The TRANSFORMERS Series Proves Bayhem Reigns on 4K UHD!

It’s hard to believe Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise has been going strong now for almost a decade. The films have become synonymous with Bay’s explosive, bigger is better philosophy as he took the beloved toy line from the ‘80s and turned it into a billion dollar mega-franchise. All of the films recently were released on 4K UHD, and I felt like it was my duty as both a Michael Bay and Transformers fan to sit through all of them. While I can say the films look amazing in UHD as you would probably expect, watching them all in a row illustrates just how fast and loose Bay is with the mythology of the series and really accentuates some of the franchises weaker points.

While the first film languished in development hell for a number of years, most forget it was executive producer Steven Spielberg himself who hand picked Bay as the director and architect of the series. Bay originally turned down the “stupid toy movie,” but took the project to work with Spielberg. Bay threw out the previous script, bulking up the military’s role in the film while introducing the world to Megan Fox, whom he originally cut from Bad Boys II. With his new script by Alex Kurtzman (The Mummy 2017), the film went forward full steam ahead with Bay giving his take on teenager Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), who buys his first car only to finds it’s a Transformer as he quickly becomes humanity’s singular hope in the battle between the Autobots and Decepticons. This is thanks to Sam also being descended from explorer Archibald Witwicky, who was the last man to know the location of an ancient Transformers artifact.

Transformers (2007) sets the template for the adventure series going forward; every outing has the Autobots trying to stop the Decepticons from getting their hands on an ancient Transformers artifact that would somehow wipe out life as we know it on earth. In the first film it’s the All Spark, a cube that has the ability to give sentient Transformer life to any in film product placement it touches. (You can’t unsee the killer Mountain Dew machine or XBox 360.) It’s kind of hinted at that this was the thing that gave life to the Transformers, hence the name All Spark, but that fact is later revised in the series. Another thing you quickly find watching the films in this succession is the extremely fluid mythology that can change from film to film in the series.

Some of the other hallmarks we are introduced to on our initial outing is the crude 8th grade humor, over-objectifying of female protagonists, and the almost unkillable, unlikable human cockroach that is Shia LaBeouf as Sam Witwicky. Revisiting the first film, it still works and is surprisingly still fun; my only issue here is the constant motion blur on the action, making it almost impossible at times to make anything out. That was my primary compliant the first time I saw the films. I don’t know if that was purely stylistic or a technological limitation, but I am glad they got away from that in later entries.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) is the entry we can all kind of agree is the worst of the series. It’s the film even Michael Bay has apologized for and referred to as “crap” thanks its subpar script, which was a product of the writer’s strike and the introduction of what he calls “mystical elements.” The only thing mystical about this film is the magical white jeans worn by Megan Fox that managed to get through three desert Transformer battles without getting dirty. Revenge of the Fallen is a film that borrows a bit too much from the previous film for a convoluted adventure that, while introducing some great new ideas (which are quickly exorcised from the canon), feels like after two and a half hours it doesn’t really go anywhere we haven’t been before. That’s not good considering this is only the second film.

The film wastes no time using a shard of the All Spark to revive Megatron, the leader of the Decepticons who is either killed or revived in almost every film. This time he is looking for the Matrix of Leadership to power a Solar Harvester that was on left on Earth in 17,000 BCE. Placed there by a one of the Seven Primes and Megatron’s mentor known as The Fallen, the device is used to drain the sun and convert its power to Energon. But the Primes agreed that they would never drain any life-bearing worlds, so they hid the Matrix from The Fallen, who still wanted to activate the device, killing the human race to get the energy to save Cybertron. Sam of course leads a globe trotting hunt for the Matrix, which he believes is also the key to also bringing back Optimus Prime, who is killed by Megatron earlier in the film. Revenge of the Fallen also features one of the strangest sequences in the entire franchise as Sam is killed only to go to Transformer heaven where he finds out he had the Matrix of Leadership all along.

While this film was a lightning rod for criticism thanks the vulgar racial stereotypes of its robots and Devistator’s wrecking ball testicles, it does offer up one of coolest sequences of the series thanks to Alice, a Pretender. When the woman’s face breaks apart in 4K, to reveal her to be a Transformer, man that is one hell of a beautiful effect. The stunning shot took almost 6 months to render, and just like Jetfire’s ability to teleport, never resurfaces again in the canon of the series. Revenge of the Fallen has its moments, but is still a chore to suffer through. While it was fun to see it in 4K and most will own this for completists’ sake, I don’t see many revisiting this title. It just isn’t a very well made film, and given none of these films are under two hours I can’t see this having too much re-watchability.

Next up was my second favorite of the first four films viewed, Transformers: Dark of the Moon. The film has a great premise, that the Space Race in the ‘60s was simply a government ruse for humanity to investigate a Transformer ship that crashed on the dark side of the moon, hence the title. The only bad part is to shoehorn that fun concept into the preexisting timeline; Bay begins another hallmark of the series, the revisionist nature of the previous mythology to the benefit of the current film. When the Autobots find Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy) in stasis on the crashed ship, they use the Matrix of Leadership to revive him, only to find out he had made a deal with the Decepticons before he left their home world and crashed on the moon. Their plan is to use the space bridge Sentinel Prime invented and was carrying to transport the population of Earth to Cybertron to be used as slave labor to rebuild their planet.

This is where things start to get really muddy, and you just have to kind of roll with it and ignore the fact that we are all just finding out about this ship the third film in. Not to mention that Decepticons just happened to have an entire army stashed on the Moon, which would have helped them a whole lot in the previous film. I’m just chalking it up to poor planning on Megatron’s part since this film channels the first season of the television show as Bay, no longer to content to destroy uninhabited desert wastelands or historical landmarks, sets his sights on Chicago. We also sadly lose Megan Fox thanks to a comparison in a press junket, comparing Bay to Hitler, which didn’t bode well for her character. She was replaced Victoria’s Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who does a fairly competent job.

Saving the best for last is Transformers: Age of Extinction, a reboot of sorts that gives us a new protagonist in the form of father/inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), who finds a damaged Semi, which turns out to be Optimus Prime, in Texas, where it crashed into an abandoned movie theater. Age of Extinction leaves behind many of the characters of the first three to focus on the strained relationship between Cade and his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz), who are thrust into a much different battle between the humans and the Transformers than we have seen before. Under the guise of the Cemetery Wind, the US government is using a Transformer bounty hunter named Lock Down to hunt down and kill the Autobots for their Transformium for the government to make their own human controllable robots in disguise. But of course this is used as another opportunity to once again raise Megatron from the dead, as he wants to use an ancient artifact called “The Seed” to turn the earth into Transformium, killing all human life along with it.

Age of Extinction is a blast from start to finish, and ultimately the setup for the entry in the series where Michael Bay finally goes full-on #Bayhem — The Last Knight. I love the father-daughter dynamic here, which leaves the hormonal humor/drama behind as we see Cade struggle to be a good father in a post-apocalyptic world fighting alongside giant robots. It’s this coupled with humanity being the real antagonist here as they kill the Transformers for a Steve Jobs-esque megalomaniac Joshua Joyce, played by the hilarious Stanley Tucci. It’s something that seemed a bit more plausible than past films, with the hunt for the artifact more secondary here to humanity’s betrayal of their protectors. Age of Extinction is not high art, but it’s the definition of fun popcorn film and has Optimus Prime riding a giant robot T-Rex with a sword, which is enough for me.

The Transformers series is a master-class in cinematic excess; everything is larger than life, all the CG is gorgeously rendered, and you can tell no expense was spared in bringing Bay’s vision to screen, especially seen in UHD. These discs all look and sound like they were taken right from the theatrical DCPs, and they probably were. Every film here comes accompanied with a very aggressively updated Dolby Atmos track that will definitely push your system to its limits. As far as transfers go, the first film has to be my favorite, with its warm color palette that is perfectly accentuated by the fact you can tell this was shot of on film. Going through the films you can also see the evolution to larger formats and digital since the films definitely lose that warmth and grain the further you go into the series. My only qualm would be the aspect ratios are locked for the duration of the films, unlike the 3D versions that retain the shifts when it came to their IMAX presentations. Like The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the films all retain a static 2:35 aspect ratio throughout. The HDR and Dolby Vision here add some lush highlights to the overall image quality of the films and some deep blacks, which is very impressive on a well calibrated screen.

Every 4K UHD film comes with the previously released Blu-ray version bundled with all their previous extras intact. It’s a solid package that had me getting rid of my previous discs, only holding on to the 3D versions. For fans of this series these editions are nothing short of definitive; even with the minor shortcomings, these films are not just a lot of fun but the perfect discs to show off your new 4K UHD TV and surround sound setup. Just like the films themselves, they have spared no effort to provide the best quality presentation the format can offer, and films like these are the perfect reason to own a UHD player. You kind of either love this series or you don’t, and I doubt any fan wouldn’t want these upgrades. I just want to know now, when I can get a UHD disc of The Rock?

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