Sunday, October 21, 2007

From the Archive: "Transformers" HD-DVD Review

Welcome to The Archive, a comprehensive collection of reviews dating back to 2007, originally written for The Denver Post’s YourHub.Com website and print edition!  In the archive, you’ll find hundreds of movie, DVD, Blu-Ray, and TV reviews, along with other special features.  You can access the complete Archive Collection by clicking here, and read about the archive project by clicking here. 

And yes, you read the headline right, this is indeed an HD-DVD review.  Yeah, I know it's weird, but back in the day, I had an HD-DVD player, and even though the format is long since defunct, I thought it would be a fun historical curiosity to put the reviews on the site.  

Continue reading after the jump to access my original review of “Transformers" on HD-DVD.

From the Jonathan R. Lack Review Archives:
HD-DVD Review originally published October 21st, 2007

I was never really in to Transformers when I was younger.  I knew what they were, of course, but the Transformers saw their peak in popularity in the eighties, before I was born.  But even with my very limited knowledge of the Transformers, I couldn’t help but be excited when the first real trailer for this movie came out earlier this year.  Showing only glimpses of the Transformers, the trailer still managed to get me excited about the prospect of a whole movie dedicated to giant robots beating each other up.  I mean, what concept could make a better summer movie?  The very concept of the Transformers is tailor-made for a great summer movie, and to put it simply, the movie delivers.

The plot is fairly complex in the first hour, with many seemingly unconnected plot threads that slowly start to weave together.  Basically, the Transformers come from a world called Cybertron, where a mystical cube called the Allspark gives them power and life.  But the evil Decepticons tried to gain power, and the after a war raging hundreds of years in which the peaceful Autobots tried to stop the Decepticons (my spell-check is going crazy right now), the Allspark was lost to space and landed on a distant planet known as Earth. 

On Earth, a teenage boy named Sam Witwicky buys his first car from a used car lot.  He soon learns the car has a mind of its own, and that the car is actually one of the Autobot Transformers, named Bumblebee.  The rest of the Autobots soon arrive, led by the wise and fearless Optimus Prime. 

I want to say this right away: Transformers contains the best special effects I have EVER seen, no doubt about it.  If you can honestly say you can tell those giant robots are computer-generated, I’d be shocked, to say the least.  They look more than realistic, but still contain the sort of out-of-this-world quality the Transformers are known for.  Your jaw will drop when you watch these guys duke it out or, more amazing still, Transform.  Every microscopic little piece that would realistically go into letting these robots transform, were they real, has been realized in the animation, and it just adds to the realism.  As such, the action scenes simply rock, and will have you on the edge of your seat.  I don’t think the Transformers have ever been in action quite like this.

The organic side of the film is equally impressive; boasting a talented cast of performers, ranging from very famous to almost unknown, the cast grounds the movie in reality more than anything, especially the star, Shia LaBeouf (most famous for Disney Channel’s TV show “Even Stevens”).  LaBeouf plays Sam Witwicky, the main character, and does an excellent job.  The story is partially a coming of age story for Sam, especially in his relationship with his car, which turns out to be one of the Transformers; Sam risks his life a few times to save Bumblebee, his faithful car/giant robot.  LaBeouf plays the role sincerely, and proves himself to have real star-power. 

So the film is technically accomplished, has a more than solid plot and good acting; but something felt missing when I saw it.  At first, I thought it was because the film was slow and just didn’t have enough action, but taking a little time to chew on it, I think the real problem is that it’s not what I was expecting.  I was expecting a very hardcore non-stop action film, but that’s not what it was aiming for.  It was aiming to be a story about, at its core, a boy and his car, the adventures they have together, and how they evolve along the way: and it works, really, really well.  Watching it at home now, I liked it more than I did before, probably because I know what to expect out of the movie.  If you haven’t seen it already, it has my high recommendation.

And what better way to experience it than on HD-DVD?  Short of in IMAX, there really isn’t a better way.  Transformers on HD-DVD will give your home-theater a great workout.  The video is simply fantastic; colors are vibrant and jump off the screen.  Detail is so sharp that it seems as if you are in the movie, fighting alongside the giant robots.  Speaking of the robots, the Transformers themselves simply sizzle in HD.  It’s worth the price of the set to see Optimus Prime in hi-definition.  You’d think that HD would make the Transformers look less realistic, showing the CGI flaws, but you’d be wrong.  HD makes them so much more realistic; you can see every tiny, little, moveable piece the animators worked so hard on.  It’s unbelievable.  I daresay Transformers did not look this good in theaters, at least where I saw it.  The only major flaw in the image is that, sometimes, in indoor or dark scenes, the contrast isn’t sharp enough, and is occasionally distracting.  But otherwise, this is a great HD image that I can’t imagine anybody being disappointed with.  I’ve seen better HD video, but not much.

The sound matches the video, and in terms of quality, might just be a bit better.  The dialogue is front and center, always easy to hear and is never overpowered by the sound effects, all of which are easy to hear and simply overwhelm you with realism.  The music is never overpowering, and serves its purpose well.  Put together, this is an almost-flawless audio track; the best I’ve ever heard on HD-DVD.

Being a 2-disc set, Transformers boasts a healthy amount of extras, but is a bit underwhelming in the end.  On disc one, we are treated to two forms of commentaries.  The first, an audio commentary with Director Michael Bay, is the one I haven’t yet looked at.  I’m not a huge fan of audio commentaries, and I’m not a huge fan of Michael Bay, so I’m sorry if I can’t be of help here.  The second is an in-movie-experience (IME) commentary that is available exclusively on HD-DVD.  I’ve sampled it, and it’s pretty cool.  There’s some pop-up trivia, mixed with Picture-in-Pictures mini-docs, as well as other cool features.  If you’re a trivia/making of nut, you’ll love this.  Disc one also has some web-enabled features.

Disc 2 holds the meat of the extras.  First off is a 50-minute documentary entitled Our World.  In full HD, the documentary is split into segments that can be watched together or individually.  Basically, it contains interviews and on-the-set footage that serves to show how the film was made—from conception to filming---without talking about the actual Transformers.  It does a great job of showing the practical effects, the life of an actor on the set, and how big Michael Bay’s ego really is.  (It’s huge.)  It also shows some great footage of actors working with the army for realism, which is really cool.  It’s definitely worth a view, and includes lots of great behind the scenes moments.

The next documentary (also roughly 50 minutes and in full HD) is called Their War, and focuses on the Transformers.  It talks about how they got the cars, what they had to do to the cars, picking the designs, etc.  It’s also very interesting, but goes on a bit too long and doesn’t go in-depth about the animation process, which was a bit disappointing.  But it’s worth a view just to see how they tricked out all those cars.

There’s also a Featurette called “More Than Meets the Eye” which, through behind-the-scenes footage, storyboard, etc. serves to show the Skorponok Attack scene from conception to completion, and is a good watch.  It’s also in Hi-definition.  Rounding off the disc is the “Transformers Tech Inspector” which is an interactive feature that shows you the Transformers in greater detail.  Overall, all the features are worth a watch, but I wouldn’t watch many of them more than once.  It’s a good enough set of extras, but in the end, leaves you wanting something a bit more.

Transformers has found its true home on HD-DVD, and if you have an HD-DVD player, it’s got my high recommendation.  The 2-disc set is also available on standard DVD, and if price is a problem, the HD-DVD set is, at most stores, only 5-8 dollars more than the DVD, worth the extra cost for HD. 

So transform, roll out, and pick up Transformers on HD-DVD!     
Film Rating: B+

Technical Ratings:

Video: 9/10
Audio: 9.5/10
Extras: 7.5/10

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