Transformers: Two-Disc Special Edition – DVD Review

Directed by:
Michael Bay

Starring:
Shia LaBeouf … Sam Witwicky
Megan Fox … Mikaela Banes
Peter Cullen … Optimus Prime (voice)
Hugo Weaving … Megatron (voice)
Josh Duhamel … Captain Lennox
Jess Harnell … Ironhide (voice)
Robert Foxworth … Ratchett (voice)
Tyrese Gibson … USAF Tech Sergeant Epps
Darius McCrary … Jazz (voice)
Rachael Taylor … Maggie Madsen
Anthony Anderson … Glen Whitmann
Jon Voight … Defense Secretary John Keller
John Turturro … Agent Simmons
Jimmie Wood … Bonecrusher (voice)
Mark Ryan … Bumblebee (voice)
Brian Reece … Moustache Man

Paramount Pictures and Dreamworks SKG presents Transformers. Written by Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman. Running time: 143 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi action violence, brief sexual humor, and language). Released on DVD: October 16, 2007. Available at Amazon.com.

The Movie


Of all the big tent pole summer blockbusters that graced silver screens this past summer, I think I can say without a shadow of a doubt that Transformers was hands down the best experience. Which is a strange thing to say given that the movie has some obvious flaws — we’ll get to those a little later. I think the reason for that is because it fully embraces the popcorn flick nature that we expect at a time like this while also feeling fresh and new. Which isn’t a hard thing to do when surrounded by third installments to franchises that simply didn’t deliver.

Transformers is about two races of autonomous robotic organisms — Autobots, who are the good guys, and Decepticons, who are bad and act deceptively — who eventually broke out in a civil war on their planet, and The Cube (also referred to as the “All Spark”) was their source of creating life. In fear of the Decepticons coming into possession of the powerful device, it appears they send it hurtling into space. We’re never entirely explained why or how, but it somehow finds its way to Earth. With both Autobots and Decepticons searching the galaxy for it.

They find Earth, giant robot on robot action ensues. Kinda.

If only the movie would have followed suit like that, with the two forces treating Earth as nothing more than a giant sandbox. Instead, we have upwards of nine human characters to also deal with. Sam Witwicky, your average high school kid and our main human hero, is selling stuff on eBay trying to save up money for a car. But a certain item makes him the center of attention for both the Autobots and Decepticons. Thankfully, he’s unknowingly being protected by Bumblebee, a busted up Camaro that is his own personal Guardian Robot. And when the rest of the Autobots make their way to Earth — lead by the noble Optimus Prime — they need to find the All Spark and keep it away from the Decepticons, in fear of them using it to turn all of the worlds electronic devices against the humans.


Sadly the movie doesn’t end there and has a need to further expand the story, stretching it to the limits a movie based on a toy line possibly can. Sam doesn’t only have the giant robots to worry about, as a secret branch of the government known as Sector Seven also have their eyes on him when his family name is brought up. Which is perhaps the films biggest mistake, focusing far too much on a military and government perspective on the entire situation. Because the film also has a military base in Qatar being attacked by Decepticons, which introduces yet another group of characters who manage to find their way from the base and get word out to the Secretary of Defense. Which then introduces more characters inside the Pentagon trying to decode the signal left from the robot responsible for the Qatar attack.

There are faults to be found in the movie. A large flaw is how it juggles the numerous subplots. I say this because when they feels a need towards the midway point for us to react when something important happens, it fails because we’re tossed back and forth so many times that the emotions we have for the characters continuously rise and fall. So when it expects us to have a very high response, they don’t resonate the way they would have had they shaved thirty minutes off of the over bloated running time.

There are obvious lines and characters aimed towards a younger audience that will leave older moviegoers rolling their eyes. The prime example of this being the character of Frenzy. Who is intended to do recon work but is quite possible the worst character anyone could involve where stealth is needed. He acts and sounds like a rejected concept from the Star Wars Prequels. On the human side of things we have Anthony Anderson’s character who is nothing more than your average comic relief in the form of an overweight computer hacker who plays video games all day. But there’s a swerve, instead of his Mother’s basement he lives with his Grandmother. Way to go against the grain.

Lastly, the entire plot of the film doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. In fact, most of the movie seems to rest on exposition to move the story forward. The problem with there being a lot of exposition is that most of the key points are set up in a way where it needs to be 100% on the money. The writers have a hard time doing that. Because if something important is needed to progress the story and they go about it in such an incompetent way, it’s hard to not hold that against the feature. And sadly, that happens frequently. It’s not that they’re poorly handled, it’s just that while watching you constantly keep wondering why the writers decided to go certain directions with important scenes.


But there is too much fun to be had here to hold all of that against the good parts. A lot of critics seem to be have the same generic one line response about the movie being big, dumb but a whole hell of a lot of fun. While that may be true, what they fail to mention is that this movie really created a world where we fully believe that cars can transform in to giant robots. This is probably the best movie to utilize special effects in a feature film since Gollum. Forget Kong, forget Davey Jones, because it’s Optimus Prime and all of the other Autobots and Decepticons who, when on screen, leave you completely captivated.

This is perhaps the part of the review where I’ll lose some of you. Because with all of the above mentioned problem with the story, I bought into it hook, line and sinker. I’d catch myself being completely entranced by what was happening to only periodically be taken out during certain scenes that made me realize how ridiculous certain parts were. Things like Bumble Bee speaking through the radio as a form of communication made me smile without even realizing it. Seeing the characters actually transform before our eyes is a visual feast and, when the action starts, they’re firing on all cylinders. With the only real disappointment being a lack of character development (and interaction) for most of the Autobots and Decepticons. Which I can only imagine happened due to the restricted budget.

With all of that, when it hits the right mark, Transformers has the kind of pure movie magic that few films deliver. Knowing that studios can make a movie like this with a budget of only $150 million, you have to wonder why these new Super Blockbusters are garnered with such praise when they play out as theater going theme park rides with no substance. Transformers manages to give you that larger than life, overwritten plot but with eye opening special effects and action sequences that keep you in your seat and your eyes glued to the screen, with characters that work largely in part thanks to the charisma of the cast. Something about the way it’s constructed simply works.

The DVD



Video:
(Presented in 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen)
The assumption everyone had is true, Transformers boasts what is perhaps one of the best transfers available on the DVD platform. While its HD-DVD counterpart certainly ups the ante even further, this title appears to be stretching the limitations of standard definition. there is a slightly noticeable amount of film grain, but that was an added affect that was also present during the theatrical exhibition.

Audio:
(English, French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround)
Much like the video, the included audio selection is above and beyond anything people might have been expecting. From start to finish the speaker are put through a rigorous workout, with the disc have an obviously reference quality experience. I can’t remember the last time my subwoofer and surrounding speakers were given so much to do.

Extras:

Feature Length Commentary – Director Michael Bay sit down alone for the included commentary and one wishes that they had brought in maybe an additional person or two to join him. Insight from someone from either digital effects house that worked on the film or maybe a cast member or producer would have been nice. I guess what I’m trying to say is that Bay can begin to grate on you if left uninterrupted for nearly two and a half hours. But it’s not too rough to sit through, as he keep a tolerable pace and discusses many aspects of the production with very few spots of dead air. Even if he does have an annoying air of tactlessness.

Our World (49:20 total)
The Story Sparks (8:34)
Starting things off, this piece takes a look at the genesis of the project. Steven Spielberg kicks thigns off by talking about how he’d watch the animated series with his kids. Mentioning that the series was a prime candidate to be re-envisioned as a live action experience. Writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci are then brought into the featurette talking about the challenge of adapting a franchise they themselves held in high esteem growing up. Kurtzman mentions how he and Orci used Elliot from E.T. as the mold from which they developed the Sam character as a way of finding the best way for the audience to experience everything that’s happening through his eyes. An interesting thing mentioned here is that the first draft they came up with was focused solely on the kids, but that was scrapped once Bay wanted to broaden the story and give it a global impact rather than a microcosm story.

Director Michael Bay is then brought in to talk about how he one day got a call out of the blue from Spielberg basically being offered the job as director point blank. He then goes on to talk about how once he hung up the phone he completely wrote it off, saying that he’s “not going to make a toy movie.” But he didn’t completely give up on the idea, because he then talks about how he went to the Hasbro company in Rhode Island and was put through a Transformers boot camp of sorts where they fleshed out the entire history and mythology behind the characters to him. Which quickly made Bay start to think the movie could work, so long as he took a very real approach to the material. From there we get a look at on set footage of filming with Bay at the helm. The cast and crew talk about the energy and intensity that he brings to a set.

Human Allies (13:11)
This part of the DVD takes a look at how all of the actors were chosen for their roles. While at first believing that Shia was too old for the role when his name was brought up by executive producer Ian Bryce, after meeting him Bay instantly knew he was the perfect choice for the lead. We then get to hear the cast talk about how great he is at improvising and how funny he can be on set. A scary thing revealed here is how in one scene where Shia is required to run from some guard dogs the trained canines eventually stopped going after the trained professional that was there to round them up and instead continued to chase Lebouf, and this was on his very first day of shooting.

Next, Bay and Michelle Lewitt and Janet Hirshenson, the two casting directors on the movie, talk about what it was like trying to search for the perfect actress to play Mikaela and the importance of her being a moderately unknown. Here Fox says that she put on almost ten pounds of muscle while filming and how hard it was to get through scenes with Shia due to him making her laugh and ruin takes, occasionally getting her into trouble.

Josh Duhamel is the next actor being discussed and the two casting director’s go on to discuss how important it was to find a “leading man” for the role. Bay talks about how Josh has a presence to him that is very similar to the type of role he was playing. We then see Josh given he chance to go up in a T-38 with Col. David Moore and we’re shown some footage of him at the base getting prepped to go up and then we get a look at him actually given the opportunity to fly for a little bit.

Before filming, actor Tyrees fell ill and missed the first three days of shooting; His first day on the movie was filming in the sweltering Alamogordo desert. Bay makes a joke about Tyrees paying him to be in the movie. Perhaps the most entertaining part of this entire featurette is John Tutorro caught on camera doing his Scorsese imitation. He says that the movie was a fun experience and was one of the few big studio films tat he was a part of where he was allowed to really use him imagination to develop his character.

Anthony Anderson seems to have caught the eye of Steven Spielberg, who was very impressed with his improvisational work while watching dailies. Rachael Taylor makes mention of how she had to film all of her scenes wearing six inch stilettos and what it was like trying to keep up with Anderson, Voight and Tutorro in them. Jon Voight talks about how fun it was to do all of the action in the movie and how people tend to underestimate him when it comes to that stuff. Bay likes to work with passionate people who don’t mind getting into the fray of things, and he certainly got that with this cast. A lot of the material in between the interviews are labeled as deleted scenes, and yet none of them appear anywhere in this DVD set. Which is a shame, because they look funny.

I Fight Giant Robots (14:00)
Bay was dead set on getting the military to cooperate with the production. Given his past history with them on projects like Pearl Harbor, it wasn’t very tough. The cast of actors hired to play military roles went through a three day basic training course for the movie, and the first half of this featurettes gives us insight into that experience. We’re shown them unloading 50 caliber rounds at the firing range (guns that would shoot down planes during WWII), eating some MRE’s (Meal Ready to Eat), being shown the standard issue protective gear and even went to a mock Iraqi village and were taught how to stack and go into and clear a room. The crew appear to have walked away from the experience with a lot of respect for all or the hard work and preparation that the men and women of the armed forced need to go through. The second half of this extra takes a look at how the realism was very important to the movie and the amount of work that went into getting them done safely. It focuses mainly on the stunts of Josh Duhamel and Shia LaBeouf during the films climactic final battle.

Battleground (13:36)
Focuses on the importance of the shooting locations and how the location scouting proved a bit difficult given the sized of the Transformers in both car and robot form. Bay and company were adamant about keeping the production inside the states and did everything in their power to avoid shooting anywhere else. This choice also made it more comfortable for Bay to work with the same crew he’s work with on several films now. Shown here are the crew shooting in location such as the New Mexico desert (where nuclear testing took place several decades ago), the Hoover Dam, and the L.A. River. The two most interesting parts here are seeing the production team transform the hanger where Howard Hughes built the Spruce Goose to film the Dam’s interior scenes and the team talking about what it was like shooting in LA, Detroit and the Universal Backlot for the final fight scene in the movie and how it all was edited together.

Their War (1:05:12 total)
Rise of the Robots (13:41)
Spielberg returns again here talking about how his children would ask for Transformer toys for their birthdays and other holidays. Going on about how he’d find himself playing with the toys and having a blast. The main purpose of this featurette seems to be the legacy of the Transformers and how they found their way into pop culture. Starting out as a line of toys from Japan that simply changed into robots, Hasbro saw the potential to be had and created an entire mythology around the different figures. We then get some footage from BotCon 2007 with fans talking about how much they love the franchise.

With that, we’re shown what it was like taking such a cherished property and re-envisioning it for a live-action film. From there we hear about the key characters they wanted in the movie, and even wanted to add more but couldn’t because of the budget. Writers Kurtzman and Orci talk about the importance of avoiding mass shifting, which caused them to leave Soundwave out of the film (yet nobody mentions how a three story cube condenses down into a square foot prop). Also discussed here is the backlash from the internet community, Peter Cullen returning as the voice of Prime and a life sized replica of Bumble Bee.

Autobots Roll Out (20:00)
Perhaps the best feature of the bunch, “Roll Out” covers the process of picking out the right car for each transformer in the movie, based on what fit the character. With the films partnership with GMC, they had a massive catalog to choose from and wisely stayed away from picking ones that would come off as cheap product placement. In fact, everyone involved here talk about how they would spend hours going through thousands of photos trying to find the perfect cars for the Autobots. Shown here are the different cars from the animated series and the feature film and why certain changes were made. We see them putting in a lot of work on both Ratchet and Prime, but also them trying to find the perfect Camaro for the early version of Bumble Bee.

Yet it doesn’t end there, the second half takes a look at the highway scene with the exploding bus, showing how the shot came together. Also shown are several vehicles that Bay uses while filming to get a more up close and personal shot. Highlighted here is the BayBuster, which is a caged pickup truck with cameras mounted on it that is capable of getting shots that many directors dream of getting.

Decepticons Strike (14:34)
Basically the same feature as above, only looking at the choices made for the Decepticons. The writers talk about their choice of re-envisioning the Decepticons as military vehicles as opposed to their animated counterparts and the idea of changing the police car into a Decepticon to go along with the authoritarian motif. I assume getting the go ahead for using US property as the bad guys was a tough sell, but Bay’s connection with the Department of Defense made it a bit easier. Bay then goes on to gloat about being the first to shoot new military vehicles in his films, like the F-22s. While also featuring Ospreys, Warthogs, C-130’s, F-117 Nighthawks and the MH-52 as Blackout. An interesting note is that the production company reimburses any costs while filming military vehicles, so no wasted tax dollars here.

They then go on to look at Devastator, Bonecrusher but only in passing. Instead, we get a deeper look at Frenzy. Showing us how he was inspired by Soundwave, we see the CGI work that went in to creating the character from scratch and an animatronic version of the character that was used on set. Round out the featurette is Megatron, where the creators go in to detail on why they felt it was important for him to stay in his Cybertronian form, and the significance of his alien jet form. All in all, there were many inspired choices all around.

Inside The AllSpark (16:59)
Both the most difficult and most important aspect of the film is given ample time here to explore the difficulty of bringing the Transformers to life on screen. Michael Bay and numerous ILM workers talk about the importance of photo-realistic CGI in the movie. An interesting bit of information here is that it took 37 hours to render a single frame, which isn’t too unbelievable given that Optimus Prime alone had 10,108 movable pieces. Light reflection was perhaps the key to making everything come together, and Bay himself even admits that the movie would have been unmakable two years ago because the technology simply wasn’t there yet.

Designers who worked on the project go in to detail on the difficulty of figuring out how to get the transformations to look real, the importance of the emotion in the robots eyes, and, of course, the level of complexity in the transformations themselves. They also talk about how Bay’s decision of using practical stunts on set not only helped keep the film on budget, but it also helped make the CG more believable. Finally, we’re shown what it was like on set for the cast and crew for reacting to things that aren’t there and only represented by poles with the Transformers faces on them (just like The Hulk).

More Than Meets The Eye (17:42 total)
From Script to Sand: The Skorponok Desert Attack (8:53)
This is pretty self-explanatory, basically taking everything already mentioned elsewhere on the disc and presents it in a condensed form. The two writers discuss how they came about picking Skorponok for the movie and that it was a little nod to fans and a nice alternative to all of the vehicular-based Transformers in the movie. We’re then basically shown storyboards, animatics, a look at the crew filming on location and a behind the scenes look at how they created some of the sand effects. Your basic run of the mill “Anatomy of a scene” type extra.

Concepts (2:12)
Included are just under 50 pictures of conceptual art.

Trailers (6:37)
Finally, we have the films Teaser along with two of the Theatrical Trailers that can be viewed individually or all at once.

There are also four Easter Eggs spread across the disc that are relatively easy to find. Among them are a special Transformer toy (:21), Michael Bay’s deleted scene (2:35), Casting Mojo (1:19) and another deleted scene (2:03).

The Inside Pulse

While not a perfect film, Transformers is without a doubt the best anyone could have hoped for in a live action experience. Honestly, can you name a better movie based on a line of toys? I can’t. With reference quality audio and video, and more indepth extras than anyone expected, this title comes highly recommended.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for
Transformers: Two-Disc Special Edition
CATEGORY
RATING
(OUT OF 10)
THE MOVIE

7
THE VIDEO

10
THE AUDIO

10
THE EXTRAS

8.5
REPLAY VALUE

7
OVERALL
8.5
(NOT AN AVERAGE)