Directed By Michael Bay
Starring Shia LaBeouf
The Transformers was one of those series similar to the DC properties (Super Friends) that was built around a toy line. Looking back now it seems pretty exploitative but at the time when I was a kid I wasn’t complaining. Hasbro had acquired these transforming robots from Japan. They thought the toys were cool and wanted to build a television series around them. So they came up with a back-story for these toys and the now classic television series was born.
With all of the improvements in filmmaking technology now seems like the perfect time for a live action Transformers film and Steven Spielberg and Michael Bay get together to make the film epic. The question is, is it too epic?
The Transformers has a lot going for it. When you combine the character talent of Spielberg and the action sequence capabilities of Bay The Transformers seems to be destined for greatness. Well, here’s the problem, I don’t think Spielberg was involved quite enough. In the end I think he liked the idea of doing a film based on this toy franchise so he just stuck his name on it so Bay wouldn’t have any problems getting his $145 million budget. Let me just say that when I originally saw this film in the theater I was a bit disappointed. Now, seeing it a second time on HD-DVD and now again on Blu-Ray I liked it better but I’m still disappointed.
The writers adjusted the story a bit to make it more palpable for a mainstream film audience and to make it more contemporary and to me those mythology adjustments were fine. They weren’t extreme in their changes though, I was actually surprised at how much of the cartoon mythos was left intact. The opening 20 minutes feels fast paced but it’s really not. It’s actually a really lengthy set up with a good bit of fat that could have been trimmed. In the end there’s a lot of fat throughout the film that could have been trimmed. This is supposed to be a family film right? Sure it’s for the core fans but it’s connected to Spielberg so it’s family oriented even featuring young people as lead human characters. So, should a family film run 2 and a half hours?
For all the pomp and circumstance the story is pretty simple; a cube that was the power core of an alien planet crashes on Earth and evil and good living robots come to Earth to find it with humans caught in the middle. The film does a basic but good job of tying the story to the kid and it’s also cool that the Autobots have sent Bumblebee to be his body guard until the rest of the team arrives to locate the cube. If the story was kept to slim with the above and some character bits from the kid played by Shia LaBeouf the girl he wants to impress played by Megan Fox, and even the basic King Kong style government intervention we’d have a fun and action packed film. The problem is that there’s more, way too much more. There’s a group of analysts tasked with discovering the source of a signal used by the Decepticons to hack the government network. Anytime the film cuts to these characters or the additional hacker brought in to help the moves crashes like an autobot slamming into a brick wall. The characters are boring and they add nothing of importance to the film. What they do add is nearly a half hour, which we could really have done without.
The action and special effects are also a mixed bag. The robots exist gorgeously in the real world with believable weight and presence. The creators went to an extreme to add as much detail to the robots as possible which is really cool when they are standing still but actually hinders the fun a bit during action scenes. There’s so much detail, little pipes and gewgaws everywhere that the actual character of the robots gets lost in the mix during motion, especially when two or more of them are wrestling each other. On the upside this is Michael Bay action and it often looks gorgeous, when you can tell which robot is which.
If you take away the robots this is cookie cutter Bay summer action including the near formulaic score, the melodramatic military setups, and the sepia tones. Now, that’s not necessarily a really bad thing. Bay’s movies can be fun for a summer escape and often The Transformers does offer that. Also the humor, especially the interactions early on between Bumblebee and LaBeouf are very successful. If the film could be recut to remove a whole group of unnecessary characters, a lame Bush joke, and some general bits of fat here and there we’d have a pretty fantastic re-envisioning of the cartoon franchise. Since we can’t do that we’re left with an “OK” summer film featuring some classic characters from our childhood.
This film looked amazing on HD-DVD and the new Blu-Ray specs are identical and it looks just as stunning on this format. The anamorphic 1080p presentation actually looks better than the theatrical presentation that I saw back in the summer. Detail is stunning, colors are gorgeous and perfectly recreated from the theatrical release, and black levels are deep. Now there is some grain but this is Michael Bay grain.
He tends to dig in when he’s shooting, putting his cameras right in the middle of the action creating a grittier look for many scenes. There’s not one bit of grain on this disc that wasn’t put there by Bay himself. If you don’t like the film but if you do want an Blu-Ray to demo your new player and plasma TV this is a must own.
The video presentation easily makes this disc the reference disc for video and with only one caveat the audio is just as top of the line. Now, I’m sure the lack of a lossless audio True HD track is due to space on the disc but based on how high the quality is for the video it needs to be mentioned. We get a top of the line 1080p video presentation but for audio we have to step down one level in quality. With that said the Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 track is stunning. The clarity is phenomenal and the balance between the dialogue, effects, and score is near perfect. Surround usage isn’t just limited to big action scenes but you’ll also notice in quieter moments a good amount of ambient sound coming form all five speakers.
Of course it really shines during the action where bullets whiz by metal bends and bass in general just rumbles in such a satisfying way. It’s not lossless but I don’t think I have a good enough ear to tell the difference if I had a lossless track and this one to compare.
Packaging and Bonus Features
The two disc release is housed in the standard slim amaray case with a slipcover featuring the same art as the actual box. Happily there are no floating heads from the lead actors, just a profile shot on the front and one on the back of Optimus Prime and Megatron. That’s really all the artwork required to sell these Blu-Ray’s.
The extras presented here are indentical to those that were on the HD-DVD. I would have been amazing if Paramount had brought some new bonus features for the Blu-Ray but it’s hard to complain considering the extras that are here. Since HD-DVD is now a dead format this is the only version of the film in hi-def so it may be a little ealy for new bonus features.
The first bonus feature is a feature audio commentary from director Michael Bay. Bay is a pretty arrogant guy and it comes through in the commentary. he really knows how to pat his own back. There are a few interesting bits of information here that do make the commentary worth watching once.
The BD_Live Intelligence Center is a widget downloaded from the web that plays along with the film similar to the trivia track. This is going to be fun for hardcore fans because the information it provides is a bit more “geeky”. For example, when robots are on screen the widget provides deeper information about the character, the characters current power level and even longitude and latitude so you can know exactly where the character is located. The widget downloads super quick and it works by framing around the film shrinking it just a bit to give space for the information to appear.
BD-Live MyClips is a bookmarking tool for you to save your favorite scenes and share them with other viewers with BD enabled players. This kind of thing doesn’t appeal to me but I suppose it could be fun from a social viewing perspective.
Disc 2 features the more standard DVD features you’d expect, but these are more in depth than is common on stamdard DVD’s. The disc is broken into 3 sections, one that focuses on the production and the human characters, the second focuses on post production and the robot characters, and the third one picks up the odds and ends. All of these featurettes are essentially one long documentary with the chapters being titled as individual featurettes. All together there’s over 2 hours of interviews and behind the scenes footage. The interviews cover everything related to the film starting with the inception of the idea, to writing the script, the cast, the involvement of the military in the film, shooting the action sequences, creation of the robots from sketches to CGI and the final product, and choosing the vehicles that will become robots. Bay is of course present in the interviews but surprisngly even Steven Spielberg shows his face to share his thoughts. Also on the disc is an exclusive detailed look at six of the robots, some concept art, and trailers.
The documentary also features interviews with the cast, the crew, and even some reps from Hasbro. The cast interviews are really light on value as they just pat each other on the back but the crew and Hasbro reps offer a ton of really great information. Also throughout the documentary there’s some really good behind the scenes footage of the film getting made.
The documentary and commentary are really good but typical stuff you’d find on a standard DVD release but the Blu-Ray exclusive content, the web enabled content in particular, really pushes the release over the top. The bar has been set for high definition extras regardless of format with this release.
Transformers H.U.D. is a Blu-Ray exclusive. It’s a pop up video style track that runs along with the film. There’s a bit of video including animatics and deleted scenes along with the trivia. I’m not a huge fan of these kinds of tracks but there is some interesting information here that isn’t included in the documentary featurettes.
The movie is fun but flawed but the presentation is amazing. This is the way high definition DVD’s should be done.
Overall (Not an Average) 9/10
The Movie 6/10
The Video 10/10
The Audio 9.5/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 10/10
Overall (Not an Average) 9/10