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Feature


Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf) is a teenager in the market for his first car, which he plans to use as a tool to impress sexy high school ladies. He scores a deal on a beat-up Camaro, which turns out to be an alien robot in disguise. It turns out that Sam’s great grandfather holds the key to finding the All Spark, an alien technology pursued by two groups of warring robots—the Autobots and the Decepticons. I’ll let you figure out which ones are the good guys and which ones are the bad guys for yourself (hint: deception isn’t an admirable trait).

Transformers
Transformers defies my every attempt at logical criticism. The script is a nearly unmitigated disaster—the characters are flat, the plot is riddled with holes and unnecessary red herrings, the attempted humour is often jaw droppingly unfunny, and frankly, nothing makes any logical sense. The look is destructively Michael Bay-ian, placing giant weight on car and sports drink ad imagery rather than characters or narration, and the special effects drive every element of the production. Every ounce of my film critiquing education tells me that this is one of the sloppiest, stupidest and cataclysmically awful movies ever made, but I enjoy the experience.

Pretty much every rule of modern screenwriting is broken. The first two-thirds of the plot is based around a devastatingly text-book MacGuffin. Now, MacGuffin’s aren’t unusual in big budget sci-fi/action, but one that defines the term this precisely, and genuinely has zero baring on the outcome of the last act is rare outside of Saturday morning children’s entertainment. And when the MacGuffin is resolved we’re presented with... another MacGuffin. Two MacGuffins! In the process of developing these MacGuffins we lose several characters without explanation, and are needlessly introduced to new characters who also disappear with out explanation. The final straw, or what should be the final straw, is the Deus Ex Machina ending, where the thing everyone in the film is trying to get their hands on is shoved into the unstoppable villain’s chest, killing him, and making every single step of the plot pointless. I could go into specifically what I hate about the film’s sense of humour, but I’m pretty sure I can sum it up with two words—‘My bad’.

Transformers
Michael Bay’s eye does find plenty of sweet spots throughout the film, especial when he takes his high contrast camera into almost documentarian level combat. Keeping it ‘real’ is the best thing he brought to the project, that and a powerful understanding of how to shoot a car chase (despite the film being crap, the highway chase in Bad Boys II is one of the best car chases on film). A lot of the realism can be attributed to Steven Spielberg’s involvement, as his last two effects heavy movies (pre-2008), Minority Report and War of the Worlds utilized very realistically shot digital effects. Transformers looks like a car ad when robots aren’t hitting each other, but when the action counts Bay mostly pulls through, and that’s probably the films greatest saving grace.

The special effects are great. There’s no arguing the digital artistry, and I can’t think of very many films that blend their CG this naturally with their surroundings. The fuzzy animals of The Golden Compass taking the special effects Oscar this year was a travesty. Sometimes Bay’s camera gets too close to the action, and though there aren’t any inadequacies in the animation itself, the sheer volume of stuff is blinding, especially on the big screen. For the most part the special effects are filmed, framed and edited like the human characters, which pushes the believability of the stuff that isn’t really there, and the larger than life sound design doesn’t hurt either. The highway scene is a high point in modern special effects that zips by all too quickly.

The person that best works in the film’s favour is Shia LeBeouf, who I was not expecting to pull off a likeable character. Sam Witwicky could’ve very easily been angst ridden and obnoxious, instead he’s light and generally refreshing. LeBeouf is the only member of the cast that manages to speak his awful lines with any sort of dignity or charm. Megan Fox and Rachel Taylor are eye-candy-licious, so their flat dialogue and generally nonplused acting is pretty easy to take, but I find myself downright embarrassed on the behalf of John Voight, John Tuturro, and Anthony Anderson.

Transformers

Video


Transformers is one of the best looking, largely live action Blu-ray releases I’ve ever seen. Bay’s use of piecing high contrast leads to some very sharp images, shorn of any ambiguous or messy hues. The depth of the black levels is almost awe-inspiring. The super-saturated colours sometimes look a little odd (the flesh tones are all a bit orange), but stylistically speaking it works for the film, and they’re just so damn pretty. Grain and noise are just about invisible until you get inches from the set, but even then it’s pretty hard to complain. The cleanness, brightness, and sharpness of the image sometimes has a slightly negative effect on the special effects, and the digital elements are noticeably more spotless. The only shot in the whole disc that surprised me with its general dirtiness is the pre-end credit sunset, which is grainy, and a bit fuzzy.

Audio


The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track is reference level stuff, and a noticeable upgrade from the HD DVD’s Dolby Digital Plus track. The more ‘normal’ sound effects, like exploding shells, crumbling brick, whirring engines, and ricocheting bullets are intense and loud with minimal mud and zero distortion. There are few moments of sound effect silence throughout the entire production. This particular film’s ace is the presence of the more specific ‘alien’ sounds of the Transformers. The sound design here is a keen blend of these differing elements, and the designers separate the elements as cleanly as can be expected. The score is rather generic, Hans Zimmer-esque hero worship, but I liked it, especially during the Autobot’s ‘arrival on earth’ montage. There are a few moments where the score overpowers the effects or vice versa, but based on the quantity of things happening the mix is nearly immaculate.

Note, despite early reports, there is no PCM track on this disc.

Transformers

Extras


From what I can remember, there’s nothing on this Blu-ray that wasn’t previously available on the HD DVD release, except for the BD-Live option, which I couldn’t use on my player anyway. The only reason I can give to re-buy the film for fans that own the HD DVD is the lossless soundtrack.

The extras begin with a characteristically arrogant Michael Bay commentary track. I want to hate the guy, but I actually respect a lot of what he managed to achieve with this film. Bay’s sense of humour is obviously lacking, as apparently most of the bad jokes were his idea, but he made a gigantic film for a reasonable price of $150 million. In the day and age of ridiculously bloated budgets (2007 saw the release of both Spider Man 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End), I like hearing about the best way to cut the cost. He kind of earns the respect he so viciously squandered. I also enjoyed listening to his take on internet culture and backlash. I also enjoy listening to him give Spielberg credit where he’s due. Bay disappears into silence every once and a while, but he keeps things pretty consistent.

When I rented the HD DVD I watched it with the picture in picture option, which includes behind the scene info and imagery. My profile 1.0 player can’t do PiP, so I’m left with the simpler trivia track, which is fun enough, but not exactly a necessity. The first disc of the two-disc set ends with the original teaser trailer, an Iron Man trailer, and a musical montage of action from the film.

The second disc’s documentary material is split into three parts: ‘Our World’, ‘Their War’ and ‘More Than Meets the Eye’. ‘Our World’ is a basic behind the scenes documentary split into several smaller parts, including interviews with the cast and crew, on set footage, pre-digital footage, and even a few deleted scenes. The doc takes us from early production, including footage from the original cartoon and of the original toys, through casting, filming, the participation of the United States military, practical, on set effects, and location scouting. All together the doc runs about fifty minutes.

Transformers
‘Their War’ is a more specific look at the history of the Transformers toys and cartoon, the various adaptations that were made for the film, the selection of vehicles, and the production of the digital effects. This section is played out in the form of more interviews, more footage from the cartoon and ads for the toys, footage from a Transformer’s convention, footage of Hugo Weaving and Peter Cullen recording the Transformer footage, before and after effects, and some early designs (in both digital and hand drawn form). The cast and crew talk about their early involvement with the series, and the silly fan obsessions with the film looking exactly like the old cartoon. I didn’t realize that legislation had prevented cartoons based on toys from airing, so that was probably the most interesting factoid I got out of the doc, though the magnitude of work that goes into making the life sized Bumblebee was also pretty interesting. This section runs and hour five.

‘Transformers Tech’ is an interactive system of 360 degree looks at the details of six Transformers. Under the ‘More Than Meets the Eye’ menu things start with an eight minute detailed look at the Scorponok attack sequence, including descriptions of the writing of the sequence, early character designs, location scouting, storyboards, pre-production animatics, filming, and finishing the special effects of the scene. It’s followed by a look at some of the production’s gorgeous concept art (just once I’d like to see a movie that really lives up to this kind of stuff, though I suppose it would have to be an animated film), and the disc finishes with trailers marked one, two and four (apparently three went missing?).

All the extras are presented in full HD video and Dolby Surround sound, except the trailers, which are in 5.1 surround.

Transformers

Overall


I understand that this is a film based on a cartoon made to sell toys, cool toys, but toys nonetheless. I have a positive feeling that Transformers suffers a little bit of what I like to call the X-Men syndrome. The X-Men syndrome is when a production doesn’t quite deal with the issue of introducing a new world and set an adventure story in that new world. X-Men was a shaky production, but it acted as a great trailer for the beauty of X-Men 2. I’m hoping that Transformers 2 will be as much an improvement over Transformers. I think the good and the bad sort of end up evening out, but if you’re a fan you’ll be in hog heaven with this reference level collection.

*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.


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