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Blu-ray Review: Transformers – Revenge of the Fallen

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In my childhood, I would tag along with my grandfather to the video store, toting one of my favorite Transformers with me. My grandfather would spend over an hour reading the back of every box, scrutinizing the potential of the artistic merit within as I traversed the towering aisles searching for anything with a robot or giant monster in it. Before I really knew how to appreciate film, my nightly routine consisted of eating dinner and watching film after film with my grandfather.

This inevitably led to my becoming a seasoned film viewer with a vast palate ranging from romantic comedies to cerebral conspiracy thrillers, including films from all across the globe, spanning many languages. I’ve developed a very technical and critical eye for all the subtleties and nuances of the art form from more than 20 years of watching films.

Some of my all-time favorites are a critically sophisticated bunch: The Godfather, The Shawshank Redemption, and Oldboy. And still, after all the trash talking stacked on top of Michael Bay’s noisy robot frenzy, I still consider Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and its predecessor a pair of the most fun and exciting entries in the sci-fi genre since The Matrix.

Yes, you read correctly. This hard-nosed, very tough to please movie snob loves Revenge of the Fallen. I find it frighteningly odd that someone couldn’t enjoy it and this eludes me to no end. The kind of folk who can’t have fun with films like this seem to take themselves way too seriously or know virtually nothing of filmmaking. Fellow filmmakers, especially film legend Steven Spielberg, praise and admire Michael Bay’s talents. The film has grossed over 800 million at the box office, sold two million Blu-rays and DVDs combined day one of release, and is loved by audiences the world over. What are the rest of us missing? It is an enigma.

Shia LaBeouf returns as Sam Witwicky. After discovering a remnant of the Allspark, Sam starts seeing Cybertronian symbols after the remnant transfers its information to him telepathically. The Decepticons must kidnap Sam and use the information in his head to help the godlike The Fallen in rediscovering a secret Energon-consuming weapon built on earth thousands of years ago by their Cybertronian ancestors. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The story, if you have a finely tuned cinematic ear and eye, is not a deeply philosophical one, but a very intriguing adventure if you aren’t easily distracted by egregious comic relief and pretty much everything exploding. There is a vast amount of Transformers lore lurking under the surface for anyone wishing to dig deeper.

Considering a pivotal character such as Jetfire, his crazed spouting of days of old unveils far more to the story than meets the eye. Sorry, I had to. But I think it’s better I leave all of that up to your own discovery as that’s part of the fun of multiple viewings. So far, I’ve gotten more from it each time and it’s unfortunate that so many who have bashed or praised Revenge of the Fallen did so without taking into account everything it has to offer.

Both lovers and haters of the film are blinded by the visuals and the crude humor. Yes, I said both. Personally, I’m not a fan of most of the humor in this entry. Some of it is super funny, no doubt. But I’m not a fan. People get so bent out of shape about the Twins or dogs humping that they ignore the awe-inspiring splendor abounding (and I’m not just talking about flashy special effects).

Both parties see the loud carnage and one says, “Awesome, I like explosions!” The other says, “That’s great and all, but it’s just loud and dumb.” Both of which ignore the heart and truth at the core of both the Autobots' and Decepticons' design among other things. But I’ll return to this point later.

It seems a lot of critics bank on the Twins, calling them out for being racist caricatures, which I think is one of the most profoundly absurd accusations I’ve heard against a film in years. They aren’t even in this film anywhere near enough time for them to constitute an entire film's worth of total awesomeness to go ignored. In fact, watching it again on Blu-ray I could have sworn I remembered them being in the film longer. I know that there were some dialogue changes made to the home version, but was their screen time cut down as well? Owning it now, I find it even harder to figure out why everyone hates them so much. They’re not funny, sure. Racist? Seriously, get a hobby.

Other than the crude humor, thin plot, and being “too loud,” I don't hear any other intelligent arguments. So, what you’re telling me is that because you didn’t find it funny, you missed 90% of the plot, and you have ears like a 100-year-old woman, it’s a bad movie? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not claiming that Revenge of the Fallen is a Schindler’s List in disguise, but there is undeniably far more sophistication to it than a lot of critics would like to admit.

There are a myriad of other artistic elements that make a film what it is and a lot of them are cranked up to 11 in Revenge of the Fallen. One thing that's especially clear is the love, dedication, and massive talent at ILM. The amount of character they put into the bots' physicality is staggering. Coupled with an outstanding voice talent cast, the robots in Revenge of the Fallen rival anything, yes, anything Pixar can churn out.

Bumblebee is even better realized in this outing, showing truly Oscar-worthy emotional mannerisms. Having his “vocal processors” destroyed in battle (Megatron’s doing, if you read the comics) adds serious weight to his character as he attempts to express feelings through various movie sound bytes.

Wheelie, a tough-talk no-walk Decepticon, mentions they must find the Seekers. The Seekers’ mission was to find the source of Energon here on earth and that one of them would know the location of the Matrix of Leadership (yet another piece to the plot).

Later they find Jetfire, who was one of those Seekers, who acts as a treasure trove of back-story. This geriatric robot just oozes character from the quirky faults of his old age to his grumbled British accent. Pieces of him don’t completely transform anymore. Other parts fall off of him. He is truly a wonder to behold. How does someone miss the extraordinary talent behind characters like this? One of my favorite quotes from Jetfire: “My father was a wheel. The first wheel! You know what he transformed into? Nothing – and he did so with honor!” So good!

Transformers losing out to the painfully mediocre Golden Compass for the Special Effects Oscar is the most unacceptable misfire in the Academy Awards in recent memory. The writers even make a really funny quip about that in the commentary. Come on now. How did Golden Compass even get nominated? I saw that one the day it was released and was shocked at the appalling lack of believability in the rubbery special effects. Now imagine my shock when it was not only nominated, but beat out Transformers.

If Francis Ford Coppola is a master of character arcs, if Ridley Scott is a master of the epic, if the Wachowskis are masters of the metaphysical story, then Michael Bay is a master of the action flick. Critics often attack Bay’s disregard for story in favor of "splosions" that punctuate action segment after action segment. That’s like criticizing Jimi Hendrix for slacking on his rocket science. This film doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is and makes no apologies for it.

Michael Bay’s eye for angles and lighting is second to none. In Revenge of the Fallen, the camera sinks and slides to the beats of the punches like the graceful movements in a beautiful symphonic piece. How a glint or shadow washes over a character as they rise expended from a death-dealing blow grants us iconic and infectiously memorable shots engineered to deliver an awesome sense of untouchable heroism that only giant alien robots should exude on this scale.

One example of Bay’s excellent use of lighting to evoke character is when Optimus Prime asks Director Galloway, “What if we leave and you are wrong?” Prime’s face does not change as he leans forward to tell him this. Although, when he leans back, he passes through a shadowed area, highlighting the iridescence of his eyes, revealing – with only a shift in lighting – the frightening power of the Autobot’s commanding presence.

The pacing of the visual execution is stunning. In particular, the razor thin robot, Reed Man, forms together in a brilliantly unique spectacle as it infiltrates a military base to confiscate the Allspark shard. Uniting sound, music, lighting, and CG, Bay executes this and the remainder of his special effects driven scenes with a smart musical ballet.

Now those hardened critics out there and ravenous Transformers fan boys can say what they want about Bay, but he is no doubt the best at what he does. As a sound designer, independent filmmaker, and songwriter, I can tell you that Bay’s orchestration of sound and visual is the best I’ve ever seen or heard in Hollywood. Ever. Speaking of the sound design, I’m a huge fan of the Bourne movies, but better sound design than Transformers? The Academy is officially delusional.

Performances are as solid as they should be in a film of this nature. No one does a bad job at all, performing as best as one can while competing with giant robots. In Megan Fox, I see a perfectly capable actress with a handful of very minute shining moments, but she does what she has to do. LaBeouf gets stronger every time I see him and probably has the best performance of the cast. Anyone who has seen Eagle Eye knows that this kid has an Oscar nod in his future. Sam’s parents, John Turturro’s Agent Simmons, Josh Duhamel, and Tyrese Gibson all perform adeptly. Asking for more is a bit unrealistic.

The first film's score I love. This one is no exception. Any protege of the great Hans Zimmer (who lent his genius for an arrangement or two) must be a talent to follow. Steve Jablonsky knows how to get your emotions tagging along to the beats of the segments. He's an incredibly versatile composer and his talents are perfectly integrated. Jablonsky’s Autobot Theme is the best hero opus I’ve heard since John Williams’ "Superman Theme." In the Transformers (2007) commentary, I was pleased to hear Bay mention practically the same thing.

What really turns me off is Linkin Park's involvement in the score. Contemporary rock bands have no place in epic films. They only serve to immediately date the material and weaken the atmosphere. As part of the soundtrack that's fine. But the moment I hear radio friendly rock guitar over heroic crane shots, the mood is instantly cheesed and I'm pulled from the escape.

Bay’s first effort in Transformers (2007) and 2009’s Revenge of the Fallen transport me to a place I would never be able to return to otherwise – a time when I had no worries or concerns except playing with my toys in my backyard, making spitty explosion sounds with my lips. The film has its faults, a few of them no doubt. But it would be trite and ridiculous to let them shine above the massive amount of talent that is proudly on display in the production.

I could do without the Twins in favor of more screen time for newcomers Arcee, Sideswipe, and Jolt. Originally, the writers conceived of the Twins as the kid-friendly pull to the film. This idea, sadly, was butchered by the voice actors and Bay went with it. As much love as I have for Bay and his team, this was a mistake that will forever taint the film. What if he had just listened to the writers?

There are a couple minutes of the film I could do without and Michael Bay himself admits on the commentary that due to time constraints he couldn't trim the film as much as he wished. There are a few eye-rolling lines with a deliberate lack of subtlety that should have been left out. Sam's mom is rather excessive. There is a scene early on that is fun for the kids as Bay says and I surely understand that, but personally I'd prefer this as a deleted scene as it only serves to put the pace on hold.

Yet, still there is practically nothing out there that transports me to a place of pure escapist Zen quite like this film did and will do for me countless times in the future. In one of the many special features on the disc, you’ll see a large number of children waiting anxiously to meet Michael Bay and see the Bethlehem Steel set in hopes of seeing Bumblebee or Optimus Prime. It truly makes me wonder how someone can miss the point of films like this. Really, how in the world?

Film Score:

Video

Presented in 2.39:1 1080p, Revenge of the Fallen is a pristine, reference quality transfer that grabs your jaw and pulls it to the floor for you. I watched this on standard definition DVD recently and I hadn’t truly realized just how incredible Blu-ray is until I compared the two. How gorgeous the robots look on such a beautiful transfer is a true testament to ILM’s amazing level of talent. It’s a rather fine test of the eye to see a difference between the actual cars and their robot counterparts.

In the desert scenes you can pinpoint every pore of the sediment in the mud houses. You can count the threads of grain in the wooden planks. You can make out each gear and wire inside even the smallest Insecticon. Black levels are inky. Colors are warmly saturated. Contrast is pure and strong. Film grain is healthy but subtle. If you thought the original looked good in Blu, Revenge of the Fallen is visual perfection.

Audio

Breaching your speakers with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack, the Paramount logo alone showcases the immaculate sound design that’s sure to give you goosebumps from the opening frame to the credit roll. Every channel is used liberally. Bass is warm and monstrous. Laser blasts sear across the room. Bullets riddle metal as if shooting holes into your home theater system. I’ll go out on a limb here and say this is the best sounding movie you could buy.

Special Features

This review is already the longest I’ve ever written. If I reviewed each special feature here individually, I’d lose an audience faster than I already have. I’ve watched and experienced them all, and this Blu-ray offers some of the most informative and extensive saturation of supplemental material you could ask for.

The Trasnformers (2007) Blu-ray offers a lot of features, but I found few of them to be important or satisfy much of my curiosity. The commentary consisted of Michael Bay answering very little while simultaneously stroking his ego for two hours. The Revenge of the Fallen commentary starts off with Bay talking about how much money the film has made and I immediately said, “Here we go again!”

To my pleasant surprise, his ego-stroking ended there and there followed a plethora of insightful details about how tricky camera shots were pulled off or how he wished certain scenes were longer. He even apologizes to the fans for not having as dramatic of a final battle as he envisioned due to time constraints.

Also on the same commentary track are writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman who offer all of their original concepts and how they were altered and why: the ties between Sam leaving home and the Autbots no longer having one; their ideas versus Michael Bay’s; their intentions for the first installment and their place in the sequel. This is one of the best commentary tracks I’ve heard.

Besides the commentary, the military involvement, the sound design, the actors, ILM’s brilliant CG work, the editing process, the toy line, and the Tokyo premiere all get their own individually focused feature with no cheap standard definition mucking up the fun. This is an incredibly deep and vast effort that will get many rewatches from me – and I typically don’t rewatch special features. The only thing missing that every Transformers fan on earth wants and that wasn't included on this or the Transformers (2007) disc is a feature focusing solely on the voice actors. Utter sadness consumes me. But yet, this is still not everything in the package.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a Blu-ray collector's wet dream and a dream come true for that same child hugging his Transformer searching out the next giant robot cartoon to take home with his grandfather. Michael Bay delivers an extravagant film on an epic scale that while excessive in its elementary comic relief, transports us back to being small and full of wonderment again. If you're looking for the next Empire Strikes Back, this is a whole other genre of movie, to paraphrase Spielberg. This is meant for one thing and one thing only: a massive amount of fun.

Overall Blu-ray Score:

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