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TRANSFORMERS
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Shia LeBeouf, Megan Fox, Tyrese Gibson, Josh Duhamel, Anthony Anderson, John Turturro, Jon Voight
Director:  Michael Bay
Audio:  Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Dreamworks
Features:  See Review
Length:  143 Minutes
Release Date:  September 2, 2008

“I bought a car, turned out to be an alien robot…who knew?”

Film ***

Good old Michael Bay…to some film critics, he’s practically the devil incarnate, because he delivers big, over-the-top crowd pleasing action spectacles that some argue engage the adrenal glands, but nothing else.  But to others, like my main man Gordon, there’s “more than meets the eye” with Bay.

With Transformers, he achieved some moderate acclaim, but for Bay, the audience is always the best judge of his work, and this much-anticipated film lost little time in becoming one of 2007’s bona fide blockbusters.  When I first heard about the project, I confess to being less than enthused, but I remember the moment my mind changed about it.  It was when I saw the first trailer for it.

Based on the Hasbro toy that ruled the day back in the early 80s, Transformers is a tale of gigantic otherworldly robots with the ability to disguise themselves as automobiles.  Their once peaceful world was ravaged by the domination designs of one Megatron, leader of the Decepticons, who wanted to use a mythical cube known as the All-Spark (best McGuffin of 2007) in order to rule everything he sees.  Thankfully, a group of Autobots led by Optimus Prime have fought him to a standstill.  The All-Spark was lost, but Megatron has followed it to earth…now our world will be their final battleground.

I should back up a little.  In our unsuspecting planet, there’s a high school kid named Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf) who’s about to buy his first set of wheels.  He’s the ancestor of a famous explorer who went mad in the Arctic Circle, and who claimed to see a giant ice monster in his travels there (see where it’s going?)  But for Sam, life consists of his school, his family, his crush on the elusive Mikaela (Fox), and of course…his new car.

Turns out, a rather innocuous artifact from his grandfather is now the focus of both Megatron and Optimus Prime, which Sam begins to learn as soon as his new used Camero springs to life to save him from a police car-disguised Decepticon. 

It ties in to the spectacular desert attack in the opening, when the first Transformer arrives and wreaks havoc on an army base, and attempts to hack the military computer.  Now, with Mikaela dutifully in tow, and a new army of giant machines, it is up to Sam to uncover the mystery of the missing All-Spark and make sure it gets in the right hands, before Earth becomes as dead as the Transformers’ home world.

It’s light, but it’s fun.  The special effects are jaw-dropping, particularly as the Transformers transform.  There’s a logic to it all, as though they were giant Rubik’s Cubes, and when they become robots, you can still see all the parts that come together to make up their automotive disguises.  They transform while moving at great speeds, leading to some exhilaration action scenes that are loud, over-the-top, and fun.

My only complaint is that some of the climactic action moves so fast that it’s hard to keep in mind where you are and what you’re looking at.  I’ve seen the film three times now, and though it’s always a good time, I admit to still being a little lost when the giant robots battle off as to who is on which side.  I guess it doesn’t hurt to assume the good guys are the ones left standing when all the firestorm and brouhaha is at an end.

You wouldn’t think a feature film based on a toy would work, and history would tend to prove you right.  But Michael Bay was the right man to helm Transformers.  His ability to have fun while making a movie like this translates to fun for the audience.  This film is fast, funny, and entertaining in spite of itself.  It wouldn’t surprise me to see a sequel further down the line.

BONUS TRIVIA:  Peter Cullen, who created the voice of Optimus Prime in the original series and animated movie, reprises his role here.  Hugo Weaving provides the voice of Megatron.

Video ***1/2

Ah...it kills me, but I have to be honest and dock Transformers ever so slightly in this department.  For the most part, the high definition transfer is spectacular, with eye-popping color and vivid detail.  In fact, you can really see the puzzling workings of the robots and how they transform...even more so than before.  The climactic scene is so well presented and crisp that possibly for the first time in multiple viewings, I never felt lost amongst the chaotic action!

BUT...there are a couple of darker scenes that merit criticism.  Most of them look great, but there are a handful that come across as grainy and with a bit of softness.  There's one particular shot when Sam first meets the Autobots that looks so dingy, you'd think it was cut in from a twenty year old print.  Still, this is just me being honest, and I'm also honest when I tell you that 95% of this Blu-ray experience will be everything you hoped it would be.

Audio ****

If the video offers a slight disappointment or two, the Dolby TrueHD compensates more than handily.  This is one of the best sounding uncompressed audio tracks I've come across.  There is so much activity at play here ranging from the subtle and ambient to the all-out audio assaults.  The battles rage with dynamic fury and plenty of crossover, but even the smallest mechanical clicks and whirs come from all angles and keep you firmly in the right frame of mind to enjoy the picture.

Features ***1/2

This double Blu-ray special edition set has all the bells and whistles of the DVD and more.  The first disc contains a terrific commentary from Michael Bay, which is entertaining and informative.  I never knew, for example, that Hasbro has a Transformers school, which Bay dutifully attended to get the full story behind the world of the Autobots and Decepticons.  There is also a 'heads up' display, which gives you picture-in-picture trivia and footage while you watch, if you so choose.

The second disc has three main features:  “Our World” is a making-of featuring cast and crew interviews, stuntwork, and on-set visitations.  “Their War” showcases the special effects and technical aspects.  Finally, “More Than Meets the Eye” focuses in depth on the planning and execution of the desert attack sequence.

Summary:

Transformers is an explosively great time.  Michael Bay's energetic mayhem is perfect movie escapism, especially with all that Blu-ray can bring to the experience!

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