"Fish and visitors smell in three days."
"Michael Bay and 'Transformers' smell in three movies."
--John J. Puccio
Note: In the following joint Blu-ray review both John and Will provide their opinions of the film, with John also writing up the Video, Audio, Extras, and Parting Shots.
The Film According to John:
They're back. Again: Those fun-loving, ever-so-good mechanical sentient beings, the Autobots, led by Optimus Prime; their evil, nefarious mechanical counterparts, the Decepticons, led by the evil and nefarious Megatron; and the young human, Sam Witwicky, caught up in their intergalactic power struggle.
The first big-screen incarnation of the toy to cartoon to live-action characters, "Transformers" (2007), was kind of fun as we initially got to see and understand the big metal critters. The enormous success of that first movie encouraged the filmmakers to do it again in the intolerable "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" (2009), a film so bad I almost left the theater about ten minutes in. Now we get the third in the series, "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" (2011), which falls somewhere in the middle: not as good as the first movie, a little better than the second one. Which isn't saying much, even in high-definition Blu-ray.
You may remember that director Michael Bay actually apologized for the second movie and promised the next one would be much better. Well, again, that wasn't saying much. Practically everything we see in "Dark of the Moon" we've seen before. The movie introduces a couple of new characters, and that's about it. There is a nice opening bit in the early Sixties, though, that provides some background on America finding the Transformers' ship on the dark side of the moon. That was during the Kennedy administration, so it explains why the President wanted the U.S. to get to the moon so badly. "One small step for Man," one giant leap for Transformers.
Jump to the present, and Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) has a new girlfriend, a comely young English lass named Carly Spencer (played by the comely young model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley). She has little to do in the story but stand around and look mystified, but she's certainly attractive enough just standing around. Several other new characters include Charlotte Mearing (Francis McDormand), the country's supercilious Director of National Intelligence; Bruce Brazos (John Malkovich), the oddball head of an aeronautics company Sam works for; Dylan (Patrick Demsey), Carly's handsome, wealthy, powerful boss; Sentinel Prime (voiced by Leonard Nimoy), Optimus Prime's predecessor, who gets to parody Spock's old line, "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few"; and Jerry "Deep" Wang (Ken Jeong), a screwball conspiracy theorist. Each person gets a tiny spot to shine in this overlong video game, with poor Malkovich having probably the best role and then literally disappearing halfway though the picture.
Anyway, you can guess the plot: Sam has just graduated from college and is looking for a job, which he finds at Brazos's company. Sam has saved the planet twice, but he's broke and has no sign of work. He doesn't even have his fancy Bumble Bee Transformer car anymore, all the Transformers now in the service of the government. So, Sam drives a ratty old junker. Meanwhile, the Transformers are busy keeping Mankind out of mischief, and they sport some cool new bodies now: a Mercedes, a Ferrari, a prototype Corvette, and various exotics. They also get to blow up more stuff than ever on their "secret missions around the globe."
Ah, but it's not just foreign and local terrorists the Transformers and Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) have to deal with, it's those nasty Decepticons again, under the customary nasty leadership of Megatron (Hugo Weaving). As always, they're out to rule the world, this time by enslaving all of us to do their bidding. And only Optimus and Sam stand in their way. Ho-hum.
The usual suspects are back: Josh Duhamel as Lt. Col. Lennox, the heroic military commander; Tyrese Gibson as Robert Epps, the heroic army buddy; John Turturro as ex-CIA agent Simmons, these days a celebrity spy (his crazy-man persona going a long way toward making the movie watchable); and Kevin Dunn and Julie White as Ron and Judy Witwicky, Sam's parents, now relegated to even lighter comic relief than before.
Naturally, it's again as colorful as we remember, the machines all bright and shiny. Unfortunately, that's about all there is. You can hardly tell the good Autobots from the bad Decepticons anymore, they're so intricate and fancy. So mainly what you get is a big blur of motion and color, if that's your idea of a good time.
It seems to me it takes a certain talent to create as much action as director Bay does without generating an ounce of excitement. By the ninety-minute mark, the movie begins to feel interminable, and it still has an hour to go. The final battle for the planet takes up that final hour, and it combines "Independence Day," "War of the Worlds," and "Star Wars" with exactly none of the fun of those movies. Remember, though: It's better than "Transformers 2." Keep telling yourself that.
John's film rating: 4/10
The Film According to Will:
Here we go again.
The summer blockbuster season reaches its nadir with the third installment of "Transformers," based on the popular toy line from Hasbro, and directed by Michael Bay, purveyor of overblown schlock. Bay's first "Transformers" film was lifted above its leaden coming-of-age narrative by a Spielbergian sense of wonder as an unassuming suburban boy meets a race of giant robots from outer space. The sequel, "Revenge of the Fallen," was an atrocity of epic proportions that was hastily slapped together before the Writer's Strike of late 2007 to early 2008. Even Bay and star Shia LaBeouf apologized for the rancid turd they unleashed from their bowels. Not that it matters, audiences ate it up as if the manure pile were a tasty bowl of ice cream. Thanks to them "Revenge" made over $800 million worldwide. "Dark of the Moon" has already grossed half that in its opening week. In financial terms, it's a rousing success, but what about the actual movie?
I can honestly say that "Dark of the Moon" is better than "Revenge of the Fallen." However, that's the equivalent of saying being smashed in the face with a pipe wrench is better than having your genitals hooked to Bumblebee's car battery.
Much like "X-Men: First Class," "Transformers" plays with revisionist history by planting the idea that the entire space race was predicated on the discovery of an ancient Autobot ship that crashed on the moon. The prologue is peppered with archival footage and actors who look nothing like their real-life counterparts. Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin (who makes a cameo appearance) explore the massive spacecraft and sworn to secrecy about what they've seen. And just when you think the story is building momentum, it all comes crashing back to modern-day Earth as we follow the plight of Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf) in the current economic crisis.
Poor Sam has helped the Autobots save the world twice, but he can't find a job and mopes a lot. You'd think he would be way happier considering he has yet another insanely gorgeous girlfriend. Following the acrimonious departure of Megan Fox, Victoria's Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley replaces her as the pouty lipped, hot chick that runs away from the robots. She plays Carly Spencer, a former British attaché now working for millionaire playboy Dylan Gould (Patrick Dempsey). The film spends an interminable amount of time introducing us to a cavalcade of new characters like John Malkovich as Sam's orange-skinned boss, Frances McDormand as a director of intelligence, and Ken Jeong doing his usual Ken Jeong schtick. We are also reunited with several returning characters such as soldiers Lt. Col. Lennox (Josh Duhamel) and Robert Epps (Tyrese Gibson), Sam's parents (Kevin Dunn & Julie White), and the eccentric Agent Simmons (John Turturro). It goes on and on until finally scenes of actual importance occur in rapid succession as Decepticons murder human beings and Optimus (voiced once again by Peter Cullen) revives his long-lost predecessor Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy). It all builds to 45 minutes of pure, unadulterated Bay-hem as a full-scale Decepticon invasion force lays waste to downtown Chicago.
"Dark" is just as loud, obnoxious, and over long as the previous pictures and filled with plot holes big enough for Optimus Prime to drive through. On the positive side, Bay has toned down the puerile humor as well as the blatant misogyny and racism. The ridiculous, buck-toothed Twins from "Revenge" are thankfully gone, though the Joe Pesci-esque Wheelie (Tom Kenny) is still around to provide a poor excuse for comic relief. Still, Michael Bay cannot help being Michael Bay and there is underlying sexism throughout the narrative. "Dark of the Moon" has no strong female character whatsoever. Women in Bay movies are generally nattering twits (Sam's mother), shrewish harpies (McDormand's Charlotte Mearing) or blatant sex objects (everyone else). This is never more apparent than the replacing of Megan Fox with a lingerie model, who can serve as each one of those archetypes. At least, Bay had no pretensions at all to the role. Why hire an actual actress when all you need is someone to walk around in their underwear. Bay's sensibilities for fast cars and beautiful women are comparable to a hormonal adolescent boy getting aroused by covers of Lowrider displayed at the local supermarket magazine rack.
The first shot of the film following the prologue is a gratuitous butt shot of Huntington-Whiteley as she pads up a staircase barefoot and clad in skimpy panties and a man's dress shirt. Fox may not be an incredibly nuanced actress, but at least she displayed some semblance of personality and got involved in the action scenes. Huntington-Whitely is a complete cipher whose only talents are squeezing into form-fitting dresses and staring blankly into the distance as objects explode behind her in slow motion. Her romance with LaBeouf's Sam arbitrarily runs hot and cold according to narrative conventions.
The main problem with Bay's "Transformers" films has always been the inordinate amount of screen time wasted on human characters that nobody cares about. You would think a "Transformers" movie would be about the Transformers. Not that the machines are depicted as multidimensional beings. Giving them funny accents are about as deep into characterization as the writers go. There is just something about giant death metal robots clashing and causing massive amounts of property damage which appeals to simpleminded pleasures. Bay provides that in spades with an extended battle in the Windy City as skyscrapers topple and Transformers perform "Mortal Kombat" style fatalities on each other. It's certainly the most ambitious action Bay has ever directed. It feels as though he watched "Independence Day," "Cloverfield," "Inception," and Spielberg's "War of the Worlds" and said, "I can do better." However, the climax is lacking in any kind of coherent flow. There's never a sense of where everyone is located in relation to each other and how each section connects with the other. It's more like a jumble of incomplete sequences strung together. Bay appears to be afflicted with the worse case of ADD as scenes and subplots abruptly end as if he walked away halfway through and moved on to the next thing.
Bay also has a habit of recycling the same action sequences over and over. How many times have we seen a highway chase where cars attempt to dodge heavy objects hurtling at them? There's one in every "Transformers" movie. It's gotten to the point where Bay has lifted entire shots from "The Island" and reused them for "Dark of the Moon." Granted, he was unable to complete the sequence due to the horrific accident to an extra. Nevertheless, the fact that Bay so easily integrated old footage from an entirely different picture speaks volumes to his unoriginality.
The one shining light in "Dark of the Moon" is Leonard Nimoy, who is related to Bay by marriage, proving you can pick your friends, but not your family. Nimoy previously voiced Galvatron in the animated "Transformers: The Movie" and imbues a gravelly gravitas to the inane dialogue he's forced to spout. There are also a couple "Star Trek" references thrown in, a call back to "Wrath of Khan" and another that cleverly foreshadows a crucial plot twist.
Michael Bay has lashed out at his critics by claiming his movies are meant to be fun summer films, which means his films aren't supposed to have highbrow nonsense like logic, great acting, and a coherent story line. There's no reason for these things to be mutually exclusive. "Iron Man" and "The Dark Knight" are proven examples that big-budget blockbusters don't have to be mind-numbing special effects extravaganzas. Unfortunately, Bay seems more than content to wallow in soulless spectacle, and audiences are happy to line up around the block. I admit "Dark of the Moon" provides a visceral gratification to our base desires of seeing things get blown up, but I crave something with more substance.
Will's film rating: 5/10
If you've seen either or both of the previous "Transformers" movies in a theater or on Blu-ray, you have a good idea of what the picture quality is going to look like, the high-definition results pretty much duplicating the theatrical experience. Colors are deep, often bright, and just as often glossy, with skin tones usually too dark for ultimate naturalness and black levels showing up velvety smooth. Definition is again uneven, tending to vary from extraordinarily sharp to somewhat soft, with the whole affair having an intentionally comic-book appearance that the Blu-ray disc conveys nicely. As before, Paramount use a dual-layer BD50 and an MPEG-4/AVC encode to reproduce the movie in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio.
For their high-definition releases of the three "Transformers" films, Paramount have now used four different audio formats: For the first movie on HD DVD, they used lossy Dolby Digital Plus 5.1; for the first movie on Blu-ray, they used lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1; for the second movie they used lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; and now for "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," they use lossless Dolby TrueHD 7.1. The sound keeps getting better and better.
The 7.1 surround is the key thing here; it is truly all-immersive. This is a big, overblown extravaganza of a movie, after all, so why not hear it in all its glory? The sound revolves around one in a dizzying display of sonic overkill, so sit right in the dead center of your home theater where you'll hear the noises of automobiles, jet planes, rockets, missiles, bullets, and, yes, even Transformers coming at you from all sides, high and low, with some airborne units flying diagonally overhead in a most realistic manner. However, in order fully to appreciate the clear, clean sonics, you'll need to pump it up fairly loud, and with its taut deep bass and massive dynamic impact, you'd better not have anyone asleep in the house (or thin walls if you're in an apartment).
In this particular two-disc set, the folks at Paramount are only offering the feature film, although in various formats. Disc one contains the movie in high-definition Blu-ray; twenty-two scene selections; bookmarks; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese spoken languages and subtitles; English audio description; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
Disc two contains a DVD copy of the feature film in standard definition, along with a digital copy for iTunes or Windows Media, the code valid until September 30, 2012. The two discs come housed in a flimsy double Eco-case, further enclosed in a handsomely embossed cardboard slipcover.
How much can you do with a toy? Even though "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" tries to provide more of a story line than the second movie did, there still isn't much here. And, as both Will and I have said, the characters and characterizations are pretty much just a rehash of what went before. Mostly, the movie is all boom, bang, crash, which gets old really fast. Proceed with caution.
Incidentally, I'm going with Will's 5/10 film rating below rather than my own 4/10 because he got to the movie before I did.