HD DVD Review: Transformers

October 19, 2007

I have a confession to make, nothing sinister mind you, it’s just that growing up I never was a huge Transformers fan. Sure I liked them, even had a few if I remember correctly but there were always shows, stories or characters I held to a higher light. Perhaps it was due to the fact I was already a teenager by the time the show made its debut on North American television. Regardless, I was always aware of just how big the phenomenon was and of course was anxious to see them on the big-screen last July. I really wasn’t prepared for what I saw and finally 20 years later, I get it.

Michael Bay’s Transformers was without a doubt my favorite summer movie of 2007 and quite honestly took me back (in more ways than one) to the big summer blockbusters of my youth, films like Indiana Jones, Back to the Future and E.T. No, I’m not saying Transformers was better than any of those films but it certainly took me back to that place or feeling rather, of the big action-packed summer blockbuster that completely immerses you from the first scene to the last, and that alone is a rather special event these days.

Plot: I suppose big, strike that, gigantic robots come to earth and smash stuff wouldn’t make for wordy plot description but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be just as appropriate as what follows. Transformers the movie pretty much encapsulates the TV series central theme in as much as the Autobots and Decpticons both wind up on earth battling it out. This time however the story centers on Megatron’s search for the “Allspark”, a powersource that can give mechanical objects life. Of course along the way the Autobots encounter several humans: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, John Turturro, et all.

Interestingly however and counter to how computer generated characters are generally portrayed on-screen, both the CGI and real actors felt as if they were on the same footing. In other words, when the Robots spoke it felt just as real as their human counterparts, no doubt this was at least in part due to the spot-on voice acting by both Peter Cullen (original Optimus Prime in the animated series) and Hugo Weaving (Agent Smith; Matrix) as Megatron.

Sight and Sound: Before I get to the specifics of the discs image and sound quality I wanted to point out something I found interesting about the discs boot sequence. Disc 1 check’s to see if the player has a live internet connection which presumably enables some of the web content. Even with that connection present, the disc loads faster than ‘Pirates of the Caribbean – The Curse of the Black Pearl’ on a Sony BDP-S300. For the record, the disc played flawlessly on a player that wasn’t connected to the internet as well; the check simply tells the player whether a connection is present and if not operates just as any other disc would.

Ok with the technicals out of the way it was time to dig into the sights and sounds of Transformers on HD DVD. The opening “cube” dialog was my first hint that all the hub-bub over the disc not having a “lossless” soundtrack was much ado about nothing. There was a sense of spaciousness and weight to the bass that was very impressive, would it have been more impressive with a lossless track? What is the sound of one hand clapping? I don’t know and honestly don’t care, this disc is a stunner in both sound and image quality. I’ll leave it to the forum philosophers of the world to wonder about what-if.

It was hard to stay focused on the sound however once the scenes at the Qatar military base got underway in chapter 2. Dark regions of the image were chock full of detail but at no apparent loss of brightness either, the detail present in the military personals faces was also striking. I also noticed something that I really wish wasn’t a rarity but sadly is; lively, active and pronounced rear channels, they were abuzz with gun-shots and action during this scene. The low frequencies in this chapter were also quite impressive, deep, powerful bass was a welcome return in my theater as the last few discs I’ve watched have had anemic sub tracks, luckily not the case here.

There are many impressive things about this disc but color reproduction has to be at the top of that list, the bright primaries were striking and larger than life but I was curious to know how one effect in particular was pulled off. We’ve all seen examples of stylized color, ‘The Aviator’, ‘300’ and so on, and while ‘Transformers’ does indeed utilize stylized color; Bay seems to use it selectively. For example you really don’t see it much in the early chapters but as the film progresses and LaBeouf and Fox’s characters come to forefront we see it more and more. Regardless both the typical and stylized flesh tones used throughout the film were spot-on as they appeared faithful to what I’d remembered seeing in the theater back in July.

Extras: Transformers on HD DVD is chockfull of extras and I’m happy to report they’re (or at least all that I watched) are in high definition. The first disc contains the film, director’s commentary and the web enabled content as well as the H.U.D – heads up display. I haven’t gotten into H.U.D. fully yet but what I did see looked like a pop-up video style trivia track and I’m told gets into greater detail about the robots throughout the film.

Disc 2 contains commentary from Executive Producer Steven Spielberg and Director Michael Bay, and several different mini documentaries that get into the back-story and origination of the Transformers, cast interviews, special effects break-downs and some on-scene making of style footage as well.

You know, I see lots of different takes on just how important “extras” are and in my estimation it really boils down to this, if you really enjoyed the film and the studio goes to the trouble of producing quality, informative and entertaining extras, then they matter. If it’s just the standard run of the mill fare with a commentary and a few “what it was like to shoot the movie you just watched” extras, then yeah the extras may not matter. Luckily Paramount pulled out all the stops for Transformers and gave us extras worth watching.

Overall: Once again I could be short and just say come on man, its giant freaking robots smashing stuff in HD! but this disc deserves a few more words than that. Transformers may not be high-brow but it was a rip roaring good time at the movies, the film has action, personality and mass appeal in spades, the 1080p transfer and Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack allows every bit of that explosive action and charm to shine through. Whether your a Transformers fan from way back or are just interested in seeing what all the fuss is about, this HD DVD comes highly recommended.

Sight and Sound

Transformers: HD-DVD
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Video: 1080p AVC
Audio: Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround
Studio: Paramount
Theatrical Release: July 3rd, 2007
HD-DVD Release Date: October 16, 2007
Run Time: 143 minutes

Posted by Bryan Greenway | | Filed Under HD-DVD