Burger King is currently pushing the Transformers II movie along with its Triple Whoppers. In the restaurant, Transformers are nearly seeping through the walls. It occurred to me while I ate my BK Veggie (highly recommended, by the way) that Transformers approach perfection as tools for movie merchandising. This thought came as I contemplated a “BK-Transformers Give-a-Way” poster on the wall, which featured a Whopper, a Transformer, and a Chevy Camaro all jumbled together in a pile of cash. Not surprisingly, the main Transformer character in the film, Bumblebee, is also the main human character’s Camaro. This is not just good product placement. What makes the Camaro cool for the main character is that it “contains” a giant robot. The fantasy here is of the basic comic book variety transferred onto the world of consumer objects. The quasi-nerdy main character enters into and becomes the powerful machine over which the beautiful heroine mechanic (Megan Fox) fawns. Like Iron Man if the Iron Man suit were a Camaro. If this sounds like a really infantile way to sell the Camaro brand, well, it is. But it is commodity fetishism, the primary means of imbuing a product with magical meaning and thus surplus value. The most “merchandiseable” movie is one that serves as a 90-minute commercial starring the product itself as anthropomorphized magical object. The problem is that people will not willingly seek out such a production, much less pay for the privilege. So Transformers is “about” giant robots fighting a cosmic battle of good and evil, and not directly about Camaros or even cool military machines. It does, however, function to funnel an adolescent male fantasy (the kind that drives irrational consumer activity) into a Camaro. I imagine if the franchise continues, it will avail itself of this opportunity to feature an even greater array of commodities that vacillate between coming alive and re-entering the everyday world of dead objects. (Marketer: Can you put the Roomba in the script as a cute and unthreatening robot from outer space? Producer: Sure, everyone suspects a Roomba anyway. It’s funny. $50,000.) The other example that comes to mind of this strategy of “product placement” is the 1995 film Toy Story (and sequel) in which toys came alive and have adventures. The products did not simply represent the characters (as with, say, G.I. Joe). The products were the characters. Toy Story had to limit its characters to special commodities. With Transformers, the fantasy can be transferred to any machine you want to touch with a magic wand. The one limitation is that you might make a very bad movie. If the Transformers franchise is kaput, I predict the formula is so valuable that it willhave its … er… revenge in some other form.