When Paramount discontinued their support of the Blu-ray format and moved to HD DVD exclusivity earlier this year, they took with them one of 2007's biggest box office hits, Michael Bay's live action 'Transformers' movie. Blu-ray owners disappointed by the loss can take some measure of consolation that the "Robots in Disguise" themselves have not abandoned the format. The glorious cheesefest known as 'Transformers: The Movie', the 1986 animated film featuring the original Autobots and Decepticons that my generation grew up with, is available on Blu-ray right now in the UK. Some of us will find this development much more exciting than Bay's reimagining of the franchise.
"Bah weep granah weep ninni bong."
Any boy who grew up in the 1980s almost certainly owned a collection of Transformers toys. The cars, planes, and other pieces of seemingly everyday equipment that could shape-shift into robot warriors were the epitome of cool, and to be blunt there was simply no avoiding them. To make sure you got the message, the Hasbro toy company cross-promoted the concept into every available media: coloring books, sticker albums, lunchboxes, board games, comic books, and of course a terrifically fun cartoon series that ran in syndication every day after school. Transformers were everywhere you looked.
That cartoon series was such a success that it eventually spawned a feature film in 1986. However, rather than continue the adventures of the characters fans had grown to love, 'Transformers: The Movie' shifted the action ahead into the distant future of the year 2005, a time when kids play on rocket-powered hoverboards and everyone wears rad jumpsuits with their initials monogrammed on the front. Though many fan-favorite characters (Optimus Prime, Ironhide, Jazz, Bumblebee, etc.) make token appearances at the start, the primary storyline introduces a new selection of plastic toys -- errr, excuse me, robot characters -- as they take up the age-old battle between the heroic Autobots and evil Decepticons. Some of the new characters are instantly endearing (especially the grizzled war veteran Kup and the hyperactive Blurr), others disappointingly bland (including the ostensible lead Hot Rod), and still others just incredibly irritating (did someone really think the obnoxious Wheelie was a good idea?). The whole thing is slathered from start to finish with a soundtrack of wonderfully cheesy soft-rock obscurities by bands such as Lion, N.R.G., and Spectre General.
The movie bombed at the box office, but has grown into a tremendous cult item over time. The film was an essential part of my childhood and remains a nostalgic favorite well into my adult years. Unfortunately, by this point I've already reviewed 'Transformers: The Movie' three different times for three different sources, and there's not much more that I can say about it without repeating myself. If you'd like to read my thoughts on the picture, you can find them here, here, and here.
In the meantime, in place of another review, I think I'll just sing Stan Bush's totally awesome inspirational anthem "The Touch". Feel free to join me if you'd like.
|You got the touch
You got the power
After all is said and done
You got the moves, you know the streets
You're at your best when the goin' gets rough
You got the touch
When all hell's breakin' loose
You got the heart
You know that when things get too tough
You never bend, you never break
It's in the blood, it's in the will
And you never get hit when your back's to the wall
You got the touch
When all hell's breakin' loose
You got the heart
You know that when things get too tough
You're fightin' fire with fire
You're at your best when the road gets rough
You got the touch
You got the touch…
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Transformers: The Movie' is available on Blu-ray in the UK from a studio called Metrodome. The film is presented in its original theatrical cut, which includes 'Superman'-style opening credits and a gratuitous line of profanity. Prior to its first appearance on DVD, earlier television and home video versions of the movie changed the credits to a 'Star Wars'-like prologue scroll, censored the swearing (hypocritically, the line "When all hell's breakin' loose" in the Stan Bush song was never removed), and tacked on a reassurance at the end that a departed character would return in the after-school TV cartoon. None of those revisions are present here.
The packaging doesn't specify whether any region coding was used, but the disc functions just fine in American Blu-ray players. Other than region coding, there are no concerns about PAL or NTSC compatibility in the High Definition realm.
The North American distribution rights to 'Transformers: The Movie' are currently held by Sony, so it is conceivable that they may release their own Blu-ray edition sometime in the future. Sadly, no such plans have been announced as yet.
'Transformers: The Movie' has had a complicated history on home video. Its rights have changed hands among a number of different studios at different times and in different regions. DVD editions have varied radically in terms of aspect ratio, color, and basic mastering quality, and this new Blu-ray continues that trend.
Let's start by addressing the aspect ratio. The movie's original animation cels were drawn at a ratio of approximately 1.4:1 (the precise shape actually varied from scene to scene). The film was produced as a theatrical feature, with the intention that the footage would be matted to a consistent 1.85:1 in theaters, but the producers wanted extra picture drawn above and below the theatrical frame to make it TV-friendly for its later life in syndication and home video. "Full Frame" 4:3 video transfers have shown nearly all of the information available in the original art, while widescreen transfers have cropped picture from the top and bottom. This is a common practice in live action movies, but can be controversial when it comes to animation. Right or wrong, there is a perception that if an artist took the time to draw parts of the frame, those parts must be important. In terms of this specific movie, the 4:3 transfers have generally felt a little too loose in the framing, and the widescreen transfers (presented at 1.78:1) have felt a little too tight. A case can be made that either one is valid, but perhaps a compromise ratio in the vicinity of 1.66:1 might be ideal.
The film was a low-budget affair, and though the production values are certainly higher than an average episode of the TV series, some of the animation is pretty spotty in quality. Case in point are the many problems with shifting color values, especially evident in the character of Hot Rod, who was meant to be a bright red sports car but whose paint job varies from red to orange to pink to purple in different cels. In an ideal scenario, most of these variances were meant to be timed out in the final release prints, but that wasn't necessarily the case. Home video releases have sometimes tried to correct the problem as best they could, to mixed success. The following series of screen captures were taken from the five most prominent DVD editions of the movie, and provide a good look at its evolution on video. (The final Metrodome capture was taken from the DVD released concurrently with the new Blu-ray.) Obviously, DVD screen caps don't have nearly the same resolution as a High Definition disc, but they do offer a fair representation of the variances in the movie's framing and color scheme, at least in this chosen shot.
In America, 'Transformers: The Movie' was first released on DVD back in 2000 by Rhino Home Video, in a full-frame transfer that looks quite soft by current standards and is also a bit too dark and flat, as though the contrast were pulled down electronically. In terms of color, Hot Rod is generally a pale red, with occasional pinkish shifts in some scenes.
In 2005, Metrodome in the UK attempted a restoration of the film they called the "Reconstructed" edition, which presents the entire animation cel from edge to edge without any cropping, pillarboxed into the center of a 16:9 frame (wasting a lot of resolution on the DVD format). The project was an unmitigated disaster. The uncropped image exposes frame damage and ragged edges that were obviously never meant to be seen by a viewer. The picture is also far too bright and washed out in most scenes. On the plus side, Hot Rod does stay a fairly consistent shade of dull red.
Jumping back to North America, in 2006 Sony BMG claimed the rights to the movie and released a 2-disc "20th Anniversary Special Edition" with a snazzy lenticular cover that "transforms" the artwork image when viewed from different angles. The set includes separate full-frame 4:3 and widescreen 16:9 transfers. The 4:3 version is sharper and clearer than Rhino's release, but is plagued by awful macroblocking and other digital compression artifacts. Hot Rod is mostly orange in color, but decidedly purple in some scenes.
The other disc in the set contains the first ever widescreen home video transfer for the movie, cropping picture off the top and bottom. As mentioned above, the 16:9 framing looks a little too tight. Like the full-frame disc that came with it, the widescreen transfer has absolutely terrible macroblocking and other compression problems. The colors are also wildly different than any prior transfer, even the full-frame disc in the same package. Hot Rod is a rather disturbing bright pink throughout.
Finally, we come to the most recent attempt to remaster the picture. Responding to complaints about their "Reconstructed" edition, Metrodome went back to the drawing board and came up with a fresh transfer, now presented in widescreen 16:9. They've released it in three variations: a stripped-down "Special Edition" DVD with no bonus features, a 2-disc "Ultimate Edition" DVD loaded with supplements, and a Blu-ray. The widescreen framing is similar to Sony's, but fortunately Hot Rod is not always bright pink. That's not to say that the colors are perfect. The character varies from dark purple to red or orange, and yes even pink, sometimes even changing from shot to shot within a scene. Nonetheless, the brightness and contrast range are much better than Metrodome's last attempt, and the shifting color values are still less distracting than Sony's constantly bright pink Hot Rod.
(Oddly, I've found one scene in the movie where the new DVD and Blu-ray have very different colors than one another, suggesting that at least some portions of the Blu-ray are taken from a different master than the DVD, even though other parts are clearly the same.)
In terms of other picture quality attributes, the 1080p/MPEG-2 High Definition picture on the Blu-ray is much sharper and more detailed than any previous DVD (within the limitations of how much detail was drawn in the artwork to start), though there are a few soft patches. While some viewers who obsess over specs may express dismay at the use of MPEG-2 compression on a single-layer BD-25 disc, this is a very short movie and the disc has no bonus content. I saw no artifacts that stood out to me as being a result of poor digital compression. Unlike the Sony DVD, macroblocking is not a problem, even during Unicron's attack at the start of the movie, which features a complex amount of picture information in motion.
On the other hand, the transfer has a disappointing amount of dirt and other film damage. Some colors appear faded, and blacks are a little weak. Such issues are not uncommon for a film of this age, but prior DVD releases were cleaner. The movie is looking every bit of its 20 years. The source elements are also mildly grainy, but not distractingly so.
Technically, the disc does appear to be encoded in 1080p24 format, however I had a lot of difficulty getting my projector to sync with the picture at a 24 fps frame rate. I eventually gave up and left it at the default 60 Hz rate. Some extremely jerky panning movements that dramatically lose and then snap back into focus suggest that this may have been a 1080i master that's been deinterlaced and frame rate converted.
Even with all of these problems noted, the High Definition picture on the Blu-ray is pleasing for the most part, and all things considered is the best the movie has looked on home video. I'm glad to have it.
Back in 1986, if fans were fortunate enough to live near a decent theater, they might have heard the rocking 'Transformers' soundtrack in thrilling Dolby Stereo. Of course, the state of theatrical sound and home theater has come a long way since then. Metrodome offers 'Transformers: The Movie' in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo audio, as well as remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS 5.1 options. The DTS track is set for a significantly louder default volume than either of the Dolby selections (which is about par for the course with DTS). To be blunt about it, all of the audio choices sound like crap, but that has very little to do with the Blu-ray. The movie has always had a terrible sound mix.
The problems start right off the bat, before we even get to the opening credits. The first brief patch of music before Unicron's attack sounds pretty robust, but as soon as the destruction starts the entire sound mix collapses, almost as if a dynamic range compression filter were applied. It's a problem throughout the movie. Any time the action starts to rev up, the volume shrinks down to nothing, and no amount of boosting it on your receiver can bring any life back to it. Sound effects like rifle blasts and explosions are barely audible at all.
Let me be clear that the movie has always sounded this way, in every home video edition ever released. The 5.1 remixing really does nothing to alleviate the problem, other than pan a handful of effects to the rear channels every now and again. A few of the cheesetastic songs have some nice stereo separation and body, but just as many others are shrill and weak. The volume also swings wildly from scene to scene, the dialogue in some blaringly loud and in others a hushed mumble, all without any sense of purpose or intent.
On their "Reconstructed" DVD, Metrodome attempted to tweak the problems out of the audio by replacing some of the original sound effects with new (usually inappropriate) substitutes. Thus the signature sound of Optimus Prime's laser rifle became a generic BLAM BLAM BLAM. Feeling some heat from fans over that, they've chosen to restore all of the original effects, for better or worse. Prime's rifle gets its distinctive sound back, but it's so low in the mix you'll be lucky to hear it without putting your ear to the speaker.
Again, this really isn't the fault of the Blu-ray disc. Metrodome has done the best with it that they can. It is what it is. 'Transformers: The Movie' will unfortunately never be an audio powerhouse.
Not a darn thing, not even so much as a theatrical trailer. The Blu-ray is a replication of Metrodome's "Special Edition" DVD. If you want bonus features, you have to shell out for the 2-disc "Ultimate Edition" DVD too.
I may not be able to defend 'Transformers: The Movie' as great art, but it's absolutely great fun, and brings me right back to the days of staging massive apocalyptic battles for control of the universe on my bedroom floor. Timed nicely to coincide with the release of Michael Bay's blockbuster, this Blu-ray edition of the original 'Transformers' movie has its share of video and audio flaws, not to mention a complete lack of bonus content. Still, there's no denying the appeal of seeing the movie in High Definition, warts and all. Fans will find it worth the trouble to import.
Autobots, transform and roll out!