Transformers Blu-ray Review (D-BOX Added)September 19, 2008
Back in the mid 1980s, when I was a teenager, I knew very little about the toy/cartoon phenomenon that was The Transformers. I never saw the cartoon; never had the toys and did not see the 1986 animated feature. In fact, the only things I knew about The Transformers were two things: one was that the late Orson Wells voiced a planet in the movie. The other was that the film's god awful song, "The Touch," was used 11 years later to hilarious effect in P.T. Anderson's Boogie Nights. Looking back, I'm convinced that my ignorance of all things Autobot and Decepticon two decades ago was indeed pure bliss.
Cut to today. The crap '80s songs, cheap animation and the vocal chords of Citizen Kane are long gone. For the new $150 million live action version directed by Michael Bay, we instead get state-of-the art computer animation, a crap soundtrack of 2007 rock songs and no has-been filmmaker voicing a planet. With "Destructo Boy" Bay calling the shots, you know the film will be many things: loud, over the top from start to finish and it will be long. But will it be any good? When it comes to his movies, Bay is a bit of a crap shoot. Remember, this is the guy gave us The Rock, the halfway decent The Island and the guilty pleasure duo of Bad Boys, parts 1 &2. Unfortunately, this is also the man who exposed us to the unwatchable Pearl Harbor and Armageddon.
The Autobots (good guys) and Decepticons (bad guys) are two warring robotic tribes from another galaxy. They have come to Earth to reclaim the Allspark, a cube from their home planet that will grant whoever possesses it unlimited power. Caught up in the middle of the mayhem is Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf). Sam is your typical dorky teenager who also happens to be the great, great grandson of an explorer that discovered one of the Decepticons, Megatron, and the Allspark back in the Arctic in the mid 1800s. Sam also happens to be in possession of his deceased relative's cracked glasses, which apparently are encoded with a map which will show the Autobots the way to the Allspark…as well as Megatron.
Now, being that this is a Michael Bay movie based on a line of Hasbro toys, I sat down to watch Transformers with no pretenses whatsoever of a coherent, decent plot (mission accomplished) or characters (ditto) brought to vivid life by great levels of acting. To their credit however, the cast –in particular LaBeouf- does the best they can given the material. All I wanted from the film was two hours or so of robots kicking the crap out of each other while laying waste to half of the planet.
Lowering one's expectation to negative levels still does help the film's act. Before we get to the Bout to Knock the Other Tin Can Out, one has to endure approximately an hour of subpar subplots (including one in the Middle East), weak attempts at comedy and characters painted in the absolutely broadest of strokes Hollywood can deliver. While it's not quite as horrid as what we had to endure in Bay's Armageddon or Pearl Harbor, the first few reels of Transformers is a bit of a slog.
Fortunately, Bay knows how to handle spectacle and orchestrate mass destruction. Once Optimus Prime and his crew arrive on the scene, the film becomes a fun B-movie reminiscent of throwaway sci-fi flicks from the 1950s and 60s. As one would expect from a big Hollywood popcorn flick (and one with Steven Spielberg as its producer), the visual effects and action set pieces are terrific. The interaction between live actors and the visual effects is pretty close to seamless, and the action is delivered in Bay's trademark grand, bombastic style, especially during the film's final 35 minutes.
Transformers is an ideal Friday Night Flick: utterly brainless but harmless at the same time. It is a big-budget production that, despite its many flaws, proves to be a rather enjoyable night of movie watching. It wasn't the best of the 2007 big ticket summer flicks, but it certainly wasn't without merit. Do I have much hope for the sequel that is due in June of 2009? No. But if Bay and his screenwriters tone down the human aspect of the story and concentrate more on the talking tin cans, we might be looking at the ideal Friday Night Flick Part II.
The theatrical release of Transformers was a big event for both Paramount and Dreamworks Pictures during the 2007 summer movie season, successfully yielding over $700 million in ticket sales worldwide. When the HD DVD exclusive hit in October of last year, it was a cause for rejoice for the former format and a major bone of contention for champions of the rival Blu-ray format, among them the film's director. Now that the format war is history, Paramount has been busy rolling out its HD DVD exclusives onto Blu-ray. While those who owned the disc on the HD DVD may experience a bit of déjà vu content-wise, there are enough improvements to make this double-dip definitely worth it.
As it was on HD DVD, Transformers is presented in a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.35:1 theatrical ratio) and like its departed brethren, the image on this BD-50 disc (the HD DVD was housed on an HD-30) is nothing short of breathtaking. Michael Bay's movies always use a color palette that is bright and occasionally oversaturated, and this disc represents that gloriously. As one would expect from a recently release, the image is in perfect shape. Details are as sharp as a tack, black levels are solid and the transfer is completely free of video noise, edge enhancement and compression artifacts. A few nighttime scenes here and there remain a bit on the murky side. Grain, while present throughout, has been reduced a bit due to DNR as well. Is there a major leap in quality from the HD DVD to the Blu-ray? Aside from a slightly sharper picture, I don't believe so. But since the HD DVD picture looked beautiful to begin with, is this really an issue?
While the 5.1 Dolby Digital Plus audio track was great, a understandably major bone of contention among owners of the HD DVD edition was that there was no TrueHD audio track. I mean, after all, is there is a movie on HD DVD that required an uncompressed audio track; it would have been this film. It appeared as though that 30 gigs was not enough to include it.
The Blu-ray rectifies that issue. A 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is included and it is a beauty. The track is a fully immersive aural experience, offering terrific directionality from each and every channel. Center channel dialogue is always clear (whether you consider that a blessing or a curse depends on what you think of the film), while the deep bass channel makes its presence known right from the get go.
D-BOX Motion Code
It doesn't take long for D-BOX to make a major impact in Transformers. The transformation of Blackout at a US Military base in Qatar and subsequent "sonic blast" he emits is riveting and jarring at the same time. This entire sequence is twice as intense with D-BOX working nonstop throughout.
Any scene where Autobots and Decepticons clash are justifiably full of movement and vibration. It is also fitting the film's most important robot scrum between Optimus Prime and Megatron in the final act is also the most effective and pleasing use of D-BOX with the robots in the entire film.
The most surprising D-BOX moment in Transformers comes literally at the hands of Optimus Prime. Even knowing the Autobot leader was about to rip the roof off a Sector 7 SUV to rescue Sam and Mikaela didn't stop me from jumping at the D-BOX quick thrust of movement when Optimus first tears into the vehicle. It is a moment I immediately rewound to experience again.
The only knock against an otherwise perfect D-BOX experience is a lack of Motion Code when dogs are chasing Sam through an industrial complex early in the film. This small gripe aside, Transformers is easily a top tier D-BOX experience and near the head of the line when demo time comes.
The generous amount of supplemental features found on the HD DVD edition of Transformers has been ported over to the Blu-ray release (those that were in HD on that disc are in HD here as well). There are three major supplements on disc one, the first supplement being a Feature-length Commentary by Michael Bay. I expected this track to be nothing but a two and a half hour pat on the back and at times, it certainly is. Overall though, Bay's comments on the film and its production hold one's interest throughout, and he even manages to throw in an occasional, and humorous, self-depreciating comment or two along the way as well.
The interactive Transformers Heads up Display is a combination of pop-up trivia track and picture-in-picture video commentary. The pop-up trivia feature offers many tidbits on the production, while the picture-in-picture offers interviews with cast and crew and how the visual effects were created for the scene playing in the background at the same time. Originally entitled Paramount HD Connect, the BD Live feature allows viewers who have their players connected to the internet to access bonus content such as the Transformers Intelligence Mode, which brings up facts on the robots, location tracking and trivia bits of the scenes playing onscreen, and health status. The connection to the online material on my PS3, and download of the content, was lightning fast. And the feature itself is really nice.
The lion's share of the extras is presented on disc two. There are four choices (Our World, Their War, Transformers Tech Inspector and More Than Meets the Eye) offered, which consists of an extensive group of documentary material that runs almost as long as the film itself. As mentioned before, these supplements are presented in a very nice 1080p/1.78:1 presentation quality.
Beginning with the Our World section, The Story Sparks (8:35) is a look at the origins of the film and features interviews with Spielberg, Bay, screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, the film's producers, representatives of the Hasbro Toy Company in addition to Shia LaBeouf and Jon Voight. Human Allies (13:13) is an unintentionally funny short that has the film's human cast waxing poetic about their characters and all the work they put into them (apparently, this was before any of them read the script). I Fight Giant Robots (14 minutes) takes a look at the military training that several of the actors experienced prior to filming, while Battleground (13:38) examines the location shooting and has some fun footage of the filming of the movie's conclusion.
Section Two, entitled Their War, is a quartet of shorts that focuses more on the technical aspects of the production. The 14-minute Rise of the Robots looks at the history of the Transformers toy line and television series as well as the fans' reactions to the changes that Michael Bay had made to such beloved characters as Optimus Prime. Autobots Roll Out (20:02) takes a peek at the various real-life vehicles used to portray the otherworldly heroes. Decepticons Strike (14:34) is the companion piece to Autobots Roll Out, only this time the focus is on the military tanks and aircraft used to portray the baddies.
But forget about all those insights into plot, vehicles and character, Inside the Allspark (17 minutes) discusses the one thing we all want to know more about: the digital effects. The concluding segment of this section interviews members of Industrial Light and Magic as well as Digital Domain (which Bay now owns) and shows just how difficult it was to achieve the realistic look for the robots that Bay was looking for. For an even closer look at the design of the 'bots, check out the Transformers Tech Inspector, in which the viewer can get a 360 degree examination of their favorite good or bad toaster.
From Script to Sand: The Scorponok Desert Attack (10 minutes), starts up the last section of supplements. It's a brief breakdown of the Qatar desert battle sequence from start to finish. A collection of photo galleries entitled Concepts offers some production stills accompanied by the film’s music. Finally, we get the Theatrical Teaser and two Theatrical Trailers that do a great job at selling the film. The trio is presented in 1080p and 5.1 surround sound.
Transformers was made for home video. If you just want to just see a mega-budget version of Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots, you can now jump right to the action without suffering through all that extraneous human being junk. For the millions of die-hard fans out there that own a Blu-ray player, waiting in earnest for a high def edition to call their own, the wait was both worth it and is finally over. The video looks as good as it did on the HD DVD, but the audio track is a major improvement. With an extensive supplemental section to round out the package, this disc come recommended.
Click here to buy Tranformers on Blu-ray from Amazon.com.
Browse all Amazon.com Blu-ray pre-orders