Transformers | 2007
- DIRECTOR |
- Michael Bay
The white sand desert of 'Qatar', where Decepticon Blackout (in the guise of a Sikorsky helicopter) attempts to hack the SOCCENT network, is White Sands National Monument on I-70, southwest of Alamogordo, New Mexico. The 275 square miles of white gypsum sand (the largest gypsum dune field in the world) is no stranger to movies, having been seen in films such as Nicolas Roeg’s 70s cult favourite The Man Who Fell To Earth, Jarhead, White Sands (naturally) – and features again in sequel Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. The ‘Middle Eastern’ base itself is Holloman Air Force Base (not generally open for tours), between White Sands and Alamogordo.
The the home of Sam Witwicky (Shia Labeouf), his manic family and limping chihuahua, is just south of the Santa Monica Freeway (I-10) south of Midtown at 2187 West 24th Street, between South Gramercy Place and Cimarron Street in the West Adams district.
Which means that Sam has quite a daily journey to get an education. The school, where he attempts to flog the possessions of his mysterious great-great-grandfather, explorer Archibald Witwicky, is Marshall Fundamental High School, 990 Allen Avenue, over in east Pasadena. This was also the 'New Jersey' school of Jenna, Matt and the "Six Chicks" in 2004 fantasy romcom 13 Going On 30.
For a city that’s hardly short of car dealerships, Sam and his dad (Kevin Dunn) make quite a journey to find him a set of wheels, too. Although, to be fair, he does get a rather unusual '76 Camaro.
The used car lot of Bobby Bolivia (Bernie Mac) is even further east than Pasadena, in Altadena. It was Ronnie's Automotive Service, 2012 North Lake Avenue at Morada Place which (the last time I looked) is closed and empty.
And, yes, just behind the garage on Morada Place, you can see the bungalow of Bobby’s “Mammy” – sadly, looking much plainer than it does in the film.
There’s a brief aerial shot of the real Pentagon in Washington D.C., where Maggie Madsen (Rachael Taylor) is coming up with her own theories about who might be behind the computer attacks. Smuggling out a vital bit of information, she catches a cab in Washington D.C. at the intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and M Street in the centre of Georgetown.
It’s some cab ride. Maggie arrives in Boston – at the house of wizard hacker Glen Whitmann (Anthony Anderson), which is on Broadway, just west of the intersection with Front Street and Medford Street in the Chelsea district. The house is at the foot of the Tobin Memorial Bridge over the Mystic River, which links Chelsea to Charlestown. And, yes, the bridge does feature in Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River.
Back to Los Angeles where Sam’s Camaro – having mysteriously disappeared – turns up and follows Sam, ending up beneath the Santa Monica Freeway on Venice Boulevard at Convention Center Drive. Just behind the New Los Angeles Convention Center, south of downtown, this is also the site of the brutal bearer bonds robbery in Michael Mann’s Heat. When Sam is threatened by the cop car, which turns out to be the Decepticon Barricade (well, it is labelled "To punish and enslave"), the Camaro comes to his rescue.
The refinery, though, where the car transforms into Bumblebee, is back in LA – the AES Power Plant, 1100 North Harbor Drive, which dominates Redondo Beach, on the coast, south of the city towards Palos Verdes.
It's in the familiar Second Street Tunnel, downtown Los Angeles, that the ‘sensitive’ Bumblebee responds to an insult by sprucing itself up into a brand new model.
Sam and Mikaela watch the meteor shower (which turns out to be the arrival of more Transformers) at the Griffith Observatory, 2800 East Observatory Road, in Griffith Park. The Autobots later clamber recklessly over the LA landmark. The Observatory is a screen veteran, most famously seen in Rebel Without A Cause, as well as the Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy Hollywood satire Bowfinger; stylish 1995 neo-noir Devil In A Blue Dress, with Denzel Washington; Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle; the spoofy 1987 film of Dragnet – with Tom Hanks and Dan Aykroyd; The Rocketeer; and, of course, The Terminator and La La Land.
The US air base is Edwards Air Force Base, about 25 miles northeast of Lancaster in the Mojave Desert, California. The facility is a screen regular, having already appeared in Michael Bay’s Armageddon and The Right Stuff, as well as standing in for ‘Stark Industries’ in Iron Man.
After Sam’s home is raided by the highly secretive Sector 7, Sam and Mikaela are rescued by Autobots from spook Agent Simmons (John Turturro) in the shadow of the rail bridge over the channel alongside Pier A Avenue at the Terminal Island Freeway, Long Beach.
Chased by government ’copters, Optimus Prime hides under the elaborate, arched Cesar E Chavez Avenue Viaduct, where Cesar E Chavez Avenue crosses the Los Angeles River, east of downtown. It’s in the concrete river channel below that Bumblebee is captured and frozen.
Sam and Mikaela are whisked off to the Hoover Dam in Nevada. The idea that this massive construction on the Colorado River was constructed to keep the lights of Las Vegas twinkling never really did ring true. Now we know it’s the Sector 7 bunker, built to house the AllSpark and the deep-frozen body of Megatron. Somehow, that’s slightly more convincing. The dam is also featured in Alfred Hitchcock's 1942 thriller Saboteur.
The cavernous Sector 7 interior is the Spruce Goose Dome, alongside the Queen Mary in Long Beach. The building was home to Howard Hughes' famous ‘Spruce Goose’ wooden aeroplane, until 1992 (when it was moved to the Evergreen Aviation Museum in Oregon). Apart from being the terminal for Carnival Cruise Lines, the vast geodesic Dome is regularly used as a film studio.
As Megatron thaws, the Autobots regain their wheels and hurry to ‘Mission City’, which is fortunately reached via the pretty route through Nevada’s spectacular Valley of Fire State Park, about 50 miles northwest of Las Vegas, off Route 169, a breathtaking landscape, seen also in Star Trek Generations.
‘Mission City’, as it turns out, bears a startling resemblance to downtown Los Angeles – specifically the stretch of Broadway between Sixth Street and Ninth Street. Although it also occasionally looks more like the Universal Studios backlot. The two are neatly edited together, though the sharp-eyed will notice that the Universal street has a bit of a kink in it, as well as being a few storeys shorter than downtown.
As the two factions begin to battle it out, Megatron stands atop the tower of the Tower Theatre, 802 South Broadway, where he tears Jazz in two. The Tower, no longer functioning as a cinema, lives on as an events space and a movie location, seen in Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige, The Mambo Kings and The Replacement Killers.
Joining the fray, Blackout lands on the Gothic tower of the United Artists Theatre Building, 933 South Broadway. Built in 1927, by the film company founded by Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, its theatre was used for premieres before following the predictable path of closing down only to be reopened as a church.
It’s right in front of 801 South Broadway, between Eighth and Ninth Streets (one of the department store buildings from which comedian Harold Lloyd dangled in 1923’s Safety Last), that Captain Lennox (Josh Duhamel) orders Sam to take the AllSpark cube to the roof of the “white building with statues on”.
It’s Michigan Central Station, 2198 Michigan Avenue, the grand, disused rail terminal just west of downtown Detroit.
Built in 1913, the once beautiful building was abandoned and vandalised over the years. The good news is that it was bought by Ford in 2018 and is currently being renovated.
Michael Bay had already filmed part of The Island here, returns to the station for Transformers: Dark of the Moon. A lively place to be – you can see the building again in Zach Snyder's Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice.
As Sam tries to hand over the cube to a helicopter pilot, Starscream fires at the ’copter from the roof of the magnificent green and gold terra cotta Zigzag Moderne tower of Eastern Columbia Building, 849 South Broadway (say what you like about Decepticons, they do have great taste in architecture). Built in 1929 for the Columbia Home Furnishings and the Eastern Outfitting Company, this landmark is surprisingly rarely featured in films. Back in 1990, the alien creature appeared on its roof in Predator 2, but it’s in (500) Days of Summer that the building finally gets its dues as one of Tom’s favourite buildings.
The life or death struggle comes to a climax as Megatron and Optimus Prime finally face off on Sixth Street, alongside the junction with Spring Street (if you enjoy watching big things from outerspace trash major American cities, you may recognise this same intersection posing as ‘New York’ in Cloverfield).
• Many thanks to Allegra Chisholm for help with this section.