‘Transformers’ aims for broad audience

Movie being sold as more than toy knockoff

“Transformers” conjures up images of kiddie playthings, ever-changing alien robots that first landed in toy boxes in the 1980s.

DreamWorks and Paramount think they have something more than a kiddie pic or a nostalgic tribute — execs feel that the pic, which launches July 3, is a four-quadrant summer joyride. The question is how to market the film to those four groups.

As director Michael Bay deadpans, “I definitely didn’t make a toy movie.”

The PG-13 movie is this summer’s only big-budget live-action pic that is not a sequel, and boasts the imprint of action-megapic director Bay and exec producer Steven Spielberg.

The studio marketing execs are selling the movie as much more than a toy knockoff, talking up spectacular special effects, a fast-moving plot and humor.

“The push has been to defy people’s expectations,” says Christine Birch, DreamWorks president of marketing. “When they hear ‘Transformers,’ they think ‘toy movie.’ They think little kids. The movie is family-friendly, but that doesn’t make it juvenile.”

One studio exec says: “You need to get young males, which Bay can. But you also need to get younger kids, which could be more Steven. The challenge comes in trying to tell parents it’s OK to bring their younger children without alienating teenagers. It still needs a ‘Terminator’ toughness.”

Rob Moore, Paramount’s president of worldwide marketing and distribution, says the movie has just that. “It has signature Michael Bay action that is visually spectacular. But the movie also has a great sense of humor. You really have a combination.”

In testing, DreamWorks and Par skedded two screenings: One for kids and parents, the other for all audiences. The scores were almost identical.

Starring Shia LaBeouf and Josh Duhamel, “Transformers” would give DreamWorks and Paramount a much-needed live-action franchise.

Even before Par acquired DreamWorks, the two entities agreed to collaborate on a “Transformers” project. It’s said to be a passion project for Spielberg, who was intrigued by its alien themes, and he thought Bay would be perfect to direct.

After a string of box office hits, Bay stumbled with DreamWorks’ “The Island” ($36 million domestically and $125 million overseas). If “Transformers” clicks, it will be a rebound for the director and the action is said to be quintessential Bay, mirroring such pics as “Armageddon,” “The Rock” and “Bad Boys.”

And, at least partly due to Spielberg’s mark, it’s being hyped as featuring the same kind of special effects that made “Jurassic Park” work in the 1990s.

Script was penned by the team of Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, who also wrote Par’s upcoming “Star Trek” installment.

“Transformers” was produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Don Murphy and Tom DeSanto, who secured the film rights from Hasbro.

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