Bumblebee is such an interesting beast of a movie. After five straight Transformers filled to the breaking point with crash-bang-boom pyrotechnics courtesy of director Michael Bay‘s most explosive tendencies, the franchise’s first spin-off toned things way the heck down to focus on character over carnage. The film—directed by Travis Knight from a script by Christina Hodson—still has its action beats, but it’s primarily the Amblin-esque story of the friendship developed between the Autobot Bumblebee and Hailee Steinfeld‘s Charlie Watson.
Bumblebee earned less at the box office than its main-franchise counterparts, but positive word of mouth plus overseas audiences carried it to profitability and a sequel is coming down the pipeline. Speaking to producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura about Pet Semetary at SXSW, Collider’s own Haleigh Foutch got some details about the lessons Paramount learned from Bumblebee‘s reception as the studio heads into the franchise’s future.
“…the audience had asked us several times, in different ways, ‘I want to get to know a Transformer better.” We did that. In some respects, definitely a tip to what the audience had said to us. The interesting part is when you set out to do something like that, you don’t exactly know the ramifications of it. In this case, the ramification of it was, for the people who didn’t love the movie, was not enough action. Because you’re telling a more intimate story, therefore you can’t. So the criticism we got from some fans was like, “Hey, come on.” It was funny, I was just in Japan…and one of the reporters said to me, ‘I love the movie, I love this, I love this, and I was very tired of Michael Bay.’ I said, ‘Uh huh, I’ve heard this before.” And he goes, ‘But you know, after watching this film, I kind of wish it had a little more Michael Bay.’ It was really funny. I said, ‘Listen, I completely understand. I like what Michael does, too. Two different films, two different attempts.'”
According to Bonaventura, the studio took that type of reaction to heart. The Bumblebee sequel and beyond, he says, will attempt to maintain the spin-off’s grounded, character-driven tone while injecting just a bit more of that fiery Bay flavor into the story.
“Several lessons have come out of this. One is that we have the freedom to tell almost any story. The other is that, how strongly the audience identified with the strength of character and emotion. I know the next Transformer, our attempt anyway, is to sort of do a fusion of Bumblebee and the Bay movies…a little more Bayhem. And a little bit more of the character falling in love within the emotional dynamic of the movie. One of the things I want to do—and I hope we pull it off—is, we did it with Bumblebee because he’s so cute and he’s so accessible, but he can’t talk. I think the more human we can make these characters, the more people are going to like them.”
Be on the lookout for the rest of Haleigh’s interview with Bonaventura on Collider soon.