Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen | 2009
- DIRECTOR |
- Michael Bay
Bumblebee crying? The Jar Jar Binks ice-cream truck twins? Despite the undoubted spectacle, Michael Bay scuppers the sequel by confusing kid-friendly with infantile.
The portentous prologue set in 17,000BC, revealing the backstory of the human race’s first meeting with ancient Transformers as they scour the universe for sources of energon, is filmed in the familiar Alabama Hills, Central California, against the imposing backdrop of the Sierra Nevada Peaks.
The rock formations, above the town of Lone Pine have been a staple exotic location since the Thirties, regularly providing a stand-in for the likes of the Himalayas in films such as Gunga Din and King Of The Khyber Rifles. Lone Pine not only has a Film History Museum but in October hosts its own annual Film Festival.
Fast forward to present day ‘Shanghai, China’, where Autobots acting in concert with the US military clear up a little problem with a couple of troublesome Decepticons.
Sideways and Demolishor are destroyed but not before issuing the ominous warning that "The Fallen will rise again". The skirmish was shot at a mix of two widely separate locations: the old Bethlehem Steel site in Bethlehem, about 60 miles north of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and in Long Beach, south of Los Angeles.
The remains of the Bethlehem Steel works, just south of the city, which closed a few years ago, have been imaginatively redeveloped as SteelStacks, an arts and entertainment district incorporating the plant's five blast furnaces as a dramatic backdrop. SteelStacks currently features ArtsQuest, a performing arts center, the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem, and no fewer than three outdoor music venues.
The docks at San Pedro Harbor take over for later shots and you can glimpse the familiar old Southwest Marine building, seen as the ‘San Diego’ dock in Jurassic Park: The Lost World – among many other films.
Still in Los Angeles, Sam is getting ready for college when he comes across a tiny sliver of the mighty AllSpark, as you do, which instantly turns all of the household appliances into mischievous gremlins. The Witwicky house is, once again, 2187 West 24th Street, between South Gramercy Place and Cimarron Street in the West Adams district, still there despite a slight problem with pyrotechnics. A minor fire threatened to become a major panic when the emergency services failed to realise that apparent ‘blast damage’ was part of a movie set.
It’s not referred to by name, but the college Sam attends is clearly intended to be Princeton, New Jersey – as the aerial shot of the Frist Campus Center (which fans of TV’s House will probably recognise as the fictitious ’Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital’) establishes.
In fact, much of the film was made around Philadelphia and most of the college scenes were shot on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania (though both Princeton and Penn University requested that their names were not associated with scenes of Sam’s mom (Julie White) getting stoned on hash brownies).
Sam’s fraternity house, where roommate Leo (Ramon Rodriguez) coincidentally turns out to be running an alien conspiracy website, is Penn’s Psi Upsilon fraternity, known for obvious reasons as ‘The Castle’, at the southwest corner of 36th Street and Locust Walk.
Decepticons are on to the fact that another shard of the AllSpark is being held in the NEST (Non-biological Extraterrestrial Species Treaty, as you probably know) HQ at ‘Diego Garcia’.
There is a real Diego Garcia, a tropical in the central Indian Ocean used as a naval ship and submarine support base, but the facility seen in the film is the Naval Station Point Loma ULF/VLF facility in San Diego. The circular structure you can see in the background of the shot is not a tiny sheep pen, but a sophisticated antenna to communicate with submarines.
The panther-like Decepticon Ravage retrieves the splinter from ‘Diego Garcia’ facilitating the revival of Megatron who’s been rusting away under the sea since the end of the last movie.
In Camaro mode, Bumblebee turns up at Sam’s frat house to transport him to a meeting with Optimus Prime among the extravagant monuments of Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery, 3822 Ridge Avenue, in the East Falls district overlooking the Schuylkill River. By the way, this is where Rocky visits the grave of his wife Adrian in 2006’s Rocky Balboa. If you don’t believe me, you can see her headstone just south of the main entrance.
Optimus reveals that the bit of AllSpark has been stolen but Sam’s reluctance to become involved soon comes back to haunt him.
Returning to college, he’s attacked by a comely humanoid Decepticon Pretender, leading to a wild chase through the campus – and beyond. The classical pillared exterior of the university library is the Greek-Revival Founder’s Hall which you’ll find on the campus of Girard College, 2101 South College Avenue, a couple of miles northeast of Penn.
Captured by a ’copter, which turns out to be Grindor, Sam and Leo’s car is dumped into a vast industrial space where the naughty creatures intend to get information from Sam by the down-and-dirty method of removing his brain.
The huge, arch-ceilinged facility is Philadelphia’s disused Delaware Power Plant adjacent to Penn Treaty Park on the Delaware River waterfront. Built in 1917 and abandoned since the 1980s, there’s been talk of repurposing, but its future still remains uncertain. It’s the first of several Philly locations previously seen in Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys.
Happily, Sam gets to hang onto his grey matter when the team is rescued at the last minute by Optimus Prime.
From the industrial waterfront, they’re suddenly and inexplicably driving through verdant woods. It’s in this unlikely setting that Optimus is killed and a guilt-ridden Sam finds himself drawn back into the fray.
This woodland is Lincoln National Forest on Mescalero Apache land, east of Alamogordo in New Mexico. Perhaps not the first state that springs to mind when you think of lush forests, but not far from where the ‘Egyptian’ desert scenes were shot. The production was allowed to destroy12 real trees during the battle, in return for planting another 6,000 afterwards.
With the death of Optimus, the Fallen is freed from his captivity and Megatron meets up with minion Starscream atop a ‘New York’ rooftop, decreeing an end to disguises and the full mobilisation of Decepticons.
The establishing shot kind of implies that the roof is that of Manhattan’s Metlife Building, but in fact the distinctive almond-shaped rooftop is that of the Gas Company Tower, 555 West 5th Street, downtown Los Angeles. The Tower is a regularly used location, though it’s the street level entrance you’d probably recognise from films such as Speed and Charlie’s Angels.
The Fallen speaks to the world, demanding the surrender of Sam and, to emphasise the point, Decepticon Mixmaster rips the US flag from the top of the eastern tower of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York.
The secret location to which Sam and co are spirited away by Bumblebee is Philadelphia’s crumbling but wonderfully photogenic Eastern State Penitentiary, 2027 Fairmount Avenue at 22nd Street.
Radical in its day, the central hub with seven ‘spokes’ radiating outwards, was the brainchild of the Quaker movement, intended as a humane alternative to the crude institutions of the 19th century. Sadly, but all too predictably, the strict regime of solitary confinement served only to drive inmates mad. One who survived was crime boss Al Capone who was incarcerated in a suspiciously luxurious cell for eight months in the 1920s. The Penitentiary is another major location featured in Twelve Monkeys.
The Fallen gives a demonstration of his power in Paris, where Sam’s parents happen to be vacationing. The attack on the ‘Parisian’ street is actually Chancellor Street in Philadelphia, but the real Place de la Concorde, with its fountain (did you recognise it from The Devil Wears Prada?), is momentarily seen as fireballs streak the sky.
Despite the Eiffel Tower appearing to loom over the scene, the terrace restaurant where the Witwickys are distracted from their delicious snails by one of those pesky whiteface mimes, is the central courtyard of Philadelphia City Hall (yes, another Twelve Monkeys backdrop). And that’s its famous tower crashing to the ground – though without the statue of William Penn, which would have been just a little out of place in the French capital.
Needing outside assistance, Leo reluctantly suggests a call on his online nemesis, RoboWarrior, who resides in Flatbush. The butcher shop in which they find him serving up cuts of meat is not in Brooklyn at all, but in the heart of Philly’s Italian Market on 9th Street – familiar as the neighbourhood of Rocky.
The deli is Cappuccio’s Meats, 1019 South 9th Street at Kimball Street, where the crafty change of name on the wall to ‘Cappuccio and Simmons’ reveals that the mysterious RoboWarrior is one-time Sector 7 Agent Simmons (John Turturro).
When Simmons recognises Sam’s symbols as the language of the Primes, mini-Decepticon-turned-cute-sidekick Wheelie is able to point them in the direction of a Decepticon seeker called Jetfire, apparently residing in the ‘Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’ in DC.
Jetfire is hidden in plain sight as an SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance craft, brought to rather creaky life by the power of the AllSpark. Fortunately, like Wheelie, he’s changed his allegiance and is willing to help.
In fact, the spectacular airplane museum is the Steven F Udvar-Hazy Center, the Smithsonian’s annex at Washington Dulles International Airport in the Chantilly area of Fairfax County, Virginia, where you can see the SR-71 on display, along with such famed craft as Enola Gay, the plane which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
After discovering a forest in Philadelphia, the film springs another surprising geographical anomaly when they exit the Smithsonian to find that it’s in the middle of a vast, sun-baked desert.
The aircraft graveyard surrounding the museum, where Sam scrawls Prime symbols on the ground, is the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group on the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tuscon, Arizona. It’s a vast repository for decommissioned aircraft waiting to be renovated, recycled or dismantled. If you’re an aviation buff and you’ve not had your fill at the Udvar-Hazy Center, the Pima Air and Space Museum, 6000 East Valencia Road, offers bus tours of the Boneyard.
Jetfire explains that the MacGuffin, aka the Matrix of Leadership, is hidden in the Tomb of the Primes. This is located somewhere in Egypt, a country instantly accessible by a space bridge, though movie buffs may want to check the GPS when they recognise the desert dotted with rocky outcrops as Wadi Rum in Jordan, about 20 miles northeast of the Gulf of Aqaba, familiar as the backdrop to much of David Lean’s 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia.
The ‘Egyptian’ town is Salt, northwest of Amman, way to the north and still in Jordan, but they soon end up in the real Egypt, naturally enough at the Pyramids. More properly, this is the Giza Necropolis, a complex of ancient monuments including the three Great Pyramids and the Sphinx as well as several cemeteries, on the Giza Plateau in the southwest outskirts of Cairo. It’s not a long stay as a star formation points them onward toward Petra in – er –Jordan.
The ‘rose red city’ of Petra was famously featured at the climax of Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, but this time it’s not the famous Treasury Building, Al Khazneh (which housed the Knight of the Grail in the Spielberg film), but the Monastery, Al Deir, in which the Tomb of the Primes, is discovered when the scrapping twin Autobots accidentally crack open a wall.
The Monastery (it’s no more a monastery than the more famous site was a treasury, but these name stick) is high above Al Khazneh. It’s about an hour’s uphill trek and quite exhausting but, if you’re fit, it’s worth the effort. Although less elaborately carved than Al Khazneh, Al Deir is built on a much larger scale.
The Matrix of Leadership crumbles in Sam's inexperienced hands but, believing it’s still possible to revive Optimus, he hangs onto the precious dust and asks Major Lennox (Josh Duhamel) to fly out the Prime’s body before heading back to Egypt to find the ‘Sun Harvester’ before the Decepticons can drain our star's energy.
Sam and Mikaela are soon scuttling through the temples of Karnak at Luxor. Despite appearing to be within sprinting distance of the Pyramids, the vast complex, Egypt’s second most visited site, is about 300 miles south of Cairo. Luxor International Airport, gateway to both Karnak and the Valley of the Kings, can be reached from most countries around the world, though it’s most popular for charter flights.
The spectacular monuments and pylons are no stranger to the screen, having previously featured in 1977 Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me and the 1978 Agatha Christie Hercule Poirot mystery Death On The Nile.
To accommodate a satisfying amount of destruction, the climactic battle combines not only the real Giza (where the Harvester turns out to be hidden inside the Pyramid of Khafre) and Luxor but a set built at the White Sands Missile Range (which had doubled for ‘Qatar’ in the first Transformers film), southwest of Alamogordo in New Mexico. So relax – no ancient monuments were harmed in the making of this film.