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Transformers: The Premake is a sly, playful commentary on blockbusters

Chicago-based film and media critic Kevin B. Lee makes some of the smartest video essays and supercuts around, but he’s topped himself with his latest, Transformers: The Premake. (Full disclosure: I’ve worked with Lee on a few projects.) 

Culled from dozens of hours of YouTube-uploaded footage shot by onlookers in Chicago, Detroit, and Hong Kong during the filming of the upcoming Transformers 4: The Age of Extinction, the video begins as a kind of crowd-sourced behind-the-scenes documentary—tracking the production using multiple angles and Google Maps—before taking a turn for the sinister. Lee digs up stories on “fan-sourced” marketing, tracks down Chinese press conferences, and exchanges e-mails with people whose videos were pulled down by Paramount Pictures. What emerges is a darkly funny, paranoid detective story about the intersection of corporate property and public space, where a studio can make a copyright claim on the view outside your window. Needless to say, it also features plenty of explosions, flubbed takes, Midwestern locations dressed up to look like China, and scenes of crowds running from imaginary giant robots.

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