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DreamWorks presents
Transformers Two Disc Special Edition HD-DVD (2007)

"I bought a car, turned out to be an alien robot. Who knew?"
- Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: October 18, 2007

Stars: Shia LaBeouf, Tyrese Gibson, Josh Duhamel, Anthony Anderson, Megan Fox
Other Stars: Rachel Taylor, John Turturro, Jon Voight
Director: Michael Bay

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action violence, brief sexual humor and language
Run Time: 02h:23m:18s
Release Date: October 16, 2007
UPC: 097361312804
Genre: action


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B- C-AA A

DVD Review

The DVD Review and the standard DVD Extras Review are by Dan Heaton.

Within minutes after the start of Transformers, a military base is under attack from a strange entity that delivers huge explosions and massive destruction. The events display the over-the-top bombast and ridiculous action that could signify only one thing. Be warned, innocent viewers—you’ve entered the crazy realm of Michael Bay, where subtlety and character development are relics of the old world. In this new explosive landscape, the military rules the day and is supported by a glorious patriotic score. Strangely, accomplished actors like Jon Voight, John Turturro and others can live in this supercharged land and in fact seem to enjoy it there. But these mere mortals pale in comparison to the excess of gigantic fighting robots. Known to us as Transformers, the machines can shoot missiles and participate in obligatory car chases. For an “action director” like Bay, this is pure heaven, but the fun might be a little one-sided.

Since we must have some story outlining the mayhem, the young hero is Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf), a high school guy with typical teenage worries. He’s not the coolest kid around, and his dad won’t even buy him an expensive car. Instead, Sam receives a rusty yellow Chevy Camaro that has seen better days. Undaunted, our hero aims to get the girl with nothing but moxie, which might actually work. His eyes are set on Mikaela Banes, played by Megan Fox, an actress who definitely spends some time working on her abdominal muscles. In a DVD feature, Fox even confirms that her role’s requirements were a flat stomach and being able to run fast. This pretty much describes the extent of her character’s development. During their first meeting, Sam clumsily tries to give Mikaela a ride home with some assistance from the Camaro. Considering all the marketing for this movie, I’m giving away little in telling you that Sam’s car is Bumblebee—an alien robot who can transform into a car. This connection draws the teenagers into the much-larger story and gives the audience humans to identify with who aren’t government figures. This is a wise move, but they never feel like tangible people. LeBeouf and Fox do their best, but the script limitations keep them from becoming more accessible.

But what about the Transformers, you ask? The heroic Autobots and villainous Decepticons are obviously the true draw and are remarkable creations. The visual effects crew crafted complex beings that might be more intricate than anything previously rendered. I expect that fans of the long-running series of toys, comics and cartoons will be very impressed. An inventive highlight is the lesser-known robot Scorponok, who decimates the army base and delves underground to chase the escaped soldiers. Watching the tough soliders fleeing in terror from this pursuing menace is one of the film’s signature moments. The immense Megatron—the Decepticon leader&#deserves the lengthy buildup when he appears near the action-packed finale. On the other hand, the Autobots are less memorable and are sometimes indistinguishable. It’s easy to recognize the leader Optimus Prime and Bumblebee, but picking out the other Autobots gets a bit confusing. They also incorporate stunning effects, but are mostly forgettable for a critic who is only mildly knowledgeable about the Transformers. I did enjoy hearing Peter Cullen return as Optimus Prime after originally providing the voice for the popular ‘80s cartoon. Cullen’s booming delivery has appeared in many previews and will be easily recognizable to almost everyone as “that movie trailer guy.”

In such high-grossing films as Pearl Harbor, Armageddon and The Rock, Director Michael Bay has loudly proclaimed his adoration for military might. His trademark sequence involves slow-motion shots of soldiers entering their jets, choppers and tanks while preparing for a major fight. A resounding score pushes them forward and clearly shows Bay promoting the glory of the armed forces. The human side of the armed forces is embodied in this picture by Captain Lennox (Josh Duhamel) and USAF Tech Sergeant Epps (Tyrese Gibson), who fight the Decepticons in close quarters. Lennox even gets a quick scene with his family to show that he’s more than a one-dimensional killer. Unfortunately, their non-battle scenes are obvious and awkward, which leads to some serious tedium. This film’s focus on human warfare is surprising because it detracts from the Autobot versus Decepticon story. Once John Turturro’s Agent Simmons has arrived as a top-secret government agency representative, the number of subplots and unnecessary characters starts to become overwhelming. And I haven’t even mentioned the analyst Maggie Madsen (Rachel Taylor), who struggles to gain the attention of the Secretary of Defense (Jon Voight). Her efforts also involve code-breaker Glen Whitmann (Anthony Anderson), and their scenes feel like excess baggage.

Transformers features some striking effects and a few exciting sequences, but it feels like a 100-minute movie stretched to nearly two and a half hours. The battles of the final 30 minutes should please many car-chase and action junkies, but they’re mostly loud and dull. By the end, we hardly care whether Optimus Prime can defeat Megatron and save the universe. Many scenes lack the absolute wonder needed to truly draw us into the mayhem. The explosions and rampant destruction are present, but audiences have seen this type of action way too many times. Even Bay tread on this same territory in the finale of The Island, which involved a highway chase and countless near-death moments. While he strives to deliver a riveting crowd-pleaser, the experience devolves into a big-budget yawner. It’s passable entertainment, but is a misfire when you consider the wide range of possibilities available in a film about the Transformer universe.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: This is just about the perfect movie for HD DVD to show itself off: plenty of CGI, glossy surfaces that reflect light, and lots of dark sequences with heavy shadow detail. And in all those respects, it succeeds as well as one possibly could. There's plenty of crisp detail, texture is superb and there is virtually no grain, providing the clean HD video experience so many crave. There are a few very minor issues with the picture on isolated shots: the establishing shot of John Marshall high school has some modest aliasing visible, the tunnel shot has a bit of posterization, and the sequences of the military in the desert display mild compression ringing. But otherwise it's a clean and quite attractive transfer that will please all but the most hypercritical viewer.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
+
English, French, Spanishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The DD+ 5.1 tracks have plenty of impact and range, with big booming sounds. Surround activity and directionality are well-defined with specificity. The clanking foley effects of the Transformers and Decepticons has excellent presence and seems just right. While some mourn the lack of a TrueHD track (and I have to confess, I have to wonder what it would sound like), there's plenty of gusto here to satisfy the action fan. Just make sure you have a subwoofer that can go way down low and loud.

Audio Transfer Grade: A

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 23 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese with remote access
4 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Michael Bay
Packaging: Elite
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Heads-Up Display
  2. Web-Enabled Features
Extras Review: All of the extras are presented in HD, across two discs. Exclusive to the HD DVD edition is a "Heads-Up Display" mode which allows for a second commentary track incorporating picture-in-picture (similar to Warner's In-Movie Experience). This is a fairly solid track, with plenty of background and illustrative material for those wanting to dig deeper. There are also a number of HD-only web-enabled features that allows the user to download various extras. The Intelligence mode includes an onscreen GPS tracker (handy if you don't know where Qatar is), robot status alerts and data panels, which is kind of fun. It essentially turns your screen into a movie within a video game layout, which is particularly appropriate for this picture. There are six "secret Sector 7 transmission" videos (three of which were available as of this writing), which aren't too impressive. Annoyingly, the download meter sits at 0% for the entire download, although it eventually works. The downloads were pretty slow over my DSL line, but that may ease up some when some of the newness factor has worn off. Other "coming soon" web features include a setup for sharing favorite clips in a play list, a Transformers Profiler that serves as an in-movie guide, and custom menu bars. There's enough exclusive content here that this could be a big incentive to take the dive to HD DVD.

The first disc offers a commentary from Michael Bay that showcases his enthusiasm for filmmaking. I was not looking forward to this track and was surprised at how engaging Bay could be. He clearly enjoys the directing process and understands how to discuss it. His comments don’t fall into the trap of describing plot and often avoid being scene-specific. I’m not sure this entire feature is worth your time, but it deserves at least a partial listen. There’s also an easily found Easter Egg on the first disc. To access the trailer for 2008’s Iron Man and two Transformers previews, simply fast forward to the end of the closing credits.

The remaining features appear on the second disc and provide more than two hours of behind-the-scenes information. These segments appear within three simply titled areas: Our World, Their War and More Than Meets the Eye. The individual features located within each area are described in the following sections:

Our World (49:19)
This area’s four featurettes concentrate on the people involved with the film, particularly the actors and the director. The Story Sparks covers the script’s origins and includes comments from Steven Spielberg plus writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. Bay discusses his initial reluctance to direct a movie about toys, which led Hasbro to invite him to “Transformer School.” Human Allies is the standard casting piece with the usual brief statements from the key actors. Obviously, the cast and crew are enthused about the production. The best segment of the bunch is I Fight Giant Robots, which shows Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson and others going through basic training. It looks pretty easy compared to some other movie boot camps, but we do see the guys working hard. Finally, Battleground shows the meetings involved with choosing locations and then presents the immense settings. The Hoover Dam footage is stunning and reveals the site’s gigantic scope.

Their War (1:05:13)
This extensive group of four segments focuses on the film’s technical side, particularly involving the robots. Rise of the Robots offers informative, entertaining background into the Transformers with clips from the cartoon series. We also hear about changes that were made to modernize the franchise. Autobots Roll Out provides a 20-minute look at the creation of the Autobots. Car junkies should enjoy the details about each robot and the particular vehicle. The feature contains remarkable behind-the-scenes footage of a bus explosion that mostly uses live action. The villains are the focus of Decepticons Strike, which describes the powerful military vehicles involved. Bay’s eyes light up as discusses the ospreys, warthogs, and stealth fighters used for the enemies. Easily the best feature on the entire release is Inside the Allspark—a compelling examination of the visual effects and many on-set tools needed to craft the picture. Visual Effects Supervisor Scott Farrar illustrates the extremely difficult process of creating the robots. For example, Optimus Prime requires 10,108 working parts that need to make sense on the computer.

More Than Meets the Eye (17:41)
The final collection is oddly grouped and houses extras that don’t seem to fit anywhere else. The most prominent entry is From Script to Screen: The Scorponok Desert Attack, which presents interesting animatic footage about the robot’s creation. We also see the actors running from actual explosions in the ground that are no joke. Concepts provides a brief slideshow of full-color artwork set to music and offers some high-quality images. Finally, three more trailers tease us and spotlight the robot effects. They actually avoid giving away plot specifics and don’t spoil the film, which is rare for such a big-budget product.

Extras Grade: A

 

Final Comments

It's about as big and dumb as a movie can come, but it certainly is given the royal treatment here. The video and audio on the HD DVD are all you could ask for, and the HD-exclusive extras aren't bad either.

 


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