About halfway through Transformers: Dark of the Moon I realized why Michael Bay was just the maniac to tackle the film series. Somewhere between the pyrotechnics, Victoria's Secret Fashion Show and John Malkovich wrongly assuming that Shia LaBeouf and Ken Jeong are having sex in a bathroom stall, I got wrapped up in the plight of several thirty-foot-tall transforming robots from outer space. Bay-hem abounds in the first two installments, and for part three the director brings his trademark brand of chaos but increases the collateral damage from the Autobot vs. Decepticon conflict. Transformers: Dark of the Moon is funnier and more intense than its predecessors, and, while still a long haul, is consistently entertaining.
The film begins during a war on the Transformers' home planet, Cybertron, as a spacecraft carrying an invention capable of uniting the Autobots and Decepticons leaves the atmosphere, only to crash land on the dark side of the Moon. NASA detects the crash, and President John F. Kennedy orders the 1969 Apollo 11 crew to investigate. Cut to the present, where the Autobots are seen assisting the United States government on a variety of peacekeeping missions. After learning of the earlier Moon mission, the Autobots explore the wreckage and find their incapacitated former leader, Sentinel Prime. Once awakened, Sentinel explains that the Decepticons have nefarious plans for the technology sealed within the downed ship.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon has quite a bit more going on than the previous two films. Despite having helped save the world twice, Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf) cannot land a post-college job. Fortunately, his girlfriend Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) helps pay the bills by working for bigwig automobile enthusiast Dylan Gould (Patrick Dempsey). Sam finally gets his foot in the door as the mail clerk at Accuretta Systems, which is run by tightly wound Bruce Brazos (Malkovich). Meanwhile, Director of National Intelligence Charlotte Mearing (Frances McDormand) is concerned that the Autobots are getting too involved in defense operations, and former Sector 7 agent Seymour Simmons (John Turturro) has written a book about the government's conspiracy to hide the Transformers.
People rarely criticize Bay's eye for action, and it goes without saying that Transformers: Dark of the Moon has more than a few tricks up its sleeve. Technology has improved in the four years since the first film was released, and Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Megatron, Shockwave, et al. look amazing. Each is a developed character, and the Transformers feel no more computer-generated than their human co-stars. Bay was widely criticized for his follow-up's shaky narrative and juvenile humor, but has since acknowledged that film's flaws, which were exacerbated by an impending writers' strike. Bay obviously took a lot of this criticism to heart for the third installment. Gone are jive-talking robots Skids and Mudflap and any visual representation of Transformer testicles. The story also makes sense this time around, and it is actually clear what Sam and the Autobots are fighting for.
What the previous two films lacked in actual Decepticon-sponsored devastation is paid back in spades. Bay managed to blow up a host of world landmarks in the earlier installments, but there were few human casualties. This time, Chicago is the site of the film's lengthy final showdown, and it gets blown up good. Not only does the city take a beating, but the Decepticons are shown killing humans. The film rolls out like a two-act play. The first half takes place in Washington, D.C., as bits of the story are assembled, and the latter half consists of the nonstop action of the Autobot/Decepticon battle. Bay also lets the big guys really brawl this time out. The robot battles are fairly brutal, and had the bloody dismemberments been of humans, the film surely would have received an R rating.
The way Bay shot Transformers: Dark of the Moon allows for all the child-like wonderment you can muster, which is fitting for a movie based off a Hasbro toy line. The production's scope is absolutely massive. The sets are unending, and it is nearly impossible to tell which parts are computer-generated and which are practical. Like a boy with a Cherry Bomb, Bay blows things up in giddy excess as he seductively pans the glimmering Autobot vehicles. These live-action Transformers films are the stuff of every twelve-year-old boy's dreams. If you're completely against falling into Bay's entertainment trap, you'll probably hate Transformers: Dark of the Moon.
With stars like Optimus Prime and Megatron, it is easy to forgot the humans, but they deserve a nod, too. LaBeouf clearly enjoys inhabiting Sam's high-intensity life, and he has turned the character into a bit of a smartass. This actually works well for the film, which never has to take itself too seriously. McDormand, Malkovich and Dempsey are clearly in on the joke, and ham it up nicely. Series pros Tyrese Gibson and Josh Duhamel also return as military men, and, despite reports to the contrary, Huntington-Whiteley is absolutely fine for her part. The only mention of series exile Megan Fox and her character Mikaela is that she dumped Sam and he moved on.
At 154 minutes, Transformers: Dark of the Moon runs about 25 minutes too long. While it is never boring, the protracted Chicago throw-down seems to keep going and going before the film slams into its hasty conclusion. At this point in the game, you probably know whether or not each of those 154 minutes will feel like an eternity. Transformers: Dark of the Moon makes some much-needed adjustments without changing the series' formula too much. Like it or not, it's a spectacle.
Paramount's 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer for Transformers: Dark of the Moon is just about perfect. Those looking for demo material need look no further than this Blu-ray, which is absolutely reference quality. Bay shot the movie both digitally and on film, but the two mediums blend seamlessly. Detail is incredible in every frame, and the transfer has the high-definition pop that home theater aficionados crave. Depth and texture are similarly excellent, and the scenery appears to extend for miles in some shots. Colors explode from the screen and are perfectly saturated. The bold yellow of Bumblebee's Camaro exterior and Optimus Prime's cherry-red shell are just two examples of the transfer's intense colors. Blacks are inky and rock solid, and I did not spot a hint of crush. Absent are any aliasing, compression or noise reduction problems. In sum, the amount of detail and the depth of field in every shot of the film is stunning.
The 7.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is also of reference quality. The lossless soundtracks for the Blu-ray releases of the first two films are incredible, and Transformers: Dark of the Moon manages to plunge even further into aural perfection. The track is both ground-shaking and expertly balanced. Dialogue is always clear and is never overshadowed by the effects. Those looking to convince a significant other to allow the purchase of a lossless surround system should give this disc a spin in their presence. The track gives each speaker a proper workout, and to say that it puts the view directly amid the action is an understatement. Directional dialogue is constant, effects come from all over the sound field and the score is beautifully performed. Gunfire explodes from the rear speakers, aircraft engines roar from back to front, and an Optimus-Prime ass-kicking reverberates throughout the room. The LFE is quite aggressive, too, and the expert mixing here is a testament to the skill of Bay's filmmaking team. Paramount also includes an English 5.1 Discrete Dolby Digital track, an English 2.0 Discrete Surround Dolby Digital track, and French, Spanish and Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks. English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles are available.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
Transformers: Dark of the Moon arrives on Blu-ray in a two-disc package that includes the Blu-ray, a DVD copy of the film and a downloadable digital copy. The discs are housed in a Blu-ray ecocase, and the dual-sided cover artwork has images from the film on the reverse side. The case is wrapped in an shiny, heavily embossed slipcover.
Bay is great about including in-depth extra features on his Blu-rays, but those looking for that content here will be disappointed. This initial release of Transformers: Dark of the Moon is completely barebones. Bay already released information that this edition is meant to present the film in the highest quality possible and in a timely manner. Bay and his team are working on a more elaborate Blu-ray edition that will also include a 3D presentation, which should be great considering the film made the best use of 3D all summer. Paramount includes a $10-off coupon to use if you buy this edition and purchase the deluxe version later.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon represents a healthy step up in quality from the last installment, with improvements in story, acting and spectacle. Michael Bay's large-scale production will still feel like overkill to some, but the film is consistently entertaining during its extended running time. Paramount's Blu-ray features reference-quality picture and sound, and is a true demo-worthy product. No extra features are included in this release, but a more elaborate package with a 3D presentation will be available later this year. Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.