Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
- Street Date:
- October 20th, 2009
- Reviewed by:
- Joshua Zyber
- Review Date: 1
- October 23rd, 2009
- Movie Release Year:
- Paramount Home Entertainment
- 149 Minutes
- MPAA Rating:
- Rated PG-13
- Release Country
- United States
'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen' is certainly one of the biggest home video titles of the year. In order to milk it for all it's worth, Dreamworks and Paramount have released the movie on Blu-ray in a number of retailer-exclusive editions. Most of these are merely packaging variations. The following is a review of the general retail release, which contains the standard 149-minute theatrical version of the film.
We have also reviewed the Wal-Mart exclusive Big Screen Edition, which contains the slightly-longer IMAX theatrical cut. To find out more, read our review of 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (Big Screen Edition)'.
The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
"I am directly below the enemy's scrotum."
If a picture is worth a thousand words, that's your review right there – an otherwise respectable actor demeaning himself in one of the worst performances of his career, as his character is teabagged by the enormous steel testicles of a giant robot from outer space. Thanks a lot, Michael Bay. That's an image I didn't need seared into my psyche forever.
Frankly, after sitting through all 149 grueling minutes of the director's latest assault on the senses, I'm at a loss for words. Because I suppose that it's my professional responsibility to provide every movie the benefit of a full and thorough review, I'll give it a go anyway.
'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen' presents a real conundrum. The movie has grossed over $800 million at the worldwide box office, and yet I don't know a single person who actually liked it. I don't just mean among critics or my own snooty film snob friends, either. I'm talking about general audiences, the people who were big fans of the last 'Transformers' movie and eagerly handed over their money to see the sequel. People really hated it. Hated it.
Nonetheless, the film still raked in money hand over fist. How does something like this happen? I expect this type of big stupid summer action movie to have a huge opening weekend, and then sink like a rock in the following weeks as the toxic word of mouth spreads. Like the infernal machine that it is, 'Transformers' just kept going, week after week, growing bigger and bigger, until it was (domestically) the highest-grossing picture of the year. Usually, this sort of performance is reserved for movies that people are excited to see multiple times in the theater. Were there really people who saw 'Revenge of the Fallen' and liked it enough to pay for another viewing? There must have been, but I just can't fathom it.
They say that movies like this are critic-proof, and apparently that's true. A movie like this isn't meant to be dissected, analyzed, or (heaven forbid) even thought about in the slightest. This isn't filmmaking with any pretense of art. This is pure sensation, nothing but flashy colors, fast movement, and loud noises thrown at viewers in the hopes of putting them into a glassy-eyed, vegetative trance for a couple hours. Audiences will pay to see these movies no matter what critics like me write about them. In fact, critics are expected to hate these movies. It's practically a rite of passage, proof that the work is hip and young and of-the-moment. This is entertainment for the people, not for the elderly, uptight elitist snobs in tweed jackets, smoking their pipes while dashing off scathing missives that their highbrow circle of Literary Society friends will find urbanely witty.
Hey, I get it. I like a good popcorn flick as much as the next guy. Emphasis on the word "good." Further, as a child of the 1980s, I grew up with the original Transformers in toys, cartoons, and comic books. Optimus Prime, Megatron, and Starscream were essential parts of my childhood. My first Transformer toy was Sunstreaker, the Autobot that transformed into a yellow Lamborghini sports car. When I first opened the package, he was just about the coolest thing I'd ever seen, even if his arms and legs barely moved in robot mode. Before long, I had a sizable collection of the toys. I read the comic book every month. I watched the cartoon every day after school. I saw the animated 'Transformers: The Movie' in the theater in 1986, and it's remained a nostalgic favorite ever since. So, although I'm a critic now, and hence perceived as the sworn enemy of all things silly or fun, I'd like to think that I still have a little credibility on this subject.
When Michael Bay directed the first live-action 'Transformers' movie in 2007, it was a massive hit. Not only did it bring in a lot of money, audiences really liked it. They thought it was good. They wanted to see it again and again, and couldn't wait for a sequel.
To say that 'Transformers' is the best movie that Michael Bay has ever directed is damning it with faint praise. Personally, I wasn't particularly a fan of it. The metallic monstrosities in the movie bore no resemblance to the classic characters they were named after. They all appeared to be random assemblages of constantly moving shiny parts, and they all looked exactly the same as one another. Other than the Autobot leader Optimus Prime, it was basically impossible to tell one character from another. Even the basic concept – that giant robots could disguise themselves as cars, planes, and whatnot – was twisted in unrecognizable ways. In none of the Transformers' previous mythology could the robots transform into anything they felt like, just by looking at it. Nor could any random object suddenly be turned into a living robot by a magical doodad called the Allspark. The movie also devoted far too much screen time to the human characters and not enough to the robots. The Transformers were relegated to supporting roles in their own movie.
Like everything Michael Bay makes, 'Transformers' was big, loud, and obnoxious. On the "dumb fun" scale, for me, it fell more towards dumb than fun. But, all things considered, I didn't hate it. I just didn't like it all that much. I felt it was a missed opportunity, but I can accept that I was in the minority with that opinion.
So now we have a sequel, 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen'. It's everything the first movie was and more. Where the first movie was big, this one is bigger. Where the first one was long, this one is longer. Where the first one was dumb, this one is dumber. It's got more robots, more explosions, more groan-inducing comic relief, and more leering shots of Megan Fox in short shorts. It's like Michael Bay took 'Transformers', stuck it in a Xerox machine, and made a copy at 150% magnification.
Is there a plot? Ostensibly, perhaps. A couple years after the events of the first movie, the government has somehow covered up all traces of the Autobots and Decepticons. I guess nobody noticed when those 60-foot tall robots destroyed half of Los Angeles. Everybody must have been out of town that weekend, or something. Anyway, the Autobots have been working with the U.S. military to hunt down and slaughter the remaining Decepticons. When I say "working with the U.S. military," by that I mean that the puny humans who stand absolutely no chance of surviving an engagement with the Decepticons make a nuisance of themselves and get in the way while the Autobots try not to step on too many of them.
More importantly, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is going off to college! And he's still with his hot girlfriend Mikaela (Fox), but there's another hot girl at college that wants him, and he has to bumble and stumble to avoid having sex with her. And his mom eats a pot brownie and goes all crazy! Oh, the hilarity!
Meanwhile, those sneaky Decepticons are up to something. They have a plan to revive their leader Megatron from the dead. And then Megatron will go back to their home planet of Cybertron to bring back another leader called The Fallen who will come to Earth to turn on a big machine that will destroy our sun to make Energon, the fuel source that the robots need to live. See, the whole thing is a subtle political allegory for the current energy and environmental crises. Honest.
While it's fair to say that the first 'Transformers' wasn't exactly an intellectually stimulating work of art, 'Revenge of the Fallen' is flat-out, insultingly stupid. Beyond the broad overview I gave above, the specific workings of the plot are virtually incoherent. Characters behave in ways and take actions that make no logical sense at all. There's little to no continuity from one scene to another. At one moment, Sam and Mikaela are in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Then they step outside and are somehow at the Aircraft Boneyard in the Arizona desert, with no buildings in sight for miles. And that isn't explained or addressed in the slightest. The script is filled with pointless subplots that have nothing to do with anything, terrible dialogue, lewd sex jokes and profanity that have no place in a movie intended for children, and idiotic comic relief. The movie even has a close-up of John Turturro's hairy butt in a thong. Worst of all, the bumbling Autobot twins, Skids and Mudflap, are shamefully racist caricatures of black urban youth. They might as well be in blackface.
I could spend the next several paragraphs detailing every inanity in the film, but the good folks at Topless Robot already did a fine job with that. I'd rather let you read their take on it.
As always, Michael Bay directs like a 12 year-old with ADD who's just snorted five lines of cocaine. His camera swings frantically all over the place, while the characters never stop moving. Bay's cinematic style is often confused with Shaky Cam, the disorienting handheld technique used in movies like 'The Bourne Trilogy'. That's not entirely correct. Bay rarely uses handheld or shakes the camera. Instead, he choreographs elaborate dolly and crane moves, but frames all his shots far too tightly. He then edits the scenes in a spastic rapid-fire rhythm so that no shot remains on screen for more than a second at a time. The result is that you can rarely tell what you're looking at. There's no sense of spatial orientation in any scene.
I really just don't understand the point of spending $200 million to film huge action sequences with extensive visual effects, only to shoot and edit them in such a way that the audience has no idea what's going on at any moment. When two supposedly important characters fight to the death, how do you know which one to root for when they both look the same and their movements are visually incoherent? In the movie's big climax, when Optimus rips the guts out of his last remaining enemy, I had absolutely no idea whether that was Megatron, Starscream, The Fallen, or just some other random robot that happened to be standing there.
The movie is nothing but a series of random shapes and colors constantly colliding into one another while characters scream, explosions detonate, and loud noises blare on the soundtrack. It's truly wearying to watch. At 2 1/2 agonizing hours in length, 'Revenge of the Fallen' isn't even really a movie. It's an endurance test. How long can you last before it breaks your will?
With all that said, perhaps the most disappointing thing about 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen' is that, despite all the fan outrage over its inadequacies, I couldn't even be bothered to build up enough bile to hate it. It stirred no strong emotions in me one way or another. The movie was just a chore that had to be gotten through. When it was over, I needed a nap. Although I certainly can't claim to have liked it, I also can't pretend that it was the worst movie I've seen in 2009. I feel melancholy more than anything else. It left me depressed that this is what the state of pop culture entertainment has come to.
Is it too soon for a 'Batman Begins' or 'Casino Royale' style reboot? I still feel that the material has the potential to make a good movie, potential that's been squandered in two successive attempts. Perhaps it's already time for someone to wipe the slate clean and start from scratch.
No matter how I felt about the movie, 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen' is destined to be one of the best-selling home video releases of the year. Dreamworks Home Entertainment (via their distributor Paramount Home Entertainment) have issued the movie on Blu-ray as a Two-Disc Special Edition. Several packaging variations are available. The general retail release comes in a standard keepcase with slipcover. The cardboard slipcover has an image of Optimus Prime, while the case underneath has an image of… Well, frankly, I don't know if that's supposed to be Megatron, Starscream, or The Fallen. They all look the same to me.
Alternately, you can also buy a Limited Edition Gift Set with a bust of Optimus Prime's head. Target stores have an exclusive "transforming" Bumblebee case. Futureshop stores in Canada also have their own exclusive Steelbook case.
All of the above contain the standard 149-minute theatrical cut of the movie. However, the packaging includes a disclaimer that, "Dialogue has been changed from the theatrical version." From what I've been able to determine, a few incidental lines of background chatter have been shifted around or replaced, but nothing significant to the plot of the movie.
The film also played in IMAX theaters in a version that ran 32 seconds longer. (Early reports of the difference being 71 seconds were incorrect.) That version can be obtained on Blu-ray in the Big Screen Edition exclusively at Wal-Mart. The Big Screen Edition has similar packaging to the general retail release, except that the slipcover has a different close-up shot of Optimus, and the case underneath sports an image of Bumblebee.
The disc under review here is the general retail release with the standard theatrical cut. We will attempt to review the Big Screen Edition at a later date.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
Brace yourselves, fanboys. You're about to read the most "biased" and "unprofessional" review in the history of forever! What's this? I'm not going to give 'Revenge of the Fallen' perfect 5-star scores for audio or video? How can that be? Clearly, I've let my dislike for the movie color my review of its technical specs. I mean, there couldn't possibly be any other explanation, could there? It's simply not conceivable that this disc could be anything less than total perfection in every regard.
Well, be that as it may, I don't consider the Blu-ray's 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer to be the pinnacle of home video quality. 'Revenge of the Fallen' looks almost exactly like the first 'Transformers', which is to say that the picture is slick, glossy, and superficially sharp, but (aside from those few scenes shot in IMAX) doesn't exhibit a lot of textural detail. While the image doesn't look soft, skin pores or the fabric weave of clothing are almost never resolved in any particular clarity, as they are in the best high-def transfers. Contrasts have been pumped up, blacks are crushed, and colors are gaudily oversaturated such that all the actors have orange Oompa Loompa skin. That's Michael Bay's style, of course, so I can't fault the transfer for replicating what he wanted. Nonetheless, when searching for the best of the best-looking movies on Blu-ray, this probably isn't the first one I'd grab off the shelf.
None of that is to say that the disc looks bad. It looks very good indeed, excellent even. But 5 stars? Not in my opinion.
Riding the coattails of 'The Dark Knight', Michael Bay chose to film selected scenes for 'Revenge of the Fallen' in IMAX format, which has a much larger film frame size and captures much more detail. (Because so much of the movie is CGI-intensive, Bay also had the VFX artists render their work at a higher resolution for these scenes.) The majority of the movie was shot on traditional 35mm film with Panavision lenses for an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. In IMAX theaters, the bulk of the movie was projected letterboxed on the giant 1.44:1 screen, while the special IMAX scenes expanded vertically to fill the screen. On the other hand, in standard 35mm theaters, the IMAX scenes were cropped on the top and bottom, and the entire movie was projected at 2.40:1.
The general release Blu-ray is a replication of the 35mm theatrical prints. The whole movie is letterboxed to 2.40:1 throughout. A few scenes have English subtitles for alien dialogue. Those subtitles are contained within the movie image, and are safe for viewing on Constant Image Height projection screens.
Like the Blu-ray edition of 'The Dark Knight', the IMAX scenes here do exhibit slightly better (very slightly, on this disc) sharpness and detail than the rest of the movie around them. However, much less of this movie was shot in IMAX than 'Dark Knight'.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
This is a Michael Bay movie. It's gonna get loud, folks. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack starts up with the thumping bass right from the Dreamworks and Paramount logos. Even Optimus Prime's gravelly voice sounds like it's trying to rattle your chair a little. The action scenes in the film, of which there are many, are pure audio porn. They feature slamming, thunderous waves of intense bass down to the lowest registers. No matter how large your subwoofer, this disc will push it to its limits. All the while, the surround channels constantly buzz with sound effects zinging all around the soundstage.
The thing is, though, that dialogue levels are very low and flat in comparison to the really freakin' loud sound effects and music. Also, non-action scenes, of which there are several long stretches, are pretty much sonically dead. In either type of scene, this movie is all about loudness at the expense of anything else. Clarity of subtle audio details (I can't believe I just used the word "subtle" to describe something in a Michael Bay film) and musical fidelity are incidental, and not particularly noteworthy.
So, again like with the video, the soundtrack is pretty great, but not what I personally classify as perfect.
The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff
As befitting such a high-profile release, both the DVD and Blu-ray editions of 'Revenge of the Fallen' include a number of bonus features. Some of these supplements are actually more interesting than the movie itself.
The commentary is on Disc 1. The rest of the features are found on Disc 2.
- Audio Commentary by Michael Bay, Roberto Orci, and Alex Kurtzman – This track has been compiled together from two separate recording sessions, one with the director and another with the two writers. The screenwriters talk a little bit about what they were trying to achieve with the sequel and how crazy the rushed production schedule was. But they almost completely avoid acknowledging that there might be anything wrong or unsatisfying about the finished product. For his part, Bay spends a lot of his time pointing out other people's errors during the production, as if to demonstrate how much smarter than everyone else he is. He praises the juvenile humor in the film. (He's especially proud of the little robot that humps Megan Fox's leg.) He also defensively goes on the attack against "geography buffs" that might point out that the Smithsonian isn't in the middle of the desert, film critics in general (who he accuses of being unable to ever have any fun), the Oscar committee for snubbing his first 'Transformers' movie, and his competitors in Hollywood. (He makes several knocks against 'Terminator Salvation'.) Nice guy.
- The Human Factor: Exacting Revenge of the Fallen (HD, 135 min.) – This production documentary runs almost as long as the movie itself. And yet, it's significantly more interesting than the film. It covers all the bases in explaining how a mega-budget production with such a huge scale gets made: design and development, filming, editing, VFX, and post-production. The screenwriters describe how the 2007 Writer's Guild strike forced them to crank out a script and prevented them from putting any polish on it. The movie actually started production with only a 13-page outline completed, which explains a lot. It's a shame, because it sounds like the writers had a bunch of good ideas whose execution wound up completely bungled. Next, we get a look at the crew building cars and sets, and later blowing up almost everything they've built. Bay's frantic work schedule and "demanding" (to put it lightly) treatment of his cast and crew are seen in full. Perhaps most worthwhile of all, the documentary gives us a clear view of the staging of several important action scenes, much clearer and more coherent than any of the footage that made it into the movie. Only by watching this documentary was I able to figure out what was supposed to be happening in those scenes.
- A Day with Bay: Tokyo (HD, 13 min.) – The director, looking exhausted, lets a camera crew follow him around on the last day of post-production, which was also the very same day the movie was scheduled to premiere in Tokyo. He attends press junket interviews where he describes the film as, "far superior to the last one," and then mocks the interviewers for asking questions he's heard before. He repeatedly compares his trip to 'Lost in Translation', and once again takes time to make digs at 'Terminator Salvation'.
- 25 Years of Transformers (HD, 11 min.) – Hasbro executives talk about their desire to continually reinvent the franchise for each new generation. This piece is essentially a promo for the company, and their 25th Anniversary toy line. Images of the original 1980s Transformers toys are briefly shown and barely mentioned.
- NEST: A Transformer Data-Hub – This interactive database contains bios and statistics for several major Autobot and Decepticon characters featured in the movie (yes, even the twins). Along with the text are images and clips of each character's appearances in the old cartoon and comic books, concept art for their movie designs, storyboards, and photos of their various toy incarnations.
- Deconstructing Visual Bayhem (HD, 23 min.) – A series of 15 pre-vis animatics with audio commentary by pre-vis supervisor Steve Yamamoto, who explains what it is we're looking at. Each clip can be viewed either full-screen on its own, or side-by-side in comparison with completed footage from the movie. (Toggle between them with the Angle button on your remote.) This feature is surprisingly interesting.
- Deleted/Alternate Scenes (HD, 6 min.) – Three quick scenes with more footage of the evil robot girl flirting with Sam, his parents in Paris, and his annoying college roommate.
- Giant Effing Movie (HD, 24 min.) – A long montage of behind-the-scenes B-roll footage of some action scenes being filmed, Bay ingratiating himself with kids and fans, and general joking around on the set. The piece tries very hard to play up how much fun all the boys had playing with their expensive toys.
- Linkin Park – New Divide (HD, 5 min.) – A crappy music video.
- Theatrical Trailers (HD, 5 min.) – Two trailers.
- TV Spots (HD, 2 min.) – Six short commercials.
- Galleries – Still galleries devoted to posters and promotional merchandise.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
The Blu-ray also has one exclusive feature:
- The Allspark Experiment – In this interactive Build-a-Robot workshop, users are given a choice of five vehicles to customize by adding parts and accessories. At the end, the robot form of that vehicle will be revealed. Younger viewers may find this game marginally entertaining.
I'm disappointed that the disc producers didn't make an effort to include any picture-in-picture or BD-Live options.
The following easter eggs have been located on Disc 2 of this title. Thanks to reader Alan for the tip.
- Blooper (HD, 1 min.) – On disc 2, go to "The Human Factor," then highlight "Domestic Destruction." Press RIGHT to unveil a hidden Decepticon logo which contains footage of Josh Duhamel almost ruining the movie's biggest explosion.
- More Dog Humping (HD, 1 min.) – Go to "Deconstructing Visual Bayhem," then highlight "Jackhammer Fight." Press Right to reveal a hidden Autobot logo that effectively summarizes Michael Bay's sophisticated sense of humor.
I'm reminded of that famous line from 'Macbeth' about "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing". It's almost as if the Bard had seen 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen'.
I'm sure that what I have to say about the movie is irrelevant to the purchasing decisions of anyone reading this. If you really must buy this movie, and I'm sure that you must, the Blu-ray has excellent audio and video (though I wouldn't call them perfect) and a lot of bonus features. If you want my opinion, I say spare yourself the tedium and spend your money on an actual good movie instead. But you're not going to listen to me, so go do what you're gonna do. Just don't say I didn't warn you.
Autobots, transform and… Eh, forget it…
- 2-Disc Set
- BD-50 Dual-Layer Discs
- Region A/B/C
- 1080p/AVC MPEG-4
- English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround
- French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
- Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
- English Subtitles
- English SDH
- French Subtitles
- Spanish Subtitles
- Portuguese Subtitles
- Audio Commentary
- Deleted/Alternate Scenes
- Trailers & TV Spots
Exclusive HD Content
- The Allspark Experiment
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