Steven Spielberg’s influence on Bumblebee extends beyond his role as executive producer on the film. The Jurassic Park director has exec produced all the Transformers films to date, and director Travis Knight has revealed that Spielberg actually came up with the concept for the first Transformers spin-off.
“The original idea for this film actually was Steven [Spielberg’s],” Knight tells Yahoo Movies UK. “We can thank him for this film even existing.”
Bumblebee is a prequel to the first five Michael Bay-directed Transformers films which began in 2007. Set in 1987, it sees Bumblebee – or B-127 as he’s known to his Autobot chums – landing in California to scout out Earth as a potential home for a group of Cybertron rebels, led by Optimus Prime.
Wiped of his memory and having lost the ability to speak, he strikes up a friendship with Hailee Steinfeld’s Charlie Watson who adopts Bee as her car, and her confidant. However Sector 7, a shady government agency working with the Decepticons, and headed up by John Cena’s Agent Burns, is after Bee for their own nefarious needs.
So far, so E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, a Spielberg film that Knight admits has a huge influence on the film.
“At heart of it [Bumblebee] is a film about relationships, and this beautiful love story between these two characters,” Knight, who last directed Kubo and the Two Strings, explains.
“I wanted to pay tribute to some of the movies that meant a lot to me in the 80s, specifically those were those classic Spielberg and coming-of-age movies, those Amblin movies, which always had this beautiful sense of wonder, of laughter, of tears, that really had a deep and strong beating heart at the core of it.”
Bumblebee certainly shares a lot of DNA with Spielberg classics like E.T., Goonies, and Gremlins, but the cast say they were really just jumping off points for the film to explore classic tropes with a fresh twist.
“E.T. was referenced a bit [on set],” Steinfeld adds.
“It was easy to relate to moments of iconic pictures from back then [in the 80s],” Cena expands.
“But you want Travis to have the freedom to make his movie, not a copy of a movie that was made 30 years ago. There are a lot of moments that are similar, only because a lot of those iconic movies of the 80s were about adolescence and becoming an adult, and that’s certainly a theme we have in Bumblebee.”
As the recent reviews for Bumblebee have shown, Knight’s film is easily the warmest and most vibrant Transformers film to date, and it’s clear the director’s affection for those classic Spielberg adventures helped to add an element of fun to the film that was perhaps eschewed for grit and spectacle in the previous films.
“If you would have told an eight-year-old me, who was in a movie theatre sobbing my eyes out while watching E.T., that someday I would direct a movie that was executive produced by Steven Spielberg,” adds Knight.
“I would have thought you were mad. I still think you’re mad, I can’t believe I’m here.”
Michael Bay, the mastermind behind the Transformers franchise, set up a writing room for the film series after the release of Transformers: Age of Extinction in 2014 to brainstorm ideas for future instalments. Headed up by Akiva Goldsman, the team of writers came up with concepts for Transformers: The Last Knight and Bumblebee before it was disbanded in 2017.
However, if Knight is to be believed, they weren’t the ones responsible for the best-reviewed Transformers film to date, their big boss Steven Spielberg was.
Bumblebee arrives in cinemas on Christmas Eve, 24 December, but you can see it early with extensive previews nationwide on Saturday 15, Sunday 16 and Thursday, 20 December.
Watch a new clip exploring the film’s villains below.