Sam Witwicky of the Transformers franchise is a textbook example of how an industry dominated by one type of person can affect how a script is interpreted for the worse, and how it could be improved with either a different director or protagonist leading the project. Sam Witwicky is aggressive, obsessive, abusive, entitled, insecure, paranoid, lazy and defeatist. His involvement with the plot is tenuous at best. He is only important to the events of the film because of his possessions (his grandfather’s glasses and his secretly sentient car, Bumblebee). By the end, he does not decode the message on his grandfather’s glasses and he does not discover Bumblebee’s secret. Throughout the films he is a passive agent who is whisked between locations by either the Transformers, a troop of fighting humanoid robots, or the American government.
However, when examining the character of Mikaela Banes (portrayed by Megan Fox), her character has far more depth. Mikaela is a working-class girl with a gift for hotwiring vehicles. The men in her life undervalue her skills in automotive mechanics and question her intelligence consistently. Before the films begins, her father is incarcerated for grand theft auto and it is revealed she has a juvenile record for aiding and abetting. By the end of the film she uses these skills to save the day and trust in herself to achieve whatever she sets her mind to, in this case, defending earth. She is the only character with an interest in vehicles, has the only developed backstory, and the only character with an internal character arc to speak of.
Unfortunately, because of the way that Megan Fox was shot and directed, it was assumed by audiences that her character had very little substance to speak of. Her framing, as an object to fetishize for both the protagonist and the primary demographic, undermined the character written in the script.
When examining how the characters embody the theme of ‘sacrifice’ within the first film, Sam does not sacrifice anything before the events of the film or during. Mikaela criticises him for this when she reveals the nature of her criminal history. Mikaela has sacrificed her childhood, potential employment prospects and after revealing that she turned her father in to the authorities, it becomes clear that she has sacrificed her relationship with her father to give herself a law-abiding life.
In one scene, Mikaela discusses with Sam the frustration she feels knowing that men dismiss her intelligence and automotive skills, choosing to instead reduce her to her looks. However instead of focusing on the dialogue, director Michael Bay chose to play the scene for titillation and humour, with Sam barely able to control himself in front of a beautiful woman.
When the dialogue and actions convey one thing, and the camera conveys something contrary, this is known as dissonance of framing.
The character of Mikaela is emblematic of a lot of problems with Genre Films that emphasise spectacle over visual storytelling, however, she is not the only female character who is directed for titillation.