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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

September 29th, 2011

Transformers: Dark of the Moon - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack

The first Transformers live action movie was an acceptable popcorn flick, but didn't do enough with the source material. Revenge of the Fallen is widely considered the worst movie ever to earn more than $400 million at the box office. Given its predecessors, expectations for Dark of the Moon were rather low. I think for most people, if it was just a fun popcorn flick, they would be satisfied. Was that the case? Was it able to improve on the first film? Or did it sink lower than the second?

The Movie

The film begins on Cybertron in the waning days of the war as we watch a spaceship, Ark, carrying the last hope of the Autobots being shot down. We then switch to Earth in 1961, which is when this ship crashes on the Moon. Fast forward to 1969, and man's first landing on the Moon, which was not just a scientific mission, but a covert operation to discover what crashed.

Flash forward to today, and here's where the tone of this review can go one of two ways. I can either simply describe the plot, or I can get a little snarky. I'm choosing the latter. We are reintroduced to Sam Witwicky, who is whiny, unemployed, and dating a female-shaped lump of wood called Carly Miller. He's looking for a job, when his parents show up and further emphasize how much his life sucks, by offering to drive him to his interviews. I'm snarky about this part of the plot, because none of these characters are the least bit interesting. I don't care about Sam's relationship insecurities, I don't care about him trying to find a job, I certainly don't want to watch him push around a mail cart while at his new job. The film is just over two and a half hours, and any time not spent on the titular Transformers just feels like padding.

When we get back to the plot that matters, we find the Autobots working with the humans on covert missions when they learn there is a potentially alien artifact at Chernobyl. When Optimus gets there, he finds it is indeed a part of the Ark. There's a short skirmish with Shockwave, who escapes, but what's important is they recover the artifact, and Optimus is pissed. He demands to know why they weren't told about human's previous contact with the Transformers. He plans to travel to the Moon immediately and recover the lost technology, and if possible, recover Sentinel Prime, the Autobots' former leader. Now we are getting somewhere...

So we switch back to Sam for a bit. At least this time he's directly involved in the plot. One of his new co-workers, Jerry Wang, knows who Sam is and knows of his connections with the aliens. Through his past work, he also knows of the crashed ship on the dark side of the Moon and warns Sam that the Decepticons are back and his life is in danger. With that, Laserbeak attacks Sam's workplace and kills Jerry, Sam runs to the Autobots secret headquarters. He tells them what he knows, but when the new boss, Mearing, tells him to go home. He then decides to look for answers with Agent Seymour Simmons, whom we've met before; Dutch, Agent Simmons' assistant; and Bruce, Sam's crazy boss. They figure out...

We've gotten to the big reveal, so that's a good time to end the plot. Although quite frankly, we only have about twenty more minutes of plot, plus an equal amount of filler, before the climactic battle, which takes up the last hour of the movie. A whole hour. Ugh. I am simply stunned by the talent Michael Bay displayed in creating this sequence. He managed to take the end of the world by robot invasion and make it boring. Why is it boring? First of all, we spend far too much time focusing on characters we've never been given reasons to care about. There's a whole plot with Sam going into Chicago to rescue Carly and it takes forever. And when we finally get some action going, we spend far too much time on the humans. There are robots fighting, so why are we watching two human punch it out?

Here's an open letter to the screenwriters / director of the next film. If you have an action scene and there are no transformers in frame, you have failed at your jobs.

The film has has several plot holes, like why would the Decepticons needs humans as slaves? I can't imagine we would be much use as slave labor, given how puny we are compared to the average Decepticon. Or when the Autobots fake their destruction, Optimus says they need it for the element of surprise, but then Bumblebee goes in to help rescue Carly, thus blowing the element of surprise. And why was Megatron wearing a headscarf? Was that supposed to be a disguise? Much of the acting in the film ranges from inert to puzzlingly bad. There are award-winning actors who give performances in this film that are distracting. Wasn't there anyone on set to tell them to tone it down a bit? There needed to be some realism in the film, and it certainly wasn't going to come from the script.

There are a couple good aspects to the film. Firstly, I do like the setup with the NASA mission to the moon being part of a conspiracy. I wish that part was explored more in the movie. Secondly, because the film was made with 3D in mind, Michael Bay couldn't use the ultra-fast cuts he normally relies on, so the action is easier to follow and therefore more interesting. However, he still manages to screw up by relying too heavily on slow motion shots. Seeing a Transformer transform in slow motion looks cool, but only once.

The Extras

There are no extras on the DVD or the Blu-ray, which is a bit of a shock given its box office numbers. This screams double-dip. On the other hand, there's nothing to complain about technically. This is reference quality material, especially the 7.1 surround sound mix. The details are amazing, the colors are incredible, the blacks are deep, there's never any compression issues, etc. There's only one minor complaint and that's with grain. Some of the film was shot digitally, and some was shot on film. This means some scenes have a fine grain to them while others don't. If you are really, really anal about this, the change can be noticeable. However, you have to really look for it. On the other hand, I had no complaints about the audio. It really has everything you need in an audio track from clear dialogue and simple ambient sounds, to directional effects that put you in the middle of the action.

The Verdict

Transformers: Dark of the Moon is not a good movie. It's not as bad as Revenge of the Fallen is, but it is closer in quality to the second film than it is to the original Transformers live action movie. There are no extras on either the DVD or the Blu-ray Combo Pack, so a double-dip is coming. I would wait till then, but odds are it will only be worth a rental.

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Filed under: Video Review, Transformers: Dark of the Moon