Trying hard to appease the fan base while crafting a believable take on a classic ‘80s cartoon, Transformers is an action summer romp that tries to twist too many story lines into a simple narrative. The film is bogged down by an extended unnecessary running time, too many characters, and humor that puts this into the realm of comedy while dragging down any attempt at being serious.
While it may irk traditional fans, the movie needed to be set on Earth. The human characters are the key to the story, and add in an element that would otherwise be missing. It also allows for wilder battles in a realistic setting that enhances the action, increases the amount of expected “summer movie explosions,” and adds more drama.
Sadly, there are too many people. Characters are continually added well into the film, including Anthony Anderson and Rachael Taylor, neither of who fit in the role of high-end computer geeks. Their inclusion in the story seems purely for comic relief, which the film has far too much of already.
The same goes for the clichéd “secret government organization” called Sector 7. Likewise, their entire subplot could have easily been cut, decreasing their awful humor spots substantially.
Some lines are genuinely funny, especially one ripping on Michael Bay’s prior disaster effort, Armageddon. By the end of this exceedingly long affair, the humor has drained all tension, seriousness, and believability right out of the film.
It’s obvious that months, if not years, were spent attempting to make the Transformers themselves realistic and believable on screen. The updates are wonderful, and the special effects stunning. Yet, they’re made out to be fools, especially the Autobots in a painful sequence outside the house of Sam Witwicky as he argues with his parents. This scene continues on well past the point of being entertaining, and does nothing for the characters.
Action is consistently interrupted by cutaways to one of the multiple story lines, and these stoppages are jarring. Aside from the opening battlefield brawl, there fails to be another energetic action sequence like it without constant interference by an unnecessary plot development.
In addition, while the special effects are a true achievement, they’re hard to follow. The fights between the robots are either too fast or close up to tell who is gaining an upper hand. On a smaller scale, the same can be said for Frenzy, a small Transformer that moves incredibly fast and attacks without being able to tell where he’s even shooting.
As a fan service, this is a decent attempt to resurrect a franchise that has been dormant for too long. Its many missteps don’t entirely ruin the experience, but certainly do not help things either. [xrr rating=2/5 label=Movie]
What was once a huge selling point for HD DVD has come to Blu-ray in a nearly identical package. The transfer is the same, and there is nothing to complain about.
Despite the overly hot contrast that’s purely a flaw with the source (consider it a Michael Bay trademark), this transfer is loaded with immense clarity. Details are astounding at times. During the desert assault, wait for the close up of Jon Voight’s face. Every ripple, pore, and wrinkle is visible, for better or worse for Voight. Color bursts off the screen with high saturation, and the remarkable black levels never let up. This is a visual hi-def assault. [xrr rating=5/5 label=Video]
The HD DVD featured a Dolby Digital Plus mix, while the Blu-ray goes uncompressed with TrueHD. The differences include heavier, deeper bass on Blu-ray, and some minor additional clarity in terms of positional audio. Only purists will notice anything other than the bass increase, especially noticeable during the ripple effect from the opening military base attack.
Regardless, this track offers everything during its action. Bullets and missiles fly around the viewer, debris can be heard in all channels as things are destroyed, and yes, the bass is top tier stuff. In the midst of all of this is well-mixed dialogue that never sounds like it’s being overwhelmed. [xrr rating=5/5 label=Audio]
Two discs line the inside of this Blu-ray release, following the same path as its HD DVD counterpart. Rather stupidly, certain extras still need to be downloaded via BD-Live. If Blu-ray has all of this extra space, and the disc had around a year to come out, why force users to download stuff like the annoying bordered tracking feature?
Anyway, over on disc one, there’s the Transformers Heads Up Display, a HD/Blu-ray exclusive. Billed as a picture-in-picture commentary, there’s far more than that going on here. Pop-up trivia, interviews, pre-vis, and loads of other content are included.
A final hi-def exclusive is the Transformers Tech Inspector. Here you can view the individual Transformers from a variety of angles, in stills or in a spinning motion replay. You’ll play with this for a while until realizing you won’t be returning.
The rest of this two-disc set includes all extras from the standard DVD. The menus on this release seem barren, but there’s a wealth of content. A commentary by Michael Bay needed a few other people alongside him. There’s surely a lot more to discuss.
Over on disc two, two fantastic documentaries cover all aspects of the Transformers. Our World discusses the origins of the series and the film. Interviews range from the special effects team, writers, Hasbro execs, and the actors. At 49 minutes, it almost doesn’t seem like enough.
Of course, that isn’t enough, as the 65-minute Their War goes even further. The fan base is interviewed about their passion, design choices for all robots featured (and some not) in the film are discussed at length, and even some of the backlash from the die-hard followers gets some screen time. These two features would have made a fine purchase on their own.
Script to Sand is the final feature, a brief nine-minute look at the Skorponok desert attack. It’s mostly comprised of storyboard and animatics. After the exhaustive work in the other features, this doesn’t even seem necessary. [xrr rating=5/5 label=Extras]