4K Ultra HD Review: “Transformers 1-4” Are Entertaining, Visual Marvels

“Overall, if you are looking for pure entertainment, you can’t get any better than the Transformers films. Intense, animated, and entertaining, they are a great way to spend an evening.”


 

The fate of humanity is at stake when two races of robots, the good Autobots, and the villainous Decepticons, bring their war to Earth. The robots have the ability to change into different mechanical objects as they seek the key to ultimate power. Only a human youth, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) can save the world from total destruction.

I never watched the “Transformers” cartoon back in the mid-‘80s, it just never appealed to me but the movies, brought to us by Michael Bay, have been sheer entertainment. Say what you will about the lack of character development, or story exposition, these films are what summer blockbusters are meant to encompass, huge spectacle, gigantic robots, and massive explosions. There is a time and a place for Awards Season but there is also a time and a place for movies such as these, so just sit back, switch off your brain, and have fun!

 

“Transformers”

The first film in the series introduces us to Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) who is getting ready to graduate high school and whose father buys him an old Chevy Camaro. Sam is ecstatic that he has his own car but soon thereafter, he quickly discovers that the car has a life of its own. The car’s name is Bumblebee and has the capability to transform into a large, mechanical robot and while he cannot speak directly as he is mute, he communicates through the use of selected playback of radio and television signals. He and Sam bond and he introduces Sam to the rest of his robot friends, Optimus Prime, Jazz, Ironhide, and Ratchet. Through them, he finds out that there is an intergalactic war going on between two Transformer factions, the Autobots, led by Optimus, and the Decepticons, led by Megatron. The Decepticons are after a mystical artifact called the AllSpark, which is capable of giving life to new Decepticon Transformers but Optimus and his team are ready to fight to the death rather than let it fall into Megatron’s hands. With the Decepticons destroying anybody or anything that gets in their way, Sam agrees to help the Autobots and in the process, they are able to rally the support of the U.S. Government, who stand by Optimus and his fellow Transformers. By the end of the movie, the Decepticons are defeated and the Autobots are welcomed to earth.

“Transformers” is visually spectacular and even by today’s standards, the special effects and CGI are near-perfect. Paramount sent me all of the Transformers movies on 4K Ultra HD and I have to admit, after watching them in this format, it is almost impossible for me to view them in any other embodiment. For many years, Blu-ray was always my choice of viewing movies but 4K has surpassed it in overall visual and audio quality and if you are thinking of upgrading to 4K, I would highly recommend it, watching movies such as “Transformers” is what this medium was designed for.


 

“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”

As with most sequels, where the villain(s) were seemingly wiped out at the end of the previous movie, in many instances, the word ‘Revenge’ sometimes makes its way into the new title: “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge,” “Jaws: The Revenge,” “Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, “Revenge of the Jedi,” although technically Lucas changed it to “Return” when he realized the Jedi don’t seek out vengeance, the point is, when the word revenge is used, you go into the film knowing that the bad guy(s) are back and out for blood. As “Revenge of the Fallen” begins, our hero Sam is getting ready to head off to college out of state. He informs his trusty sidekick Bumblebee that he can’t go with him and naturally, he is heartbroken but right before he leaves, Sam discovers a small shard of the Allspark from the first movie and after touching it, he immediately begins to see Cybertronian symbols which he cannot explain. When he lands in college, he meets Alice, a college student who is immediately smitten with him and as soon as she gets him into bed, she changes and Sam realizes that she is not human, and is, in fact, a Decepticon Pretender, posing as a college student. The Constructicons are able to resurrect Megatron using the stolen shard and a showdown between Megatron and Optimus Prime and his team of Autobots takes place in Egypt, at the Giza pyramid complex but just as it looks like Optimus and his Autobots are going to win, many of the Decepticons combine to form Devastator, whose sole purpose is to crush all in his path.

While “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” upon its initial theatrical release, was another huge hit for Paramount, it is the least revered and the most excessively overblown entry in the series, at least that was the overall critical consensus then and now. Honestly, when I first saw it, I wasn’t exactly blown away by it but like I said about the original film, it’s a sci-fi visual extravaganza that isn’t meant to be taken too seriously. Granted, while that is in no way an excuse to just go out and blow anything and everything up, that is exactly what director Michael Bay did, and the film ultimately suffers from too much happening onscreen all at once. The film is outrageously overblown to the point that during some of the big action scenes, because the camera is zoomed in on much of the activity, it is almost impossible to comprehend what we are seeing onscreen, watch “The Bourne Supremacy,” “The Bourne Ultimatum,” or “Jason Bourne” for more examples. Upon watching it on 4K, the first time I had viewed it since 2009, while it is still very cluttered and superfluous, I was actually able to enjoy it more this time around but in the end, I have to go with the comprehensive general agreement that it is the least-liked entry in the franchise.


 

“Transformers: Dark of the Moon”

The third entry in the successful franchise was a return to form for director Michael Bay. While there are still plenty of robots and big explosions, his use of shaky cam that almost took over “Revenge of the Fallen” has been put aside but while it is still used, albeit sparingly, this time around, we are able to comprehend what is happening onscreen. With “Dark of the Moon,” we are told that in 1961, the “Ark,” a Cybertronian spaceship which was carrying an apparatus capable of ending the war between the Autobots and the Decepticons, crashlanded on the dark side of the moon. Then, in 1969, the President of the United States authorized a mission to put a man on the moon but secretly, the sole purpose was to investigate the crash scene. In present day, Sam starts work at a new job and immediately, one of his co-workers, Jerry, informs him about the Ark but is quickly assassinated by the Decepticons. Sam reaches out to Agent Seymour Simmons at Sector 7, a top secret government agency, and together, they realize that the Decepticons are wiping out people who were connected with, or have knowledge of the mission to the moon. The Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, after learning about the moon mission, head there and discover a dormant Sentinel Prime, Optimus’ predecessor, and the Pillars he created, as a way of building a Space Bridge between two points to teleport matter. Sentinel, a Decepticon, is able to teleport hundreds of Decepticons from the earth to the moon and once again, both sides must battle it out in Chicago, to save the earth, and mankind, once more.

“Revenge of the Fallen” felt more like a companion piece to the original “Transformers” than its much-derided sequel, and as a result, it is much more enjoyable. Megan Fox, who played Sam’s girlfriend in Parts 1 & 2, was noticeably absent this time around and that boiled down to her criticizing director Michael Bay and equating him to that of a tyrant, most notably, Adolf Hitler. Executive Producer Steven Spielberg insisted that she be fired from the project and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, a Victoria’s Secret lingerie model, was hired as Sam’s new love interest. To be honest, Megan Fox was not a very good actress and was obviously in the first two movies to serve as eye candy only and sadly, Ms. Whiteley serves pretty much the same purpose here. In the end, though, this is not Shakespeare, it is a summer blockbuster so just sit back and like the previous two entries, just have fun.


 

“Transformers: Age of Extinction”

With “Dark of the Moon,” I think everyone thought the series was finished but Michael Bay brought it back to life once more, in 2014’s “Transformers: Age of Extinction.” Gone was the previous trilogy’s hero, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), and a big part of that was probably LaBeouf’s very public meltdown over the past few years. From criticizing the Transformer movies, and even lambasting “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” in which he starred as Indy’s son Mutt, the actor seemed to be going through a very difficult period in his life so “Age of Extinction” was a new chapter in the series. Bay had worked with Mark Wahlberg on “Pain & Gain” the previous year so he brought him in for this new iteration of Transformers. The action is moved to Texas where Wahlberg plays Cade Yeager, a penniless inventor who is on the verge of losing his house and farm. His teenage daughter Tessa lives with him and when he discovers a beat-up old truck, he writes it off as just spare parts but when a government agency named Cemetery Wind, finds out about it, and they attack Cade and his daughter, the truck transforms into Optimus Prime and he helps Cade and Tessa escape. We learn that in the five years since the events of “Dark of the Moon,” the U.S. Government now views all Transformers as a threat to earth and hunts down and destroys any and all robots left.

Cade, along with Optimus’ help, is able to break into K.S.I. Industries, a private company which melts down the remains of any Autobots and Decepticons that are found for the sole purpose of turning them into Transformer drones, machines that look and sound like Transformers but are controlled by humans instead. With the help of Optimus’ remaining Autobots, they are able to get a sample of this new technology but not before they are chased by the new drones. While giving chase, the humans realize that they no longer control the drones and that Megatron has taken them over. In the ensuing chaos, Optimus is captured, along with Tessa, and taken to a large prison spaceship which hovers over Chicago. Now the remaining Autobots, as well as Cade, and Tessa’s boyfriend Shane must somehow get on board the ship and prevent it from leaving the earth’s atmosphere. While this is looked upon as a new beginning in the Transformers saga, it is more or less the same as the previous entries in the franchise. While I like Mark Wahlberg, and Kelsey Grammar makes for a decidedly nasty bad guy, there are times when I found myself missing LaBeouf’s zany and energetic Sam. While there is no mention of him here, in the next, and supposedly final installment, “Transformers: The Last Knight,” there is a quick reference that insinuates that he is now dead. Overall, if you are looking for pure entertainment, you can’t get any better than the Transformers films. Intense, animated, and entertaining, they are a great way to spend an evening.

“Transformers 1-4” all available on 4K Ultra HD Tuesday, December 5th


 

James McDonald

Originally from Dublin, Ireland, James is a Movie Critic and Celebrity Interviewer with over 30 years of experience in the film industry as an Award-Winning Filmmaker.

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