"Transformers: The Last Knight" Super Fan Day
Promotional events for movies have been a part of the fabric of Hollywood for as long as I can remember. Such events have traditionally been reserved for the likes of company employees, investors and print media. However we live in a very different world than the Golden Age of Hollywood, and with it has come new expressions of media ranging from web sites to social media. Recognition of such media led to several Transformers web sites being invited to the set of the upcoming film "Transformers: The Last Knight" (you can read my report on that visit here). As a follow up to that visit, several non-traditional media outlets from around the world were invited to a "Super Fan Day" event hosted by Paramount Pictures in March of 2017.
The Warm Up
Three years ago Universal Studios and Paramount worked together on creating "Transformers: The Ride", a 3D experience that represented a significant leap forward for Transformers as a brand (you can read my coverage of the opening of the Florida ride here). This ride takes you through an adventure set in an alternative version of the live action movie universe where you accompany an Autobot named EVAC in saving a piece of the Allspark. The ride is kinetic, fun and filled with stunning visuals. This is not just a visual experience, mind you. As you ride in EVAC you get a bit of water sprayed on you at a key moment, at another section you feel a blast of heat when a missile is launched at you! The idea was to put you into the middle of a battle and make you feel it and it does the job very well. This made it the perfect way to warm us up for the fan experience. We were on a tight schedule, so we were very quickly ushered into the park and to the ride. We arrived just in time to see Bumblebee (an actor in a very impressive costume) come out and take photos with visitors. It is a fun experience and I highly recommend it to any visitors.
I had my eye on another prize: the "Transformers Supply Vault" (aka the gift store). The store features several exclusive products ranging from clothing to bags to toys. Among the figures are several re-releases of existing figures from past movie lines in packaging exclusive to this store. There is also a Universal Studios exclusive character: EVAC himself! When the ride first opened, there were two incarnations of EVAC, a Deluxe Class and a Legion Class. Based on this visit, the Deluxe EVAC has now been repackaged with backing card artwork that is more reflective of the current Transformers packaging complete with brighter colors. While the Legion Class figure is no longer available, you can get a KREON of the character in a set that also includes Optimus Prime and other characters. For you high rollers out there, EVAC is also available in statue form.
Most notable is the availability of several "Cyber Battalion" figures at the store! Previously these were exclusive to a few countries outside of the United States, but Universal Studios decided to release three of them as "Universal Studios Exclusives". The three they carry are Optimus Prime, Bumblebee and Starscream. Prices are not what you will see at mass retail. The Deluxe EVAC for instance is about $29.95 so make sure you save up before you visit!
Before long we were whisked away back to our bus (through a "Restricted N.E.S.T. exit" no less!) and we were off to our next destination: Paramount Studios.
Growing up in the 80's and 90's, Paramount Pictures was responsible for some of my favorite entertainment throughout the years. Star Trek, Cheers, Mission Impossible and Indiana Jones all come to mind as I think back to an era where it felt like most of my entertainment was largely produced by this company. For me, pulling up the gates of Paramount was a visceral experience that made the inner child inside and the nerdy adult I am now both light up with enthusiasm.
Our group was ushered into a dining hall for lunch. Under beautiful lighting and surrounded by plants, it was a lovely dining experience. However the big surprise was a visit from Sqweeks himself! Or rather, this was a stand-in for the little Autobot. Built by the marketing department, a remote controlled Sqweeks rolled around and talked in the dining area as we ate. I was told that this was a kit that the marketing department was sent and assembled, intended for use at promotional events such as this. It is actually slightly smaller than the prop used in the film, but it looks so much like him it would be hard to tell at first glance. The detailing on Sqweeks was amazing. We were not allowed to take photos, so I spent a lot of time staring at details ranging from an axe on one wheel to springs hanging off of him like mechanical hair.
Once lunch ended, we were led to another part of the park. It was time for our Paramount Tour! Now, several Botcons ago I did a mini-version of this tour that lasted roughly twenty minutes. This time however we were being given the full treatment which would last well over an hour! At first we were given our badges which already had our names printed on them! Much to my delight, we were allowed to keep them. We were then brought to a waiting room where we watched a promotional video that went through 100 years of Paramount Pictures history. In the same room were props from movies such as Star Trek (2009) and Interstellar. There were also Oscars on display including the one for Forrest Gump. You really got a sense of cinema history in the room and it was a great warm up for the tour.
Soon we were broken up into groups of six for the tours, but not before we were shown a giant section of the Allspark itself hanging on the wall! This prop was the same one used in the first movie and it turns out the entire thing is made of Styrofoam carved up and painted. We were actually allowed to touch it and it did indeed have the spongy feel of Styrofoam but you would never know from just looking at it.
I won't go into granular detail about the tour. I will say that we had a super friendly and knowledgeable guide. I also appreciated him having a tablet on hand to show us photos relevant to the sections of the studio we were in. During the tour we passed many sound stages, workshops and historical buildings. Among the more notable areas we saw or visited were:
- The sound stage where the original Star Trek series was filmed.
- The row of sound stages where every Star Trek series from "The Next Generation" to "Enterprise" was filmed.
- The sound stage where the original Mission Impossible series was filmed.
- The sound stage where Alfred Hitchcock had an entire simulation of a city built for "Rear Window".
- The offices once used by Lucille Ball (now being used by Allspark Pictures!).
- The buildings that originally made up Desilu Studios.
- The sound stage where both Cheers and Frasier were filmed.
- The lawn area used to represent the exterior of the university in Community.
- The "New York City" back lot which has been used for many movies and TV shows over the years including Glee, Captain America and most recently the trailer for "The Last Knight"
When the tour ended, we were led into the Technicolor building which was a gorgeous office space. Very modern, colorful and inviting. Inside we were brought into two different sound studios where engineers were hard at work mixing sound for scenes in the movie. We got to see two very brief scenes (no spoilers here) but one was shown to us with all sounds intact. The other was shown with no dialogue, but only sound effects such as footsteps and explosions. It was a fascinating look into the process of film making.
Earlier we had been told by our tour guide not to look into Stage 17 as we passed it. Near the end of our time at Paramount, we were near Stage 17 when we saw part of the reason why! As we approached the Studio, we saw the shiny, red and blue Western Star that represents Optimus Prime himself in "The Last Knight"! Paramount had set up a professional photo shoot and each of us were given the chance to take photos with the truck.
After that we entered Stage 17 itself to find another treat: five vehicles from "The Last Knight" all set up for us to photograph! The five vehicles were: Crosshairs, Bumblebee, "Mohawk", Drift and Barricade. The professional photographer was also on hand to take photos of us with the cars. While we were all in "professional" mode to a large degree, snapping photos, taking videos, there was a palpable energy in the room borne of excitement seeing the "living" incarnations of the Transformers in front of us.
Another treat was getting to see Randy Peters again. Randy is the stunt driver responsible for much of the Optimus Prime vehicle stunts in the live action movies. We met during my set visit last year. Since he manages the vehicles he and his crew were there to move the vehicles around and shine them up as necessary. If you need a reminder of Randy's skills, check out the video from last year's set visit below:
Seeing these vehicles was a really nice way to end our visit to Paramount Studios, but our itinerary was only half over at this point and there was more excitement to come!
When the folks at Paramount decided to set up the "Super Fan Day" to promote "The Last Knight", we really did not know exactly what to expect as our itinerary was very open ended. As the day went along, it became clear that we were taking a ride that was going to get better and better as the day went along. As we rode in the bus heading towards an unknown destination, we grew more and more curious. When our bus slowed down, I happened to look up and see a sign on the side of a non-descript building: Bay Studios!
You read that right, we were visiting Bay Studios, also known as Platinum Dunes itself. This facility is where a lot of creative work (as well as editing and mechanical work) is done. When we entered we were all in awe. High above was a statue (perhaps a prop?) of Frenzy from the first movie. At the reception desk there was a gigantic Bumblebee head. In another section, statues of Freddie (from New Nightmare) and other horror figures stood. Perhaps one of the most captivating parts of our visit were to Mastiff puppies! These adorable dogs were Michael Bay's pets and had their own special hang out area in the studio. The two were named Bumblebee and Nitro Zeus. Nitro was very chill and hung back, but Bumblebee was all about the attention. She happily greeted everyone and she was super cute. Sadly we were not allowed to take any photographs inside the facility so I could not get a photo with one of these adorable pups.
Soon Michael Bay himself arrived and he first took us to his office for introductions. There were about twenty of us, and he took time to greet each of us and made it a point to ask us our names. For the international media in attendance Bay made sure that he heard their names and asked where they came from. After the rounds of introductions, Bay explained some of the thought process behind "The Last Knight". Much has been said in media about the "writer's room" set up by Paramount to develop the trajectory for the live action Transformers franchise, however some of Bay's comments were very enlightening. He pointed out that each of the films were fairly self contained in terms of story, a disconnect that some fans have mentioned before over the years. He also mentioned that he felt strongly if Paramount were to continue developing Transformers movies, it needed some type of story-based foundation and thus the writer's room was commissioned. Bay went on to tell us that "The Last Knight" should very much be treated as a new starting point for the franchise that drops many hints of stories to come.
Another point Bay impressed upon us is that "The Last Knight" is a "true" IMAX 3D film. They are using up to date IMAX cameras and there is no post-production conversion happening. The image should fill the screen and he felt very strongly that a big screen was the best way to see everything that will be on screen.
Much to my surprise (and I believe that of many of my colleagues in the room) we had already spent almost a half hour in Bay's office chatting with him. While we could have likely continued the discussion for hours on end he had other ideas, and we followed him as he led us out of the building to his editing suite.
Let me preface the rest of this report by saying that we were explicitly asked not to reveal the specifics of the scenes we were shown, however we were told to give our impressions. First, in answer to the question no doubt on many people's minds: we were shown several unfinished scenes that have yet to be revealed in any trailers or articles. One of the key scenes we were shown was an action sequence that takes place early in the film. Earlier in his office, Bay had emphasized that he was filming "The Last Knight" in "true" IMAX, using IMAX cameras and filming it in 3D as well. This means no post-filming conversion, this is the real deal. This action sequence really helped bring home the point. Quite simply, smaller screens will not do justice to some of these sequences. There is one in particular involving a Transformer fighting in a very unique style that will look amazing on an IMAX screen and I can't wait to see it play out in June. We were also shown scenes involving "Cogman" (a character already revealed by the official Transformers Snapchat) who will provide not just some interesting and unique action, but also some humor as well. For those who found some of the humor in past films not to their liking, I think Cogman serves up more traditional humor that fans will like better.
What truly came across as Bay showed us various scenes (some very rough and unfinished) what struck me most is how much of a perfectionist he is. In many respects he is one of his own strongest critics. There were sequences we saw that looked excellent to me, but by his standards still needed a lot of work. We were also shown one sequence involving a very technical set of stunts and practical effects where Bay was right in the mix of things ensuring the shots and timing were correct. He was not just sitting in a chair with a megaphone, he was right alongside the actors and stuntpeople, camera in hand. After spending well over an hour listening to Bay's thought process and seeing examples of his work ethic, I will say that regardless of whether or not you agree with his creative decisions, his attention to detail, energy and devotion to his work is to be admired.
In all honesty I think we could have all stayed in that editing suite all night watching videos and listening to the creative process behind them, but our Paramount team had to get us to our next spot: dinner! Dinner was held in a private room at Sol Cocina. The food was fantastic featuring tacos, ceviche, rice and beans and of course, a really great little open bar. Much to our surprise, Michael Bay actually joined us at the restaurant for his own dinner. He made the rounds, shook hands and even took some photos with fans before eating his own meal. This was kind of a hint for the rest of the night. We had thought the time Bay gave us at the studio would be the last we saw of him, but there was more to come!
Once again as our bus traversed the streets and freeways of Los Angeles we could only guess as to where we were going. As our bus slowed down, I looked up and saw a familiar logo towards the top of a building: IMAX! I turned to my friend next to me and said something like "No freaking way..." but yes, we were going to visit the IMAX headquarters itself!
When we entered we were greeted by a super friendly staff and the kind Paramount folks who had escorted us all day long. Keep in mind our day began around 9AM and at this point it was getting close to 10PM. The ImAX building is absolutely gorgeous. Modern, open, spacious and brilliantly lit I found it immediately welcoming. We were all quickly escorted into a theater and my mind was blown. Before me was a mini-version of an IMAX theater. When I say "mini", I mean that it had less seats than a standard IMAX theater, but the screen was the centerpiece. Five stories tall, this is the IMAX experience you should have when you see any film in this format. As I would later learn, the room also had the sound system that should accompany all IMAX movies as well. As we settled in the giant, blue IMAX logo blazed in front of us on the screen. The words "Are you kidding me? Holy cow!" probably went through my mind about ten times.
Soon Bay spoke a bit and warned us what we were about to see was unfinished in many respects so we need to view it accordingly. We were told of course not to have our cameras and phones out, and there were several guards watching us very carefully. Soon the lights dimmed and the magic began. We were also told that this was his first viewing of this reel since it had been put together by the editor that does his trailers.
WARNING: From this point onward there will be SPOILERS for "The Last Knight"! If you do not wish to be spoiled on footage that has yet to be released, then please turn back now!
The first scene was the actual opening of the movie. It starts with the familiar Paramount logo and then giant fireballs launching over it. What ensues is a tremendous battle of medieval warriors battling it out. We quickly learn that King Arthur's forces were being overwhelmed and Merlin has gone for help. Interestingly parts of King Arthur's armor seemed to move and glow, suggesting the Knights of the Round Table had armor enhanced with Cybertronian technology. We are quickly introduced to Merlin (in a rather comical fashion) before seeing him arrive at what appears to be a Cybertronian ship that crashed ages ago.
Cut to Merlin riding back to the battle, this time with Dragonstorm! This scene was a powerful and visceral way to begin the movie. The battle scene involved hundreds of actors and stuntmen filming over three days and all the hard work shows on screen. It was also fascinating to see that Transformers and humans worked together in the distant past. I am also glad this scene did not repeat the live action movie trope of having Optimus Prime do a voice over. It felt more fresh and new that way.
A group of kids (already seen in the most recent trailer) decide to go exploring in a quarantine zone, the "TRF" (an anti-Transformers military force) two legged drones (also seen in the trailers) attack! Izabella shows up to save them along with Sqweeks. However when her protector Canopy is killed (also seen in the trailers) all seems lost until Cade Yeager arrives with Bumblebee to destroy the drones and save the day!
Izabella the survivor
This was the longest sequence I have seen Isabela Moner act in so far and I think she did a fantastic job. She was able to convey confidence, bravery and sadness in a brief sequence. I also enjoyed seeing Cade using human sized weapons against the TRF drones. We have already seen humans borrowing Cybertronian tech in previous films, so it is great to see that thread continue. Much of this sequence has been seen in various clips and trailers but it was nice to see it all come together.
At a junkyard Cade is seen chastising Grimlock as Izabella and Sqweeks watch amused. Grimlock apparently loves chewing on cars (or eating them). Cade tells him to spit it out and eventually he does, and looks a bit sick in the process. Cade talks to him like a child, telling him to think about what he has done. There is also a quick line Cade says about being "guests" at the junkyard.
Though a good portion of this sequence has already appeared in trailers it was nice to see it put together as a complete sequence instead of just a tiny clip. For some fans seeing Grimlock going from the fierce warrior in "Age of Extinction" to having a "comedy scene" may seem odd, but in an unexpected way this parallels what happened with Generation One Grimlock. In the TV show he was often portrayed as a rebellious, powerful warrior. Then later in the 1986 film the writers added a comedic element to the character, down to him asking Kup to tell him stories like a child. So long as they keep his fierceness and ability to battle I have no problem with it.
In this sequence we see the TRF gearing up to capture a target. From all appearances, their target is Cade! Among those leading this group is Lennox. Next we see a dramatic sequence where military vehicles drive along a highway only to be attacked by Grimlock and Slug! The Dinobots make quick work of the vehicles, tossing them into the air and knocking them aside. It was a really dramatic sequence and reminded everyone that the Dinobots represent incredible power. I will also say for such a dramatic sequence the camera was surprisingly still compared to previous films. There is one great shot of Slug from roughly a human's level that was amazing to behold and will look amazing on an IMAX screen.
Cade, Izabella and one other (unnamed) character are being chased through a city by a small army of TRF Drones. These Drones are the "Tie Fighter" looking devices seen in the most recent trailer. The panels on the sides actually swing into the front to form a battering ram, and one of these manages to slam into Cade to capture him. While he escapes, he almost doesn't make it. This was a fun sequence full of tension thanks to the ability to hear the Drones even if you couldn't see them. I found the Drones very effective as a threat thanks in part to their numbers and their ability to go where humans cannot.
ear what appears to be a bowling alley, Cade meets Cogman. This human sized Transformer is not part of Bumblebee's group but rather has been sent to bring Cade to...someone. When Crosshairs tries to step in to help Cade, Cogman manages to take him out. He may be human sized, but he seems just as powerful as the larger Autobots. He then tells Cade that he has a destiny and that he must leave his friends to protect them. In a key scene, he hands Cade a metal symbol like the ones on the armor King Arthur and the Knights were wearing in the opening sequence. It moves up Cade's arm and Cogman tells him it will not leave him. What this means remains to be seen. Cade realizes that Cogman is right and tells Izabella that she will be taken care of because she is family (this scene is in the trailer). Cogman then takes Cade for a ride in an old style bomber plane, complete with propellers and silver chrome exterior.
Sir Edmound Burton
At a gigantic castle we meet Sir Edmound Burton (played by Anthony Hopkins) is walking his dog (played by Freya the world's "loneliest" dog). Cogman, Bumblebee and Cade walk towards the castle when a seemingly inactive World War One tank fires a blast at them. Burton tells the tank to hold off and it transforms! While the character is not named, he looks like a chunky Transformer wearing a military hat with a monocle on one eye! This is a very "retro" design, like something that you would see in an alt-history Transformers story. Burton explains the tank is old and still thinks its in World War One but he calms down. Soon a sports car comes roaring down the path transforming and ejecting a woman. The robot is Hot Rod who looks apologetic about ejecting his passenger.
Later, inside the castle it is revealed the woman brought to the castle by Hot Rod is Viviane Wembly (played by Laura Haddock). She and Sir Burton have history (I think she is his daughter but the different last names are throwing me off). Cade and Viviane do not get along at first, leading to Cogman attacking Cade to "protect" her. Sir Burton stops him and then begins to tell a story. The story incorporates some of Anthony Hopkins' narration from an earlier trailer.
Flashing back again to the time of King Arthur, we learn that the Knights of the Round Table were each backed up by a Cybertronian Knight. Dramatic images play of the human and Cybertronian Knights joining swords in a circle. Sir Burton tells us they were a force of good and justice even back then. The Cybertronian Knights all looked like stylized medieval knights, with armor that was reminiscent of the way the Dinobots looked in the last movie in robot form, but with more smooth parts and less jagged points. It is a very dramatic and tense scene, but Cogman helps break the tension with some good natured humor. This scene was really great and if you can accept that Transformers had influence over human culture in the past, then this is a fun spin on that possibility.
Cade and Vivian are in what appears to be an old World War Two submarine. They are being followed by two modern submersibles with Lennox and his crew. The subs are all approaching a gigantic Cybertronian structure underwater. Cade and Vivian are able to get in through a giant hatch, but it closes behind them causing Lennox and crew to have to find a different way in. This scene was quick but gave a good sense of the scope of the visuals and story. Also, this scene gave us a quick peek at a control room where General Morshower was on hand to give orders!
In what looks like it could be a part of the final battle sequence in the movie, a group of TRF Ospreys crash land near giant chunks of land crashing into what look like parts of Cybertron. The two appear to be merging and there is definitely a sense of tension throughout the scene. The scene also shows the Autobots on their own vehicles flying into the scene alongside Dragonstorm! The scene had a lot of quick cuts so the exact story context was not quite there, but it should prove interesting seeing how all these warriors come together for this final battle.
Once the lights came up, Bay actually asked us all for our feedback on what we had just seen. Apparently the clips we saw were a reel put together for theater companies to see and he wanted to represent the film as best as he could given footage that is available now. He took the feedback well and confessed that much of what we were saying reflected his own thoughts. One non-spoiler suggestion was to include more moments with the Decepticons in the reel (in contrast, there was plenty of Autobot representation). When asked about how long he has to finish the film, Bay told us that movies have been known to come as close to two weeks before the release day of a film. He told us "Age of Extinction" came very close to its deadline due in part to the complexity of some of the special effects.
After we left the theater we came out to find an amazing spread of desserts before us. Bay actually stayed around signing autographs, taking photos and accepting gifts. One of the most impressive gifts he received was from a fan who had come from China. The gift was a huge painting featuring key characters from the original movie through "Age of Extinction". The art style was done in traditional Chinese water color. Everyone gasped at it and Bay was very impressed (so was I, believe me). I shared some feedback with Bay about what we had seen before I snapped my own pic with him. Before the night ended, I was asked to post quick impressions for the official Transformers Snapchat so I rattled something off quick (I had 8 seconds). Soon the night was over and we were given IMAX goodie bags on our way out. When we returned to our bus we found another goodie bag with a print from "The Last Knight" and a shirt. It was one last expression of generosity from a studio that had gone all out for this unprecedented event.
One Day Later
As I type this I am on my plane on the way home and part of me still cannot believe this amazing experience happened. The presence of fan media on an international scale is a testament to the changing landscape of events coverage and the way the Transformers brand is viewed by the powers that be. Ben's World of Transformers would like to extend its sincere thanks to the folks at Paramount, Universal, Platinum Dunes and Hasbro for making this site a part of the Super Fan Day.
Transformers: The Last Knight opens in theaters June 23. The film is directed by Michael Bay and stars Mark Wahlberg, Josh Duhamel, Anthony Hopkins, Laura Haddock, Jerrod Carmichael, Isabela Moner and Santiago Cabrera.
The Last Knight shatters the core myths of the Transformers franchise, and redefines what it means to be a hero. Humans and Transformers are at war, Optimus Prime is gone. The key to saving our future lies buried in the secrets of the past, in the hidden history of Transformers on Earth. Saving our world falls upon the shoulders of an unlikely alliance: Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg); Bumblebee; an English Lord (Sir Anthony Hopkins); and an Oxford Professor (Laura Haddock).
There comes a moment in everyone’s life when we are called upon to make a difference. In Transformers: The Last Knight, the hunted will become heroes. Heroes will become villains. Only one world will survive: theirs, or ours.