Transformers: Special Edition (US - DVD R1)
Our reviewer Scott McKenzie makes a silly noise, transforms and rolls out...
Shia LaBeouf is Sam Witwicky, a geeky high school kid with a name nobody can pronounce who has just done well enough at school to qualify for a helping hand from his father to buy his first car. The car he chooses (or does it choose him?) just so happens to be an Autobot called Bumblebee, searching for the location of the Allspark, which has been lost somewhere on Earth, the coordinates of which have been written onto the glasses worn by… To be honest, none of that really matters. What really matters is that over twenty years since the toys first arrived, we finally get to see the giant robots we know and love knocking hell out of each other.
I was glad I went to see Transformers at the cinema over the summer. The grand scale of huge transforming robots doing battle belongs on the big screen and deserves to be watched on as big a TV as you can find now that the DVD has hit the shelves. However, the opportunity to watch the movie at home forced me to re-think my initial opinion. Yes, the special effects look amazing and the action sequences are well-constructed and very exciting, but watching the movie at home highlighted the limitations of the bits that happen in between.
This was Paramount’s big movie of the summer so you know they wanted to make damn sure everyone went to see it. As a result, on my second viewing I found that it suffered from ‘trying to please everyone’ syndrome, with a forced mix of action, comedy and a little romance that often makes the thinly-drawn characters say and do pretty dumb things. The one scene that highlighted this was the farcical messing around in Sam’s back garden, where the Autobots are trying to hide from his parents while he looks for the McGuffin. Okay, so we learn a lot about the relationships between the robots and the humans but it’s all a totally pointless exercise. Had that been me, I probably would have just said ‘Hey, Mum and Dad, check out the transforming cars out here!’ and while they would have been surprised at first, we could have got on with doing what really mattered.
In a movie where giant robots could very easily have stolen the show, Shia LaBeouf is the real star. In a summer double-bill of Transformers and Disturbia he has shown he can do the geeky kid with the heart of a hero thing better than any of his peers, and given that Transformers is a tale of male adolescent wish-fulfilment, he was the best choice the casting director could have turned to. The camera certainly likes the shape of Megan Fox, but she doesn’t have a great deal to do and the attempts by the screenwriters to give her character depth fall flat.
Jon Voight lends the movie an air of credibility but by the end when he’s chasing after Frenzy with a shotgun he looks terribly out of place, as does John Turturro from the moment he arrives on screen. Most unnecessary of all are the characters of Maggie and Glen, who exist only for exposition purposes. This may be acceptable if they were believable, but the idea that a twentyish-year-old girl and a comedy fat guy could be the only technical minds in the world capable of working out what the Decepticons are up to is both preposterous and a waste of a decent slice of the long running time.
All that aside, once we get fifty minutes into the movie and the robots start kicking each others' iron hides, the effects are some of the most impressive ever superimposed on film and you really get the feeling that these arrangements of pixels are believable fifteen-feet-tall two-ton monsters. As a Generation One kid, ever since I picked up my first Optimus Prime and more recently with the use of transforming robots in car ads, I’ve hoped a live action Transformers movie would go into production. Now that technology has caught up, I was glad to see giant robots on the big screen but watching Transformers at home really highlighted the lazy writing that was employed as an excuse to join the action scenes together.
Here’s a question for you: how do you frame a scene so the audience can appreciate huge robots doing battle but still get close enough to the action to make the viewer feel part of it? The answer is: it’s tough, and even master action director Michael Bay doesn’t quite have the answer. Huge hunks of metal fill the picture as they fly across the screen at high speed and at times it can be difficult to tell exactly what’s going on. However, the quality of the 2.35:1 anamorphic picture on this release is clean, without any major problems. In some dark scenes the shadows can be a little grainy but this is only a minor complaint. The colours are strong, which draws particular attention to the heavily-tanned Megan Fox, but this is down to the general contrast level of the picture itself rather than an issue with the transfer to DVD.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is definitely one that benefits from being cranked up nice and loud on your surround system. A lot of work has gone into the sound editing, most of all the sounds generated by the robots, and the precision with which the effects have been crafted can really be appreciated here. The score sounds very much like the kind of epic military soundtrack we come to expect from Michael Bay’s movies but the music used to accompany the arrival of the Autobots to Earth is a slightly surprising but welcome choice. The balance of music, effects and dialogue is spot-on in a movie that’s meant to be loud and while there are nice little moments hidden away in the soundtrack, nothing is lost in the mix.
Michael Bay supplies a commentary track and I’ll be honest and say that I wasn’t expecting to enjoy listening to it. As soon as I heard him say ‘Making a movie is like fighting a war’ at the beginning of his commentary for Armageddon, I knew I didn’t want to hear any more, but here he offers a pleasant journey through the whole filmmaking process. Be warned though: with all the talk of attending Transformers School at Hasbro and the meetings he had with Steven Spielberg, there is a lot of overlap with the featurettes on the second disc, so if you’re a few pennies short at the moment you won’t miss out on too much by picking up the one-disc release.
‘Our World’ is what you expect from a making-of featurette, including interviews with the cast and crew, behind-the-scenes footage and frequent appearances by producer Steven Spielberg. Deleted scenes are included in this featurette rather than being available separately on the disc. ‘Their War’ focuses on the Transformers themselves and we get to meet the fans, check out Transformers School and see prototype toys of characters that didn’t make it into the movie, as well as being shown in detail how the CG robots were created. The featurette that focuses on the Scorponok attack shows from beginning to end how the scene was put together, from choosing the location to combining CG with real footage. A gallery of concept art and a selection of trailers rounds out the package.
If I was thirteen years old, I’m certain that Transformers would be the best movie ever made! But I’m not thirteen years old and the plot holes and dodgy writing are more obvious to me now than they would have been back in my adolescence. Transformers is still an enjoyable movie for what it is and as an origin story, it provides the springboard for a franchise that will surely get bigger and better. The presentation on the disc is as good as you can expect and the DVD extras, while not exactly comprehensive, provide a decent insight into the filmmaking process from beginning to end.
Review by Scott McKenzie
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 16th October 2007
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Extras: Director's Commentary, Our World Featurette, Their War Featurette, Scorponok Attack Featurette, Concept Art Gallery, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Jon Voight, John Turturro
Genre: Action, Adventure and Sci-Fi
Length: 143 minutes
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