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When you think back to the biggest merchandising deals of the 80s, the Transformers were certainly right up there with Masters of the Universe and Star Wars in their ability to inspire irrational brand loyalty in the average child. Hasbro’s line of shape-shifting robots spawned all manner of spin-offs, including a successful series of Marvel comics and an animated, episodic television show that ran for four seasons. In 1986 the Transformers made their first and only foray onto the big screen (this will change in 2007 with the release of Michael Bay’s live-action effort), in the aptly titled Transformers: The Movie. This feature-length animation continued the story of the war between the heroic Autobots and the evil Decepticons, and featured vocal performances from the likes of Leonard Nimoy and Orson Welles. Now, courtesy of those fine fellows at Metrodome, ‘Trans-Fans’ have the opportunity to watch the film as never before in this ‘Reconstructed’ release.

Metrodome


Transformers: The Movie - Reconstructed
Rhino


Transformers: The Movie - Reconstructed
Feature
It is the year 2005. The evil Decepticons, lead by the maniacal Megatron, have conquered the Transformers’ home-world of Cyberton and banished the valiant Autobots to the planet Earth. However, the Autobots and their leader, the noble Optimus Prime, are secretly planning to retake the planet from hidden staging grounds on two of Cybertron’s moons. Unfortunately the Decepticons learn of this plan and, using a stolen Autobot shuttle, strike at the very heart of their enemy—Autobot City, Earth.

Caught unawares, the Autobots mount a courageous defence, but after many hours under siege their chances of survival look slim at best. When all hope seems lost, Optimus Prime arrives with reinforcements and helps to turn the tide of the battle, but at great personal cost. Mortally wounded during a titanic struggle with Megatron, Prime’s last act is to pass the Autobot Matrix of Leadership to his old friend, Ultra Magnus. Elsewhere, Megatron’s traitorous lieutenant, Starscream, seizes his opportunity for advancement and jettisons the battered remains of his former commander and a number of injured Decepticons into the vast reaches of space, thus paving the way for his ascension to the Decepticon throne.

It is while drifting through space that the injured Decepticons encounter a monstrous, planet-sized entity known as Unicron. For reasons unknown, Unicron seeks the destruction of the Autobot Matrix, and to this end he makes Megatron an offer he is unable to refuse: serve him, or die. Unicron heals Megatron’s ravaged body, recreating him as the all-powerful Galvatron—a being even less prone to compassion and decency than Megatron—before ordering him to exterminate the Autobots and crush the Matrix. The fate of all Transformers, and indeed the universe itself, rests upon the shoulders of a single Autobot—one who must rise from the ranks to adopt the mantle of leadership and put an end to Unicron’s destructive reign, once and for all.

Video
Metrodome has chosen to present Transformers: The Movie in a side-curtained, anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer. While this doesn’t give us the long-awaited ‘widescreen’ version of the movie, it does provide a transfer with significantly more visual information than previous releases (and certainly more than you would have seen at the cinema). The film itself is actually contained within the 1.78:1 frame at a ratio of approximately 1.42:1, which is ever-so-slightly wider than a standard 4:3 ratio television screen. It’s also slightly odd, as the native aspect ratio of the master would have been 1.37:1, which would seem to indicate that the image has still been cropped to some degree.

Metrodome


Transformers: The Movie - Reconstructed
Rhino


Transformers: The Movie - Reconstructed
Putting aside the aspect ratio, this is actually a reasonable effort. It’s certainly not perfect, but on balance I think I prefer it to the Rhino version. Obviously the prospect of more visual information is a plus factor, but it’s not the only thing that this transfer has going for it. The Rhino transfer has been rightly criticised for being too dark; something that becomes all too apparent when compared directly with this Metrodome release (the Rhino version is actually worryingly similar to the old Video Gems VHS release). On the whole, colours are far more pleasing on this disc, with hitherto concealed pictorial information finally revealed. This is particularly true of the scenes set in space, which now contain background detail that I never knew existed. Unfortunately I never owned a copy of the Maverick release of the film, so I’m unable to comment on how this transfer fairs against that particular disc.

Unfortunately it’s not all good news. The image is still rather dirty, with a conspicuous number of film artefacts popping up throughout the proceedings. There are also a number of visual artefacts that are a direct result of the ‘reconstruction’ itself, the most annoying of which is a white line that runs down the side of the screen during parts of the film, most notably the opening and closing credits. The corners of the image frequently shift between right-angled and rounded edges, which can get a bit annoying, and I also noticed at least once instance where the ‘reconstructed’ frame revealed an animation mistake—one where Blurr’s legs are not painted (this is actually visible in one of the screenshots linked below). As with other releases of the film, there are also some scenes that look out of focus, with muddied or washed-out colours. Black levels are also a problem at times, with space often appearing as more of a washed out, greenish-grey than the inky black it should be.

Potentially the biggest problem with the video is that of ‘interlacing’ and ‘ghosting’, which eluded me when I first viewed the disc on my PC with deinterlacing enabled. With the deinterlacing disabled, this would appear to be an undeniable case of standards conversion. All of the artefacts normally associated with an NTSC to PAL transfer are visible, and the running time is actually longer than that of the Rhino disc by about thirty seconds (due to the inclusion of the DEG logo at the beginning). If this new release really was mastered from the original negative, why is it not subject to PAL speedup? Furthermore, why are there artefacts that should not be present in a PAL transfer?

Audio
For this release of Transformers: The Movie, Metrodome has given us the option of both Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. For me, the most anticipated facet of this release was the 5.1 audio track, primarily because the Rhino effort was so bad. For those of you unfamiliar with the problems associated with that release, you might want to read my earlier review of the DVD (a link can be found to the right of the page). If that sounds like too much trouble, here’s a brief recap. The Rhino 5.1 track was basically just a Stereo track redirected to all available speakers, with one notable exception—the right surround speaker. What this did was to create a mix that was heavily biased towards the left of the soundstage when in a normal seating position. The character’s voices also seemed to come from all of the speakers at once, which sounded terribly artificial and most distracting.

Metrodome


Transformers: The Movie - Reconstructed
Rhino


Transformers: The Movie - Reconstructed
Thankfully I’m pleased to report that the Metrodome effort is much, much better. For starters this is a ‘true’ 5.1 track, with the dialogue rooted firmly in the centre of the soundstage, unless being used for a specific effect such as Unicron’s booming, omnipresent voice. The surrounds are also used to great effect on occasion, with the score—which I have come to appreciate more and more over the years—spreading itself around the soundstage, creating an atmospheric, enveloping experience. There are also plenty of surround effects, such as missiles, laser fire and jet wash flying over your head during the film’s many battle sequences. I was also pleasantly surprised by the LFE channel, which is actually quite punchy at times—for once you can actually feel those explosions.

Unfortunately it’s not all good news, as Metrodome has committed a cardinal sin when it comes to certain effects. If you’ve watched this film a number of times—as I imagine most Transformers fans have—then you’ll instantly pick up on the huge number of sound effects that have either been added or altered. In some cases these work quite well, but in others they just serve as a distraction. A good example of this is during the Decepticon assault on Autobot City. One scene transition opens with the Decepticon jet Thrust flying over the viewer’s head from the rear to the front of the soundstage with a satisfying ‘whoosh’. Seconds later we cut to Blurr defending the city with his laser rifile, but after a couple of shots the sound changes to a completely different effect. Worse still, the iconic sound of Optimus Prime’s laser rifle has been altered! Why alter one of the best effects in the original series/movie?

There are many other examples of new and altered effects, some of which work better than others. Now while I’m not against remixes, I think it’s important to offer the original track for people who are familiar with the film. After all, you wouldn’t change the actors in a film and expect people not to notice (unless you’re George Lucas that is). I was initially hopeful that the included Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track would be the film’s original, unaltered soundtrack, but alas this was not to be. It’s the same fudged mix, albeit at a significantly higher volume. I’m sorry Metrodome, but all this messing around with the soundtrack cost the disc points.

If you’d like to hear an example of Metrodome’s fiddling, simply click here for a clip from the Rhino release, then here for the same clip Metrodome style (each clip is around 380KB). Make your own mind up as to which sounds best.

Extras
On balance, this release of Transformers: The Movie includes more bonus features than any previous version. First up with have a ‘Compare and Contrast’ section that presents three scenes from the movie in both their UK and US incarnations. The scenes in question are the opening and closing credits and Spike’s expletive. Those who owned the old UK VHS release of the film will probably remember the Star Wars-esque opening scroll (complete with voiceover), which explained the current status of the war and the threat of Unicron. This scroll was not present in the US version. The closing moments of the UK release also featured a voiceover, which foreshadowed the return of Optimus Prime. This, too, is absent from the US release. Finally, the US version of the film features the character of Spike using the word ‘shit’ after he and Bumblebee fail to destroy Unicron. This expletive is absent from the UK version. Don’t worry though, as the film included on this disc is indeed the US version.

Metrodome


Transformers: The Movie - Reconstructed
Rhino


Transformers: The Movie - Reconstructed
Next up we have both the US theatrical and Japanese trailers for the film. Both are pretty standard fair, although the US ‘widescreen’ trailer is actually just a horizontally stretched 4:3 image… The Japanese trailer seems to go on forever, and features some alternate dialogue from Kup, but the quality of the video is rather poor. In addition to the trailers we get twelve rather samey US TV spots. It’s nice to have these things on the disc, but the repetitive nature of the trailer and TV footage means that the average viewer is unlikely to give them a second glance.

The ‘Title, Colour and Exposure Tests’ menu is an odd one. There are two options, one of which shows the final title check, the other colour exposure tests. Both are set to music from the generation one TV series, which is probably the most interesting thing about this feature. Honestly, while this might interest a select few who are heavily into the creative process behind animation, it’s hardly likely to appeal to the casual viewer. It’s just too specific for that. I mean, how exciting is it to watch a bunch of names fly across the screen for two minutes? There are credits at the beginning of the movie for those who enjoy such things…

Oh slightly more interest are character biographies for the main heroes and villains. Both the Autobot and Decepticon menus are divided into two categories: survivors and R.I.P. On the Autobots’ side there are entries for Arcee (misspelled Acree for some reason), Blurr, Hot Rod, Kup, Springer, Ultra Magnus, Brawn, Ironhide, Optimus Prime, Ratchet, Wheeljack and Windcharger. Decepticon entries include Cyclonus, Galvatron, Scourge, Bombshell, Kickback, Megatron, Shrapnel, Skywarp, Starscream and Thundercracker. Also included is a separate entry for the devourer of worlds, Unicron. Each biography is nicely detailed, with the characters relative strengths, weaknesses and cause of death (if appropriate).

The disc also includes a solitary episode of the Japanese Headmaster’s series from Takara, presented in a full frame 1.33:1 transfer with accompanying Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo audio. Prior to receiving this DVD I’d not seen any of the Japanese Transformers series. After watching this episode I have mixed feelings about the experience. While it was nice to see a different take on the whole Transformers phenomenon, I found myself pining for the vocal talents of Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, Scatman Crothers and company. There just isn’t enough personality in the Japanese voice actors’ performances, with almost every line being delivered in the same prescribed manner. The dialogue is also very formal in this series, with lines such as ‘I want you to strive to destroy the Autobots’ and ‘I am Sixshot, Decepticon ninja staff officer!’ etc. It’s all very ‘Japanese’. I also noticed at least one error in the subtitles, unless the Autobots have actually been fighting the ‘Dicipticons’ all these years. All things considered this is a nice addition to the disc, especially for fans of the series, but I think I’ll need to see the whole story arc before making my mind up.

Finally, the package also includes a collector’s booklet, which contains information about the restoration project, the voice actors, some general Transformers history and comments from several long-standing Transformers fans (my invitation must have been lost in the post). This is actually a polished little booklet, although quite a lot of it is taken up with what are essentially adverts for forthcoming Metrodome DVD releases.

Metrodome


Transformers: The Movie - Reconstructed
Rhino


Transformers: The Movie - Reconstructed
Overall
I have mixed feelings about this release. While the audio and video are most certainly an improvement over the Rhino release, I’m not entirely sure that ‘Reconstructed’ can really be called a ‘definitive’ edition of the film. I would really have liked to see interviews with the voice talent, or even something from Vince DiCola, but alas it was not to be. I appreciate that it might have been hard to obtain such materials, but even a commentary from a knowledgeable fan might have helped matters a little. The audio issues are another big stumbling point. How can a release be ‘definitive’ when it doesn’t even include the film’s original soundtrack?

With that said, this is still a safer bet than the Rhino release for those looking to indulge their Transformers obsession. As you can see from the screen captures above there is certainly more image on display, and what we get is generally of better quality than other releases of the film (in spite of the flaws outlined above). If you can get over the silly remixing of the soundtrack you’ll probably find it quite enjoyable, albeit slightly unfamiliar, and the Takara episode lends the supplemental material some much-needed weight. All-in-all this is a good, if not outstanding release of the movie; one that should please die-hard fans and casual viewers alike, at least until the twentieth anniversary edition arrives in 2006. Now there’s wishful thinking for you.

If you’re interested in seeing a few more screen caps from both versions, simply follow the links below. Each image will open in its own window.


Metrodome One Rhino One


Metrodome Two Rhino Two


Metrodome Three Rhino Three


Metrodome Four Rhino Four


Metrodome Five Rhino Five


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