Thousands of years ago, the planet Cybertron suffered a civil war between the Autobots, led by Optimus Prime (wonderful voice of Peter Cullen) and the Decepticons led by Megatron (voice of Hugo Weaving). They are both searching for the All Spark, the source of all Cybertron life, the Autobots to rebuild Cybertron and end the war, and the Decepticons to defeat the Autobots and—guess what--conquer the Universe. The All Spark turns out to be on Earth, sealed in the ice in the Arctic Circle with the frozen body of Megatron.

A group of explorers headed by Captain Archibald Witwicky discovers Magatron’s body in 1897. Sector Seven of the U.S. government hides the All-Spark in the Colorado River and builds the Hoover Dam over it to keep it hidden. In the year 2007, the Decepticons—Blackout, Scorponok, Frenzy, Barricade, Devastator, and Bonecrusher—land on Earth and transform into Earth vehicles to reconnoiter. Blackout and Scorponok attack a U.S. base in Qatar but fail to discover Megatron’s whereabouts. Blackout destroys the base, but in the battle the military discover that high-heat Sabot rounds can damage Transformer armor.

Tiny but scary Frenzy infiltrates Air Force One, trying to hack into the military network and plant a virus. Captain Witwicky’s glasses had been imprinted with the All-Spark’s location, and his descendant Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBoeuf) is about to sell them on eBay. Frenzy and Barricade are looking for him. The small Autobot Bumblebee is also on Earth, disguised as a 1976 Chevrolet Camaro, and is bought by Sam. Bumblebee helps the nerdy kid make an impression on the ridiculously sexy Mikaela Barnes (Megan Fox), a former car thief.

Sam sees Bumblebee in robot mode. Barricade confronts Sam and demands the Witwicky spectacles, but Bumblebee rescues him and Mikaela and takes them to see the rest of the Autobots—Optimus Prime, Jazz, Ironhide, and Ratchet—who have also landed on Earth and taken the form of Earth vehicles. Sam, Mikaela, and Bumbebee are captured by agents of Sector Seven, led by slimy Jon Turturro. Frenzy, disguised as a cellphone—no, really—accompanies the group to Hoover Dam, releases Megatron from his frozen state, and sends a message to the Decepticons.

Sam convinces Sector Seven to release Bumblebee so he can get the All Spark to Optimus Prime. Frenzy has shut down government communications, but a pair of hackers signal the Air Force. The Autobots and the humans are attacked by Decepticons, in a long, confusing battle in the streets, as the US military does its best to cope and bystanders flee in panic beneath the Autobots’ feet. Bonecrusher, Frenzy, Jazz, Devastator, and Blackout are killed in battle and Sam rams the All Spark into Megatron’s chest, destroying both. Optimus Prime takes a fragment of the All Spark, but the planet Cybertron now cannot be restored. Optimus sends a message to other Autobots exiled in the universe, telling them to come to Earth. Sector Seven is shut down, the dead Decepticons are dumped in the Laurentian Abyss, and Starscream escapes into space.

The film was directed, unmistakeably, by Michael Bay, and Stephen Spielberg was Executive Producer. A bunch of sequels were made, each louder and more spectacular than the one before. The U.S. Armed Forces and General Motors were happy to loan vehicles and aircraft to the production, and Hasbro created comic books and toys galore. G.M., Burger King, and eBay placed products. Stars like Tyrese Gibson, John Turturro, and Jon Voight had roles. Aside from Megan Fox’s bellybutton, the real stars are the trucks and the planes that transform into giant robot aliens. In a chicken and egg scenario, toys were designed for the movie, and characters in the movie were designed to sell toys.

Not surprisingly, many of the animators and special effects guys at ILM were big fans of the toys, as was Spielberg. Despite the big dumb noise, there are some incredible special effects to grab you. Michael Bay had cut his teeth on filming glossy car commercials and fit right in. The film made a ton of money and the critics raved over the special effects, though not so much the acting. Efforts were made to make the sequels different from each other, such as filling Transformers: Age of Extinction with Dinobots—Transformers as steel dinosaurs. The sequels made less money as they went on, however, but a smaller film starring the adorable Bumblebee was a hit. Linkin Park met Megan Fox at one of their concerts and lobbied for one of their songs, which is in the closing credits.

It took ILM 38 hours to do one frame of the Transformers reassembling themselves. Bumblebee was supposed to be a VW Beetle but was changed to a Camero so as not to look like Herbie the Love Bug but went back to a Beetle for the Bumblebee sequel in 2018. For the music, Steve Jablonsky was assisted by his friend Hans Zimmer. Optimus Prime’s body language was modelled after Liam Neeson. The first film of the Transformer series was the only one not nominated for a Worst Picture Golden Raspberry Award. Producer Don Murphy brought in storywriter Tom DeSanto because he had done so well in juggling many characters and plotlines in X-Men. In close-ups, the Transformers are sped up and in wide shots they are shown in slow motion, which actually makes them move more realistically.