While watching Michael Bay’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon, it’s impossible to deny two things: Bay is a master of spectacle, and Bay needs to work with people who keep him from his own worst habits. But when you’ve turned the Transformers toy line into a franchise, and made two films that have been hugely successful (and with the third film making over a billion dollars worldwide), it’s hard to argue against that success. But still. Shia Labeouf and Rosie Huntingly-Whiteley star as the romantic leads who try to anchor metal punching metal in Transformers: Dark of the Moon and our review of the Blu-ray of follows after the jump.
Let’s the get the Blu-ray review stuff out of the way. This is a stop-gap release, with the film presented in Movie-only form with the Blu-ray set coming with a DVD and digital copy of the film. The movie is presented widescreen (2.35:1) and in 7.1 Dolby TrueHD, along with a 5.1 Discrete Dolby Digital mix. The picture and sound quality on this are reference level, and the picture is absolutely gorgeous.
I saw this theatrically in 3-D, and I have to say I prefer the 2-D version. Maybe it’s the length. After 154 minutes, I don’t really want to wear 3-D glasses any more, and the film is sort of numbing. At home, the film plays a little better if only because you can break the film apart and skip some of the opening.
With the first film, Bay had a script with a three act structure and a story that was compelling. A boy and his first car, and adventure. Bay knew how to shoot cars turning into robots and the spectacle was there. The second film was written up to the writer’s strike, and the film was an absolute mess, with all sorts of narrative problems – but even more so than that Bay’s technique was at its most headache=inducing. With the third film, it’s like the second film took its Adderall, so it’s a little calmer (this may be partly because Bay’s hyper-editing style doesn’t play as well in 3-D), but only so much. The script is a pile of garbage, where – much like the second film – locations and ideas seem the substitute of having any sort of narrative coherence. But the scale is impressive, regardless of the narrative defaults.
Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is now a college graduate living with his well-to-do girlfriend Carly Spencer (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), but finding it hard to get a job. He finally lands one with John Malkovich’s character in the mail room, where he meets Jerry Wang (Ken Jeong) who informs him of the government conspiracy revolving around the original moon landings. It seems that the transformers had a crash landing on the moon, and that’s why we tried to win the space race. Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) finds out and goes ballistic, and heads to the moon to revive Sentinal Prime (voiced by Leonard Nimoy), who was the Einstein of the Transformers, and had a device that would win the Autobots their war. Though when the device is used, it’s hard to understand how it could win the war.
The film starts with that war, and the spectacle there is jaw dropping. The level of CGI work is such that Bay really does deliver on that. But then there’s all this plotting, which ties Chernobyl’s nuclear meltdown to the Decepticons, and then there’s this plot that doesn’t really seem to jibe with any of the movies that have come before. But this is sort of a standalone adventure. Even though it brings back Sam’s parents (Kevin Dunn, Julie White) and Josh Duhamel, John Turturro and Tyrese Gibson, along with new-to-the-franchise Frances McDormand as an ineffectual government agent.
So… basically, the film goes on for about an hour setting up a completely uninvolving plot until there’s a big reveal and then there’s war. The problem with the film is that Bay believes in dumb confrontation to heighten the film. For instance, Sam shows up at the base of the Autobots with his girlfriend, and then is told by soldiers he can’t enter the premises, gets into a screaming match, his car is totaled, and then moments later he and his girlfriend are told top-secret secrets. So the point of the scene was needless destruction, and the film is filled with all sorts of distractions that bloat the film needlessly over two and a half hours.
And then there’s Bay’s decision to sample history, and has the Transformer’s shuttle shot down in a shot that recalls the Challenger disaster. It also has a set piece in a falling building that come across as a little tacky. Bay has shown (at least in Pearl Harbor) that he has no sensitivity to national tragedy, and so when he stages war sequences, he appropriates imagery for the sake of its coolness with little respect for what it means for someone to die. But then on top of the Challenger explosion stuff, that whole plot point has the autobots leaving right before the beginning of the third act, and remain off screen for all of nine minutes. Literally. So why have that sequence at all? To show a shuttle explosion. Great.
But though the film has terrible moments and plot points (Optimus Prime is sidelined in the third act for fifteen minutes while he stuck in wires) – and the violence toward the end is pretty rough for what amounts to a kids film – there is that spectacle, and Bay delivers it. So there’s that. If you can turn your brain off, there’s enough “I can’t believe I saw that” to make the film worth watching, but as a narrative it’s garbage.
A special edition – with all the bells and whistles – is either due for Christmas, or sometime in early 2012. For those who want to watch this right away, this is a stop-gap release.
TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON hits DVD and Blu-ray September 30.