Cause somebody messed with the wrong Wang today!
Not much more can be written about the 'Transformers' franchise that hasn't already been said, so I'll attempt to keep this brief. I know you just want to skip down to the video and audio sections. Hell, I did too, so I wrote those parts first. Anyway, when it comes to this franchise, you already know if you like it or not.
Personally, when 'Transformers' was originally announced with Michael Bay helming, I was pretty excited. I've enjoyed a lot of his films, including 'The Rock', 'Armageddon', 'Bad Boys', and even 'The Island', which was the film Mr. Bay did prior to the first 'Transformers.' Crazy enough, though, I didn't like the first film very much. Having grown up on "Bay's" cinema, it wasn't the over-cutting and extreme close ups that bothered me -- I could follow the movie well enough -- but the whole thing didn’t make much sense to me logically. Then the second movie came out, which I'm sad to say I liked even less. I suppose that's what happens when a film is made without a script. All of that aside, I would personally rate the original 'Transformers' as 2 out of 5 stars and 'Revenge of the Fallen' 1 star out of 5. You may hate me for saying so, but it's probably best for those reading this to gauge my appreciation of Mr. Bay's work and provide context to my expectations coming into 'Dark of the Moon.'
2011 is one of the worst years I can remember for Hollywood studio films. By the time 'Dark of the Moon' entered theaters in late June, my expectations were really low. But then I started to hear a little buzz. Rumors about how 3D forced Mr. Bay to slow down the kinetic nature of his cutting style to allow time for our eyes to process each shot. Also, Ehren Kruger is one of my favorite screenwriters (seriously, his scripts for 'Arlington Road', 'The Ring', and Skeleton Key' are terrific and terrifying).
And you know what? Maybe it's my lowered expectations, but I enjoyed 'Dark of the Moon'. While it's still a mess in terms of logic, it has the best story, some real emotions at stake, and for my ten bucks, it's better than the first two films (by a lot).
Story-wise, 'Dark of the Moon' purports that the 1960s space race was actually a top secret mission to check out a crashed Transformers space ship, which carries Sentinel Prime and a weapon that can end the Autobot/Decepticon war. Now, 40 years later, the Decepticons trick the Autobots into going up to that ship to retrieve the weapon, in the hopes of using it to take over the world and turn the entire human race into slaves. Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBouf) is here again too; his big problem is that he can't find a job after saving the world twice, but at least he has a supermodel girlfriend. Is there more going on? Yeah, but that's the gist of it, and if you start thinking too much, you're in real trouble. Let's just say the historical conspiracies ground the first half of the film in a fun, engaging way. Buzz Aldrin even stops by for a cameo! The rest of the human actors do a pretty good job, but there isn't much range when they're either making jokes, staring blankly at destruction, or running for one's life. The last hour of the film is a non-stop, epic climax.
As always, the visual effects are perfect. Everything comes off as photo realistic, though the robots themselves may have too many moving parts and appear too similar to one another. The action sequences are exciting (helped by the longer shots) and this is one of the most spectacular films I've seen on the big screen (and now at home). The sheer volume of destruction and chaos is impressive. Also, we'll talk about how great the sound is below, but another highlight is Steve Jablonsky's music score. It really gets you in the mood. Starting the film with the triumph of human beings successfully hurling themselves into space works mainly because of his music, which is emotional and makes you feel patriotic (well, if you're an American).
The flaws from the previous installments are all here too. There's no reason for these films to be 154 minutes long, and as much as I'd like to complain about what doesn't work, it's not really necessary. Our friends over at Topless Robot already did a great job for 'Revenge of the Fallen' and 'Dark of the Moon'. Seriously, give those a quick read. They're hilarious. In the end, I enjoyed 'Dark of the Moon' much more than I thought I would. It might not be a great film, but it proves how breathtaking and beautiful a Fake End of the World can be. However, if you already dislike this franchise, you probably won't like this one.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' debuts on Blu-ray as a part of a two disc set housed in a blue eco-case. The first disc is Region Free and the second is a DVD-9 containing both the DVD edition and the Digital Copy. There are no forced trailers of any kind; the disc automatically takes viewers to a simple main menu offering up Settings and Scene selections.
As many of you are probably aware, this is the first of (at least) two 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' Blu-ray releases. This is the bare bones edition and contains only the movie. The "3D Combo" edition, reportedly due out sometime in November, will contain everything from this edition, plus a 3D copy of the film and what is likely to be an extensive set of special features. If you are looking for 3D or love 'Transformers' special features, do not buy this disc. There is a $10 coupon inside this two-disc edition to buy the 3D Combo, which expires in June of 2012.
'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' arrives on Blu-ray with a stunning 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode framed in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1. It should be noted that, unlike the previous film in the franchise, this one was not filmed with any IMAX cameras, so there are no variations in aspect ratios. It was shot using a combination of 35mm film and HD 3D cameras. Here, of course, we are getting one "eye" of the 3D presentation. Some other film stocks were used (or approximated) for the opening sequences set in the 1960s.
As one would expect from a modern Hollywood blockbuster, this new 'Transformers' film boasts an incredible amount of fine detail and resolution. Even though it's the 2D presentation, it feels almost like it's 3D. Colors are rich and saturated, while whites remain balanced. There are varying levels of grain depending on the shooting format, but overall the Blu-ray provides a nice film-like experience. There's no hint of edge enhancement of DNR. Dark scenes are inky, yet detailed despite a occasional crush.
While there's a lot to like about this HD video presentation, it's not perfect. There's a touch of banding (as seen as the ship launches from Cybertron) in some all-digital scenes, but it's not that bad. Also, during the climax, the giant-snake Decepticon (Driller?) is ripping through a building and there are so many moving parts they turn into a blur; however, it's not clear if this is intended motion blur, or a compression issue. The real flaw preventing this disc from being a reference level video presentation is skin tones. There's a joke in the film about John Malkovich's character having orange-tanned skin (even more so than John Boehner), but the problem is everyone's skin is warm and tinted slightly-to-moderate orange. It's unsettling given how accurate the highlights and shadows appear.
Overall, despite a couple flaws, this is an HD stunner.
This 7.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is perfect. One of the best and most accurate 7.1 presentations I've ever heard and sure to be a go-to demo disc.
From the very first second with the Paramount logo as its stars swirl through all surround channels, you know you're in for a treat. Most impressive is how subtle it can be at times. Dialog is always audible and clear, and there's a lot of fine detail work on display. Doors shutting or bullets pinging in various speakers. Atmospheric stuff. And no matter how loud and chaotic the visuals on screen appear, the audio is a precise symphony of effects and music. Screaming highs and guttural lows show off the track's impressive dynamic range. The panning is engaging -- front to back, side to side, all around -- a truly immersive experience. We've gotten to meet the film's Supervising Sound Editor, Erick Aadahl. He's being doing 7.1 for a while now, and 'Dark of the Moon' may be his (and his team's) best work yet.
I'm amazed a film like this doesn't just devolve into noise, but this is truly awesome. If you'd like to learn more about how this track was put assembled, click here to download a short, exclusive featurette courtesy of Dolby.
This is the bare bones release of 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon'. Other than a second disc, which is a DVD and Digital Download copy of the film, there are no special features.
'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' is silly, bloated at times, convoluted, and it doesn't always make sense, but it can also be loads of fun for the teenage boy inside us all. It also happens to be the best 'Transformers' film, but perhaps I'm growing more forgiving as the series progresses. This movie-only edition of the film features delicious, near perfect visuals and a reference (soon to be THE demo disc) 7.1 True HD soundtrack. If you've already decided that you hate the 'Transformers' series, then stay far (far) away. If you enjoy this franchise, then your decision to purchase this Blu-ray comes down to whether or not you care about 3D or need to watch special features.
If 2D is good enough for you, this is a winner of a Blu-ray, and will no doubt be cheaper. If you love 3D (from what I saw theatrically, 'Dark of the Moon' features the best "live action" 3D since 'Avatar') and/or enjoy the extensive special features commonly found on 'Transformers' Blu-rays, wait for the 3D Combo. I hate to say it, but when a studio openly announces their plan to release two separate versions of a film, that's not actually double-dipping. It's informing customers of his or her choices, both of which have pros and cons. In this case, having it now vs having the fancier, more complete edition.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.