S2E15 – Sam Witwicky

This whole issue is incredibly difficult to wade through. The central problems are recursiveness and the lack of an objective point of view. To say “it’s complicated” is just trite.

  • Robert Sullivan

    I have often thought Sam was Bey getting himself written into the movies as much as possible.

  • Ronin08

    Oh god. Oh god I’m gonna need a drink. Oooh now I’m depressed about the culture I live in and the demographic I represent. Oh god, oh god, oh god.

  • SK

    Interesting stuff.

    I agree with everything you say except the conclusion. Are we really like Sam Witwicky? Is Sam Witcwicky really a reflection of the audience?

    Maybe he is, but I don’t see it because I’m not the target audience for Transformers (the movie is too stupid for me).

  • Joseph S.

    I fear that your video (which is brilliant) only appeals to dose who would have liked it and agreed with it anyway.
    In my own head I hear “so what did this video acomplish”

    Please make more videos

  • Graved

    I’m not even sure how I stubled upon this site, but this is a great show.

  • That Guy

    Great analysis! I aways thought that something was terribly wrong with that main character, but I couldn’t quite grasp why. You showed me the truth in a lightheated, yet highly rational way.

  • Dan-O

    To a degree the very tail end of this episode is me caving in and “breaking” one of my soft rules about not making jokes at the expense of the analysis, but the heart of darkness ending closed it out well enough and I thought it was funny. As for the rest of the conclusion I do think that Sam is to a degree a reflection of the audience, or at least the creators’ vision of the audience. That’s the whole “recursion problem” (which is surprisingly difficult to talk about in a spoken medium), where Sam is like us in the sense that he’s a caricature of what marketing people think we want to see, being both something that we can relate to and project ourselves into and something that we would want to be. Obviously Sam hasn’t unanimously won the hearts and minds of everyone, but the fact that they continued to refine his character in the direction they did combined with the overwhelming financial success of the franchise, both in the face of vocal criticism, speaks to something deeply disrupted in our society.

  • Durr

    When I went to see the transofmers I wanted to see CG robots not really caring about the main heroes or the plot.

  • Fa6ade

    Of the people I know that actually like the Transformers movies, none of them like the Sam parts. They just exist as pacing for the robot fight scenes.

  • Lob

    Interesting video, but I believe you’re underlying assumption is at best, shake and at worst outright false. Specifically: you assume that the reason people went to see Transformers movies “in droves” is because their desire to see Sam act far outweighed their desire to see robots, explosion and action scenes.

    I posit that the Transformers movies grossed as much as they did simply because they were accessible and pretty action movies and you only picked them because you wanted an easy target.

  • Dan-O

    That’s actually secondary to the point. Something to notice about the three films is the way that they adjusted following the criticism of the ones that came before.

    The success of the Transformers movies can’t be side stepped, and a pure desire for robots and explosions isn’t, to me, a satisfying answer simply because many other visceral action movies have come out concurrently with Transformers and failed to elicit the same box office draw. Yes, most of those movies have done well enough for themselves, but Dark of the Moon, which was grinding down an already worn premise, made twice as much money as the infinitely better Fast Five. Thor, which is in the same rating bracket and target demo, didn’t even brak the top 10 for 2011. Thor, Captain America, Cowboys & Aliens, Battle: Los Angeles, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Conan the Barbarian, Real Steel, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, there’s a good long list of films that came out the same year, all hit the same notes, and all reviewed as poorly or better than Dark of the Moon, and all brought home far, far less cash.

    Something to consider: criticism of Sam has been rampant since the first film came out, yet the decision made by the producers and writers was to put even more Sam into the next two movies. Not only that, each film got longer than the previous.

    Now, I never said that Sam was the main draw, nor did I mean to imply that he is. The point being made is that film that are as large as these, with budgets this big and ticket sales this high, don’t take risks they don’t have to. Everything has been focus grouped, test screened, preened, plucked, and prepared. The implication is that, accurate or not, Sam is what Hollywood believes we want to see in a protagonist. Robots and explosions may be the draw, but why didn’t people walk out in droves, steer their friends away, and just not go to see Revenge of the Fallen and Dark of the Moon when the films got longer and spent more and more time (in both hard numbers and % of total screen time) with Sam? Keep in mind that these movies are all well over two hours long, there’s no paucity of content that could be trimmed, and “needs more robots” was a common refrain after the first film. By all accounts the decisions they made with the third film, spending the first 90 minutes preening over Sam and his job problems with hardly a robot in sight, should have sunk the film. But it didn’t. Instead it made over a billion dollars.

    So why didn’t it sink?

    Well, because on some terrifying level the world is okay with Sam Witwicky. Many, many equally accessible films, just as explosion filled, have come and gone with better writing, more likeable characters, and more intelligible action, and not walked away with a billion dollars in their pocket. Explosions alone are not a sufficient answer.

    Now, to the accusation that I chose him as an easy target: of course. The fact that he’s an “easy target” is what makes him so appropriate. Like I said above, it’s all about the budget and the stakes. Sam is hardly the only example of these trends, this masculine fragility, but he’s one of the best examples because he’s been distilled down to the pure essence of self-loathing by focus groups looking to maximize revenue through audience response. Here’s what complicates it even more: they can achieve that goal, maximize symmetrical audience response (ideally stimulating a conversion rate that blah blah blah dolla dolla bills, y’all), without needing Sam to be likeable.

    Don’t worry, I’ll be talking about this more in the future. Not with Sam, but all the same issues.

    Trust me: Sam Witwicky is not alone.

  • 40ft_mullet

    Unfortunately, in the world of Intellectual Property, you are pretty much ALWAYS comparing apples to oranges. Stating that there were many other movies released that didn’t do as well selling tickets as Transformers: Dark of the Moon, but “hit the same notes” is simply incorrect. People WILL go see a Transformers movies for big, bad-ass robot destruction, there’s nothing close. IMO, Real Steel was much better as a *film*, but for heavy, robot-on-robot action, Transformers will always draw more viewers than other IP movie franchises.

    And, on the tangent of “IP movie franchises”, note that the ones in the same category as Transformers, such as Marvel’s Thor and Captain America, and the Planet of the Apes–that is, subjects that have been around for decades and also have large followings–do not have the same *general* draw. You have to already be into them, and might be looking for a story, while Michael Bay and the Transformers keeps the bar low for expectations. Big Robots, Big Explosions.

  • Joel

    It’s not my fault that I don’t have a job. It’s not my fault that my girlfriends always mad at me. It’s not my fault… O_O. I just got pwned I think.

  • JS

    I’d just like to say that I don’t identify with Sam, I don’t like Sam, I don’t even think he was a decent character. I went to see all 3 movies because they were part of my childhood, Michael Bay always blows stuff up in spectacular fashion, and the special effects were AWESOME! OP rocked!

  • Zan

    All the commentors protesting that they only watched the Transformers movies for the explosions are making Witwickian attempts to avoid accountability. It’s pretty meta, actually.

  • A. O. Moss

    @Zan: It’s not my fault I don’t have a job, it’s not my fault everything goes wrong, it’s not my fault Sam Witwicky is the star of some of the best-selling movies of all time… you’re right!

    (I’ve never seen Transformers)

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