Transformers 3: The Modern Day Citizen Kane

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This is a movie comparison intended to show the similarities between Transformers 3 and Citizen Kane. It will succeed.

Transformers 3: The Modern Day Citizen Kane

For starters, Citizen Kane is a sordid account of the life of Charles Foster Kane, a morally bankrupt news-mogul who shirks all of his relationships in life for monetary gain and political power. The movie teaches the age-old lesson that people are more important than things. Generally considered one of, if not the greatest film in the history of forever, the success of Citizen Kane was thanks in no small part to legendary stage actor Orson Welles, who took the titular role as well as the director, writer, and producer credits. Speaking of narcisists...

The issue is that Citizen Kane was released in 1941 and Orson Wells is very, very dead. Besides, if you can show me the 13-year-old kid that wants to go see Citizen Kane, I can show you the 13-year-old kid that has all the other kids’ boots shoved up his ass. The movie world issued a cry for help. Citizen Kane needed a replacement, a movie to bring its lessons to a new generation in a modern way.

Who better to answer that call than visionary director Michael Bay? And answer it he did, with a mighty battle cry! Made of legends and raw power, Michael Bay was already world famous for being the only filmmaker to finely weave the intricacies of a love story with the battles of giant transforming robots and over 9,000 explosions. Now this legendary filmic warrior was set to take on his greatest quest yet-to outdo Orson Welles!

“Big claim,” you’re probably saying, thinking me to be daft.

“Haha!” I retort, emphasizing the second ha. “I chortle at your naiveté!”

See, what you (and most viewers) fail to understand is that Michael Bay has achieved something with Transformers 3 that no other film maker has ever, or will ever even come close to accomplishing: Michael Bay has successfully embedded a modernization of Citizen Kane into a movie about transforming robot vehicles.

At this point, I would imagine that you are scratching your head, wondering if I am kidding. I assure you I am not.

Transformers 3 introduces us to the dynamic Sentinel Prime, an Autobot hero from the Cybertronian War. Sentinel serves as both the primary antagonist of the movie, as well as a modern day parallel to Charles Foster Kane. While on the surface Sentinel is a 50-some-foot tall robot who transforms into a fire truck and Kane is a chubby man who sometimes wears a fedora, the similarities between the two are uncanny.

Kane and Prime both have two primary relationships throughout their respective movies. Kane first marries Emily Monroe Norton, the niece of the President, in a bid to become governor of New York. He soon has an affair with the hapless singer Susan Alexander, but continues his relationship with Emily for political gain. Needless to say, when the affair is discovered, Kane’s political career is all but destroyed.

Similarly, Sentinel Prime originally sides with the Autobots in the war for control of Cybertron. He forms a strong bond with Optimus as well, as shown by their early interactions and the deep mutual respect Sentinel and Optimus show for each other when they discuss their positions as leaders of the Autobots. Of course, like Kane, Sentinel has his own agenda. His revered position with the Autobots and his relationship with Optimus are merely a front for his affair…with Megatron, leader of the Decepticons! Of course, being a gigantic harbinger of death and destruction, Sentinel goes about his breakup with Optimus in a slightly more violent nature than Kane did with Emily (ie: exploding his best friend).

The similarities don’t end there, though! Both Kane’s and Sentinel’s second relationships ultimately lead to the unfortunate nature of their demises. In Kane’s case, his constant push for Susan to become a famous opera singer eventually leads to her attempting suicide. Even though Kane relents, the damage has already been done. Susan leaves and Kane is left to die alone, surrounded only by his material possessions with nobody to mourn forhim.

Sentinel faces a similar situation when a power struggle ensues between him and Megatron. While both want to enslave the human race, Sentinel wants to be on equal footing with Megatron while Megatron desires ultimate control.

As if written by Orwell himself, Megatron turns on Sentinel and attacks him during a battle with Optimus, giving Optimus the chance to shoot Sentinel in the face with a laser beam, execution style. Sentinel ends up dead, of course, unmourned just like the character that inspired him.

Still, the greatest common ground between Kane and Sentinel lays in the motivation behind their actions. This is the bread and butter, the stuff that differentiates the good characters from the great ones-the characters who we sympathize with and care deeply about.

Citizen Kane begins with Kane’s dying word: “Rosebud.”

Yes, Rosebud is Kane’s childhood sled, but it is so much more than that. Rosebud symbolizes happiness for Kane. All he ever wanted was to find the same happiness and carefree gaiety he had as a child, before he was thrust headfirst into the world of business. And as he died, Kane’s final wish was for the happiness he could never find in life, no matter what sort of possessions he tried to fill the void with. We, as an audience, are allowed to pity Kane, even after experiencing how scummy he acts-THAT is what makes Kane a truly great character.

But perhaps, even better than Charles Foster Kane is Sentinel Prime.

Sure, his dying words aren’t quite as epic. “OPTIMUS, NOOO!!!” hardly has the staying effect of Rosebud, but before that, and in fact at multiple points throughout Transformers 3, Sentinel reveals the motive behind his actions. As it turns out, enslaving the entire human race and destroying the city of Chicago in the process is only a means to an end. All Sentinel really wants is to restore the planet Cybertron to its former glory. Deep down, under the hundreds of tons of metal and weaponry, lies a homesick young robot who simply wants to return to his youth-Just like Kane, except with the blood of millions on his hands.

With the release of Transformers 3, Michael Bay has effectively proven himself to be the greatest visionary in the history of film, far surpassing even Orson Welles himself. Michael Bay didn’t just adapt Citizen Kane to a modern audience for a new generation. He improved upon it with countless explosions, not to mention brilliant direction of the ever-so-talented actors Shia Labeouf and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (in their Romeo and Juliet-esque sub-plot).

When you get right down to it, Transformers 3 and Citizen Kane really are the same movie, at least in their overarching stories. Cybertron IS rosebud. And Charles Foster Kane has transformed…into Sentinel Prime.


Submitted: July 13, 2011

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