The Fourth of July weekend is a fitting time for the release of Michael Bay’s latest round of cinematic pyrotechnics, Transformers: Dark of the Moon. It’s better than the first two, though that’s not saying all that much. And like the first two, we’re not breaking any new legal ground here either. In fact, as seemingly befits a movie which is almost entirely derivative… there isn’t a whole lot to say that we haven’t covered already. But in any case, here’s a roundup.
I. Artificial Intelligence
The obvious issue here is the status of the Cybertronians as such. We’ve got a multi–part series on non-human intelligences, so read away if you’re interested. The fact that the Cybertronians have discrete physical existences makes things a little simpler, as yes, they’re machines, but they don’t seem to be able to upload or copy themselves, making some of the boundary issues (If an intelligence can be copied, which is the “real” one? Does it matter?) go away. The conclusion we came to in that series is that if a group of artificial intelligences showed up and demanded recognition, they’d probably get it.
II. Treasure Troves
We first examined lost and found property back in February, and the basic issues are covered there. It seems plausible that the wreck of the Ark would count as a “treasure trove” rather than any of the other types of property, as when it was first “discovered” by humanity in the late 1960s, we had no knowledge of Cybertronians. But when Optimus Prime showed up to lay claim, there really wasn’t any reason to dispute his ownership, so there aren’t any obvious legal issues there. The fact that the property is on the Moon doesn’t seem to matter much: personal property is personal property wherever it goes.
III. Destroying Chicago
Boy howdy does Chicago take a beating in this one. Truth be told, it’s one of the most impressive special effects set pieces in recent memory. It goes on way, way too long (This 160-minute movie could easily have been ninety) but the cinematics and stunt work are really a sight to be hold, even in 2D. Of course, this raises an issue we’ve covered before: exactly who is going to pay for all of this? A Decepticon invasion of Chicago counts as warfare and/or terrorism if anything does, so property carriers are not going to be excited about picking that stuff up, as they’re both excluded perils on all standard commercial insurance policies. Some of the skyscrapers may have unique policies, but even then whether or not they’d be covered for that level of destruction is doubtful at best.
IV. Charlotte Mearing
Frances McDormand is obviously enjoying her ability to completely goof off by taking a role like Charlotte Mearing. In her first scene, she’s on the phone with what memory suggests is a Senator, and she takes him to task by spouting off a list of the things she can do, given her position as… some fictional Director. She’s not CIA, NSA, or DoD, because she mentions their directors in the third person, so it’s not entirely clear exactly who it is she’s supposed to be. (Any commenters with more specific information are welcome to chime in!) But while there are certainly people in the government whose official and unofficial powers probably include some of the things she claims to be able to do, it’s unlikely that anyone has all of them. Even the President would probably count himself lucky to be able to do some of those things. Some of this is just a consequence of there not being enough hours in the day, but legally speaking, Mearing claims an unusual level of knowledge and influence over legislative, civilian, and military operations, to the point that no such office exists. It wouldn’t be the first time that a filmmaker has made up some omni-competent government official, and this may count as an acceptable use of artistic license, as actually gathering the number of people it would take to wield that kind of power would make for a more expensive and less interesting shot. Committee meetings are boring for the people in them. No one wants to watch one.