March 22, 2008
Gargantuan origami robots fold into and out of big rig 18-wheelers. With gleaming steel and a gazillion gears, they fight bionic battles: battering, bashing, mashing and smashing foes to smithereens.
(Editor's Note: In September 2008, Paramount will release the Blu-ray version of Transformers. This two-disc set is very similar to the HD DVD version that we wrote about in March, therefore we are rerunning our initial review. The Blu-ray edition has added a few BD-Live extras that we talk about below.)
The robots started on their road to cine stardom in the '80's as Japanese toys, and later as a collaboration with the American company Hasbro. The action figures were a natural for 21st century Hollywood technology, treatment and treatise.
Two warring tribes of automotons are thrust to earth for a shoot-out show-down. One side, the good-guy-Autobots, ally with a teenager, while the demonic Decepticons duke it out with the U.S. military complex. Threatening Armageddon, the final fracas between robots is fun and games for the family - with parental guidance, of course.
Exploding cars, imploding buildings, jettisoned bodies and the accompanying flaming debris is meant to be entertaining, not logical. But labeling Transformers a sci-fi action thriller shortchanges the forté of the film. For all of the swashbuckling and swaggering, the film succeeds because it's funny. It's a comedy.
Some great cartoony performances deliver lots of comic dialogue - most especially John Turturro as U.S. Agent Simmons and Julie White as mom Judy Witwicky. Shia LaBeouf, as her son Sam, delivers enough Witwicky wit, energy and charm to glue the meandering plot together. And there's plenty of Hollywood eye candy to keep you riveted to the biceps and bellybuttons. But none of the performances disappoint.
All told, the story is a complicated multi-tiered affair including the said robots from outer space, US soldiers in Qatar, worried wives at home, presidential staff on Air Force One, military brass in Washington, decoders under Hoover Dam, explorers in the Arctic, precocious teenagers at school and Mojo in the doghouse, each with its own subplot and characters. Good luck.
Having watched more DVD Special Features than most folks, I can say that these merit the largest screen you can get - flat or projection. For the aspiring film maker or the ultra curious fan, the gamut of action movie making skills is encapsulated in this double disc DVD. It is amazing.
After experiencing the bonus material, you will have to agree with the Academy: Transformers deserved the Award nominations for sound and visual effects.
But first, get the Director's cut out of the way. It's a sporadic mix of factoids, trivia, and trivial drivel. Their money was better spent on the making of the making of the film. So too will be your time.
To add credibility to the Extras, Executive Producer Stephen Spielberg makes several chatty cameo appearances. And there is much genuflecting to E.T.
On the upside, the pre-viz paintings for the sets and the many-faceted drawings of the robots are astonishing. The giant labyrinthine robot models, the gorgeous beefy trucks, and the intricate computer designs for their transformation were artistic masterworks.
Making Transformers was a boy's joy - whether geeks making warring 'bots or hunks making mock war.
Creating computer generated boy toys, more often than not, is a nerd's fantasy. Working at ILM studio, George Lucas' Star Wars playground, and at Digital Domain, morphing a race car into a robot is an orgasmic assignment. And the movie flaunts every bit of the euphoric fun they had. But hear it from their lips in the Extras.
The bulk of the content is a call to action - and watching as they did it. Transformers is very physical. CG is for sissies and bluescreens are for last resort. Documentary cameramen record cinematographers who are shooting live actors who are firing loaded guns. It's literal. The kinetic Director Michael Bay is a clever choreographer of timing and space. While he incites muscle machismo on set, he still manages to keep the catapulting dirt, detritus and heavy metal under control. The intricate details have been captured for your über entertainment. The Special Features are not for fainthearted insurance vendors.
Nor are they for self-respecting babes. But, you say, gals go to war and love robots, too. Sure, but does Bay know it? There are no she-robots. And not one woman of flesh appears in the battles on the deserts of Quatar - not even on the actual US military bases where the movie was shot. Not a real or reel lady soldier in sight. For the auditions, while actors had to beef up, the pretty lassies were checked for bikini tummies. Really. And, oh, the actresses were asked if they could run. (See Mikaela run. See Maggie run. See Mikaela and Maggie run in 6 inch high heels.)
Mind you, I didn't say I love the Extras because, in fact, I don't. I just said they are amazing.
As the movie making progressed, the hardihood got cockier. The bravado about cinematic heroism intensified. Be it actors bragging about going through 3 days of U.S boot camp to prepare for their role. (Horrors, they even endured the combat G.I. grub!) Or hyping a-maybe-threat to the crew by buried explosives abandoned by U.S. soldiers in training. Or boasting - over and over - about the dangerous stunts executed by the lead actors. For God sake, stop the posturing. Those soldiers you hired as extras were readying for a real life military deployment.
And it was obscene seeing the latest and greatest military hardware in the world showing off as movie props, "for military realism," said Bay.
Remember, the movie is about plastic Japanese toys reconfigured into a popular after-school TV animation for American kids, to a comic book series, an animated feature film, a computer game and now a live-action film franchise. How brave do you have to be?
(Editor's note: The Blu-ray Disc 1 includes three BD-Live features. Our Blu-ray player is not BD-Live capable, therefore we weren't able to review these extras. Here is a description from the Press Kit: TRANSFORMERS Intelligence Mode, (an on-screen dashboard with information about the robots and the weapons), Menubots, (downloadable menus with Optimus Prime, Megatron and Bumblebee themes), and TRANSFORMERS Profiler (detailed information about the cast and the production). Also, six Easter eggs are hidden in the discs.)
Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Rachael Taylor, Anthony Anderson, Jon Voight, John Turturro, Bernie Mac, Kevin Dunn
Length: 144 minutes
Video codec: VC-1
Video resolution: 1080p
Aspect ratio: 2:35:1
Dolby Digital Plus 5.1
Dolby Digital Plus 5.1
Dolby Digital Plus 5.1
English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese