The invitation at first sounded too wacky to be believed. At Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater, hallowed province of Fassbinder and Truffaut, footage from Paramount and DreamWorks’ Michael Bay pic “Transformers” would be shown to a crowd of toy enthusiasts.
But so it went Tuesday night for an audience stocked with consumer-product execs, toy collectors and general robot evangelists in Gotham for the American Intl. Toy Fair. The footage totaled 25 minutes from the film based on Hasbro’s revived 1980s toy line — “not necessarily the best scenes, but some of the scenes that were finished,” cautioned Bay.
Ecstatic applause greeted each of the four long sequences.
The last time Bay took a high-octane passion project into a high-end setting, he presided over a similar screening for “The Island” at the Academy theater in Beverly Hills. That spring 2005 event began an anxious couple of months leading to one of the most troubled releases of recent summers.
This time, Bay seemed gratified to be playing to an inherently more sympathetic crowd. “You guys aren’t really the target audience,” he joked.
The footage contained plenty of what producer Jerry Bruckheimer has termed “Bay-os” — automatic weapon fire, rumbling car engines, sweaty military dialogue (“Bogey in the weeds and he’s not squawking!”). But the scenes were spiked with wit and exuberant popcorn energy. In one scene, John Turturro, appearing as a mysterious, “Men in Black”-esque agent, savors the line “Bingo! Take him and bake him!”
A brief panel session preceded the footage. Bay was joined by DreamWorks production chief Adam Goodman and Brian Goldner, chief operating officer of Hasbro and an exec producer on the pic. “It reminds me of ‘Back to the Future’ or ‘Close Encounters’ — real Amblin film from back in the day,” Goodman said.
Beyond the trio onstage Tuesday, the film is exec produced by Steven Spielberg and produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Don Murphy. None of the latter three was in Gotham for Tuesday’s event.
But another producer who did attend, Tom DeSanto, compared the experience to the way “X-Men,” which he exec produced, first snuck up on audiences in 2000. “People were really going to give that one the smell test,” he said. “And it was a real surprise.”