Transformers: 2-Disc Special Edition [Blu-ray Review]

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Jon Voight, John Turturro
Directed by: Michael Bay

Running Time: 143 minutes
Rating: Canada – PG (Quebec: G), USA – PG-13, UK – 12A

Back Cover

From director Michael Bay and executive producer Steven Spielberg comes a thrilling battle between the AUTOBOTS and the DECEPTICONS. When their epic struggle comes to Earth, all that stands between the evil DECEPTICONS and ultimate power is a clue held by Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf). Join the fight for mankind in the extraordinary adventure that “features some of the most spectacular action and effects sequences of any movie of its kind and will appeal to the kid in all of us.” – Claudia Puig, USA Today

Movie Review

“Is it fear or courage that compels you fleshling?” – Megatron

For some, it may be fear. For others, it may be courage. But, for myself, it was plain old curiosity that first drew me into a theatre seat for my initial experience with Transformers. And now, with it’s home video release, I once again find myself on the edge of my seat with nothing but wide eyes and an even wider imagination.

Anyone who has yet to see Transformers must first understand that they cannot sit down to watch a highly involved entertainment experience. This is not a work that offers a Shakespearean depth of context. Also, fans of the original cartoon series must be willing to accept some fairly drastic differences. Director Michael Bay (The Rock, Armaggedon, Pearl Harbor, The Island) is very well known for his purely ‘joyride’ approach to storytelling and not his Oscar-worthy script writing. His films are always engineered for visceral enjoyment and not spiritual enlightenment. With that being said, his efforts with ‘Transformers’ super-exceeds the expectations of the most fanatical ‘popcorn flick’ enthusiast.The first thing that most people will worry about regarding this film is the computer graphics aspect. With such sophisticated subjects, will the visual elements translate cleanly on the big screen? After all, with such a large number of poorly rendered CGI in the 5 years prior, it is natural to question a film where such a large amount of screen time is allocated to gigantic robots that switch back and forth from vehicular forms to functional humanoid mechanisms. The answer from my point of view sounds strangely similar to that of Neo inThe Matrix when he first witnesses Morpheus leap skycraper rooftops… Woah. I have been certifiably floored a second time with this production element as the Blu-ray release makes the detailing so clean. So, yes… the CGI is some of the best out there.

As for the story foundation, there isn’t much to it as previously mentioned. The film does a good job of relating the history of the Autobots and Decepticons while tying in the accidental involvement of our meek little planet. And, without going into details that may ruin the story, the plot is fairly tight in sewing itself cohesively together. It offers a consistent, progressive, and balanced explanation that runs parallel to the action. And aside from one small logistical continuity error regarding the consistent use of communication devices after the film clearly states that systems are down on a global level, the overall plot is solid.As for the muchly criticized casting decision of Shia LaBeouf? I can honestly say that he works extremely well as an awkward 16 year old trying to deal with this unbelievable situation. I would have like to see a bit more of an “overcoming fear” quality to his performance. His character seems far too easily heroic for someone that isn’t able to tackle his own social ineptitude only the day before. Still, he does have some great moments over the course of the film. Megan Fox was a perfect choice for a sultry girl with an esoteric past. As a person, she has the physical appeal to draw many an eye. As an actress, she also seamlessly creates the “there is more than meets the eye” quality necessary to make her the object of our hero’s affection. The supporting cast is very strong as John Torturro, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, Jon Voight, and Bernie Mac all contribute unique performances. Of particular enjoyment are John Torturro as the slightly eccentric government agent as he deals with the circumstances at hand, as well as Kevin Dunn and Julie White as parents dealing with a teenage son. Peter Cullen and Hugo Weaving are exceptional as the voices of Optimus Prime and Megatron. Peter Cullen maintains the very regal and wise quality that he established early on in the 80’s cartoon series. Hugo Weaving is barely recognizable as the menacing voice of Megatron; however, that isn’t hard to believe given the fact that the character doesn’t say all that much. When he does speak though, Megatron is heard.

Now, to the meat of the franchise… the action. Transformers offers some of the most visually active action sequences that I have ever witnessed. Between the sheer amount of debris and form shifting robots attacking one another, there is always “more than feasts the eye” in every single frame of action. The number of purely epic shots within this film is astounding. I usually expect 2 or 3 epic cinematography decisions from a film of this nature. With ‘Transformers’ I can instantly think of at least 7 off of the top of my head. My only complaint with the action is that, at times, the use of an extremely up-close “handheld shaky cam” perspective is a little overbearing as it detracts from seeing what exact physical interaction is taking place between bots.

Transformers makes its mark as an action film to be reckoned with. I expect the franchise to live a long a prosperous cinematic life if this quality of production is maintained over the course of its future instalments. Watch for Michael Bay to raise more bars and soar to new heights as the sequel, Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen, hits theatres in 2009!

Crave Factor – 8
What a great ride! Definitely a great “sit back and take your mind off of your worries” popcorn flick.

Menu

Prior to their defection to the HD DVD format, Paramount was impressing me with their menu systems on Blu-ray. They clearly understood how the advancement of the medium offered an opportunity to advance the home viewing experience via an upgraded menu system. This Transformers Blu-ray is certainly no different.The disc loads into a screen where the point of view circles around the open palm of Optimus Prime. Floating a short distance above the open palm is the object of the films main conflict… the All Spark. Floating around the All Spark are translucently projected clips from the film, arched to infer that they are being shown via the presence of the All Spark itself. A small segment of the films score overlays the whole menuscape while specific sound effects that accompany the clips can be heard.

The playback options are displayed along the bottom of the screen on a very simple metallic looking slate. Selected menus fade in and out beautifully and seamlessly. They are also translucent in order to keep the visual aspect of the menu design consistently visible.

Playback pop-up menu echoes the metallic slate from the disc menu and functions identically.

Crave Factor – 9
Paramount is taking this format seriously. They are giving the menu design the attention that it deserves.

Extras

DISC #1

Commentary – Michael Bay doesn’t offer much in the area of enlightening the audience to the actual film. What he does do is offer a lot of details regarding the production aspects of the project. He talks a lot about what kind of equipment is used for specific shots, as well as how certain people came to be involved with the production both on and off screen.

Transformers H.U.D. – Mostly text based trivia, this feature overlays the feature presentation playback. There is also an incorporation of supplementary video clips that appear in a pop-up window on the screen. To be frank, there is a fair amount of interesting information within this feature that many will enjoy. The bext part about this feature is that the film’s original TrueHD track remains intact so that it can be enjoyed to its fullest in between interview clips.

BD-Live

Intelligence Mode – Wow… this feature has a lot going on. It is a very ambitious and intriguing design. Movie purists who care nothing for extra features would find this to be a severely cluttered overload. Myself? I find it a step in the right direction towards an advanced level of interactivity with home media. With a GPS tracker on the top of the screen, the viewer is kept informed to exactly where the action of the film is taking place on the planet (to exact latitude and longitude measurements). There is also an expanding information window along the bottom of the screen that provides plenty of background information regarding characters and/or story points. It also provides some useless trivia as well. Along the left side of the screen is a column that lists all Autobots and Decepticons that appear in the film. As the film progresses, the particular robots present within the scene are highlighted with a health gauge that is affected by any battles that occur. Much like a video game, that health gauge wanes until that particular robots death. At times, this left hand column also becomes an information panel where operating specifications are revealed.

Transformers Profiler – A text based feature, this allows access to more information regarding the production, cast, crew, locations, and various other topics. The nicest thing about this is that the directory menu is completely at your control. If you wish to find out more, you can call the menu up. Otherwise, it can just hide in the shadows for the duration of the playback. Personally, the only details that really interested me from this feature were the cast and crew filmographies. However, I’d also rather check IMDB on my laptop than use this feature for that purpose.

Menu Bots – A CUSTOMIZABLE PLAYBACK MENU?!?!? Now this was the biggest surprise of the release for me. I’ve been an avid believer in using the playback menu to increase the awareness of Blu-ray being an evolution in the home theatre viewing experience. Although the designs available aren’t many, nor are they very pretty, they do show immense potential for future growth and experimentation. Currently available are Bumblebee, Megatron, and Optimus Prime skins.

Robot Ninjas (2:21) – A quick featurette focusing on how the team approached creating the robot battles/movement. What I like: the content of the feature. What I don’t like: the video is streamed via the internet, therefore buffering breaks will occur if bandwidth is limited. Also, due to buffering, the file quality is limited. I like my features to be the size of my TV, which I gladly paid for every 52 inches of… PLEASE USE IT NEXT TIME! Allowing for this to be downloaded would have be much more preferable.

DISC #2

Our World (49:14 as ‘Play All‘)

The Story Sparks (8:32) – This feature focuses on the earliest production experience. Steven Spielberg, Michael Bay, and various production team members discuss the initial stages of bringing this project to life. Some on set anecdotes and Michael Bay’s shooting style are also touched on.

Human Allies (13:09) – The actors discuss what they experienced through the filming of the film.

I Fight Giant Robots (13:58) – Topics covered here are the actors training, the military involvement, and the physical stunts/effects of the film. Michael Bay likes to shoot a lot of practical effects… and this extra feature certainly shows it!

Battleground (13:33) – The many different filming locations, sets, and the intricate nature of being able to shoot in each is discussed.

Their War (1:05:10 as ‘Play All’)

Rise Of The Robots (13:39) – Want to see how some of the key decisions behind story, characters, and maintaining loyalty towards the original cartoon were made? Here is where the answers can be found. Also, some of the design aspects are covered. You get to see a few instances where people are in the process of figuring out how transformations are going to take place.

Autobots Roll Out (19:59) – Vehicular decisions and modifications are all detailed to the Nth degree in this feature. Wow… what an ordeal to make these practical vehicles work for the film. Included is a great little montage of what must have been every stunt vehicle that was destroyed in the film… well… being destroyed!

Decepticons Strike (14:32) – A heavy look at the vehicles used in creating the “camouflaged” practical Decepticons. Also, there is some discussion regarding the military involvement in letting Michael Bay film equipment that isn’t even in service yet.

Inside The AllSpark (16:59) – 10,108 parts in Optimus Prime’s final digital version… 3 digital robots takes 38 hours to render one frame of film… These are the cool kind of details that are revealed within this feature. The lighting of the robots is also discussed as a major influence on making the robots feel realistic.

Transformers Tech Inspector – A graphical interface that allows you to inspect the extremely detailed virtual models of most robots in the film. An interesting feature to say the least. The only negative is that the virtual model spins relatively quickly without giving the using any speed control. Direction is viewer optional, but speed is an unchangeable constant. The artistry of the films CGI gets the applause it deserves right here.

More Than Meets The Eye

From Script To Sand: The Skorponok Desert Attack (8:52) – This extra is fairly self-explanatory. It focuses on how the desert attack was created through the marriage of practical shots (a.k.a. “plates”) and CGI work.

Concepts (2:09) – A montage of various conceptualization drawings for the film, which is set to a piece of the film’s original composition soundtrack. It’s interesting to see what the film MIGHT have looked like in some cases.

Crave Factor – 9
Not only is there great content, but some very interesting unique BD-Live aspects as well. Makes BD-Live look hopeful!

Video

2.35:1 Widescreen / AVC

Transformers finally gets the Hi-Def treatment it deserves with this AVC encoded Blu-ray visual presentation. One of the things I love best about Michael Bay’s films is his use of lighting and how it effects the colour of the scene. Like many of his films, the colour pallette is vast as it spans from the lifeless beiges of desert dunes to the richest primary colours of Optimus Prime’s paint job. Every pixel of the screen lights up with fervour over the entire course of the film. And this is definitely the type of film that brings the quality of the Blu-ray image to the forefront. I haven’t personally tried counting, but with the thousands of individual parts engineered into the transformation of each Autobot and Decepticon this Blu-ray is ripe with opportunity to prove just how clear an image can be. That obviously means that the detail level of this presentation is off the charts! Black levels are also excellent with only a few minor instances where pixilation is noticeable. Even then, those instances are often “hero shots” where the gravity of the moment is far too grabbing to even care. There isn’t much more I can say aside from WOW!

Crave Factor – 9
Top 10!!!

Audio

Dolby TrueHD / Dolby Digital 5.1

Being an avid audiophile, I’ve always been keen to appreciate a Dolby audio track. By comparison, on Blu-ray releases, DTS and PCM tracks have always offered more depth/realism. Dolby tracks (lossless or not) have always seemed a tad on the flat end of the spectrum leaving much to be desired. I don‘t know what Dobly has decided to do differently, but the Transformers Blu-ray Dolby TrueHD audio mix is magnificent. With this release, Dolby has finally impressed me with their attention to the audio. Their work on ‘Transformers’ officially surpassed my expectations of a lossless audio codec.

The full span of the audio spectrum is realized with every metallic shrill and every resonating canon blast. My subwoofer literally caused shelved items to take a dive… those being items on shelves which are over 10 feet from the closest speaker! Dialogue is phenomenal. And, most surprisingly, the rear surround satellites are more accurate than I have ever heard them for a Dolby offering. I’d even venture to say that positional accuracy/integrity has magnified by at least a factor of five. Like the visual presentation, this disc’s audio has nothing but “WOW” written all over it.

Crave Factor – 9
This must be a DTS track disguised as a Dolby track. It’s a conspiracy!

Conclusion & Final Thoughts

Well, I can honestly say that, although Transformers is probably the one popcorn flick that lacks the most substance for this generation of filmmaking, it’s Blu-ray release certainly makes it that much more enjoyable. With both a superb video and audio transfer, along with a huge abundance of supplementary material for viewers of all intentions, this title kicks some serious tail. Paramount and Dolby both receive a very hardy pat on the back from this high definition enthusiast as the smile will not easily be wiped from my face after this Blu-ray experience. It took me a long time to get through everything that has been crammed onto these two discs. And, as a result, it makes the price tag seem all of the more worth every penny that it is listed for. Transformers on Blu-ray is, most definitely, a MUST HAVE for anyone who wants anything to do with the Transformers themselves or anything to do with quality high definition home entertainment.

Overall Crave Factor – 9

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