I grew up loving Hasbro's "Transformers" line of toys. I owned a number of them and collected the comic books. My personal favorites were the Dinobots, but I had a soft spot for Optimus Prime, Bumblebee and a few of the other original robots. The 1986 animated movie was among one of my favorite films growing up. As I grew older, I became further detached from the toys and stories and felt the franchise had lost its luster as Hasbro continually tried to reinvent the toyline to sell with today's kids. The original robots and its beginnings still remained a little sacred. You can understand my original giddiness when I heard rumors that Steven Spielberg intended to create a live action film of the robots. This was an utterly amazing possibility. Spielberg. Industrial Light and Magic. The Transformers. This was simply too good to be true.
When the rumors turned out to indeed be true, the news was delivered with a degree of sadness. Michael Bay was attached as a director. After suffering through "Pearl Harbor," "Bad Boys II" and "The Island," it seemed Bay was spiraling downward quickly and I imagined he would completely tarnish the "Robots in Disguise" with a wretched film of overproduced action and less than stellar dialogue. This was like a bad nightmare. I couldn't believe that Steven Spielberg would bring the Transformers to the big screen and attach Michael Bay as the director of his project. A small glint of hope existed in that Spielberg would guide Bay into making a decent film and perhaps save "The Transformers" from joining Bay's growing bin of trash. Bay had an opportunity for redemption or a chance at joining Uwe Boll in the annals of the world's worst all-time directors.
After seeing "The Transformers," I still would have preferred somebody else at the reins, but "The Transformers" is among one of Bay's better films. The action was definitely hot and heavy and watching the massive robots transform from vehicle to robot and visa versa, I was awestruck. Industrial Light and Magic and Bay outdid themselves in the special effects department. The robots certainly looked amazing and their interaction with the environment and with each other looked very genuine. The dialogue and story wasn't overly impressive, but the exchanges between the actors could match the stench spewed by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon in "Pearl Harbor." "The Transformers" entertained me with its action and awe-struck me with its special effects, but Bay still proved that he isn't great with dialogue and story takes a definitive backseat to the incredible visuals. The man has a way with action, but his talents stop there.
The Allspark has made its way to the planet Earth and brought with it the ability to create the robotic life forms that we know as the Transformers. The kind and good Autobots are in pursuit of the Allspark and have sent Bumblebee to protect Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) and a pair of ancient spectacles that contains a map to the location of the Allspark. Bumblebee has taken the guise of a 1976 Camaro, but he is unable to converse after a previous battle has left him with damaged vocal chords. Bumblebee works himself into being Sam's first car and helps Sam earn the attention of the beautiful Mikeaela (Megan Fox). He uses his radio to set the mood and give Sam hints about giving Mikeaela a ride and then stages a mechanical breakdown to give Sam an opportunity to be closer to the girl. Eventually, Sam realizes there is more than meets the eye to his car and starts to believe the old yellow Camaro to be potentially evil.
Bumblebee is not the evil that is looking to collect the Allspark. The Decepticons, an evil band of robots that have been involved in a long war with the Autobots, have sent a group of robots to Earth to find their leader Megatron and the Allspark. Barricade, who has taken the identity of a police car stalks Sam and eventually attacks him in an attempt to regain the pair of spectacles that Barricade saw during a data collection spree on eBay. When Barricade transforms and shows Sam that he is not a police car, but a super advanced robot of foreign origin (Sam believes that Japan may be the robots origin), Bumblebee transforms and engages in a battle with the evil robot. After defeating Barricade, Bumblebee collects Sam and Mikeaela and takes them to safety. Along the way, Bumblebee is insulted for taking the identity of a beat up old Chevy Camaro and transforms into the jawdropping 2009 Camaro.
With the Decepticons discovering that Sam has the key to the Allspark and Megatron's location, Bumblebee is joined by four more Autobots. Their leader Optimus Prime (again voiced by Peter Cullen) leads Jazz, Ironhide and Ratchet into protecting Sam and keeping the Decepticons away from the Allspark. Barricade is also not alone and Frenzy, Starscream, Scorponak, Bonecrusher and Devastator are also hot on the trail of finding their leader and the Allspark, which will allow them to create a larger army of evil robots. A United States agency, Sector 7, is looking for Bumblebee and more of the Transformers. They are led by Agent Simmons (John Turturro) and Sector 7 is the agency that controls the Allspark and the frozen form of Megatron. With Sector 7 interfering in the operation, the Decepticons and the Autobots clash near the Hoover Dam, where Megatron and the Allspark are kept by Sector 7.
The following battle is massive and Megatron and Optimus Prime are pitted against each other. Casualties mount on both sides of the clash and Sam finds himself having to keep the Allspark from falling into the hands of Megatron. Prime tells Sam that the Allspark can be destroyed by placing it into Prime's own matrix and self destructing the Autobot's leader and the Allspark. Of course, Sam does not want to destroy his new friend and protector and falls into the dangerous grip of Megatron. In the end, the Decepticons take heavy losses and a few of the Autobots are left functional with Megatron defeated. Bumblebee has taken heavy damage and after deciding to stay at Sam's side, Optimus Prime and the remaining Autobots decide to make Earth their new home. Starscream escapes the Autobots and leaves Earth, potentially to regroup with more Decepticons and reclaim the remaining Allspark matter. The film ends with the stage set for a sequel.
There is no doubt that Michael Bay did an amazing job with the action scenes in the film. Regardless of how many times the Transformers transform, it is exciting to watch and although I didn't particularly like Jazz's breakdancing transformation, the animation is smooth and impressive. When these gigantic robots engage in hand-to-hand combat, the fight feels and looks heavy. You can easily believe there is a tremendous amount of mass behind each metallic punch and dented body panel. Buildings crumble during the climactic final battle and I thoroughly enjoyed the action sequences in the film. Bay certainly has the ability with effects and "Pearl Harbor" shined during the large battle sequence. "Transformers" is another movie that is among the best in delivering action and effects and watching these legendary robots transform is the stuff legends are made of.
The film does begin to break down some when it comes to plot and story. The interaction between Megan Fox and Shia LaBeouf is painful to watch. Their dialogue is cliché-ridden and cheesy. Yes, we understand that Sam is a big nerd, but his character is so weighted by stereotypes and is almost more animated than the robots. Bay is a director that prides himself on allowing his actors to improvise and the words spewed by the talent in "The Transformers" is not something for the director to be proud of. Jazz is extremely annoying and not having Scatman Crothers give Jazz a funky appeal makes this new-age Jazz more irritating than cool. There is arrogance to a Michael Bay film that attempts to force a viewer into buying into his dialogue and storyline, but instead of letting the chemistry flow, "The Transformers" feels too forced. All I'm going to say is "Are you eye-balling my piece Fitty Cent?"
The story could easily have been improved, but it is not necessarily bad. I have always felt that Bay would have been better off focusing on a boy and his mysterious old Camaro. Watching the relationship grow between the two and having Bumblebee and Sam as the major focal point of the film would have resulted in something tighter and even. The Middle Eastern conflict and the hacking attempts by Frenzy are major plotpoints that way down the film with being unnecessary and instead of adding to the experience, they only create distractions. Bay tries to make "The Transformers" larger than it needed to be. The opening attack on the Saudi Arabia base could have been enough to establish that the Decepticons knew the location of the Allspark. Scorponak and Frenzy could have been eliminated to allow for another large encounter between the Autobots and the Decepticons. "The Transformers" is a perfect example that too much story can be a bad thing and there is just too much going on in the film to remain coherent and smooth in flow. The story is entertaining and it works, but it is clunky and unfocused.
In the end, I have argued that "The Transformers" is a lot of fun with those that feel Michael Bay is just as bad as Uwe Boll. I'm not a fan of Michael Bay, but I won't completely avoid a movie because he the director. There are plenty of people out there that will. This is a fun movie with amazing sights and action sequences. Bay isn't the world's best director. He certainly is not James Cameron or Steven Spielberg. George Lucas isn't terribly impressive in storytelling or dialogue either. Both directors can make a fun film and like "Armageddon," "The Transformers" is a riot to watch and the special effects and giant robotic fights are easily worth the price of admission. Seeing the various Chevrolet Camaros in the film was an added bonus for this three time Camaro owner, but I found a lot more to like than a little yellow car.
"The Transformers" is a movie where its strongest points lie in what can be seen onscreen. The visuals are the film's selling point and watching the computer generated robots move across the screen can blow anybody away. Michael Bay will be the first person to tell you that he is the best in the business when it comes to lifelike and impressive visuals. He goes as far as saying this in the commentary and stating how he is superior to George Lucas. The robots have over ten thousand polygons in their animations and the robots are definitely impressive. The robots are so detailed, Hasbro isn't going to be able to produce accurate toys, but they have an organic yet technical look that works beyond belief. I was worried as to how he would portray these childhood icons of mine, but he nailed it. If there was one movie in 2007 that looked better than anything else, it was "The Transformers."
It comes as no surprise that Paramount has produced a visually stunning transfer of the film for the DVD release. Framed in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, "The Transformers" is colorful, detailed and provides the mouthwatering visuals to perfection. Bay and Director of Photography Mitchell Amundsen do use a stylized palette with harshly overblown whites that drown out the blue sky and highlight the blues in the film, but colors still remain vibrant. Bumblebee's yellow paintjob and the impressive paint job on Optimus Prime both look about as good as anything else released onto DVD. Detail is also strong. You can see the individual parts of the complicated transformations easily and track certain parts as the cars and military vehicles become robots. The print is clear. There is no film grain and no flaws in the source materials. This is one pristine looking DVD. With watching so many Blu-ray and HD-DVD releases over the past year and a half, I have become spoiled with high definition, but there were times when I had forgotten I was watching a standard definition film with this release. This is one great looking DVD.
The attack sequence in "Pearl Harbor" was previously one of my reference moments to show off my home theater system. I didn't like the film, but the Japanese sinking of the Arizona rattled the rafters in my house. Bay is just as good with sound design and creating an enveloping experience and "The Transformers" is no exception. Steve Jablonsky provides a solid musical score, but the sound work done by the sound crew is stunning. The commentary pointed out the fact that the crew did the work on the various Peter Jackson films and they outdo themselves with the sound work on "The Transformers." This is a film that sounds just as impressive as it looks and the memorable sound of an Autobot transforming is taken to all new levels in this 2007 adaptation. The Autobots have entered the modern age and the proof is in the soundtrack.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack provided with the DVD release of "The Transformers" is top-notch. It won't unseat a few of the TrueHD and Uncompressed PCM soundtracks as being my current reference titles, but this is easily one of the best sounding DVDs in my collection. It is aggressive and creates a very pleasing experience with sound coming from every direction during the entire film. The big fight sequences are easily the most redeeming moments, but there isn't a lot of time for silence and relaxation for the speakers. The rears contain a ton of information and sound moves smoothly between the surrounds and the front channels. You can pick objects out in each of the speakers and the spatial effects are quite impressive. The .1 LFE channel pounds hard during the film and is used not just for the sound effects, but the musical score. Dialogue is crystal clear and remains so during even the most hectic moments. This is a dynamic and impressive aural experience.
One could easily be disappointed with the list of features on the 2-Disc special edition of "The Transformers." Typically, a 2-disc set contains a large number of supplements with two platters and a quick scan of the package shows only four supplements. This could be disappointing if you don't take the time to sit back and watch them in their entirety. The first disc contains a Commentary by Director Michael Bay and this can be a hard pill to swallow for those that don't like Bay. He is cocky and arrogant at times and loves to toot his own horn. You can hear from Bay himself that he is the only director who can get the military involvement that he does and that he does the military better than anybody else. You can hear Bay state that fans should just sit back and appreciate the choices he makes and he will defend himself continually throughout the track. Bay does state that the fans were right with using Peter Cullen as the voice of Optimus Prime, but much of his commentary feels self centered. Sure, there is just something about Michael Bay that irritates me, but I will go on the record and state that there are some nice nuggets of information between his horn tooting that are enjoyable. If you don't like Michael Bay, you should avoid this commentary track like the black plague. It isn't a bad commentary track, but Michael Bay is who he is.
The second disc contains a seemingly light three features. However, two of them are very nicely done making of features that look at the spectacle created by Michael Bay. I would have liked to have had more and I admit that I was a little disappointed, but after watching the supplements, I was satisfied. This isn't "Hot Fuzz," but it is a nice set of bonus materials. First up is the Our World (49:20) feature. Broken into four chapters (The Story Sparks, Human Allies, I Fight Giant Robots, Battleground) that can be played separately or collectively, the story looks at the overall process in making the film. Steven Spielberg, Michael Bay and others are involved. Hasbro provides some people to talk about the "Transformers" and the genesis of the film is explained nicely in the first chapter. The second chapter looks at Michael Bay and other talent involved in the film. Bay talks about Shia and others and some deleted moments can even be found here. LaBeouf himself worried that the filmmakers would "mess that up completely" when it came to creating a live action version of the film. The third chapter looks at Bay's usage of the military and the military's involvement with the film. This was rather nice. The final chapter looks at the film's effects and gigantic battle sequences.
The second large documentary is just as entertaining as the first one and looks more at the robots themselves and the visual effects. Their War (1:05:12) is also broken down into four chapters (Rise of the Robots, Autobots Roll Out, Decepticons Strike, Inside the Allspark). The first chapter looks at the history of the "Transformers" storyline and toys and its Japanese beginnings and then its transformation to the big screen. It was neat seeing old commercials, footage and shots of the toys. The second chapter deals more with the special effects and the vehicles used to create the robots. Bay talks about his love of cars and how this influenced the film. I liked seeing the new Camaro and after seeing the film am more eager in purchasing my own. Please note that Bumblebee was not bad-assed enough to be a Transformer, but the Camaro is. Maybe there is something wonderful about Michael Bay. The third chapter looked more at the Decepticons and their military counterparts and bringing them to life. The final chapter focused on making the robots photorealistic and the visual effects used to create them.
More than Meets the Eye is not a documentary, but a small collection of additional supplements. The items contained here are not nearly as impressive as the two long documentaries, but they were definitely worth checking out. From Script to Sand: The Skorponok Desert Attack (8:53) showed storyboards, effects and discussion on the big attack scene between the scorpion-like Decepticon. There were "Jaws" references and while I didn't think the scene was needed, this was a nice look at how the sequence was made. Concepts (2:12) is a collection of concept artwork set to music. Some of it was pretty interesting to look at, but this was a fastmoving supplement that didn't provide anything more than pretty pictures. Finally, Trailers is exactly what you think it might be. The first Teaser Trailer and the second and fourth Theatrical Trailers are included. I wonder where the first and third theatrical trailer went.
I was very skeptical at whether or not Michael Bay could deliver a solid live-action adventure featuring my beloved "Transformers." These were toys and comics I enjoyed from growing up and always wondered how these robots would look with cutting edge special effects. Steven Spielberg spearheaded the project and while I thought he was off his rocker in using Michael Bay, he didn't make as bad a decision as I thought he did. Bay provides some impressive and awe-inspiring effects sequences and the look and feel of the robots is very nicely done. I found the story to be lacking because it was left unchecked and should have been tighter. Bay is not a director with a mastery of dialogue and this is another example of where he just doesn't get the best performances out of his actors. The DVD looks and sounds amazing and this is easily in my top ten best DVDs when it comes to sight and sound. The features are short in number, but long in length and I particularly enjoyed the two lengthy documentaries provided on the second platter. These looked at the "Transformers" as a franchise and the film. Very nice stuff. I imagine a super incredible special edition will come out at some point in the future, but for now, this is a very nice release and if you like the "Transformers" or enjoyed the film, this is a must have release. For those who are skeptical of Michael Bay, he doesn't knock it out of the park, but he does deliver.