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
Paramount and DreamWorks Home Entertainment offer 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' to Blu-ray as a four-disc package dubbed the Limited 3D Edition with lots of high-def exclusives. The first three are Region Free, BD50 discs while the last is a DVD-9 with the movie only. All four are housed inside a blue, slightly-bigger than normal keepcase with two flipper trays and a code for the UltraViolet Digital Copy. The entire package also arrives with a 3D lenticular slipcover. At startup, the disc goes straight to the main menu selection with music and a still photo.
For this third installment of 'The Transformers' franchise, Michael Bay opted to shoot with a combination of traditional 35mm, HD digital, and 3D digital cameras. With that in mind, we can gather that Bay filmed the blockbuster with a kind of intentionality, reserving the 3D effect for certain parts of the movie which he felt would benefit the visuals. The results are actually quite amazing as the 1080p/MVC MPEG-4 encode alternates between standard 2D to 3D flawlessly. You barely even notice the change because the whole thing almost feels natural and places viewers in a state of awe when the screen suddenly leaps with dimension. As far as I'm concerned, this is the best use of the new technology in a live-action feature yet! And it's from Michael Bay!
In the 2D realm, which still shows consistent depth and pop because of post-3D conversion, the 2.35:1 frame is stunningly bright and vivid. It displays a sharp contrast level that's perfectly balanced and gives the picture plenty of pop. Even while wearing what is essentially a pair of sunglasses, we can see far into the distance with excellent visibility and definition. Pores and minor facial blemishes are exposed on nearly every actor while small rust stains and scratches on the paint signifying battle wounds are very distinct on each transforming robots. Combat sequences are beautifully detailed and extraordinary as the tiniest piece of debris flying through the air retains exceptional clarity. Blacks are inky and penetrating, providing the video with great shadow delineation and a lovely cinematic appeal. The color palette is most impressive with rich, animated saturation levels, dazzling the screen with lots of energy. The only drawback in Amir Mokri's photography is the ugly, orangey-sunburned faces of the cast.
Things really get exciting, however, when the video switches to a blatant display of 3D technology. Think of Bay's intended effect using the IMAX framing seen on the Blu-ray exclusive of the sequel, but this time it actually works and makes the movie a bit more enjoyable. Although the entire presentation is displayed in 3D, it's not always apparent, mostly because Bay is saving the effect for scenes that would suddenly pop off the screen. For example, when Sam interrupts a private dinner between Carly and her boss or when John Malkovich tries to pick a fight with Bumblebee, it feels somewhat like a 2D picture but with a great deal of depth that's appreciable and worth noting. In fact, many scenes that involve simple conversations or exposition appear much like this, but when the scene erupts into action, the 3D effect takes over and wows viewers.
Right from the beginning as the Ark spaceship flies around Cybertron and evades capture, the spacecraft moves independently of its surroundings and objects in the background genuinely seem to be in the far distance. We see a similar effect in several other action scenes, but probably the most awesome use of this is during the base-jump sequence towards the end. Each soldier looks like he's hovering in the middle of the screen while the buildings in the back move around them. It only keeps getting better when trying to give an impression of the Transformers' size and scale, like when Sam says goodbye to Bumblebee and Optimus Prime. The camera moves to look up at the gigantic robots, and the 3D effect during this moment is simply phenomenal as we get a clear idea of just how big they really are relative to Sam's height. Battle sequences provide that same sense of grandeur and enormity, as do even a couple of romanticized quite scenes like helicopters flying into the sunset, giving 3D fans some of the best visuals we've seen yet from the technology, with minimal to no crosstalk.
When it comes to the audio on 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon,' it's almost as if Bay didn't feel that the previous two movies were loud enough, so he cranked this baby up to "11" so that it matches the visual loudness of the movie itself. In all seriousness, this Dolby TrueHD soundtrack aims to be an earth-shattering example of what can be accomplished with a high-rez 7.1 design and then doubles it for maximum effect. This isn't meant to be a complaint, but holy frijoles is this track a beast, offering an exhilarating aural experience in nearly every battle scene. Random objects and debris during battles pan into the surrounds or move towards the screen with flawless effort as if actually flying across the room. Listeners are immersed with the sounds of combat — yelling, screaming and buildings crumbling all around. The whole thing augments the visuals with a terrifying intensity that feels immense and thrilling.
While the sequel on Blu-ray was just loud and bombastic, this third installment actually delivers the kind of richness and clarity that was somewhat missing before. Thanks to a highly-detailed mid-range that sharply and evenly spreads across the front speakers, listeners can clearly hear every clash, ping and grate of metal upon metal. Differentiation between the highs and mids are very precise and crystal-clear, making for a very wide and spacious image that fills and enlivens the room with hair-raising action. The rest of the soundstage exhibits some of the most impressive movement and channel balance yet heard on Blu-ray. Not only are voices and dialogue intelligible during the movie's loudest segments, but they move across the entire screen, from left to right, without the slightest hiccup or imperfection. Low-frequency effects add another layer with authoritative force and breathtaking directionality, offering fans one of the best lossless mixes of the year.
Like the previous release, the 2D side of this Blu-ray remains a bare-bones package, but the 3D version comes with a fourth disc packed with supplements.
Despite rectifying horrible mistakes made in the sequel by being more entertaining, the third and final installment in the 'Transformers' franchise remains a brash, dumb spectacle of big, clunky summer-blockbuster nonsense. Many of the same personalities return along with a couple of new surprises, but the whole thing finishes in traditional Michael Bay style with a nearly hour-long incoherent, plotless action sequence that somehow manages to excite. This limited Blu-ray edition of the movie comes with amazing 3D video and a phenomenal audio presentation that will more than satisfy fans, as well A/V geeks. The package also features a fourth disc with supplements which are exclusive to the format, making this the Blu-ray to purchase is you really want to watch this movie again.
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.