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Transformers Print E-mail
Wednesday, 27 August 2008
"More Than Meets The Eye". Those immortal words have great meaning to millions of Transformer fans around the world. So when it was announced that Dreamworks and Michael Bay would be turning the famous 1980s cartoon into a live action film, there was natural skepticism. Even Michael Bay initially thought there was no way he was going to take on the Transformers project. Actor Shia LaBeouf, who plays Sam Witwicky, also thought that they were going to completely destroy the Transformer legacy. I will let you be the judge on whether they succeeded or not.

Transformers follow the simplistic good versus evil structure. The Autobots defend the Earth and universe against the Decepticons. The war between them destroyed their home planet, and with the loss of the Allspark, the Transformers followed it to Earth. The Allspark, also known as the Cube, has the ability to instill life in technological equipment. Without this Cube, the Transformers' home world could no longer sustain life.

The Autobots have the ability to transform into vehicles like a Porsche, Camaro, and the front-end of a big rig. Unfortunately, Transformers does not adhere to "the good guy has the coolest weapon" notion that is commonplace in action films. The Decepticons have the ability to transform into Army and Air Force battle equipment. The ability to transform into aircrafts is far cooler than being a standard car. This has been an ongoing debate in the Transformers' world, but neither side seems to have a solid explanation as to way the Decepticons are cooler Transformers than the Autobots.

The film's story centers on a boy and his car, with the war between the Autobots and Decepticons running parallel. Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is a typical 16 year-old boy who is out to buy a car and impress a girl. Somehow, Bumblebee, the Camaro Autobot, happens to show up at the used car dealership just as Sam is ready to buy his first car. Sam proceeds to drive the car to a lake party where an opportunity presents itself to give his high-school crush, Mikaela (Megan Fox) a ride home. But first, his friend feels the need to randomly climb a tree and hang upside down. I still haven't figured that one out. Shortly thereafter, the Decepticons locate Sam and we find out why he is so important to the Transformers. Sam and Mikaela get swept up in the war between the Autobots and Decepticons, and of course a threat to national security is discovered and government agents come a running. Another top secret, totally classified government organization, Sector 7, is revealed. They apparently had knowledge of the Transformers all along, and used a frozen Megatron to create the nation's technology throughout history.

The story is filled with holes and forced scenes and dialogue. Many times, it is the dialogue that creates holes in the story and back-story. I constantly felt like there was scenes missing that must have explained why something was said. Characters were also able to spit out a wealth of detailed information at the most random times or at just the most opportune moment.

Much like "Spider-Man 3", "Transformers" contains a plethora of unbelievable scenes and storylines.

Replacing Soundwave, as the Decepticon's stealthy spy, Frenzy is a lightweight Transformer that transforms into a CD boombox, much like Soundwave transformed into a cassette player. For some reason, Air Force One contains a mainframe that Frenzy uses to access classified documents and our nation's secrets. Of course the analysis team at the Pentagon immediately detects Frenzy hacking Air Force One and planting a virus. The analysis team consists of a young woman, Maggie Madsen (Rachael Taylor), who just so happens to look like an Australian supermodel. She proceeds to be able to copy top-secret data to a memory card and walk out of the Pentagon to a hacker friend's house, in middle of a national security crisis. Yeah right. To top it all off, her hacker friend is able to use his home PC to crack the hidden symbols embedded in a code that used more bandwidth than the entire world had combined to implement, in less than five seconds.

In the desert scorpion-fighting scene, the surviving army members are able to locate a cell phone but with no cell towers anywhere in sight, that no doubt works flawlessly in the middle of the Qatar desert. I can't even get a cell phone to work in the middle of Los Angeles. That is followed-up with a cheesy sequence where Captain Lennox (Josh Duhamel) must talk with a representative in order to make a phone call, and cannot get through to the Pentagon without a credit card in the middle of battle sequence.

There are also several smaller unbelievable scenes that add up fast. A pair of reading glasses fall from high atop Optimus Prime onto the concrete pavement, and yet do not shatter. I've seen glass crack dropping them out of the car, let alone from, at a minimum, a 20-foot tall Autobot. Also, Sam outruns Barricade, a Decepticon, and is even smacked by Barricade into a car's front windshield. Nonetheless, he is able to get up and run away again. One must expect going into an action or fantasy movie there will be unbelievable sequences, but this was flat out absurd. And finally, they government decides to take the Allspark out of the hidden Hoover Dam base and into the middle of the city for extraction. Yeah, take the Allspark into a vastly populated area for a giant battle to take place. It becomes unbearable at how many instances where there are contrived actions and dialogue for the sole purpose of moving the story wherever they need it to go.

The very first thing I noticed with this film was the music score. It struck me as extremely familiar. It didn't take me more than a few seconds to figure out all the films on which the score for "Transformers" was based. The main score sounds almost exactly like the theme for "Pirates Of The Caribbean", which is no surprise as composer, Steve Jablonsky, worked on additional music for the first Pirates film. The other film score that was dominant in the Transformers' score is "Armageddon". This is also understandable, as Steve worked on additional music for "Armageddon" as well. There are also thematic music score elements from "National Treasure" and "Pearl Harbor" present in "Transformers". None of this is surprising, as Steve has worked with director Michael Bay on many films. Those films include, "Armageddon", "Pearl Harbor", and "The Island".

Paramount delivers the same outstanding video transfer as the HD DVD release.  The black levels are terrific.  When combined with the fact that the colors are solid and vibrant, the result is a picture that pops right off the screen.  While the picture is close to perfection, it isn't quite there.  There are minimal levels of grain in a majority of the sequences.  Sometimes it is easy to ignore, and at other times it is very distracting.  The high contrast of the film creates extremely hot whites, which creates a blowout effect of dark/light scenes.  The colors are accurate and rich, but sometimes they are over-saturated.  This occurs largely in the fleshtones of the actors.  The details and sharpness of the video are probably its greatest strengths.  In a movie with this much CGI, you would expect there to be a lot of softness in the video presentation.  However, the details remain strong in all the transformer sequences.  The last 30 minutes of the film are truly exceptional.  This is a great disc for demo material.  NOTE: Be wary, the BD-Live encoding of this disc may cause undesired playback glitches during viewing on none Profile 2.0 players.

The HD DVD release of the film came with a Dolby Digital Plus audio track as the highest resolution.  I am happy to report that Paramount has stepped up the audio track to a Dolby TrueHD formatted soundtrack.  This is something I remember wanting during my viewing of the HD DVD version.  Unfortunately, this step up in the audio technical specification proves that it is the original mix and editing of the sound that is the root of the problem.  The Blu-ray transfer is flawless.  However, there are issues that keep this from being a five star audio quality rating.  The underwhelming surround channels of the HD DVD mix are slightly improved upon in the TrueHD version.  However, the mix of the surrounds is about 5dB below normal.  This creates a front heavy soundtrack during sequences that should be using a lot of surround effects.  This is not to say that the surrounds are not being used.  The second part of the problem is that the frequencies used in the surround channels overlap.  This overlapping creates a muddy mix, disguising the surround effects.  I am rather surprised at this considering this film's blockbuster status.  In the HD DVD version the dialogue was uneven.  Once again, the Blu-ray transfer has proven this to be an original mix issue.  The dialogue of a single actor in a single scene changes in its timbre quite frequently.  This is not due to a perspective change, but rather an imbalance in the ADR mix session.  Overall, the audio track has all the elements to be a five star rating, but the muddy and uneven original mix keep it from being perfect.

So, due to the imperfections in the original video and audio creations, regrettably I must give the Blu-rat transfer the sane ratings as the HD DVD version.  There are some improvements, but also, due to the improvements, more faults are discovered.

This is a 2-disc Special Edition Blu-ray, which includes all the special features that were presented on the HD DVD release.  Unfortunately though, several of the extra features are presented in BD-Live technology, making it inaccessible to those without BD-Live-capable hardware.  All of the special features are presented in full 1080p high-definition. The first disc contains an audio commentary by director Michael Bay. This is a rather informative commentary from a director that has been in the industry for a couple decades now. There are some web-enabled features, which require an Internet connection and a login. One web feature is the "Intelligence Center". This feature resizes the film to a smaller size and surrounds it with a skin. There are a total of five different widgets that surround the film. There is one called "Robot Status" that keeps track of the damage incurred by each Transformer on the screen. "Data Manager" provides technical data like weapons info about each Transformer. There are others as well. The other web content includes "Movie Guide" (a dedicated subtitle track), "MyClips" (which is like MyScenes), and "menubots" (which allows you to customize the look of the disc's menus).

The final feature on the first disc is the coolest, and that is the "Transformers" H.U.D (Heads Up Display)". This feature plays the entire movie and provides fun and interesting tidbits about the scenes in a caption box at the box of the screen. This is much like VH1's pop-up music videos, but much less annoying.

Disc two contains three sections, each with a handful of featurettes in them. The first section is called Our World. "The Story Sparks" talks about bringing back Transformers and its history. "Human Allies" contains interview segments from the people behind the making of the movie. "I Fight Giant Robots" is a segment dedicated to the training of the actors in the way of army combat. "Battleground" shows the different locations used in the film. The most awesome thing is that these segments include HD transfers of the 1980s Transformers cartoon. Could this be a sign that the Transformers cartoon is heading to Blu-ray?

The next section of disc two is called Their War. "Rise Of The Robots" describes the origins of Transformers and their rise from toys to TV. "Autobots Roll Out" covers the actual vehicles used in the filming. "Decepticons Strike" covers the actual aircraft used in the film. "Inside The Allspark" goes behind the scenes of the CGI effects and the creation of the Transformers. There are several interesting facts presented in this featurette. ILM did 75 percent of the CGI for the film, while Digital Domain, recently purchased by Michael Bay, completed the other 25 percent. Another interesting fact is that it takes 38 hours to render one frame of film that consists of the three transformers. "Transformers Tech Inspector" is a user controlled GUI that allows you to examine all the parts of each Transformer individually.

The final section is called More Than Meets The Eye. "From Script to Sand: The Skorponok Desert Attack" analyzes the desert sequence. "Concepts" is a montage of Artwork. And lastly there are a few trailers. The second disc also contains a handful of easter eggs, which I will leave to you to uncover.

The disappointment for me in special features was the lack of any deleted scenes or bloopers. There were several deleted and blooper scenes spliced into the featurettes, so I know that they exist.

I can only recommend this movie as a rental, just for the movie itself. It is entertaining at times and has some awesome action sequences, but seriously lacks in a story. I do however recommend its purchase to have as a video demo in your collection and for the special features.

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