The idea of Michael Bay ("Armageddon", "The Rock") directing a live-action adaptation of "The Transformers" did not exactly go over well with fans who had grown up with the wildly popular animated series. As the director notes in his commentary on the DVD, a group of fans turned up to protest at one of his offices, unaware that he had moved into a different office a couple of months prior.
The film sees Bay working again with screenwriters Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman, the screenwriters behind Bay's career low ("The Island".) However, the results here are noticably better - although certainly not without flaws. "Transformers" opens with a voiceover describing the Allspark, a cube of immense power that gives life and, as we can figure without being told, would be devastating in the wrong hands.
Cut to: a US airbase somewhere out in the desert, where an unidentified aircraft has just appeared on radar. When escorted to the base, the plane transforms into a massive robot, destroying most of the base before dropping a scorpion-like robot that digs through the sand, waiting for the right moment to attack later on, when USAF Sgt. Epps (Tyrese Gibson), Captain Lennox (Josh Duhamel) and their soldiers are marching through the desert.
Meanwhile, somewhere in California, high schooler Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) gets taken to the used car lot, where he picks up a yellow Camaro that is, not surprisingly, not exactly what he thinks. Sam has a crush on Mikaela (Megan Fox) and his new car even tunes the radio to provide something of a soundtrack for their moments together before the movie finally begins to really get underway.
There's a bunch of hackers and analysts who are analyzing attempts (as we see, by an evil robot) to break into top secret government databases and something of a side plot involving the Secretary of Defense (Jon Voight) trying to figure out who - or what - is attacking at various points around the globe. Not surprisingly, all the characters meet up towards the end and eventually realize that both the good Autobots (lead by Optimus Prime) and Decepticons (lead by Megatron) are trying to find the Allspark, which is actually contained deep within Hoover Dam, where Megatron is also kept cryogenically frozen.
The Allspark cube was found ages ago (by one of Sam's great great great relatives, no less) and kept in secret by a covert branch of the government in the dam, as the walls of the dam would hide its energy from being spotted or traced. (Things I Learned in "Transformers": enough concrete will conceal what is supposedly the most powerful object in the universe.) If the Decepticons get their hands on the Allspark, they can turn Earth's technology against the humans.
I've liked some of Bay's work in the past and "Transformers" fits right in with Bay's previous efforts: lots of stuff blowing up, lots of sleek toys (as Bay notes in the commentary, there are military vehicles and other gadgets that are seen for the first time here), lots of everything. However, elements of the director's style start to repeat again here-and-there during "Transformers", and it was the first time where I've felt that Bay has reached for a few of his "staple" camera moves (such as the slow spin around the hero that started with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence in late in the first "Bad Boys" and has been seen in nearly every Bay movie since, while the 360 degree spin around the room that was seen in "Bad Boys II" returns, as well) a few too many times.
While "Transformers" does a respectable job overall of being mindless entertainment, its biggest issue is that it suffers from a running time (nearly 2.5 hours) that's simply excessive and unnecessary. There's portions of of the film that feel like filler and clearly could have been edited down or dropped entirely: Sam and Mikela's relationship just isn't very engaging (mainly because the two are just completely and totally mismatched in terms of energy and personality) and it (as well as scenes with Sam and his parents) takes up too much of the front of the movie. The storyline with a female hacker (Rachel Taylor) and her pal (Anthony Anderson) could have been dropped at the end of the day, as well. Some of the film's more lowbrow humor (One of the Transformers pees on a human, while Optimus Prime is worried about rust when a dog pees on him) could have also hit the editing room floor.
The performances are fine enough, and it's especially nice to see (well, hear) that Peter Cullen (the original voice of Optimus Prime) has been brought back to voice the character he's famous for. As for the human characters, LaBeouf tries to carry the film through his usual nervous, rapid-fire chatter. LaBeouf has always seemed like an actor who's trying to get as much dialogue out as possible in the hope that a line will go over well, and for every moment he's entertaining, there's another where you want to tell him to calm down (there's even a moment where Optimus Prime tells LaBeouf's character, "Calm down, calm down.")
Fox has the expected look of a Bay-movie actress, but she seems completely out of her element here and the result is a performance that seems bland. She's isn't a good fit with LaBeouf and the two have little chemistry with one another. Duhamel's character is barely developed, and Voight really isn't given a whole lot to do. However, John Tuturro is a highlight in a bizarre performance as a secret agent - it's enjoyably strange bit of casting and an even more enjoyably offbeat effort. Hugo Weaving also works well as the voice of Megatron.
Problems aside, as one would expect from a Bay movie, the action works pretty well. The "Bay Buster" (a camera car rigged up so that it can literally smash into cars, first put to use for the director's "Bad Boys II" highway chase) returns to put the audience into the midst of another highway chase, and the last 25 minutes or so of the picture has the Autobots and Decepticons battling it out in the middle of downtown Los Angeles. The film's CGI is also just marvelous, as the level of detail and seamless transformations (as well as the convincing interaction of the giant robots and their environment) impresses. In a time when blockbusters are getting more and more expensive, "Transformers" seems like a marvel of budgeting at $150m.
"Transformers" is glossy entertainment that is meant to appeal to newcomers while also trying not to offend fans. I can't imagine most fans will be too upset by the picture and I was entertained by stretches of it, but I can't help but think that the movie could have been improved had someone taken another crack at the script and dropped the filler to get to the point faster. There are some great action sequences and fun moments here and they would have been more memorable had someone went in and really edited this down until it was as sleek and fast as the robots featured within.
VIDEO: "Transformers" is presented by Paramount in 2.35:1 (1080p/AVC) and the results are simply jaw-dropping. "Transformers" is the kind of movie that can sell people on the format, and this is certainly one of those titles that I wouldn't be shocked to see in store demos for Blu-Ray in the months to come. Sharpness and detail are exemplary, as the picture offered the kind of depth, definition and glass-like appearance that one expects from the best the format has to offer. The three-dimensionality of many of the scenes throughout the film is startling; while the DVD was awfully nice, this Blu-Ray effort is a clear upgrade.
That's not to say that the Blu-Ray presentation isn't without a couple of minor flaws - a touch of noise here, a slight bit of shimmer there - but the positives are so dazzling as to make the negatives seem almost non-existent. No edge enhancement, pixelation or print flaws were spotted. While some minor grain is occasionally seen, it is an intentional element of the cinematography.
Colors remained rich and bold, with strong saturation and no smearing or other issues. Colors had a bit more pop on this presentation, but still never appeared smeary or otherwise problematic. Black level remained deep and dark throughout, while flesh tones looked - at least for most of the time - accurate and natural. While not without some concerns, this was an amazing presentation that ranks up there as one of the finest I've seen on the format.
SOUND: Paramount presents the film in Dolby TrueHD 5.1, and the film's sound design (by Erik Aadahl, "New World", "Superman Returns") is just as slam-bang as one would expect from not only the material, but from a Bay picture in general. Surrounds kick in constantly, with a wide array of effects and ambience, as well as reinforcement of the score. Even during the film's few quiet moments, the rear speakers are often still bringing in some small details.
Audio quality was stellar, as sound effects packed a wallop (explosions, robot footsteps and other elements resulted in some seriously deep bass at times) and sounded well-recorded, while dialogue wasn't overwhelmed by everything else going on. The Dolby TrueHD presentation offered improved clarity and deeper, tighter bass over the DVD's Dolby Digital presentation. The Dolby TrueHD presentation also sounded more immersive, as the battles (especially the Los Angeles sequences towards the end and the highway chase) more convincingly spilled out into the listening space.
EXTRAS: Director Michael Bay offers an audio commentary and it's everything you'd expect from a Bay commentary: a mixture of boasting (he takes some digs at "Die Hard: Live Free or Die Hard" on a couple of occasions and informs at one point that he doesn't need to gamble in Vegas because he bets on $150M movies), moments of surprising honesty (he admits when a scene or element of a scene doesn't work), some things that are just plain surprising (Bay is a Coen Brothers fan), amusing stories (Steve Jobs wouldn't let him use an IPod in a scene) told in Bay's caffeinated manner and loads of information about what it took to accomplish some of the scenes in the film.
Whether you love his work or hate it, Bay's commentaries are both to-the-point informative and entertaining (in the same sort of high-energy way as his films are, and the fact that he clearly seems to say whatever comes to mind rather than try to filter everything) and this track is more of the same.
The featurettes on the second disc are presented in HD. The second disc offers "Our World", a 49-minute documentary that looks into the entire production, starting with Bay's visiting "Transformer School" and then ventures into casting decisions, military cooperation, rehearsals, effects, locations (trying to convince officials to let them film in Hoover Dam) and more. "Their War" is a 65-minute documentary that spends a good chunk of its time discussing the original animated series and how the filmmakers wanted to approach the film in a way that would please fans. We also hear more about creating the look of the characters (such as Bumblebee's change from the character in the original animated series), more on Bay's work with the military and get a detailed look at the shooting of some scenes, such as the freeway chase.
Finally, we get "From Script to Sand", an 8-minute look at the desert attack sequence from concept to filming. There's also a look at concept art for the film, the teaser trailer and theatrical trailer. Blu-Ray fans get a group of exclusive features, starting with "Transformers H.U.D.", which is a picture-in-picture extra that offers added material such as trivia text and animatics. The first disc is also BD-Live enabled, with features such as an "Intelligence Center" mode, which offers such features during the film as "robot status", GPS and text facts.
Final Thoughts: "Transformers" does raise the bar for visual effects in ways and does offer some very impressive action sequences. However, I think the film would have benefitted greatly from some trimming, as the picture is a good 25-30+ minutes overlong. The Blu-Ray edition offers absolutely reference quality audio/video, as well as a few supplements beyond what the DVD offered. Recommended.
The Film B-