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Blu-ray Review: Transformers – Special Edition

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Transformers is a fast, frantic, and fun live action adaption of the beloved Transformers franchise that finally makes its way to Blu-ray in a two-disc collectors edition. Is it worth buying if you have other versions? Was Michael Bay right about Blu-ray being superior? Read on to find out.

The Movie

For those living under a rock, Michael Bay, acclaimed (and sometimes derided) director of box office smashes The Rock, Armageddon, and Bad Boys was tagged to direct the live action version of Transformers. Fan outcry on the Internet was instantly and hysterically negative; everyone had an opinion and everyone generally thought Bay would destroy their beloved franchise. As news started to leak and the movie was revealed people realized that Bay was as passionate as they were and took great care to bring the Transformers to life in a way that had never been seen before.

click to view larger imageThe movie opens incredibly strong with a look at one faction of our human heroes, the US special ops force headed up by Captain Lennox (Josh Duhamel) and Tech Sergeant Epps (Tyrese Gibson). As they are returning to base from their last mission (of course) the base is attacked by a helicopter that transforms into a giant robot — the Decepticon Blackout. Blackout is on a mission to steal data looking at a group called Sector 7 and the location of their leader, Megaton.

The movie then switches focus to our unlikely hero, a young man named Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) who is desperately trying to buy a car in the misguided notion that it will lead to girls. In order to build a car fund he puts a number of items on eBay belonging to his great-great-grandfather who was an Antarctic explorer. Having succeeded at his father's challenge, they head to a used car dealership to buy his first car. The dealership is run by the late, great Bernie Mac who, in a brief appearance, steals the scene. The Autobot Bumblebee, disguised as a beat-up classic Camaro, manages to get purchased by Sam and his father (Kevin Dunn).

click to view larger imageThis is the start of a huge adventure for Sam. First Bumblebee helps him give his love interest Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox) a ride home and then Bumblebee ends up fighting off the Decepticon Barricade. Barricade, along with the other Decepticons and the Autobots, wants to recover the glasses Sam is trying to sell on eBay that belonged to his great-great-grandfather. The glasses have etched into them the location of the Allspark and Megatron's resting place. The Allspark is a source of great power for the Transformers and could be used for great evil if the Decepticons were to find it.

Over the course of the film the Autobots must battle against superior forces with the help of their human allies including Sam, Mikaela, Cpt. Lennox, Sgt Epps and some armed forces personnel. The Autobots are willing to sacrifice themselves in order to keep the Allspark away from the Decepticons. It is a fun, action-filled adventure that kept me entertained from start to finish with its great sense of humor, amazing effects, and obvious fan service paid out to all the viewers.

It's not to say that the movie is perfect, not by a long shot, but Michael Bay isn't an Academy Award winning director, he is an action movie director and he delivers the goods. There are some issues with the film that hold it back from true greatness. First is the huge cast of unnecessary human characters. The head of the analysts, the amazingly attractive Maggie Madsen (Rachel Taylor), seems to be in the movie simply to add another pretty face. Sector 7 honcho Agent Simmons (John Turturro) does add some definite charm to the movie, but ultimately seems added in for no reason. Michael Bay over-complicates the cast and it adds some confusion to the happenings, and detracts from the actual Transformers.

click to view larger imageWhich leads us to the second problem. Bay has had amazing design teams work out brilliant Transformers for us to wonder at, but they are not used as often as they should have been. Yes, every time they are on screen it is pure magic, and yes, when I saw Optimus Prime for the first time I got chills, but the movie is called Transformers and they were costars, not the stars. There are also many, many inconsistencies and errors in the film that could bug you if you obsessed, but I tried not to obsess about them, much.

Transformers
was, even with the issues, one of the most enjoyable films to come out in 2007 and remains a great ride watching it over and over at home. I have seen the movie at least five times and still, smile, chuckle, and lean forward at key moments. Michael Bay may not be able to make Saving Private Ryan or Forrest Gump, but he sure knows how to generate great action, explosions, and thrills to spare.

The Video

click to view larger image"Wow" is all I can say. Presented in 1080p and framed at 2.35:1 this Mpeg-4 Blu-ray is truly a sight to see and is another reference title on Blu-ray for sheer visual splendor. From the first desert action sequence I knew this was going to be a great treat for my eyes; the transitions from light to dark were spot on, the details were crisp, and you couldn't ask for better color levels. What really impressed me was the fine level of detail on exhibit in this transfer. Drops of sweat roll into lines on people's faces, smears of dirt can be seen almost at the granular level, and reflective surfaces have so much detail you could watch the action on the mirrors.

The amazing quality is especially noticeable on the Transformers. These are robots that travel around as vehicles and they get dirty; when they transform there are scuffs, smears and dents that stand out and look absolutely amazing. Parts of the robots are reflective and amazing care was taken to show proper detail in the reflections. The attention to detail and amazing special effects further enhance the already amazing visual experience.

I know I am raving about the image quality, but with a quality player and display this movie looks absolutely astounding. Watching it again I am floored by the black levels, lighting effects and crystal clarity of detail. Despite the fact that this is a fun film to watch it is also a tour de force visually and is reason alone to buy the movie on Blu-ray.

The Audio

click to view larger imageThe marketable difference between the HD-DVD version and this one is definitely the fact that they were able to add a lossless audio Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack. Of course the standard Dolby digital tracks are present, but why would you choose those options? I knew the audio was going to be impressive when the metallic zinging noises started cascading around me during the Paramount opening credit shot. Yes, there was stellar use of the surround speakers in a studio logo, for Pete's sake. I was not disappointed as the movie title and initial scenes played out, the whir of the engines, the perfect levels on the voice chatter, the deep thrumming booms as Blackout attacked. This was audio that was as impressive as the video and it was a treat to hear.

Key scenes in the movie have amazing aural moments, especially the battle sequences. In the Qatar battle against Skorponok you could literally feel the blasts from the warthogs as they carpet bombed the Decepticons. Its shrill robotic screams, the whizzing of bullets and shrapnel, and the chaos of battle surrounded me in a nearly perfect use of surround effects and bass. Even less chaotic scenes have amazing audio cues, straight dialogue scenes are nuanced with little touches, driving scenes have a sense of speed and life. It all adds together to make a great experience even better.

Again we see how quality audio elevates a film even higher. Transformers has some of the best production values we have seen and it really amps up the viewing and listening pleasure of this film. The audio is loud without being overbearing or distorted, it never lowers itself to booms and shatters, all sounds are distinguishable and further bring you into this great film.

The Extras

click to view larger imageIt is rare to see a movie with this many extras that are actually all really good. In particular all the content on disc one is worth watching; in particular the Transformers H.U.D. is a great feature that adds an amazing depth to the movie. Disc two has a number of featurettes that flesh out the universe and the decisions made in almost all aspects of the film. I particularly enjoyed "Their War", a five part featurette that digs deep into the history of the franchise, the fans and how aware everyone was about the need to get the feel of Transformers right. Awesome extras that make this great Blu-ray exceptional.

Disc 1:

Feature film
– Can't say enough good things about this film, I have watched it two and a half times on Blu-ray, once standard with lossless audio, once with Michael Bay's commentary and halfway through (so far) with the H.U.D. turned on.

Commentary by Director Michael Bay – Michael Bay can be arrogant, he can be overbearing, but there is no denying he is passionate about this film and filmaking in general. He knows what he does well and gives us relevant information throughout the commentary about this movie. What was amazing to hear was Bay discussing how he was well aware of the initial fan outrage and how he tried to adapt and deal with it. There is hardly any fluff throughout, a great commentary track and well worth a listen.

Transformers H.U.D. (Heads Up Display) —In this mode, viewers can access running text-based behind-the-scenes background information on the production during the feature. Users can also watch relevant picture-in-picture B-roll and video with Bay, Spielberg, and other filmmakers during select sequences. This is a blast to watch, alternate scenes really showing us how funny Shia LaBoeuf can be and behind the scenes info on the movie and action on screen. The pop-up mechanic is amazing.

BD Live features – not working as of yet; I will add a comment after the release date arrives detailing what features are on this disc and if they add anything to the experience.

Disc 2:

Our World – four part feature:

  • "The Story Sparks" (1080i – 8:32) – Steven Spielberg discusses his love for the franchise and early concept art for the film. Explores how the writers adapted the cartoon into a live-action movie and why Michael Bay is the perfect director for the film.
  • "Human Allies" (1080i – 8:32) – A look at how the actors were selected and their experiences on the set.
  • "I Fight Giant Robots" (1080i – 13:58) – An exploration of the military training that Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson underwent for their roles and the various stunts that the actors were asked to perform.
  • "Battleground" (1080i – 13:33) – A piece on the senior officials from the Department of Defense and Air Force who consulted on the film to give it authenticity and the key locations that the U.S. government provided access to.

Their War – five part feature:

  • "Rise of the Robots" (1080i – 13:39)- Explores the interaction between Hasbro designers and Michael Bay to bring the toy line roaring to life. Worth watching if you are a fan of Transformers old and new, a great featurette.
  • "AUTOBOTS Roll Out" (1080i – 19:59) – Michael Bay discusses working with Chevy and its designers and the modifications that were made to the cars seen in the film.
  • "DECEPTICONS Strike" (1080i – 14:32) – The film's military advisors discuss the "toys" they allowed the production to borrow: F-22 Raptors, Ospreys and A-10 Warthogs.
  • "Inside the AllSpark" (1080i – 16:59) – ILM's digital artists discuss the challenges of bringing the Transformers to life. An amazing look at the geniuses at ILM and how they developed the intricate Transformers.
  • "Transformers Tech Inspector" – Gives viewers an unprecedented look at the Transformers robots through the exquisitely detailed models created by ILM artists. Users can zoom in on each detail for a closer examination and pause and change the rotation of the models.

From Script to Sand: The SKORPONOK Desert Attack (1080i – 14:32) – An in-depth look at the making of this particularly epic and challenging scene from initial storyboarding through production and visual effects.

Early sketch concepts of the robots

Theatrical trailers

The Final Word

Transformers
on Blu-ray is an exceptional release due to the sum of all its parts. The movie is a great, frantic, fun-filled thrill ride that nearly gives us everything we wanted in a Transformers film. The audio and visual transfers will blow you away with its nearly 3D visuals and amazing lossless audio track that immerses you in the film even further. The extras will keep you entertained for hours upon hours and nearly all are must see material. The movie itself has faced some criticism, but packaged in a stellar Blu-ray like this you can't help but watch the movie over and over again with a smile on your face. It is a Blu-ray that needs to be in every owner's collection. Get it and you will not be sorry.

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About Michael Prince

Looking at all things Geek - news, rants and updates from the worlds of gaming, tech, blu-ray, novels, and music.