Paramount Transforms giant alien robots into 4K
By Jim Bray
If you're looking for a home theatre experience that's state-of-the-art, but won't tax the little grey cells excessively, Paramount Home Video has just the new titles for you: Transformers!
I'm usually up for suspending my disbelief when it comes to a good yarn, whether sci-fi, fantasy or whatever, but I must say the Transformers movies really, really challenge that. It isn't just that the screenplays of the sequels I've seen are incoherent, but I find the whole concept of a race of giant living robots that can change into a variety of cars, trucks, aircraft and the like kind of, well, silly. But if you can get past that, like I got past it in the first movie, you're in for a typically Michael Bay action shoot 'em up.
Paramount is releasing four of the five Transformers movies on 4K disc, with HDR, in Canada - though a shortage of review samples led to them sending only the second and fourth outings in the profitable franchise: Revenge of the Fallen and Age of Extinction. And as much as I enjoyed the 4K versions for their excellent audio and video, I was more than ready to stop watching after sitting through this pair and grateful that I'd dodged a bullet by not having to watch the others as well.
How's that for high praise?
I watched the two in order, starting with Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. This first sequel sees the whacko Shia LaBeouf return as "average kid" Sam Witwicky, whose first kick at the Transformers can was so successful the franchise still refuses to die no matter how ridiculous the stories get.
In "Revenge," Sam is heading off to college in an attempt to live a normal life but, like Michael Corleone in the Godfather movies, he keeps getting pulled back in. That's because his big little friend, Optimus Prime (accompanied by Optimus' little friends the Autobots), has thrown his support behind a secret military organization that may or may not be up to some (or no) good, while they also try to make a home for themselves on Earth.
Alas, while Megatron and his ragtag band of nasty alien giant robots may have been defeated in the first movie, there's a bigger and badder Decepticon on the menu for this second outing. Known as "The Fallen," he/it is determined to get revenge on - well, the screenplay is the least important aspect of these movies.
Anyway, Sam and his girlfriend, Mikaela (Megan Fox), along with a bunch of government types and a small businessman (I kid you not) have to learn the history of the Transformers' time on Earth and use that knowledge to defeat The Fallen, if not once and for all at least until they figure out how to bring him/it back in another movie - since in sci-fi (which this purports to be, kind of) no one is ever dead permanently if there's another movie to be squeezed out of it. Take Mr. Spock for example…
The plot is pretty hard to follow - though not as much as "Age of Extinction's" - but as with the first Transformers movie here's some pretty neat military hardware on display, so if you're a buff of such things you might enjoy turning off your brain and sitting through this.
Such isn't the case with "Age of Extinction," though. Instead, we get some pretty cool cars that transform into giant alien robot life forms. This was disappointing because the cool military ordnance is one of the best things about the Transformers franchise.
LaBeouf himself has become extinct in this outing, replaced by Mark Wahlberg, who does a good job here of running, ducking, fighting, and whining. It's also nice to see Kelsey Grammer along for the ride, as a baddie this time, though it made me wonder if he's here because his Frasier royalties have run out. Stanley Tucci is along for the ride, too, a baddie at the beginning who has some kind of epiphany part way through and then becomes the comedy relief. Or something like that.
It's actually a shame to see these good actors reduced to this, but I guess a paycheque's a paycheque.
Extinction's biggest problem is that the story is not only convoluted and incoherent, it's also about two and three quarters hours long and that makes it about 45 minutes too long (I'm being kind). At least we get to see not one, but two cities laid waste, though by the time we get to the second city (Hong Kong, not the Second City that's the nickname for Chicago - which actually is the first city here, and I take pride in adding to the confusion by mentioning it this way!), we've pretty much seen it all and have to sit through it all over again, but in a different locale.
Here's some of how I described "Extinction" when it came out on Blu-ray:
This time out, the story revolves around Texan ne-er do well inventor Cade Yeager…who's broke and about to lose his home. Then he takes delivery of a beat up old tractor trailer that, not surprisingly, turns out to be none other than Optimus Prime, leader of the good giant robot Autobots. He's been hurt and is in hiding (and disguise, since he's unrecognizable as either his truck or robot personas), and rather than "Chuck" him, Yeager decides to fix him up.
Cade's friend and supposed employee or partner (they don't seem sure of the relationship themselves) Lucas (T. J. Miller) wants to turn the Transformer in for the reward, which would solve a lot of the Yeager family's problems, so he calls "1-800-Rat-a-bot" (okay I made that up), which unleashes the hounds of Washington on them. Yeager, his nubile daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz), and Lucas manage to escape, thanks to the skill behind the wheel of Tessa's until then-secret boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor).
They basically spend the rest of the movie trying to escape the feds, save the Autobots and stave off the threat raised by Grammer and his secret big friend, a bounty hunting Transformer named Lockdown. Meanwhile, an evil capitalist (Stanley Tucci) has learned how to build his own Transformers, throwing a monkey wrench into both sides as well as raising the possibility of a patent or copyright infringement suit from Hasbro.
The best thing about these Transformers movies is how they translate to 4K Ultra HD. While they looked great in 1080p, the 4K treatment has elevated them appreciably. The 4K HDR picture is bright and sharp and, other than a very filmic layer of grain, the look is really great. You can see the textures and surfaces of the giant robots much more clearly than before and it's actually pretty cool to see the detail the CGI folks managed to inflict on the silliness.
Director Bay makes great use of lighting and shadows, and that's perfect fodder for 4K HDR. Close up shots show lots of fine detail in skin textures, buildings, giant illogical robots, costumes, you name it. There's definitely no disputing that the films look great in 4K.
The Dolby Atmos soundtracks are backward compatible to Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (and 5.1) and they're as big and brash as the movies themselves. My home theatres are "only" 5.1, but as with the original Blu-rays the audio is so loud I had to turn down my system's volume from where I set it usually, so the LFE channel (low frequency effects, via the subwoofer) didn't cause local authorities to send in first responders to mop up after the earthquake.
The audio fidelity, the overall sound quality, is wonderful as well, and the soundtracks make excellent use of all the surround channels.
As with other 4K titles I've reviewed, the package also includes the movie in 1080p on a separate disc, and Paramount has also included a download code in the box so you can access a digital copy of the films. Consider yourself warned.
Each movie gets treated to a decent selection of extras, too, found on a second Blu-ray disc.
I realize that one doesn't go into a Transformers movie expecting a cinematic masterpiece. You're there for the giant robots, action and special effects. And the Transformers movies deliver this stuff in spades.
It's just too bad they ran out of money in the production budget before they had a chance to hire their screenwriters.
Copyright 2017 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.