Director Travis Knight breaks down the recent Bumblebee trailer

As someone who lost interest in Michael Bay‘s explosive TRANSFORMERS franchise shorty after the first film, I’ve been somewhat surprised by my interest in BUMBLEBEE, the upcoming prequel/spin-off which focuses on the much-loved character of the same name. The recent trailer for the film was quite a lot of fun, particularly in seeing just how well those original ’80s Transformers designs were pulled off. BUMBLEBEE director Travis Knight stopped by Empire to break down the trailer and spilled a few details about the upcoming film.

This film is Bumblebee’s story,” Knight explained. “It’s effectively an origin story, where we see how he became the character that he is, where he came from, how he evolved. The Transformers film mythology is massive, it’s expansive, it’s huge. This film is an opportunity for us to focus in on one aspect of that canvas and that is Bumblebee. He has his Autobot family, he has these baddies that he goes up against. That is an aspect of his story but fundamentally it’s about his relationship with this girl Charlie and how essentially they find each other and make each other whole. There are other layers at play but that is at the core of the story.” Knight added that binging the TRANSFORMERS story back to the 1980s and drawing from the original designs was his touchstone.

That was when I was first exposed to the Transformers. I loved those characters, I loved their designs and I introduced my kids to Transformers and the first thing I showed them was the Transformers cartoon and they loved it as much as I did. Part of it is the beauty and simplicity of the design, so when we were trying to bring a new perspective to this franchise we went back to the beginning and asked how can we bring that to a modern era but still pay tribute to the wonder and magic of those original designs.

Hailee Steinfeld stars in BUMBLEBEE as Charlie Watson, a teenager who discovers the battle-scarred and broken Bumblebee and helps to revive him, but the other big name in the film is John Cena, who plays Agent Burns, a government agent who Travis Knight says is less of a villain and more of a grey area character. “I don’t think moustachio-twirling baddies are particularly interesting. Certainly he is somebody who puts the screws on our heroes but he does so for reasons we can understand,” Knight said. “In fact on some level he’s probably right. He’s a heavy guy, he’s not someone who you’d want to run afoul of, but we also as an audience can understand where he’s coming from.” The final scene of the trailer, which finds Bumblebee attempting to sneak into Charlie’s living room, is an entirely intentional nod to the spirit of Steven Spielberg‘s Amblin movies.

Growing up in the eighties, the most powerful stories were the Amblin stories. They had a thinking brain; a strong, beating heart; and a poetic soul. They evoked wonder and laughter and tears every single time. So knitting those two things together: my love of Transformers and my love of Spielberg and Amblin, was something I really wanted to evoke in this film. And it didn’t hurt that Steven Spielberg was an executive producer on the movie! Having this guy who has been an icon for me my entire life and being able to collaborate with him and make this film in a way that evokes what was so special about those movies to me as a kid was a joy.

[embedded content]

The official synopsis for BUMBLEBEE:

On the run in the year 1987, Bumblebee finds refuge in a junkyard in a small Californian beach town. Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), on the cusp of turning 18 and trying to find her place in the world, discovers Bumblebee, battle-scarred and broken. When Charlie revives him, she quickly learns this is no ordinary, yellow VW bug.

BUMBLEBEE will hit theaters on December 21, 2018.