TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN – Blu-ray review

Note: In the following joint review, both John and Will comment on the film, with John also writing up the Video, Audio, Extras, and Parting Shots.

The Film According to John:
After the first ten minutes, I just…wanted…the…movie…to…end.

Remember how the first “Transformers” movie concluded with a big battle that seemed to last forever? That’s all there is to this second installment, 2009’s “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” The good robots fight the bad robots for about ten hours of screen time, which go by about ten times slower than that.

Its sound effects are noisy, its CGI is cartoonish, its pacing is frenetic, and its music is loud and nondescript. Star Shia LaBeouf gets lost in the shuffle, as does any semblance of plot, logic, reason, or sanity. Understand, this is coming from someone who enjoyed most of the first “Transformers” movie. I’d give this second installment a 3/10 film rating: one point for John Turturro, who’s slicing baloney when we meet him this time and who continues providing the baloney for the rest of the film, and two more points for Megan Fox’s chest. Beyond that, I regretted having to watch the movie again on Blu-ray disc after seeing it in a theater.

Certainly, the recession of 2009 hit the movie studios as badly as any other industry, forcing many of them to take drastic measures to cut costs and bolster profits. Both of the studios I deal with, Paramount and Warners, cut their independent-movie divisions, no longer able to gamble on innovative, original, or potentially risky matters. Instead, most of the studios are relying on tried-and-try formulas: sequels, continuations, remakes, reboots, and other such safe material. It’s no coincidence that half of the year’s top-ten grossing films fall into the aforementioned categories. Look for more “Transformers,” “Star Trek,” “Harry Potter,” and “X-Men” sort of films, with CGI-animated cartoons rounding out the field for sure-bet, high-grossing family viewing.

“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” begins with pretensions to “2001” and heads south fast. It bases its major premise on the old maxim that you can’t keep a good monster down. Remember back in the early Thirties when a stone tower fell down in flames on the monster Frankenstein had created? It was a sure end to the creature, no? No. After that first film’s success, the studio brought the creature back, scarred and burnt and better than ever. Since then, every good monster has risen from the grave, so long as there was a buck in it. You could shoot him, stab him, burn him, bury him, blow him to smithereens, no matter. The villain will rise again. So, it’s no surprise that after the U.S. Government lays the evil robot leader Megatron in a watery grave at the end of the first “Transformers” movie, the mechanical beast would rise again in the sequel.

I mentioned that a lot of the CGI looked cartoonish to me. It’s possible the filmmakers intended this as a tribute to the movie’s cartoon origins; I don’t know. Whatever, it’s unfortunate the robots couldn’t have looked at least a little more realistic, especially in their movement. Still, I suppose by now we have come to take the transformations themselves for granted, so they’ve lost some of their initial wow factor, unless you didn’t already see the first movie.

Some random thoughts: Sam’s mom and dad get more screen time in the sequel, mainly comedic, the mother tending to steal the show. What’s more, the exaggerations continue aplenty, with every girl in college a “Playboy” model. OK, maybe the filmmakers meant that element as a joke; I don’t know that, either. I rather suspect the abundance of pretty girls is really just an attempt to draw in the movie’s young male audience. Later, Sam falls from a twenty-foot height onto a concrete floor without so much as a scratch or a deep breath. Have you ever accidentally fallen from a bed, about two feet to the carpet? It can knock the wind out of you, if not break bones or put you in shock. But not in action movies, where everybody has the resiliency of a Looney Tunes character.

“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” gives its fans exactly what they want, more of the same, and yet more and still more. Put Michael Bay behind a camera, and he’s going to blow something up. As long as people keep paying to watch him blow things up, he’s going to be Hollywood’s multimillion-dollar cash cow and keep on doing it forever. We live with it.

John’s film rating: 3/10

The Film According to Will:
I previously thought “Transformers” was the most Michael Bay that Michael Bay ever Michael Bay-ed. But, the Bay actually out-Bays himself with the sequel, “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” The second film based on the popular Hasbro toy line is bigger, louder, and longer than every previous version of the property combined. It’s a two-and-a-half hour assault on the senses. Notice I haven’t said anything about it being a great movie?

Like most sequels, “Revenge of the Fallen” has more of everything: more robots, more action, more characters, more explosions (including one that took seven months to set up), and more glamour shots of Megan Fox. It actually has more story. Not a better story, just more half-ass subplots strung together into a semi-coherent narrative.

It’s been two years since the Transformers arrived on Earth. The Autobots led by Optimus Prime (voiced again by Peter Cullen) battle alongside an international task force led by Maj. Lennox (Josh Duhamel) and Sgt. Epps (Tyrese Gibson) in hunting down any remaining Decepticons still in hiding. Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) says good-bye to his Autobot protector Bumblebee and girlfriend, Mikaela (Megan Fox) as he prepares to go to college. I don’t remember what school he enrolled in, but every female student is thin, flawlessly beautiful, lathered in makeup, and horny for advanced theoretical physics. Sam’s new roommate is Leo Spitz (Ramon Rodriguez), a tech head who runs a conspiracy theory Web site attempting to uncover the truth about the Transformers. Leo replaces Anthony Anderson’s character as the annoying, comedic sidekick computer nerd. Meanwhile, Sam’s long-distance relationship with Mikaela is put to the test by an overly aggressive co-ed (Isabel Lucas).

Sam barely makes it through day one before his hopes of a normal life are dashed. He breaks out into near-epileptic fits after touching a sliver of the Allspark that had been destroyed in the first film. He goes into John Nash mode, seeing ancient Cybertronian hieroglyphs everywhere. The Decepticons want what’s in Sam’s mind as it will lead them to a machine that can destroy the sun and harness it into their fuel source, Energon. The villainous robots resurrect their leader, Megatron (Hugo Weaving), who now takes his orders from the title character, the Fallen (voiced by “Candyman” Tony Todd). The Fallen was one of the original Transformers who betrayed his mechanical brothers. He’s the Palpatine to Megatron’s Darth Vader.

There’s also a government toady who blames the Autobots for all the death metal destruction and pushes to have them deported off-planet. John Turturro’s Agent Simmons is also back, now working the counter at his mom’s deli.

Where there were about a dozen Transformers in the first film, Bay ups the ante for the sequel with forty-six including fan-favorites such as Soundwave (once again voiced by Frank Welker who also did Ravage), the Constructicons who merge into the much-larger Devastator, and Arcee, one of the few female Transformers. Many die-hard Transfans will likely be disappointed by their long-awaited appearances. Devastator is reduced to a lumbering quadruped whose main form of attack is to literally suck. There’s also Jetfire, a geriatric Decepticon who defected to the Autobots long ago. He’s nothing more than a plot device to move the characters from point A to point B and drop a huge chunk of exposition in the middle of the film.

The biggest problem with the increase in the Transformer population is the fact that you can only tell a handful of them apart. This muddies up the action sequences when you have no idea who is who. Was that an Autobot that got destroyed or a Decepticon? It also doesn’t help when Michael Bay directs the majority of the action with the patience of a ten-year old with ADD on a truckload of methamphetamines. Bay can’t keep the camera still for a second to allow the audience to actually watch the battle, instead choosing to pan the camera around and around in a dizzying pattern. Just because the camera constantly moves doesn’t make the scene more interesting.

With so many new characters, many of the original characters that the audience have known and become attached to are marginalized here. Lennox and Epps barely factor into the film. While Sam and Mikaela were able to get in on some of the action in the first film, they’re relegated here to screaming at the top of their lungs or running away from explosions in slow motion. Ironhide and Ratchet, two of the only Transformers I can actually recognize, hardly do anything either. Even the Fallen, who is supposed to be the big bad, maybe only gets fifteen minutes of screen time and hardly seems more menacing than any other Decepticon.

No, the Transformers who appear to get the most screen time are the Twins, Mudflap and Skids (one voiced by Reno Wilson, the other by Spongebob Squarepants himself, Tom Kenny), who have garnered a lot of controversy in the press. The pair have big ears, bugged out eyes, buck teeth (one of them gold), and speak in Ebonics. They’re stupid, illiterate and on a level of annoyance that rivals Jar Jar Binks. Two unfunny robots weren’t enough for Michael Bay as he also throws in Wheelie, an RC 4×4 who looks like Wall-E’s evil cousin and inexplicably speaks like an extra from “Goodfellas.” He humps Megan Fox’s leg too, not that I blame him.

Does the idea of a robot humping a woman’s leg not seem funny to you? Michael Bay apparently thought it was hilarious; he also threw in two scenes of dogs humping each other. Bay’s excesses and lack of originality run deeper than just recycling the same shots in every one of his films. He repeats the same lame jokes that revel in the fact that they target the lowest common denominator. We get the robots with bad teeth as well as a butcher with bad teeth trying to earn money for dental work. There’s dry-humping, Transformer testicles, and an exceedingly long gag involving Sam’s mother tripping out on pot brownies. Curse words are liberally dropped into dialogue that’s already as clunky as the Transformers themselves. For a film that’s essentially selling toys to kids, “Revenge” is hardly family friendly.

There are some positive contributions in “Revenge.” The special effects are the usual top-notch work from ILM. The Transformers fit seamlessly into their surroundings and there are moments where you believe they are standing side-by-side with their human compatriots. Catching the film in IMAX and seeing Optimus Prime in scale was pretty cool. Starscream (one of my favorite characters) gets a bit more to do in the sequel and his additional dialogue brings him more in line with his G1 incarnation.

“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” is the perfect embodiment of every negative aspect of the summer blockbuster. It’s a film that panders to the basest, adolescent desires. It’s loud, obnoxious, and unrelenting. It’s junk food, and for some people that’s more than enough to satisfy their appetites. Personally, I’m more than happy to sit back and enjoy a dumb action movie every now and then. The thing about junk food is, it gives you a quick fix, but you’re eventually left hungry for a real meal. Films like “Iron Man” and “The Dark Knight” proved you can make a big-budget action spectacle with a smart story and genuine emotion.

“Revenge” simply substitutes noise and movement for any type of true emotional connection. The audience isn’t taken along for a journey as much as press ganged into it and yanked along. This is the type of messy sequel that was churned out of the “Matrix” and “Pirates” franchises. Whatever weak plot it possesses is only there to service a string of action scenes that are directed either blandly or nonsensically by Michael Bay. In the end, “Revenge” offers nothing that we didn’t already see in the first film.

Will’s film rating: 4/10

Video:
As we might expect, DreamWorks/Paramount use a dual-layer BD50 and an MPEG-4 codec to reproduce the movie in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. And as with the previous “Transformers” movie, the high-definition results pretty much duplicate the theatrical experience (at least as I remember it). Colors are quite deep, sometimes bright and usually glossy, often too dark, though, for ultimate naturalness, with black levels showing up velvety smooth. Definition is uneven, tending to vary from extraordinarily sharp to somewhat soft. The whole affair has a comic-book appearance that the Blu-ray disc conveys nicely.

Audio:
If anything, the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound is too much of a good thing. It displays an extremely wide frequency response, a strong dynamic impact, and a thunderously deep bass. The results can not only be overpowering at times, they can be downright overbearing. Moreover, there is enough surround information here to fill out two or three audio systems’ worth of side and rear speakers. It’s exactly the kind of sonic spectacular one can use to impress friends and neighbors who haven’t bought into Blu-ray yet.

Extras:
Disc one of this two-disc BD set includes the widescreen presentation of the feature film; twenty scene selections; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired. The primary extra involved on the first disc is an audio commentary by director Michael Bay and scriptwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman.

Disc two contains the rest of the bonus materials, which generally fall into the “what-else-did-you-expect” category. Mostly, they are a series of high-def documentaries, featurettes, and interactive exercises telling us exactly how the filmmakers got it all done and how well they did with it.

Things begin with a 134-minute making-of documentary, “The Human Factor: Exacting Revenge of the Fallen,” divided into eight chapters and delving into production design, special effects, editing, and the like. Next is a thirteen-minute featurette “A Day with Bay: Tokyo,” where the director premiered the film. Then, there are “25 Years of Transformers,” ten minutes on the toy that became a cartoon that became a movie; “NEST: Transformer Data-Hub,” an interactive program giving all the information you ever wanted to know, and more, about the Transformers characters; “The AllSpark Experiment,” another interactive program where you choose and customize a car or tank; “Deconstructing Visual Bayhem,” twenty-two minutes and fifteen chapters of pre-visualization and final product comparisons, with a choice of camera angles and optional commentary; three deleted/alternate scenes; “Giant Effing Movie,” twenty-four more minutes of behind-the-scenes footage; a music video, “New Divide” by Linkin Park, just as loud and obnoxious as the movie; and “The Matrix of Marketing,” with theatrical trailers, TV spots, and galleries of poster art and stills.

The two discs come housed in a standard, double-disc Blu-ray keep case, further enclosed in a handsomely embossed cardboard slipcover.

Parting Shots:
“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” provides all the eye candy a person could ask for and makes a splendid demo piece for folks looking to show off their super-new home theaters. Just don’t look for a plot, a story thread, characterizations, interactions, depth, variety, nuance, subtlety, or themes. In five-minute doses, the movie works perfectly well. Just don’t make me watch it again in its entirety.

I’m giving the movie the benefit of the doubt, by the way, and going with Will’s number for the final film rating below, since he went into more detail about it than I did.

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