There's more to Judge David Johnson than meets the eye. But not much more.
Fun and all, but where's the Eric Idle musical number?!
No doubt, this is a major release for both the HD-DVD brand and Paramount, the studio that very publicly threw its lot in with Toshiba's wannabe-top-dog high-def optical format. How does Michael Bay's robot-fuelled action epic hold up in the next-gen?
Facts of the Case
For Sam Witwicky (Shia Labeouf, Disturbia) owning his first car would be about the greatest thing that ever happened to him. That and somehow convincing Mikaela (Megan Fox), the smoking hottest girl in school, that he's worth spending twelve consecutive seconds with.
Scraping enough money to buy a junk Camaro, Sam begins his coming-of-age journey, but what he doesn't realize is there's something a lot better than car ownership: there's car-that-transforms-into-a-giant-alien-robot-that-shoots-laser-blasts-out-of-its-fist-ownership.
Turns out the Camaro is actually an alient Autobot named Bumblebee, here on Earth to track down the location of the Allspark, a mega-powerful cube that has the capability of destroying the universe (or something). Bumblebee and fellow Autobots Jazz, Ironhide, Ratchet and interstellar stud Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) have arrived to capture the Allspark before the evil Decepticons, led by Megatron (Hugo Weaving) get their grubby metal hands on it and use the power to enslave all of humankind.
Transformers was one of the biggest blockbusters of summer 2007 and as such has become one of the biggest releases for the burgeoning, but still tiny, post-DVD market. Toshiba, Paramount, Dreamworks and all the HD-DVD fanboys out there looking for any kind of ammunition to hurl at their Blu-Ray counterparts have focused much hype on this release—did Paramount deliver the goods?
Actually, make that a @#$% yes.
Before I get into the skinny of the HD treatment, a few words about a film that's been as polarizing and energizing to the geek community as any Star Wars prequel. I really, really, really liked it, and stop short of saying love because of some truly annoying sections. But for the most part—the vast most part—Transformers was every bit the entertaining and robot-bludgeoning dose of big-screen calamity and special effects I was hoping for.
For me, it's easily Michael Bay's best movie, and while I understand the irony embedded in that statement, I am convinced this film and any others like it (read: those inspired by a toy line from the '80s) suit Bay's sensibilities as a weaver of wholesale destruction. Just the fact I was able to suck up the Bayhem and thoroughly enjoy myself is a win for the oft-maligned director. His skill set of quick cuts and pulling off set-pieces that make the Battle of Okinawa look like a snowball fight is well-matched to the overall thrust of what a Transformers film should be. That is, of course: minimal human involvement and a steady stream of giant robot fighting.
Look, I'm not well-versed in the steep Transformers mythology. I watched the cartoon growing up, played with the toys and suffered through the animated film and that's where my baptism in the lore ends. If you live and breathe the intricacies of the universe and were expecting a faithful recreation of the Sack of Cybertron or something, I can understand why you may be disappointed. Fair enough. But the mere fact that this movie was green-lit strikes me as a victory for geeks everywhere, and add to that it was actually pretty cool, man, that's a win on par with the Saxon defeat of the Danish invasion in the ninth century.
Granted, there is significant screen time allotted to the carbon-based life-forms, but the omnipresent Labeouf makes the non-robot moments bearable. The kid annoyed me with his schtick in I, Robot and Constantine, but has since morphed into a bona fide benefit to the stuff he's in. Here, he's funny without being stupid and, more importantly, succeeds in crafting the prism through which the viewers can see how absolutely awesome it would be to have a car that turns into a large talking robot. That being said, the rest of the cast largely fills one-dimensional genre-defined roles: Megan Fox does little other than look extraordinarily attractive, John Turturro has his moments as a manic government agent, Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson pipe in the testosterone as Alpha male Army Rangers and Jon Voight plays an even-keel government higher-up, but Jon Voight is pretty great, so whatever. There is dead weight in the lineup, however. Whenever Rachael Taylor or Anthony Anderson (backsliding into Kangaroo Jack-like form) get screen-time, the movie dies. Thankfully, their roles aren't very large, but this is a side-story that should have been completely expunged.
Any acting or dialogue or plotting takes a back seat to the special effect and action scenes, of course, and Transformers delivers. In a big, big way. I've talked to some folks who have lamented the "busy-ness" of the action, and I'll grant that in some cases, but, man, there was crap going down that I've never seen before. Huge, stunning action set-pieces that outdo the huge, stunning action piece that came before them. This is Bayhem on a cosmically eye-torching scale.
Last thing I want to say about the film experience and, really, what I enjoyed most: I felt like a kid watching it. From the nostalgia boost of hearing Peter Cullen's voice to the old-school transformation sounds to the simple wonderment of watching the spectacle that hundreds of millions of dollars worth of visual effects can provide, Transformers transported me back to a time when watching cool robots turning into cars and shooting each other in the heads with laser beams was just about the most fun a kid could have on a weekday afternoon.
Okay, onto the HD portion of this review. First things first: if you own an HD-DVD player and you enjoyed this movie there is no reason why you should not own this two-disc set. Even as I watched the film unspool in the theatre—IMAX even—I thought "Dude, this movie was built for HD." Paramount has delivered a superb release, a disc that stands tall next to previous HD-DVD highlights, Hot Fuzz, MI:3 and 300. Everything about the audio and video presentation screams "reference disc," and I guarantee you this will be the movie you pop in your HD-DVD player to show off your gear to sucker friends.
Start with video, a killer 2.35:1 widescreen (1080p, MPEG-4 encoded) treatment that is so rich in detail and vibrancy I noticed things I had missed—and I'd seen this thing three times in the theatre. The robot animations are more thoroughly delineated and what were sometimes impenetrable blobs of visual effects rolling around in the dirt are revealed with much more clarity and detail in HD. I thought the Transformer animations represented the finest visual effects I had ever seen, and that claim is further cemented watching the craziness unfold in high-definition. Any scenes with the robots, and particularly ones with multiple robots, look fantastic, and the transformations in their newly-defined glory are mind-blowing in their intricacy. Just top-notch picture quality.
As good as the video is, though, the audio almost dwarfs it. Transformers has officially taken the top spot of "most kick-ass sounding shiny, round disc" I've ever fed through my system. When the action scenes hit it was a relentless barrage of explosions, laser blasts and scattering debris, coming from all directions, enveloping my living room in chaos. Cullen's trademark voice booms with depth and Steve Jablonksy's underrated score shines. No TrueHD track, but I can't imagine anything topping the Dolby Digital Plus mix.
Lastly, are the features, a shockingly in-depth selection of behind-the-scenes footage, commentaries and making-of documentaries. If there's something you're wondering about the production of this film, from how Bay handled the fan backlash to the execution of the insane bus-exploding-in-half-sequence, you'll find it among the cornucopia of bonus materials. Disc 1 features Michael Bay delivering an entertaining and honest audio commentary as well as the "Transformer Heads-Up Display," an HDi-powered picture-in-picture experience sporting on-set footage, interviews, animatics and trivia tracks.
On Disc 2 is where the meat of the bonuses resides, with two robust features "Our World" and "Their War" detailing nearly every element of the production save for the flavor of Danishes served at breakfast. Casting, stunt preparation, interviews with Bay, the writers, the production designer, the guy from Hasbro and executive producer Steven Spielberg, detailed looks at the design of the robots, the issues with fan bluster (Internet trolls, Shia is not a fan of yours), locations, puppetry, pre-production and of course the ridiculous visual effects process—all of it, explored with much detail and presented in glorious high definition to boot! "Transformers Tech Inspector" is a nifty interactive feature for closer examinations of the robots and "More Than Meets the Eye" breaks down the Skorponok desert attack scene, from pre-visualization to execution. Concept art and trailers round out this most-impressive offering.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Judging from the documentaries, there was a lot of unused footage and deleted scenes. I would have liked to see some of those.
The film has its weaknesses (the less we talk about hip-hop Jazz the better), sure, but as far as big-budget blockbuster eye-candy goes, I can't recall a production that has so wantonly thrown its budget on-screen and entertained me sideways in the process. If you even moderately enjoyed Transformers and have the gear to show it off, this HD-DVD is an absolute must-own. Bravo, Paramount.
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