H D - S E L E C T

A view on HD DVDs by Yunda Eddie Feng

 

Introduction: Hello, Beaver readers! I became a serious cineophile in 1994 when I saw Schindler's List on my birthday. I realized that movies weren't just for fun--they could be serious art, too (even mainstream popcorn flicks if they're made with skill). Although I have a BA in English, I went to grad school for an MA in Film Studies. There, I met my mentor Dr. Warren Buckland, who shares my interest in Steven Spielberg's artistry (Spielberg and art aren't mutually exclusive). I helped edit Dr. Buckland's book Directed by Steven Spielberg: Poetics of the Contemporary Hollywood Blockbuster. I also contributed a chapter to Dr. Buckland's forthcoming anthology of essays about "complex storytelling" movies--movies that avoid classical linear storylines in favor of temporal disruptions, unreliable narrators, metatheatrical/"self-aware" references, etc.

Eddie's Home Theatre:
Sharp 30-inch LCD TV (1280x768 resolution)
Toshiba HD-A2 HD-DVD player
Oppo OPDV971H SD-DVD player
Pioneer 7.1 DD/DTS receiver
Harmon Kardon speakers (5.1)

(I'm using the HD-A2's optical audio connection to obtain DTS 5.1 downmixes.)

Yunda Eddie Feng

 

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Transformers HD-DVD

(Michael Bay, 2007)

 

Paramount (USA)

2.35:1 1080p

143 minutes

Audio: DD Plus 5.1 English, DD Plus 5.1 French, DD Plus 5.1 Spanish

Subtitles: Optional English, English SDH, French, Spanish

Extras: audio commentary by director Michael Bay; HUD PIP; Web-enabled features; The Story Sparks; Human Allies; I Fight Giant Robots; Battleground; Rise of the Robots; Autobots Roll Out; Decepticons Strike; Inside the AllSpark; From Script to Sand: The Skorponok Desert Attack; Concepts; Trailers; Easter Eggs

 

Released: October 16th, 2007

HD-DVD slim double case

23 chapters

 

On the face of it Transformers is a story as old as the Greeks versus the Trojans, the difference being that these warriors are visitors from another planet, the 1980s-sounding Cybertron, and there isn’t a jot of poetry, tragedy, beauty, meaning or interest in this fight.  The Autobots are trying to locate some all-important cube that looks like a Borg starship from Star Trek: The Next Generation before it’s found by the Autobots’ villainous alien brethren, the Decepticons.  During their mission the Autobots blend into the earthly backdrop by turning into zippy cars and mondo trucks, a strategy that works particularly well in Southern California.  Curiously, though the toys originated in Japan, no robot changes into a Toyota.

 

 

It’s kind of nifty when the robots transform the first time; they furiously shake back and forth like wet dogs desperately to dry off.  But by the 99th time there’s no fun left at all, even during the rock-’em, sock-’em knockdown that delivers the movie, in Spielbergesque pastiche, first to a violent and then to a warm-and-fuzzy close.  The actors tend to be more engaging, notably Mr. LaBeouf, who brings energy and a semi-straight face to the dumbest setup.  Just as easy on the eyes, though for other reasons, are the two female leads, the genius hacker in throw-her-down heels (Rachael Taylor) and the grease-monkey bombshell (Megan Fox) who helps Sam rise to the manly occasion.  These walking, talking dolls register as less human and believable than the Transformers, which may be why they were even allowed inside this boy’s club.

The movie waves the flag equally for Detroit and the military, if to no coherent end.  Last year the director of General Motors brand-marketing and advertising clarified how the company’s cars were integral to the movie: “It’s a story of good versus evil.  Our cars are the good guys.”  And sure enough, most of the Autobots take the shape of GM vehicles, including Ratchet (a Hummer H2) and Ironhide (a TopKick pickup truck).  The only Autobot that doesn’t wear that troubled automaker’s logo is the leader, Optimus Prime (a generic 18-wheeler tractor).  Maybe that’s because the company didn’t want to be represented by a character that promises to blow itself up for the greater good, as Optimus does, especially one based on a child’s toy.

 

Shape-shifters of another kind, Hollywood action movies bend this way and that politically in a bid to please as many viewers as possible, but they almost always play out exactly the same, as entertaining violence leads to heroic individualism leads to the restoration of order.  Transformers is no different, even if it does offer chewy distraction for the bored viewer: the would-be suicide bomber, American soldiers tearing it up in the Middle East while American cars keep up the fight at home, along with plugs for Burger King, Lockheed Martin, Mountain Dew and the Department of Defense.  Why there’s even a president who asks for a Ding Dong.  He’s wearing red socks like a big old clown, but no one really laughs.

Excerpt from Manohla Dargis, The New York Times located HERE

 

Video:

The 2.35:1 1080p is technically flawless, but this isn’t the best I’ve seen from an HD DVD.  The problem lies in director Michael Bay’s visual style.  Bay likes to swing cameras wildly, so you already have extreme motion blur.  Although the computer-generated visual effects are impressive, the resolution is nowhere near as high as what the original film elements captured in the real world.  Thus, much of the rapid action looks smudged.  Also, many scenes featuring the robots take place at night.  Therefore, one never really gets a good look at the Transformers, which was disappointing for me.

 

 

 

Audio:

Paramount and Universal seem to enjoy toying with HD DVD fans.  Catalog and “small” movies receive the Dolby TrueHD treatment, but loud summer blockbusters max out with DD Plus 5.1 tracks.  The same goes for Paramount on 16 October 2007, with A Mighty Heart getting TrueHD while Transformers only offers DD Plus.  It could be that the DD Plus track is transparent to the studio master, so we’ll just review what we do have in hand.

 

 

 

I guess you could still use Transformers as demo material if you turn off the TV and have your friends listen to your home theatre system.  The DD Plus 5.1 English track is powerful and overwhelmingly immersive.  The sound design piles on the demolition and destruction as if Michael Bay wanted to squeeze the life out of your ears.  Dialogue does get buried sometimes, so if you live in an apartment, be prepared to keep fidgeting with the volume control.

 

You can watch the movie with DD Plus 5.1 French and DD Plus 5.1 Spanish dubs.  Optional English, English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles support the audio.

 

Extras:

--Disc 1--

Disc 1 has an audio commentary by Michael Bay.  Bay is obviously enthusiastic about helming a live-action adaptation of iconic 1980s toys, and he provides a lot of solid technical information.  However, he didn’t convince me that he made a great movie.

 

Disc 1 also has the “HUD (Heads Up Display)” feature, which is a picture-in-picture video stream with behind-the-scenes footage and vignettes about how certain sequences were shot.

 

 

 

You can access the Internet for additional special features.  The online portal was not active during the writing of this review, but the press release indicates that you can watch the movie with options such as Transformation Mode, Health Meter, Weapon Mode, Robot Bio, In Scene Indicator, Text Ticker, GPS, and other such “live” information feeds.

 

You can also bookmark your favorite moments.

 

Finally, you can bookmark your favorite moments with My Scenes.

 

 

--Disc 2--

Disc 2 is divided into three sections: “Our World”, “Their War”, and “More Than Meets the Eye”.

 

In “Our World”, “The Story Sparks”, “Human Allies”, “I Fight Giant Robots”, and “Battleground” cover the movie’s genesis as well as early production phases.  You get to see some early animatics that resemble the finished product quite a bit.

 

In “Their War”, “Rise of the Robots”, “Autobots Roll Out”, “Decepticons Strike”, and “Inside the AllSpark” shed light on the toys, the movie’s robots, and the complicated actions sequences both during and after principal photography.

 

In “More than Meets the Eye”, you get a detailed breakdown of one of the action sequences, a video gallery of artwork, and trailers.  You can watch Trailers 1, 2, and 4, but number 3 seems to have run into rights-clearance issues.

 

Finally, there are some easy-to-find Easter Eggs.  In each of the subsections, move the cursor until a hidden robot head is highlighted.  The first Easter Egg is a fake commercial for a Michael Bay Transformers toy.  The second Easter Egg has footage of Michael Bay acting in front of a blue screen.  The third Easter Egg shows footage of dogs.  For the fourth Easter Egg, go to the Trailers section and move the cursor to the left of the words “More Than Meets the Eye” to see a woman losing her dress.

 

 

 

--Miscellaneous--

Like the two-disc SD DVD release, you get a transparent slipcover.  An insert provides information about accessing online features and advertises other Paramount HD DVDs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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