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Category:    Home > Reviews > Action > Science Fiction > Toys > Transformers (HD-DVD + DVD-Video Sets)

Transformers (HD-DVD + DVD-Video Sets)


Picture: B+/C+     Sound: B+/B-     Extras: C+     Film: C+



When they arrived in the 1980s as hit toys, it seemed that Transformers were nothing but a gimmick, were silly and would soon disappear.  However, they continued to be popular, epitomized children’s programming mutilated to the point of half-hour-plus TV commercials in themselves and had more holding power than expected.  In recent years, the oldest toys took off in value and continue to climb as you read this.  A generation later, they have been revived as a feature film and it is simply called Transformers.


With Steven Spielberg on as producer, the money would be there, especially since they were going to need it going live action and all.  Michael Bay just started working with him, starting with The Island (a knock-off of Parts – The Clonus Horror, reviewed elsewhere on this site) that atypically did not fare well for the hit makers.  With this project, they could not miss, but what shape would it take?  When I saw the first still, it was obvious and not related to the original toys in any way:  Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers.  So what happens here?


You get the same film in many parts, but they remove the giant killer insects and replace them with…





Great.  Good thing a Micronauts film did not beat them to it.  And when they run out of ways to rip off the Verhoeven film (the Alex Kurtzman/Roberto Orci screenplay even has a metallic scorpion Transformer early on) one way or the other, what do you get?  Endless jokes and Transformers running to buildings, other vehicles, mountains, streets and each other, which is ultimately what this film is all about: things smashing into each other and breaking stuff up.


Shia LaBeouf is the center of the humor as he wants a new car, but gets a dirty old Chevy Camaro (the first of many staring roles for GM products throughout the film) and odd things start to happen.  There are the old glasses mysteriously desired.  There is the odd behavior of his car.  There are the dysfunctional, inappropriate parents (the script even crosses the incest line very unnecessarily) and there is the female interest (Megan Fox) and there was enough money to hire big name talents like John Turturro, Jon Voight, Tyrese Gibson and more non-digital actors and extras than expected, some of whom may go onto other films.


LaBeouf is so good here, he saves the film from many bad, dumb, dull moments that the film becomes amusing for other reasons, sometimes in intentionally.  The other thing that that works are the rendering of the Autobots and their evil counterparts in metallic colors that Lucas Digital pulls off much better than some of the other effects they have come up with lately.  These creatures talk, with sadly some of the best dialogue in the film.  All in all, this is a gaudy party of metal, battles, jokes and action, but that is what the audience wanted and that is what they got, making this a hit.  If there is a sequel, it had better be richer than this, but it delivers the flashy goodies for what it is even when we have seen it all before.



The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image is slightly stylized to begin with, but the transfer is a bit odd, seeming like the same master in both formats.  The HD fails to capture everything that worked in the 35mm prints this critic screened, but the anamorphically enhanced DVD is even worse, with a strange Video Black problem that makes it look phony and never good.  At least the HD picture comes close, but it may be hampered by too many extras taking up space, even with a second disc.  The DVD is just plain weak and a disappointment.


Shot in a mix of Super 35mm and even better anamorphic Panavision by Director of Photography Mitchell Amundsen, this even looked better in the DVD copies of the trailer that circulated prior to its theatrical release versus the DVD-Video version.  Needless to say, only the HD can give you an idea of the material that could have been blown-up to IMAX size and the digital effects are not as much a problem as expected in either version.


Though formats like Dolby TrueHD and DTS MA are available, the HD version only offers Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 and it shows the limits of the format with strident performance when the old compression system is overwhelmed, a problem that also persists (to a lesser extent since it is the lesser mix) in the standard DVD version.  Bass is constant, and the old Dolby Digital just cannot handle it.  As sound for films like this becomes more dynamic, Dolby Digital AC-3 will continue to show it just can’t cut it.  Audiophiles do expect film soundtracks to be bright, but this not a good enough excuse here.  Steve Jablonsky’s score is fairly good.


Extras on both sets include a feature length audio Commentary by Michael Bay, 13 featurettes (Our World, The Story Sparks, Human Allies, I Fight Giant Robots, Battleground, Their War, Rise of the Robots, Autobots Roll Out, Decepticons Strike, Inside the AllSpark, More Than Meets The Eye, From Script to Sand: The Skorponok Desert Attack and Concepts), DVD-ROM Content, trailers, fancy packaging and even four Easter Eggs.  The HD adds web-enabled features if you machine is hooked on line, a picture-in-picture Transformers: Heads Up Display audio commentary with images that takes a different approach to avoid monotony with no overlap from featurettes or other interview sources as none are used and Transformers: Tech Inspector that allows for a crash course on all the machine characters, especially so you can get the toy if you want.


That makes the set one of the most interesting HD-DVD releases to date.  Too bad it was at the cost of playback of the feature itself.  However, even if you do not like the film, the DVD has enough interesting extras and the HD is a must for anyone with a player to check out at least once.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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