters dominate the boards, and it mystifies me that they don't simply stop watching the show and instead spend more time talking about it than the people that do. I usually shrug and close the window, and the day I get drawn into a fight about a movie or a television show on a message board is the day someone needs to put a bullet in my brain.
I've approached the upcoming Transformers movie with that attitude. I don't expect an exact duplication of the 1984 cartoon, nor should I. There have been comic books and cartoon spinoffs, and it's been over 20 years. Inevitably, there will be changes as the variety of source material is adapted in to a cohesive, modern live-action movie. Bumblebee might not transform into a Volkswagen Beetle because the filmmakers didn't have the rights to use that vehicle, but the Chevy Camaro is pretty cool and as long as the spirit of the character is intact, I don't mind the change.
Optimus Prime, the heroic Autobot leader, is best known as a red and blue Cab over truck. In the movie, he will be a Peterbilt 379. In robot mode, his head is similar to his animated forefather's, but he has a radically different paint job otherwise, blue with flame detailing. It's an odd choice if these alien robots transform into vehicles to blend in on our world. But, I haven't seen the movie yet, so I'll have to reserve judgment until I see how the plot leads to this alternate mode. The spirit of this character will probably be intact as well, as original voice actor Peter Cullen reprises his role.
Now, the latest “controversy” seems to be in the casting of a voice actor for Megatron, Prime's evil nemesis. In the past week I've read conflicting reports based on a cryptic message on Sector Seven, a site marketing the film. It seems that Hugo Weaving has the part, and not Cullen's original costar Frank Welker. I can guarantee that anyone looking at Welker's resume will have seen some cartoon featuring his voice, even if they haven't seen the same ones I have. Of course, fans were registering displeasure, and I have to admit to some disappointment myself. Having two stars from the original series would have been a nice nod to the older fans, and the other changes wouldn't seem so bad in light of such symmetry. But the movie opens July 4th, so I had to wonder if they were in fact not only still recording, but still casting.
My skepticism was not unique, and I read conflicting reports. Finally I came across some comments that Weaving didn't even know about these rumors, and the studio was trying to create buzz to get the fans talking, knowing that the internet would be in an uproar and the revelation that it was Welker all along would be insanely well received. It was a strategy too good to be more than wishful thinking on the part of these posters, and U.S.A. Today and some other sources seemed to confirm the Matrix and V for Vendetta star was in fact voicing the villain, even if IMDB has yet to be updated.
I don't want to be one of those fans. Maybe this movie will be great, or maybe it will be horrible because of the changes and twenty other reasons. I'm not going to rant on message boards; it's bad enough that this is a topic on my blog. The problem with those fans, and one of the reasons studios aren't too concerned with their wishes, is that they're still going to see the movie. Even with reservations, I wouldn't be kidding anyone by announcing a boycott. It's giant robots and explosions; there's no way I won't be in the theater on opening day or a day or so after.
There's not a lot of love for voice actors in Hollywood. If they wanted a Megatron that sounded like Weaving, and wanted someone with Transformers history, David Kaye might have been more palatable to the fanatics. Weaving isn't a bad choice, just a new one. Sometimes a casting change is hard to accept, like when soap operas get a different actor to play the same character without a plastic surgery backstory, and everyone else acts like it's the same person anyway. When Cullen didn't reprise his role as K.A.R.R., it was a noticeable difference. When Christopher McDonald supplied the voice for Superman in two episodes of Batman Beyond, fans definitely missed Tim Daly, who had the role in the prior continuity. Daly didn't reprise his role in Justice League either, but then George Newbern sounded enough like him that it worked out fine.
A recent clip also indicates that, after all this time, Welker's rendition of Megatron may not be what it once was. Maybe that was a factor in auditioning as much as the desire to cast a celebrity, but to be fair the old series did add some electronic distortion. For now, it seems like Weaving has the part and not Welker, but I'll probably read the opposite a few more times between now and July. I'll close with some classic clips of what was and might have been, and what might be.
Optimus vs. Megatron in the 1986 movie:
Weaving's most famous villain:
David Kaye's Megatron (II) in Beast Wars: