Ah, Transformers. What a conflicting set of movies for both an audience member and a reviewer. I really enjoyed the first Transformers (2007), despite its faults. It was a unique and well crafted take on an woefully dated television series. Then the second film releases (2009), and for the first time in a long time, I actively hate a movie. Not only does it proudly stick with a lot of the faults I had with the previous film, it piles on even worse, immature humor, frat-boy exploitation, and blatant pandering to the audience, product placement and over-the-top jingoism.
Another two years pass, and here we are with the supposed final entry in the Michael Bay Transformers trilogy. Were there any lessons learned? Nah. Maybe some more subtlety? Nope. Is the story’s a bit better? Worse. What can you do. Michael Bay seems to be a stubborn man, but apparently he’s a smart man. He knows what audiences want, and they sure did gobble it up droves as it again broke records in its box office.
Now this may seem a bit elitist. Why not accept popcorn films for what they are you ask? I would agree with you. I happily do that with many films. And trust me, I really wanted to like this movie. I wanted to love it. There are several aspects of the films in which I truly see glimmers of greatness. While most of the human-related story lines end up being merely passable or at worse, down-right annoying, there are moments between Sam, Optimus and Bumblebee that strike an emotional core. It’s just a shame that it’s sullied by the crass humor that might follow right after it.
Unfortunately it all returns in this film, but oddly enough I do think there’s a little bit less of it overall. And finally the last third of the film just ends in all out, almost non-stop, action until the very last few frames. And let it be written, Michael Bay knows his action. In that regard, he pulls off bigger and better set-pieces spectacularly. And to his credit, a lot of it is done physically on-camera, with the most grandiose elements filled in with CGI. And that CGI being done by seasoned veterans at Industrial Light and Magic, it all blends together to form a beautifully fluid, and fairly believable, piece of work. So if you’re in it for the action, as one might end up acknowledging after the first hour, the latter part of the movie will serve to satisfy.
So having explained why you probably don’t want to get this movie, let’s move on to why you would…
Each installment of Transformers on Blu-ray has ended up being a new benchmark for both reference video and audio quality. This one is certainly not an exception. What can I say? Michael Bay has an eye for the artistic and technical visual details of his films. Contrast is high, colors are bright and fairly varied, and black levels are inky deep without crushing shadow detail. It’s a beautiful movie to look at. While Skin-tones verged into Oompa Loompa-land in the previous films, they are more restrained and natural in this release.
The first two movies were shot on film, with great fidelity and a striking look. This is the first time however that Michael Bay has ventured into the land of digital photography (with film used for facial close-ups), prompted by the inevitable theatrical 3D release. Transformers makes the transition look seamless and effortless. It doesn’t display any of the artifact-ridden, overly-smoothed and speedy feel that a lot of digitally-shot films seem to exhibit. And with the plethora of extremely detailed CGI characters and environments, the transfer benefits from the decision.
No compression artifacts were visible, which in and of itself is a marvel considering the amount of frenetic action and fast-moving camera work. The transfer fills the disc up fairly efficiently, at 42GB out of 50 used, all of it purely for the film itself.
And equally, if not more important than the visual side of things, Transformers 3 continues its tradition of being a reference-grade audio experience. This time it’s sporting a native 7.1 Dolby TrueHD sound track, the latest in a recent string of 3D blockbuster films mastered in the 7.1 theatrical surround sound format. And as always, it will properly downmix on 5.1 systems, so you won’t have to worry about missing out on too much.
Whereas most recently 7.1 titles, despite utilizing the new configuration well, this is a track that let’s you truly appreciate the benefits of those two additional rear speakers, and isn’t nearly reserved enough to be afraid of show them off. From the opening Paramount logo, you’ll hear it. Swirling around and right behind you, it loudly proclaims itself right from the start.
Dynamics are fantastic and wide, speaker separation and imaging is spot-on and dialog is properly prioritized, save for a few mumbles. Low frequency effects are always pounding relentlessly and prominently in the mix, but it never feels out of place. These are giant robots and explosions after all. Music is well implemented, albeit fairly uninspired and too similar to the previous films. All the technicalities are perfect, but where the audio for these movies have always shined brightest is the true inventive, unique and unparalleled creativity of the sound design.
Led by supervising sound editors Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl with Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers and Jeff Haboush mixing, the audio strikes a beautiful tone by not being too abrasive or overbearing, while staying strong and dynamic. It combines both realistic, physical and familiar sounds with otherworldly, surreal and unaccountable ones. Yet they always appear appropriate and strictly within the familiar world that is existing around them. It’s an achievement that a single, dipping bass note illicit such an acceptable response as “Oh yeah, that’s the sound a Transformer makes when it flips through the air.” Only in the world of these movies can these sounds exist, and in the way that they are presented, and that’s a great world to be in.
Once again a Transformers film will make you confident in your home theater investment, if at first it doesn’t make you want to upgrade it. This is a demo-disc through and through.
Special Features/Bonus Content
This bare-bones release of Transformers 3 contains no special features. It boots up to the main menu without any trailers, and utilizes the entire disc for just the movie, for optimal bitrate and quality. Additionally, it comes with a $10 coupon for a yet unannounced future Blu-ray 3D release of the film.
While Michael Bay’s direction and choices may be questionable at times, it stands to be that all three Transformers films are reference-grade technical marvels. The final installment in the trilogy serves to be no exception and provides a stunning audio visual presentation that dares to be rivaled.