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Feature


Following the epic Battle of Chicago, humanity picks up the pieces. A shadowy group reveals itself in an attempt to control the direction of history, while an ancient, powerful new menace sets Earth in its crosshairs. With help from their new human friends, Optimus Prime and the Autobots rise to meet their most fearsome challenge yet. In an incredible adventure, they are swept up in a war of good and evil, ultimately leading to a climactic battle across the world. (From Paramount’s official synopsis)

 Transformers: Age of Extinction
Michael Bay’s Transformers movies are an easy target of stuffy critics and other grown-ups that want to lament the loss of ‘adult cinema.’ Within this hyperbole is a nugget of truth, but I despise these movies for much more mundane reasons. The first film in the series was a stupid mess, but it was a fun stupid mess. Bay managed to keep his deep-seated misanthropy at bay (no pun intended) long enough to make a light-hearted romp about robots that sometimes look like cars. It was probably producer Steven Spielberg’s influence that held back the usual flood of nihilism, but, whatever the cause, the effect was appropriate for a special effects blockbuster based on a toy line. Then came the sequels and the levy broke. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Transformers: Dark of the Moon aren’t just stupid messes – they’re gleefully mean-spirited, casually racist, blatantly misogynistic, jingoistic, and, above all, far too cruel for movies that should have been aimed at children.

I don’t so much mind when Bay applies these trademarked faults to movies like Pain & Gain, because Pain & Gain is a dark comedy aimed at adult audiences, but it has no place in a movie based on a toy line. The idea that anyone would prefer dark and gritty Transformers movie is completely baffling to me. But that’s just me. Clearly there is something about these movies that keeps people coming back and, since the equation hasn’t changed much (if at all) over a period of four movies, Bay and his apparent contempt for his audience is part of it. Apparently people enjoy watching evil humans brutally murdering and mutilating their favourite CG robot characters and are totally cool with weird, anti-government sentiment mixed in with their war-mongering jingoism (I have no idea what political idealism this film is trying to appeal to). Bay’s brand of incoherent, indiscriminant destruction can’t be the only thing still driving the series’ popularity, especially since he’s reusing the same tricks over and over again (it turns out you can only see a Transformer saving a human in slow motion a couple of times before it stops looking cool). I mean, the final battle literally becomes an Imagine Dragons music video.

 Transformers: Age of Extinction
This new movie starts off on the right foot with some nice, hard sci-fi. In the all too brief introductory sequence, we learn that aliens, seemingly Transformers, are what killed the dinosaurs. But then we default back to Bayville as we’re introduced to obnoxious characters via bad music, excessive upward camera angles, chaotic editing, and lighting straight out of a perfume ad. Ace hack Ehren Kruger’s script is surprisingly succinct when it comes to establishing the stakes for this most recent story (which is a whole lot like the last three stories, just with different evil robots), but quickly devolves into the usual long-winded, over-plotted, and full of stuff that should’ve been cut for time before filming even commenced. The perfect sample is a scene where a Irish Hero Guy produces an official Texas state document to prove to Daddy Marky Mark that he’s legally allowed to have sex with his underage daughter (this is a thing that happens in this movie and it’s not even supposed to be funny). Instead of telling a story, Kruger is barfing every possible plot-point onto the page. Second act excursions back into the series’ wacky sci-fi mythology are fleeting and quickly replaced by more earth-bound narrative discord. I might respect the idiocy if someone could convince me that it was meant as satire, like Pain & Gain. Maybe the excessive length, cliché-spouting characters, and hypocritical politics are all a joke being played on a gullible audience. At the very least, I have to respect the difficulty of being so consistently contradictive. It’s like a magic trick.

 Transformers: Age of Extinction

Video


Just like its predecessor, Dark of the Moon, Transformers: Age of Extinction was shot using a collection of formats, including 35mm film and high definition digital (Phantom Flex and Red Epic). In the past, Bay explained that digital HD still wasn’t capable of the kind of high-speed photography he needed for his super slow motion action, but, given the difference in grain levels between non-action scenes and the fact that most of the action scenes are so covered in digital effects that on-set photography could barely make a difference, I assume he just likes mixing formats. Whatever his purpose, Age of Extinction was produced with large format 3D in mind (the digital sequences were shot in native format 3D, while the 35mm images were converted to 3D in post). This 2D 1080p transfer maintains the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, meaning it doesn't switch to 1.90:1 for select scenes like it did in IMAX theaters (the 3D disc will do that, apparently). And, like all three of its predecessors, the HD is vital to discerning the insanely fine details of the CG-heavy action sequences. This is very much a Michael Bay movie and, with the support of cinematographer Amir Mokri, he pushes his usual visual fetishes to their limit. Contrast levels are cranked to extremes – further than I think I’ve ever seen them pushed in any of these movies. This leads to super crisp textures, but also creates impossibly deep pools of crush, blazing hot spots in highlights (even the fine sparkle of sunlight on corn plants creates poppy white burn-outs), moiré effects, and it bulks up the grain levels, which, in turn, makes the difference between film-based and digital shots all the more extreme. The colour scheme is also pretty insane. Skin tones are orange, skies are acidic with blue, and natural greens are practically neon. The Transformers themselves are more blatantly colour-coded this time around, creating more punch among the blacks and grays of the alien robot environments.

 Transformers: Age of Extinction

Audio


Transformers: Age of Extinction is the first Blu-ray release to include a Dolby Atmos-ready soundtrack, though, because almost no one owns Atmos compatible sound systems, the track is available in lossless, old-fashioned Dolby TruHD and mixed for 7.1 playback (there are instructions for activating the Atmos track, which I’m sure will come in handy some day, when the format is closer to an industry standard). The Dolby TruHD track is plenty for me and my small apartment to handle, given the sheer quantity of bombastic effects blasting from every speaker at any given time. If there’s one thing I appreciate about all four Transformers movies, it is their creative sound design. The abstract sci-fi effects, like Transformer voices and the buzzing of their servos (or whatever), are where the audio artists really shine, but everything, from gunshots to the simple sound of a piece of paper being set on a table, is overwhelming punchy. The sheer quantity of multi-channel elements is pretty incredible and I’m very impressed with how many different kinds of explosions the filmmakers were able to conjure. Steve Jablonsky, a graduate of the Hans Zimmer machine, takes over full composer duties from his master and craps out exactly the trite, poppy, and punchy score one would expect from this series. The dumb score is very nicely mixed, however, and rarely disappears even when covered by stuff blowing up.

 Transformers: Age of Extinction

Extras


    Bay On Action (10:50, HD) – A fluffy interview with the director concerning his ‘unique’ brand of action direction. It includes a lot of behind-the-scenes footage.
  • Evolution Within Extinction:[list]
  • Generation 2 (15:50, HD) – On the process of very softly rebooting the franchise with a mostly new humans and robots, including designing new Transformers and casting new actors. Funnily enough, the writers and producers seem to think they’re making a strong statement on the dangers of corporate culture.
  • Drive Like Hell (13:30, HD) – More on the redesigns, culling new Transformers from the ‘mythology’ (their word, not mine) and finding car companies that want to advertise their products in the latest blockbuster movie/toy commercial.
  • Small Town, Big Movie (11:20, HD) – About location shooting in Texas.
  • Shadow Protocol Activated (28:50, HD) – More on location shooting, including GM manufacturing plants, Detroit area spaceship sets, Chicago area locations, massive explosions, working in a live 911 control center, and physical effects work.
  • The Last Stand (11:00, HD) – Concerning the process of turning sections of downtown Detroit into Hong Kong for exterior photography.
  • The People’s Republic (12:50, HD) – All about the footage shot on actual Chinese locations, including a number of tricky stunts.
  • Rise of the Dinobots (6:10, HD) – A brief look at the design of the fan favourite Dinobots.
  • The Finishing Touch (23:10, HD) – A wrap-up featurette that includes footage of Bay working with his editing staff, finalizing effects via internet hook-up, recording the voice actors, music, and the Hong Kong premiere[list]
  • Just Another Giant Effin’ Movie (10:00, HD) – A more down to earth, EPK-style look at on-set life.
  • A Spark of Design (15:20, HD) – An elongated ad for Hasbro’s Transformers design department.
  • T.J. Miller: Farm Hippie (19:40, HD) – The actor/comedian surprising (re: pranking) Mark Wahlberg and Michael Bay with gifts.
  • Two Age of Extinction trailers, an ad for Hasbro’s KRE-O toys (it runs down the plots of the first three movies), and an ad for Angry Birds Transformers: Origin Story (which is amusingly and accurately styled on a real ‘80s cartoon)


 Transformers: Age of Extinction

Overall


Assuming you’re one of the millions of people that enjoy these movies and you’re not in the market for the 3D version, this 2D Blu-ray is just about everything you could want from a franchise release. The image quality is sharp and complex, the soundtrack is among the most impressive I’ve ever heard, and Paramount hasn’t saved the extras for a double-dip, like they did with the previous film in the series. Shame about the movie, though…

 Transformers: Age of Extinction

 Transformers: Age of Extinction
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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