I have to admit that while I am familiar with the Transformers animated series, I am not at all what you would call a fan of the franchise. I also have to admit that I didn't expect much from this adaptation of the show to the big screen. And I also have to admit that I was absolutely blown away when I put in this HD-DVD and watched it last night for the first time. Holy cow! What a spectacle.
When Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) buys his first car, a beat up old yellow Camaro, he has no idea that it was actually the car picking him. He has no idea that his car is actually alive and in fact a Transformer, an alien robot who came to Earth in search for the All Spark, a metallic cube of incredible power.
But Sam's car is not the only Transformer who made it to Earth. There are two opposing factions, the Autobots, trying to find the All Spark in order to destroy it to prevent its powers from being abused, and the Decepticons, who wish to obtain the cube to harness its powers to destroy the universe.
The reason Sam and his would-be girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox) are being pulled into this gigantic battle of the robot titans is that Sam's great-grandfather made a significant discovery in the Artic almost 100 years ago. He discovered the All Spark, and with it also Megatron, the leader of the Decepticons, frozen in the polar ice.
One by one the legion of Autobots arrives on Earth under the leadership of Optimus Prime, trying to work with Sam to uncover the cube that could mean the end of the world, while the Decepticons arrive, wreaking havoc among the population in order to find and free Megatron and the All Spark, both of whom are in the possession of the Military. In the end it all culminates in a mind-blowing battle that lays waste to virtually all of downtown Los Angeles.
Under Michael Bay's direction "Transformers" clearly transcends any notion of being a child's movie and makes you forget entirely that its origins are a cartoon series targeted at 6-year old boys. The Transformers have clearly grown up and in this film bombast and spectacle dominates the show. But the film is more than that, I found. There are great moments in the movie that make you want to stand up and cheer. The first time Optimus Prime is revealed is a very rewarding moment as the character has an aura that makes him so much larger than life – no pun intended. He is majestic from the first moment we see him and whether you are a fan of the cartoons or not, Optimus Prime immediately becomes the film's most memorable figure.
While the film offers a good cast who do a great job, including Jon Voight and John Turturro in a role that makes him so despicable that you want to slap him upside down every minute he's on the screen, the real stars are, of course the Transformer robots themselves. And they are all here. Optimus Prime, Megatron, Bumblebee, Jazz, Starscream, Ratchet and many others. The most impressive thing however is their physical presence in the picture. Special effects have come a long way, I can tell you that, and "Transformers" is the best example for just how far they have come. There is not a single moment in the film where the illusion is broken and you look at the screen marveling at the effects. Instead you will find yourself staring at the screen in awe at the creatures. Practical effects are integrated every bit as well as computer generated effects and together with the live action photography this movie as the most state of the art exhibit of what can be done in cinema today. For the first time also, special effects never appear as if they were filmed in slow motion, as the Transformers fling themselves across the screen at a pace that is hard to follow sometimes, but give the viewer a dead-on impression of their raw power and abilities. In retrospect I am almost surprised the explosive action of the movie didn't shatter the glass on my TV display.
The HD-DVD version of the film that Paramount Home Entertainment is serving up here is also very impressive. The film looks breathtaking, to say the least. Razor sharp with details that make a mockery of any standard definition television, this transfer is among the best high definition presentations I have ever seen. It flawlessly reproduces the gritty and grainy look that Michael Bay used for the military sequences, while going for a much gentler and smoother look during moments of less action. Both styles are flawlessly reproduced and reveal definition that is simply beautiful to behold. Edges are sharp, shadows are deep with the solid black levels of the transfer, and the colors are every bit as vibrant as real life. Simply speaking, this is about as good as high definition transfers get every bit as good as you would expect from a blockbuster movie such as this.
Paramount Home Entertainment's move to support HD-DVD exclusively has been often lamented, and deservedly so, from my point of view. One reason is evidenced by the audio presentation of the movie. Because the studio ran out of disc space, there is no lossless audio track on the release, which could have easily been accommodated on a Blu-Ray version. For a film of the bombast and magnitude of "Transformers" this is a serious detriment. In all fairness however I do have to point out that the Dolby Digital Plus track that is there, is absolutely staggering. With its increased bitrate there is certainly nothing to complain about, especially since it is better than anything you'd ever be able to get on DVD, for example. The frequency response is monumental with a bass extension that has the potential to mash up your dry walls and absolutely clean high ends that are free of any kind of distortion. "Transformers" is also one of the few films that come to mind immediately where explosions are not intrinsicly distorted. They have a clarity that adds tremendously to the overall illusion and clarity of the film. The dynamic range of the track is in overdrive and makes the best of the format's capabilities.
As extras the disc serves up a commentary track by Michael Bay that is very informative, as well as a picture-in-picture commentary that offers up plenty of behind-the-scenes information also.
On the second disc of the HD-DVD set you will find a slew of featurettes and documentaries, covering every conceivable aspect of the movie's production. All these bonus features are presented in high definition exclusively, making sure that this HD-DVD release of "Transformers" delivers the goods.
"Our World," for example is a look at the Transformers universe with plenty of interviews by cast and crew members while in "Their War" we learn more about the two opposing factions of this robot war, the Autobots and Decepticons. Both these features are very in-depth and offer up a wealth of information that goes well beyond the scope of your average promo featurette. They are each multi-part featurettes that take a fairly close look at the many different aspects of the production, the movie and the background of the Transformers. While nothing spectacular in general, these featurettes are exciting and well put together.
In the Transformers Tech Inspector you have the chance to take a close up look at the robots. It offers viewers a 360-degree highly detailed look at the robots and is a lot of fun, especially give the incredible high level of detail visible.
A dissection of the movie's first combat scene – the Skorponok Desert Attack – is part of the disc as well, as viewers get to see how it evolved from idea, concept, previz all the way to its final version on the film.
Firing on all cylinders, "Transformers" is a tremendous movie. The idea of having robots for outer space come to Earth, hide in plain sight by disguising as cars, trucks, airplanes and other machines may seem harebrained at first, but Michael Bay sure knew how to turn it into a gripping and suspenseful thrillride that is sure to impress. "This was awesome!" is honestly and truly the first thing that came to my mind when the movie was over. Somehow, despite its ridiculous premise and shallow story, the movie tapped into something inside of me that simply inspired awe. Maybe it is the insignificance of us all, maybe the thought of visitors from outer space, or maybe it is just that Bay's barrage of heart-stopping special effects and furious pacing, who's to say? In the end however remains one thing. The fact that "Transformers" is cinema at its very best. It grabs you and sweeps you off your feet into a make-believe world, and it doesn't let you go until it's all over. Not an intellectual movie, of course, but a tremendously visceral tour de force. Wow! I have to go and see it again… excuse me.