Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, who co-wrote the upcoming sequel film Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, talked with SCI FI Wire exclusively about coming up with the new story, about what robots you might see and about possibly getting Leonard Nimoy to voice a character.
The writers spoke with SCI FI Wire exclusively last week in Los Angeles. Following is an edited version of our interview about Transformers, which opens June 24.
You guys were not originally going to write the sequel. Is that right?
What changed your mind?
Kurtzman: Well, we resisted it for a while, because ... the first movie was so ... tough to find, you know? Everyone always asked us, "Well, what is it? Is it a cartoon?" They just couldn't imagine what it was, and we kind of felt like we were to some degree improvising our way through it. And then we found it, and felt like we had somehow, just couldn't imagine replicating it.
And then when there was this immediate mandate after the movie did well to do another movie, we felt all the same kind of "Wow." We just felt like we got away with robbing a bank, so we probably can't do that twice, you know? And ... we didn't want to throw ourselves [back in].
Whatever we write, we always own and throw so much of ourselves into that we just couldn't get there without believing in the story. And the story was not immediately obvious to us. And ... they really wanted us to do it. And we said, "We just can't do it until we know what this is."
We spent a lot of time thinking about the sequels that we really loved as kids. You know, Aliens and Terminator 2 and Wrath of Khan and Empire Strikes Back and Superman 2. The thing that all of those movies had in common were that they stood on their own as films. If you didn't see the first movie, you could walk into those movies and experience what was wonderful about them. And the main characters were tested in some very fundamental way. And that was kind of the, you know, that's what led us to figuring out what we wanted to do with the sequel.
Orci: Yeah, it was both that and we were afraid we were not going to have literally the time to do it. The [writers'] strike was looming, we were in the middle of [writing] Star Trek, etc. So when they agreed to give us help in the form of Ehren Kruger [The Skeleton Key, The Ring 2], who is fantastic, we realized the three of us really could do it and not just phone it in. That it would be, hopefully, a professionally worthy successor. ...
When you say the central character's put to the test, clearly we're talking about Sam [Shia LaBeouf] here, right?
Orci: And [Optimus] Prime. ...
And you had a mandate to develop a bigger movie?
Kurtzman: That doesn't really mean anything to us, honestly. Like, we always get to the action last. The action is born of whatever challenges your characters are facing. It's sort of like a musical, you know? The old rule about musicals is ... if the song wasn't moving the story forward or you could tell the story without the song, then it's not really a musical. And same goes for action sequences here. So a lot of it was just figuring out where we wanted to pick up with Sam, and once we started figuring out the story, the action sequences really started falling in place quickly.
Orci: The theme started coming out of Sam leaving home, now. It's two years later, he's going to college. ... What are the responsibilities and the cutting off that goes on when you leave home? And that mirrors the fact the Transformers themselves are away from home. And in a new home. And what are your responsibilities as you kind of step out into the world on your own without your support system? ...
It sort of started coming out of that very real place. Again, the first one was about ... [the] child getting his first car and how that leads you to adulthood and sexuality and all these kinds of things. It's a very simple [story]. A lot of people say, "Oh, it's a classic cliche." Well, it's a cliche because we all go through it. And it's the same with ... heading off to college and letting your parents go and becoming the adult and trying to find out who you are and ... what you're going to do with the rest of your life.
Talk about the process of deciding what robots to keep, what robots to add. There are so many of these characters that you have to pick from. How do you winnow them down, how do you add the new ones, integrate them?
Orci: Well, the easier one, obviously, is the fact that we inherit certain ones from the previous movie and from the fact that Prime and Bumblebee are kind of the two front-and-center relationships. ... In terms of villains, it was again going back to all the source material. ... We got a bunch of the comics again, we got a bunch of the old cartoons, and just started looking for kind of the most elemental bad guy that kind of jumped off the material, and we found one in the Fallen.
And you've got to bring Megatron back.
Orci: Exactly. But part of it, too, was because of the oddity of the strike, what happened before the strike is that Alex and I and Ehren wrote up kind of a 20-page treatment of ... kind of, basically, the moves of the movie. And so many of the robots were selected there. But then many of them were also selected during the strike while we couldn't do anything, as a matter of necessity, by Hasbro and by [director] Michael Bay for some of the action sequences. They literally had to start designing somebody. And they were prohibited by the law from calling us and saying, "Who should that other somebody be?" So it was a mixture of the characters that we had in our treatment and some of the characters that were designed specifically for the movie for production.
Orci: It's Volt. I've read it as Jolt on the 'net, but as far as we're concerned, it's Volt. ... That's ... electric car. ...
There's some of these things, like, we're still deciding their names. ... There's just a million. What's the name of the gigantic first one that you see? ...
Kurtzman: Wheelbot. ...
Jetfire, RC, Mudflap on the Autobot side?
Orci: Yeah, right. Jetfire was in the treatment. Mudflap might have been one of those in-betweeners. ...
On the Decepticon side, Starscream, Soundwave, the Fallen and then the Constructicons, which are several different ones: Demolisher, Hightower, Long Haul, Mixmaster, Rampage and Scrapper?
Orci: That's them.
So they're all there?
There's still more, right? I mean, there's others?
Orci: There are. ...
Kurtzman: That's the challenge with these movies in a lot of ways, actually, is ... there's always kind of a mandate to put more and more and more in, but how do you ... distinguish them, and how do they somehow not detract from the overall experience of getting to know the robots?
Orci: Ultimately, too, when you're in an intergalactic war, it's sort of like saying, ... "How many stormtroopers were there in Star Wars?" Well, you know, [George] Lucas went back and digitally added another 300 in every scene. You're not going to get to know them all.
Well, he got around that by making them all the same person.
Orci: That's true. That's true.
You've got a girl robot for the first time, Arcee. Do you ever deal with why she's a girl robot, or is that just one of those things?
Orci: We may still, as we go through and see the final finals, but we've gone back and forth on that. ... Some of the fans debating, "Oh, man, if there's some lame explanation I'm going to hate it" versus "They'd better explain it." So. We'll see how it ends up. We honestly have things in our back pocket; we'll see which one works better.
And you, Bob, were quoted as saying you were trying to get Leonard Nimoy to do the Fallen?
Orci: He originally was the voice in the animated movie, and at one of the conventions, Alex and I actually spoke to him about it, and he's like, "Yeah, I'd be open to that." But it'll be Michael's decision.
Have you talked with Michael about that?
Orci Oh, sure. ... He's like, "Hmm." And we're like, "You know you're cousins, right?" [Nimoy's wife is Michael Bay's cousin.]
There was also some talk about Frank Welker, the original voice of Megatron, and whether he'd actually end up in the movie after all?
Orci: Exactly, and I think they're in the middle of hashing that out. We'll see who we get.