Transmutators (2023) Review
With its title and poster, one might well think Transmutators was The Asylum’s latest knockoff of the Transformers franchise, following along after Transmorphers and Hornet. Actually, the story behind it is a bit more unusual.
Transmutators was initially shot by writer/director Mark A. Reyes (Atlantika, Mystified) with a fairly big budget by Filipino standards in 2007 under the title Resiklo (Recycle). It was released in its homeland and a few other countries and was forgotten. Until now when it’s been edited down from one hundred and ten to ninety minutes, dubbed into English, retitled and given a US release.
The film begins with an asteroid disintegrating to reveal a giant spaceship which unleashes a horde of fighters that attack Earth. In the aftermath, Commander Crisval Sarmiento (Ramon ‘Bong’ Revilla Jr., Exodus: Tales from the Enchanted Kingdom, Indio), Christos to his friends, mourns the wife and daughter he lost in the invasion and battles the invaders with a robot made from scavenged parts.
The film gets off to a fast start with Christos beating up some aliens while saving some kids and a woman named Bianca (Jennylyn Mercado, Half Blood Samurai, The Prenup) and then fighting their mutant minions with some help from some BMX riding teens led by Angelo (Dingdong Dantes, Descendants of the Sun, A Hard Day). But things are about to go badly for our heroes, there’s a traitor in their midst and Christos is taken prisoner by the aliens and sentenced to die. Can he escape in time to activate his “special project” and save the residents of Paradise?
While watching Transmutators I tried to keep in mind I was watching a sixteen-year-old film and judge its effects and references accordingly. But even for 2007 many of the CGI effects are bad, some scenes actually look like they came from a cartoon while others are just poorly composited in with the live action. And that’s too bad because the locust-like aliens are well designed, but the scenes of them flying tend to be laughable rather than frightening.
More surprisingly I found the film’s chase scenes to be relatively weak for a country that produced so many Mad Max and Road Warrior imitators back in the day. Manilla was once the center of a flourishing exploitation film industry, but it seems nobody remembers how to stage these scenes with that kind of style and excitement. The ones in Transmutators aren’t really awful, but they should be at least as good as what was done on a low budget forty years before. The same could be said of the mecha robots, never mind comparing them to Pacific Rim, they would have trouble matching up to Robot Jox and its sequels.
BTW, if you’re interested in the golden age of Tagalog Trash Cinema you can check out the documentaries Machete Maidens Unleashed and The Search for Weng Weng for more information, or the fictional Leonor Will Never Die which uses it in the storyline.
Much like the human weapons, the plot of Transmutators is recycled from all manner of other sources X Men, Aliens, Mad Max, Starship Troopers, Soylent Green, Independence Day and the entire Japanese mecha genre. There are also plenty of familiar characters, the blind woman who has visions, the cute, nerdy female doctor and characters with conflicting loyalties and hidden secrets abound.
Given the fact the film has been cut by twenty minutes and given the kind of dubbing that will make anyone a fan of subtitles, I can’t speculate on the original’s plotting. But the version on display here is pure cheese and that’s what saved it for me. From scenes where the weather changes from shot to shot to an alien ship being brought down by flying gas cylinders, it’s full of WTF moments that kept me watching.
I’m not saying the results are good or that Transmutators is a future cult classic because it isn’t. But it does reach the level of so bad it’s fun and if you’re looking for that kind of silliness it would be a good choice. And honestly, what could be more in the grindhouse/drive-in tradition than picking up an old foreign film and passing it off as a new blockbuster?