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History in Disguise

June 30, 2009

What?  Robots?  Isn’t she taking this whole time machine thing a little too far?  What do robots have to do with history?  Or old buildings?

Let me explain.

The robots are from the summer blockbuster, popcorn flick “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” which pulled in $200 million at the box office in just five days.   There is very little plot to speak of — it’s all action, explosions and running from here to there (so that newest “It” girl Megan Fox can stretch her legs).  In a movie where visuals are of primary importance,  you must have really, really good visuals.  Those backgrounds had better be as compelling as the robots.

So where did director Michael Bay choose to shoot?
Well, there were the Egyptian pyramids. And the beautiful Temple of Petra — a breathtaking “structure” carved from a rock face (so distinctive you may remember it from the finale of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” ).

Both the pyramids and the temple are ancient monuments weighted with history and revered around the world.  They are recognizable symbols of place.

Bay’s other chosen locations featured less-well-known but equally atmospheric, potentially-iconic places — and all of them are located in Philadelphia.  Since I doubt you will see the movie unless you also have two young boys, let me explain.

The hero leaves California for the Collegiate Gothic backdrop of the University of Pennsylvania campus where a robot disguised as a pretty girl attempts to suck out his brain.
laurThe clandestine meeting between the hero and a five-stories tall robot was set amid the highest marble monuments of Laurel Hill in Fairmount Park.
There was a hot rod Camaro (really a robot) parked in front of Drexel’s ornate Main Building (Wilson Brothers, 1891) followed by an adrenalin-fueled chase scene.  This went from (what I thought was Founder’s Hall at Girard College but IMDB tells me was) the Free Library Central Library building on to a smash n’ crash battle at the Windrim-designed Delaware Generating Station (deserving of historic designation and the protection that would bring).
Our heroes managed to escape the clutches of the giant bad guy robot (at right) to find temporary refuge within the thick walls of Eastern State Penitentiary.
Each of these locations are, in their own way for their own period, as remarkable as the Temple at Petra — and remarkably all are located within easy bicycling distance of one another — no robot transport required.

Long ago, historically speaking, young men of a certain class would take the Grand Tour to see the birthplace of civilization and culture. The journey’s intent was to enhance their education and inspire their view of the world for the remainder of their lives.  In our digitally-driven world, is it possible that a movie with exploding robots might subconsciously imprint a sense of value and appreciation for these unique historic places?  Am I the only one who noticed each and every location and thought to myself “this just wouldn’t have been the same if they filmed at the parking lot at King of Prussia mall….”? I left the theater listening to my sons prattle on (“watching a truck turn into a robot is just awesome!”) and contemplated what a treasure trove this area is for architecture.  Ergo potential movie sets.  Wouldn’t it be nice if a portion of the income from movie production (did I mention the production budget for “Transformers 2” was a reported $200million — and did you note above that it earned that back in just five days?) went into a fund to support maintenance of notable historic sites in the area?
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