Robots beating each other senseless. That’s the big draw to Transformers. Big special effects and robots, essentially, and that’s what you get. In fact, the last act is just a bunch of robots smashing into each other and causing both a tonne of damage and probably a huge amount of casualties. It’s stupid, mindless smashing, but it manages to be good fun. Looks great, too. But, it’s about to look even better with the release of Transformers to Blu-ray. Once the format war between HD-DVD and Blu-ray was settled earlier this year, I knew it was only a matter of time until this movie was released on Blu-ray. Thankfully, it managed to get here pretty quick and, yes, it is reference quality.
From director Michael Bay and executive producer Steven Spielberg comes a thrilling battle between the heroic Autobots and the evil Decepticons. When their epic struggle comes to Earth, all that stands between the Decepticons and ultimate power is a clue held by young Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf). Unaware that he is mankind’s last chance for survival, Sam and Bumblebee, his robot disguised as a car, are in a heart-pounding race against an enemy unlike anything anyone has seen before. With so much at stake, can the Autobots save the day and defeat the evil Megatron and his Decepticons?
Now, I remember the Transformers from my childhood, so, naturally, I saw this movie in theatres and I picked up the special edition DVD upon release last year, but I wouldn’t really call myself a huge fan. I could easily name off a few of the characters, remember the classic “transforming sound effect,” and I’m sure if I looked in the basement, there’d still be some Transformers toys kicking about. That’s really the extent of my interest in the characters. As I grew up and went onto other super-heroes and characters, I left these characters behind. All that changed, however, when the live-action Transformers film was announced. All those childhood memories came rushing back, and I could not wait to see how this would translate onto the big film.
Of course, when Michael Bay was announced as the director, I was skeptical. There’s maybe one or two of his films I really enjoyed, and the rest were pretty much drivel. He emphasizes style over . . . well . . . everything else, and this movie isn’t really all that different. We have big special effects, huge set pieces, and over-the-top dialogue and action sequences. And yet, for some reason, it all works here. But I also understand that, even from the get-go, this movie isn’t high-art, something some people just can’t wrap their heads around. They aren’t striving for it, nor do they care to here. Even the source material for this movie isn’t high-art, either, but that’s beside the point. Now, I’m not saying everything in the film worked, but, overall, I’d have to place this movie as a success. I enjoyed it, for the most part, and will likely revisit it from time to time, especially now that it is part of my Blu-ray collection.
Like I said, there’s things that work and things that don’t. Right off the bat, both the late Bernie Mac and Anthony Anderson are at the top of the “don’t” list. I’m thankful Mac’s scene, in a ridiculous scene taking place at a car dealership, is short. He’s gone in about three to four minutes, yet it feels like it drags on and on. Not only is he just flat-out not funny here, but the scene itself is a ridiculous. I know I’m saying that in a movie with huge alien robots, but the scene is just horrible. Eye-rolling horrible. The man has talent and has some amazing stand-up that’s worth watching, but the late comedian just does not work here. Later on, we meet his replacement in the ‘painful character’ category, Anthony Anderson, who just overdoes it in every scene he’s in. He spends the majority of the movie shouting and it gets grating. Thankfully, he seems to disappear amongst the bru-ha-ha during the finale, so that’s a plus.
The big complaint from viewers seems to be the approach the movie took for the first hour or so, which plays out much like a John Hughes film. We’re introduced to Sam Witwicky and we follow his somewhat humorous homelife and attempts to win over the popular girl. Intermixed with this are assorted attacks on the US Military, resulting in a group of soldiers being stranded in Katar, trying to fend off an evil Decepticon. Shortly after that, we’re fully introduced to the Autobots and things get rolling from there. It takes a good hour before we’re introduced to Optimus Prime and his band of fellow do-gooder robots, but, surprisingly, the first hour seems to fly by. This is due to, mostly, the performance of LaBeouf as Witwicky.
LaBeouf has the arduous task of carrying the first hour of a bigger summer tentpole movie, and it’s a hard task. Add in the fact that Transformers fans would rather see robots than the actor, than you just have to appreciate his role in the film. Add on his likability and charisma, and you got an entertaining first hour. He has a great sense of humor and his improvisational skill really helps to move the movie along, even during the slowest or painfully unfunny scenes (and there are a few, but they thankfully skirt by thanks to LaBeouf). But it’s not all Hughes/teen drama stuff for the first half of the movie. Over the first hour, we’re given teases here and there, clues to what will start the big robot smackdown, all leading up to a rather action-packed finale. Plus, we get a couple exciting action sequences, like the attack on the military base that starts the movie, after Optimus Prime’s long voice-over, and a handful of soldiers fighting off a Decepticon.
Like I said, it takes a good hour, in a nearly 2 ½ hour film, to finally meet Optimus Prime and his introduction, in my opinion, does not disappoint. Not only does Peter Cullen reprise his role as Optimus Prime, but he brings a note of validity and leadership to his role. He is Optimus Prime, and I’m glad the producers decided to bring him in. Once the Autobots are brought in, the film really kicks into high gear, and the actual unravels from there. It takes a little bit longer until we’re introduced to the Megatron and the rest of the Decpticons, but the movie does it in such a natural pace that it didn’t bother me, personally. Of course, many fans complained about that, but, well, I didn’t mind. I’m not a die-hard fan and I was able to easily accept that this was primarily an introduction movie and that it may take just a little bit to get introduced into the characters, both good and bad.
There are a few other inconsistencies and plot holes in this movie that stick to me, namely how will the government try to conceal these robots after such a public smackdown in a heavily populated city. And are you telling me there were no casualties to be found during this big city brawl? Un-hunh.
And, as great as it was to see the Transformers in live-action, albeit in CGI, I found their designs were needlessly complex. I understand the creative team was striving for realism, but I don’t think, in a movie such as this, the Transformers didn’t really need to be so real, and their transformation so complex. I found it a bit unnecessary and, sometimes, ugly.
And yes, the scene with Bumblebee “peeing” on John Turturro’s character was just . . . bad. And now we have that in Hi-Def. Great.
Despite whatever problems I listed above, and there were a couple more in the movie, I actually really enjoyed the film. Yes, there were a few instances where I was pulled out of the film for one reason or another, but I still enjoyed it. Whether it was the strength of LaBeouf’s acting that carried the first half of the movie, or the awesome action sequences in the last half, I enjoyed the movie from start to finish. And those action scenes . . . wow. While I found a few to be hard to make out on the big screen, they seem to be surprisingly comprehensible on DVD. The extreme close-ups of some of the transformations look better, and the onscreen tussles, sometimes hid among close-ups and blur effects, actually look better here. This made the big brawl more enjoyable to watch. I wasn’t struggling to see what was happening, as it seemed, remarkably, as plain as day here.
The special effects are just excellent and are pretty much to-notch across the board. Usually an effects heavy movie suffers from a few weak spots, and sometimes it is painful to see such weak special effects back to back with the great effects. Here? I couldn’t find a weak moment during the entire movie. The effects were great across the board. Not only did the live-action and CGI appear to work seamless together, but it actually seemed like the characters were interacting with these CGI creations.
The movie is your classic stupid summer tentpole movie, and it doesn’t disappoint. Yes, the hardcore (and sometimes scary) hard-core Transformers fans will no doubt be disappointed by the film, but I thought it was well done and a great kick-off to a new franchise. In fact, the sequel will be out next summer, and is currently being filmed and, naturally, Bay is returning to direct. But, getting back to this movie, there are some painful moments spread about the film, but once the action kicks up, all that seems to vanish. It’s a fun, brainless popcorn feature where you have to chuck your sense of reality out the door, but Bay manages makes it work. It’s a shallow, baseless, mindless extravaganza, but, somehow, Bay makes it work. There’s no real story to speak of, but who comes to this movie looking for a story? As the movie kicks into it’s chaotic finale, you’ll find yourself just glued to the screen and enjoying big robots beating each other senseless. I mean, that’s what we came here to see, right? As you can expect, this is a film that comes Highly Recommended, despite the flaws.
Paramount Home Entertainment has releases the Transformers: Two-Disc Special Edition Blu-ray in the standard Blu-ray blue clamshell case with a sturdy plastic sleeve to overlay it. The packaging follows the regular two-disc DVD release in terms of design and execution. Sleek packaging that makes the DVD standout on the shelf!
Before I quickly go through the extras, I need to emphasize something. Something important. The transfer? Flat-out amazing! I didn’t view the HD-DVD release of Transformers, but I am sure that it doesn’t top this Blu-ray transfer. This is a drop-dead gorgeous transfer! The detail in the video is absolutely stunning. Everything is sharp, clear, and just incredibly detailed, adding a layer of perception that adds to the overall depth of the image. It looks great! Now, the DVD transfer of Tranformers was solid, but this? This outshines it. If you want a Blu-ray release to show off to your friends? Well, you found it right here. No question about it! The video is great, and coupled with the amazing audio transfers and, well, you have reference-level stuff here, folks. The audio transfer deserves to be cranked up loud! Now, I’m still relatively new to the Blu-ray format, but I know greatness when I see it, and the transfer here reaches that landmark.
Now, the extras found here will be familiar to those who picked up with the two-disc DVD release or HD-DVD release last fall, but there are a couple extra features included here. The primary feature on the first disc is the commentary by Michael Bay. He goes into extensive detail about the production history of the feature, but, since he’s the only participant, it does get a little dry. The disc also features BD-Live material, a “Heads Up Display,” similar to the “In Movie Experience” pop-up application, and a collection of high definition trailers.
The second disc houses the majority of the special features, most of which are repeated from the original DVD release. The documentary “Our World” opens up the second disc, discussing how the film got off the ground. There’s plenty of a nimatics, artwork and production footage included. Then we have “Their War,” which runs over an hour and focuses more on the robot characters and the franchise itself. We get to see archival footage of the Transformers and the individual robots, hitting all the way back to their original conception. We move along right up to the production of the first film, getting a chance to check out how the CGI effects were created and a breakdown of the mechanics of both the vehicles and major props used as well as the special effects. “Tech Inspector” gives us a look at each Tranformer character through rotating, 3D models. A minor extra, but interesting. We then round everything up with “More Than Meets the Eye,” covering the visual effects and including some conceptual artwork, and the assorted teasers and trailers for the film. Be on the look-out for some easter eggs, too.
While not a perfect movie by any means, I still really enjoyed Transformers. It’s a fun action flick with plenty of great eye candy, in terms of both actors and special effects. On top of a fun movie, the two-disc Blu-ray release looks stunning and is simply packed with extras. I have no doubt this will be a huge seller on Blu-ray, much like how it was the top-selling HD-DVD before that format quickly folded. Granted, it’s basically the same extras from the two-disc DVD release, so you know what to expect, but Paramount tossed in a couple extra goodies. If you want to own Transformers, this Blu-ray release is the edition you want to pick up. The audio and video alone is amazing and worth picking up a Blu-ray player for, no question. With Blu-ray slowing starting to become more and more mainstream, this is a pretty damn good release to start your Blu-ray library with. It’s definitely worth adding to your Blu-ray library and comes Highly Recommended.
Transformers: Two-Disc Special Edition hits Blu-ray on September 2nd, 2008.