Transformers: The Movie (UK - BD RB)
Chris investigates Manga's UK release of the film's 30th anniversary Blu-ray...
It is the year 2005. The villainous Decepticons, led by the maniacal Megatron, have conquered the Transformers’ homeworld of Cyberton forcing the valiant Autobots to retreat to the planet Earth. However, the Autobots and their noble leader, Optimus Prime, are secretly planning to retake Cybertron from hidden staging grounds on two of its 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 unaware, the Autobots mount a courageous counter-offensive, 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.
This new 30th anniversary release of Transformers: The Movie is purportedly derived from a newly minted 4K scan of an interpositive (according to the restoration featurette on the disc). Originally created by Shout! Factory, the new master is generally an improvement over the older UK and Australian Blu-rays, but it also has one significant issue that doesn’t afflict either of those releases (more on that later).
Surprisingly, when compared to the old releases there doesn’t appear to be much difference in the overall level of detail, even with the benefit of the new 4K scan. That’s not to say it looks soft, but rather that it looks like a hand animated feature from the eighties. In fact it’s actually a very filmic presentation overall, with obvious but unobtrusive grain present throughout. However, perhaps the most noticeable difference with this new release is its improved colour reproduction. The older BD transfers took some liberties with the film’s palette, to the point where a number of scenes differed considerably from the original animation cells. Thankfully this has been remedied for the 30th Anniversary disc, and the colours are now much closer to their originally intended hues. They’re also more consistent across the board, with characters less prone to changing colour between scenes. The chief culprit of this in previous versions was Hot Rod, who should have been magenta (as per his original animation model), but who actually ended up running the gamut between red and pink. Compression is also noticeably better than most previous releases, with none of the unsightly macroblocking that afflicted the Sony DVD and earlier Blu-rays.
With the positives out of the way it’s (unfortunately) time to focus on the negatives, of which there are a few. Although touted as a 30th Anniversary restoration, not a lot of restoration appears to have been performed. Film artefacts are rife and of a size where they occasionally prove to be distracting. A few scenes are also blurry, but this is inherent to the source and has always been an issue. There’s also noticeable telecine wobble, particularly during the opening and closing credits. However, the biggest problem is that the video has been mastered at the wrong levels (PC 0-255 instead of video 16-235), which means that there’s no true black anywhere in the image. This was something that was noticed months ago when the US disc was released and indeed I mentioned it to Manga UK’s PR representatives, but they came back with the message that the US disc was mastered correctly and that the UK release would be identical. That’s clearly not the case, as should be evident to anyone looking at the screen captures below. Thankfully it’s actually relatively easy to compensate for the issue if your Blu-ray player allows you to force the colour-space output to full range RGB. This would ordinarily crush the blacks, but here it simply restores them to their intended levels. I’ve actually performed the same adjustment in Photoshop and included comparison caps in this review, just so you can get an idea of the difference having proper black levels makes to the image (original on top, adjusted on the bottom).
Is the levels issue a deal-breaker? For the vast majority of casual viewers I suspect not, but for hardcore fans and videophiles it is an unnecessary flaw made all the more annoying given that Manga was alerted to the problem and had time to remedy it. Still, even with this unfortunate issue the visual gulf between the DVD and previous Blu-ray release images is noticeable, and on the whole this is still the best looking version of the film on a home video format to date. Oh, before I forget, disc one includes the widescreen version of the film, while disc two presents the main feature at full frame.
Okay, so the video has a few issues, but the audio is a definite improvement over the older Blu-ray releases. Previously only available as either lossy Dolby Digital or DTS, we finally get lossless tracks for both the original stereo and multi-channel mixes in the form of DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and 5.1. I sampled both tracks during the course of my review and finally settled on the latter due to its ability to add atmosphere without compromising the authenticity of the soundtrack.
The previous BDs suffered from frequent shifts in sound quality, moments where effects are dialled down in the mix to the point that they almost disappeared, and muted dialogue, but the new Blu-ray remedies all of these issues. Dialogue is strong and consistent throughout, showcasing the voice talents of all involved, while effects are well-balanced in the mix. There’s some decent movement across the front of the sound-stage, particularly during the numerous action sequences, and this occasionally spills over to the surrounds (albeit to limited effect) along with the awesomely cheesy eighties hair metal soundtrack. Although not terrifically ferocious, bass is ably used throughout, with Unicron’s deep, booming tones being particularly memorable. The overall experience is very much what you'd expect from a twenty-year-old cartoon based on a toy line, but it sounds impressive enough.
I can’t wrap this portion of the review up without devoting a few lines to the film’s score and soundtrack. Vince DiCola’s electronic score is actually pretty great, particularly cues such as ‘Unicron’s Theme’ and ‘Autobot/Decepticon Battle’. Although much of it was unavailable at the time of the film’s original release, the intervening years have seen the release of numerous iterations of the full score, to which I still listen to this day. The original album did contain the various rock tracks used in the film, which I have to admit to finding incongruous as a child, but which have grown on me over the years to the point that I now genuinely enjoy listening to them. This is most likely due to my discovery of rock music in my teens, when hair metal bands were still pretty popular.
Along with much of the material included on previous DVD and Blu-ray releases of the film, the 30th anniversary edition includes a host of newly created bonus content. The best of this is a new retrospective documentary entitled ‘’Til All Are One’, which includes interviews with Flint Dille and members of the voice cast and composers. The restoration featurette is also interesting for a couple of reasons. Firstly that it shows the film with proper black levels, thereby making a bit of a mockery of the assertion that there’s nothing wrong with them on the main feature, and secondly that it devotes a fair bit of time to discussing the clean-up work that was performed on the master, given that there are still a lot of artefacts to be seen. Anyway, a list of the included bonus material can be found below.
- 'Til All Are One
- Transformers: The Restoration
- Rolling Out the New Cover
- Commentary with Director Nelson Shin, story consultant Flint Dille and star Susan Blu
- Archival Featurettes:
- The Death of Optimus Prime
- The Cast & Characters
- Transformers Q&A
- Animated Storyboards:
- Fishing Scene
- Battle Scene
- One Shall Stand, One Shall Fall
- TV Spots
Although not without its problems, I’m pleased to say that the 30th Anniversary Edition of Transformers: The Movie is a noticeable improvement over what’s come before. It’s frustrating that the only major visual issue could have been resolved fairly easily prior to release, but at least that’s relatively easy enough to correct in hardware (providing you have a device capable of forcing full range RGB output, that is). Thankfully the audio suffers from no such problems and the bonus material is both informative and entertaining.
However much I loved the Transformers as a kid, it’s fairly evident through adult eyes that this film was just a gimmick to introduce a new range of toys to consumers. Cynical maybe, but I’m not ten years old any more. With that said, it is by no means the terrible film that the licence would suggest and I still enjoy it to this day, albeit in a slightly different way. This 30th anniversary edition is now the definitive home video release of the film and I suspect that will be the case for some time to come, so I have no hesitation recommending it (notwithstanding the aforementioned caveat about the video levels). Hell, it’s almost worth getting just to hear a character in a popular children’s cartoon use the word ‘shit’.
* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release 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.
Review by Chris Gould
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 26th December 2016
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 English, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH
Extras: Audio Commentary, Documentary, Featurettes, Trailers, TV Spots
Easter Egg: No
Director: Nelson Shin
Cast: Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, Chris Latta, Judd Nelson, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Stack, Lionel Stander, Orson Welles, Susan Blu
Genre: Action, Adventure, Animation and Sci-Fi
Length: 85 minutes
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