In the wake of the financially successful but critically drubbed Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Michael Bay and company return to the fray with this considerably more coherent exercise. Given that this movie committed to advancing the cause of 3D like no other film since Avatar, the question arises as to how well its visual splendour and over-the-top technological extravagance will translate to home video. The answer is: pretty damn well.
Following the events of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, the Autobots are working hand-in-mechanical-glove with human authorities (in other words, the apparently all-powerful CIA), keeping close watch for Deception activity, but also helping out in human-on-human conflicts. Meanwhile, Shia LaBeouf has traded in improbably hot girlfriend Megan Fox for the equally improbable Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (an improbability that the script does have some fun with). He is also out of work and dismayed at not being given due consideration as a saviour of the planet.
Romantic and job-related misadventures will conspire to keep LaBeouf’s nose out of joint for a good stretch of the film’s running time, but other, more (literally) earth-shaking events are afoot, as a decades-old secret from the original moon missions emerges, as does the Autobots’ former leader, Sentinel Prime (voiced by Leonard Nimoy, and looking a lot like the man, too). Bust as Sentinel’s return seems to presage a new dawn for the Autobots, a complex web of conspiracies and betrayals climaxes in the most devastating Decepticon attack yet.
Among the biggest knocks against the previous films were a plot that defied comprehension, action scenes cut too close to be clear, and combat between indistinguishable robot adversaries. While the script for the new film isn’t exactly Chinatown, it is a considerable improvement, in that it is easier to keep the big picture in focus. The same is true for the big scenes: it is now easy to tell Autobots from Decepticons, and the battles are both clearly presented and breathtaking.
As for the human characters, they feel more extraneous than ever. While John Malkovich’s shameless slice of ham is entertaining, and Ken Jeong steals the film during his brief comic turn, it is really hard to give two figs for LaBeouf and his concerns. As for Huntington-Whiteley, her initial appearance says it all: nothing but a pair of bare legs walking on tip-toe for maximum walking-in-heels effect. She is nothing more than another aesthetically pleasing object for Bay’s camera, polished and lit to a high sheen. Though her situation is the most egregious, it does rather neatly encapsulate the basic situation: the robot characters are far more interesting, developed and believable than the humans.
But the human story is not the selling point of a Transformers movie. We watch these for the techno-porn of giant robot battles, and these are pretty damn satisfying. Even without the 3D, the film is a visual feast of destruction and glittering metal. As a popcorn ride through the state-of-the-art of special FX, it is a lot of loud, unapologetically excessive fun.
So no, no 3D on this release. As I said above, though, the film still looks astonishingly good, and the absence of the 3D is not a painful one. As integral as it was to the theatrical experience, there are no awkward reminders of what is missing (such as silly jabbing at the screen). The image is fetishistically sharp, to the point that the robots look even better than they did on the big screen, though the humans sometimes look a bit more human than before, thanks to the unforgiving HD precision. But back to the FX, since they’re the selling point. The detail work pops out beautifully, and I noticed some touches that had escaped me in the theatre. One such example is a nice moment when Optimus and Sentinel are talking in a desert setting, and the image of one is reflected in the armour of the other.
Colours are gorgeous and rich enough to dine out on. The contrasts are excellent, too, though I did think the film looked just a little bit darker than I remembered it. Grain is non-existent, and the AVC codec maintains as stunning rate, averaging about 28 Mbps, but often going quite a bit higher than that. The aspect ratio is the original 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen.
This, too, is something of a technological marvel. I have absolutely nothing but unqualified praise for the surround use. The placement of sound cues left, right, front and rear is impeccable and constant, providing an immersive soundscape that is just as explosive and exciting as the visuals. The score has an appropriately big sound to it, and the dialogue is perfectly clear. Where I do have a quibble is with the explosions and gunfire. The technical polish is such that these sound effects sound too clean, their digital origins betrayed by the perfect smoothness of their electronic delivery. The result is that some of the booms and bangs lack oomph. On the whole, though, terrific, engaging sound design.
None, other than the combo nature of the package (Blu-ray, DVD, digital copy). And contained in the box is the most shameless example of double-dipping I have ever seen: a coupon for ten bucks off the forthcoming Ultimate Edition, which will have actual Special Features along with the 3D edition of the film.
It looks great, sound great, and is a great deal of loud, stupid fun. If all you want is the film, then by all means, snatch this up. But if you want some extras and 3D, wait a bit longer.