Transformers: Age of Extinction 3D Review

The Movie

Transformers: Age of Extinction takes place five years after the events of Dark of the Moon. With the city of Chicago lying in ruins and the Earth itself almost enslaved by the Decepticons, humankind decided to cut all ties with the Autobots, with the CIA establishing a secret death squad (codenamed 'Cemetary Wind') to clear our planet of the Transformers once and for all. But the CIA’s interest is not purely political because they're handing off the robots’ remains to KSI, a civilian technology company which has discovered the secret of creating Transformers, fashioning a new man-made breed of robot which they plan to sell to the US Govt. for billions - though all is not what it seems with their new creations.

In the middle of this cosy arrangement is Lockdown, an alien bounty hunter out to claim the scalp of Autobot leader Optimus Prime. In return for Cemetery Wind’s assistance in tracking Prime he’ll give the humans a rare device capable of turning organic matter into the rare element needed to make more Transformers. But Prime has disappeared since he took heavy damage in his last battle with Lockdown and the few remaining Autobots have scattered to the wind, remaining well hidden until a luckless Texan inventor discovers a beaten-up old truck during a site clearance and decides to set about repairing it…

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Director/producer Michael Bay’s latest noisy instalment in the Transformers franchise may have seemed like it was heading in a different direction, having relieved Shia LaBeouf of his services and focusing on a new set of human characters, but basically it's more of the same with a few little twists on the formula here and there. It starts off interestingly enough, as a fleet of alien ships descend on prehistoric Earth and detonate a device that turns every living thing into metal which is then harvested by these alien visitors - thereby positing the idea of these beings as the Transformers’ creators and as the dudes who wiped out the dinosaurs - but it quickly reverts to the ‘Bayformers’ tropes of showing fit ladies in very skimpy outfits, with lots of explosions, gunplay, foot chases, car chases etc.

As with the previous films, Age of Extinction introduces yet another completely new element of Transformers lore, that of Optimus Prime being some sort of Knight sent on an intergalactic crusade by these mysterious ‘creators’ which is why he’s being hunted by Lockdown; the creators want the Knights back and the bounty hunter has imprisoned all of them but Prime himself. The rest of these Knights are made up of the Dinobots, a selection of gigantic brutes who transform into dinosaurs and don’t seem to have any actual relevance to the prehistoric prologue at all (unless they’re some of the creators’ first efforts based on the creatures of that time period, although this is not explained in the film).

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The human factor does what it can amongst the chaos and confusion. Mark Wahlberg is Cade Yeager, a deadbeat tinkerer with bills to pay and a teenage daughter to support, and he’s actually pretty good here. All too often he plays characters that are full of confidence and machismo but Yeager’s more of a cranky dad who’s a legend in his own lunchtime, and it’s good to see Wahlberg have fun like this. Yeager's nubile daughter Tessa is played by the equally nubile Nicola Peltz, with legs up to her armpits, blonde hair flowing in slow motion and a bee-stung pout, though she doesn’t seem to be as terminally air-headed as her female predecessors in the other Transformers movies and performs her limited role well.

Tessa’s rally-driving boyfriend Shane is played by Irish newcomer Jack Reynor, and for once we don’t have to suffer through an appalling attempt at an American accent because the character is also Irish. While that makes for a nice change, it’s somewhat weird because it’s like having a member of Boyzone running around in a movie, but as with Tessa there's not much more required of him than to run, jump and shout/scream, so he doesn't outstay his welcome. Speaking of which, comedian T.J. Miller gets a short-lived role as Lucas, Cade’s laidback surfer-dude ‘employee’. The brilliantly named Titus Welliver plays James Savoy, the embittered field commander of Cemetary Wind.

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Bay was once again somehow able to recruit some genuinely classy acting talent to spout exposition in-between the explosions, namely Kelsey Grammer as Harold Attinger, the CIA black ops leader who’s out to cut the Transformers down to size, and Stanley Tucci as Joshua Joyce, the pretentious Steve Jobs-esque boss of KSI who’s making robots of his own. His assistant/archeologist Darcy Tirrel (whose role in the film isn't entirely clear) is played by English beauty Sophia Myles. Chinese star Li Bingbing was recruited for a small role as Su Yueming, the head of KSI’s Beijing plant, as a sop to the film's Chinese co-production.

There’s also decent talent behind the Transformers' voices too. John Goodman gets a role as the belligerent Hound, John DiMaggio (perhaps best known for his work as Bender Bending Rodriguez) is the pragmatic Crosshairs and Ken Watanabe is Drift, a Japanese Samurai-bot prone to dispensing haikus. Peter Cullen returns as Prime, giving this more bloodthirsty iteration of the character some small semblance of the nobility which he had in the G1 cartoon. And although no more Megatron means no more Hugo Weaving, legendary voiceover artiste Frank Welker (who played Megatron in the G1 series) finally gets his chance to face Cullen’s Prime on the field of battle, this time as a character (which I won't spoil) whose name will be familiar to all but the most casual Transformers fan.

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Age of Extinction isn't as excruciatingly stupid as its immediate forebears and even shows a certain level of welcome self-awareness with some gags about IMAX projectors and how sequels and reboots are a "bunch of crap". There's a great line when one of the huge Dinobots transforms into his dinosaur mode and Drift remarks without irony: "I expected him to turn into a giant car". It also helps that the human protagonists are semi-tolerable thanks to the father/daughter angle which puts a fresher spin on proceedings than the tired 'boy and his car' bit from the previous films, but let's be honest; the humans and the nonsensical story are all secondary to the main purpose of the movie, which is to throw $200 million dollars at a cinema screen and see what sticks.

In that respect Bay delivers every damned time with masses of jawdropping action scenes, each one staged with as many practical effects as time and safety will allow, plus some gorgeously detailed CG for the Transformers themselves. It's somewhat ironic that all certain people can do is complain about how CG is the devil's work etc, but when a master of disaster like Michael Bay blows up anything and everything he can get his hands on and literally drops real cars, trains, buses and even boats into shot, his work is summarily dismissed by the same cognoscenti for being too vulgar or too juvenile. It's like even though one fanboy criteria has now been fulfilled, the moaners just move on to complaining about the next one.

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Still, even I'll concede that the movie is much too long at 165 minutes, sagging in the middle section as Cade and Shane somehow manage to infiltrate KSI to see what the company is up to, but once it gets back up to speed it pins you in your seat and it doesn't let up, pulverising your senses into submission with wave after wave of apocalyptic imagery as Bay smashes the shit out of Hong Kong (by way of Detroit). When I finished watching the 3D version I felt punch-drunk, my eyes and ears reeling from the experience. I literally felt unsteady for a minute or two, like someone setting foot on dry land after spending weeks at sea, such was the cumulative effect of nearly three hours of crunching carnage.

Does this mean that Age of Extinction is good or bad, then? [Audible sigh] It's getting increasingly difficult to couch the Transformers movies in those sorts of terms anymore, because these big-budget extravaganzas are designed to be a loud, colourful experience for a willing audience, and aren't supposed to hold up to the scrutiny of nit-picking nerds on the interwebs (and I include myself in that demographic). They are form as function, a cinematic sub-genre unto themselves, and seeing as this fourth outing pulled in another gigantic billion-dollar box office haul from around the world, it's fair to say that the Transformers express will keep on chooglin' for the forseeable future. But right now I need to lie down in a darkened room.

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The Blu-ray

This imported US region-free 3D Blu-ray is a premium package, containing the 3D BD with the shifting aspect ratio exclusive to the theatrical IMAX version, then the fixed-ratio 2D version, then an extras disc, then a regular DVD and finally an Ultraviolet/iTunes digital copy, all wrapped up in a lovely lenticular slipcase. [N.B. The UK version is not due until the middle of November.]

Shot on a combination of the latest 6K RED Dragon, IMAX’s own 4K 3D solution (based on the Phantom 65 Gold) and regular 35mm anamorphic for a 2K DI finish, the movie has all the glitz and gloss typical of Bay’s work. The 3D version alternates between different ratios, in keeping with the IMAX style of changing from wide to tall, although it’s employed in a decidedly idiosyncratic way. What’s immediately obvious is the retention of the 1.90 aspect for the tallest shots, Bay electing to preserve the theatrical IMAX ratio which diminishes the height of the frame on 1.78 consumer displays.

That’s not a problem on a cinema-sized screen, but on smaller domestic set-ups you’re eating into the available screen real estate with not-insignificant borders top and bottom. Oddly, the image doesn’t just revert to the native 2.40 widescreen ratio of the 35mm shots, for some reason it also uses something closer to 2.10 for a few other scenes, meaning that those shots are bordered so heavily that they might as well be 2.40. (The RED Dragon’s sensor is close to that aspect ratio, so Bay may have decided to ‘open up’ those shots also.)

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What this all means is that the 3D IMAX version is a distracting grab bag of different ratios, Bay’s infamously hectic editing style cutting between all three aspects with no rhyme or reason and there’s none of the elegance or intelligence of JJ Abram’s recent use of IMAX on Star Trek Into Darkness. In some ways this approach diminishes the impact of the taller image because you’re not being given enough time to get used to the wider aspect before being hit with the taller shots. And Bay didn't use the bigger screen just for action scenes, as he liked the IMAX camera so much he employed it throughout the movie, even on something like a throwaway insert shot of a character holding up a letter as they read it. The clarity of the IMAX shots is still very impressive, don't get me wrong, but perhaps it could've been put to more judicious use.

IMAX niggles aside, the 3D itself is exemplary. It’s not got the greatest amount of depth I’ve ever seen (again, the smashmouth editing doesn't give you a lot of time to focus so they didn't push it too far in certain scenes) but the layering is consistently excellent with some wonderfully immersive particle effects and the detail on offer is simply remarkable, especially in the close-ups of the Transformers themselves. Other than that, the image is full of the usual Bay attributes: perma-tanned orangey flesh tones, eye-popping primaries and deep blacks that never betray so much of a hint of any banding in the darker shots, nor is there any other artefacting on display apart from just a touch of moiré patterning on areas of fine vertical detail. There’s no errant noise reduction (you can see the fine layer of grain in the 35mm shots compared to the squeaky-clean RED/IMAX shots) and nor is there any overt edge enhancement. I give the 3D 10/10.

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Those traits are mostly shared by the fixed aspect 2.40 widescreen version (presented on its own 2D disc, as the 3D IMAX version is NOT playable on 2D equipment), although it has a slightly darker, contrastier look to it and I was dismayed to see how bad the aforementioned moiré was on this 2D iteration. For the first 10 minutes any kind of intricate horizontal details shimmer like crazy (look at the front grille of Lucas’ Mini when he pulls up to the cinema) and I found it to be very distracting. It does settle down but it’s never gone completely, and while the image often has lots of genuinely razor-sharp detail it sometimes imparts a kind of false, exaggerated sense of sharpness because of this poor downscaling from the 2K master. Its other attributes are still strong enough to rate the video very highly, but the shimmering stops it short of perfection. 9/10.

As for the audio, Paramount have used Age of Extinction to deliver the world’s first Dolby Atmos track for consumer usage, Atmos being Dolby's theatrical format which adds a variety of additional height and side channels to create a true sense of ‘wraparound’ sound. Alas, I only have a mere 7.1 setup which I use for my reviews, but thankfully no additional jiggery-pokery was needed to enable the 7.1 Dolby TrueHD lossless track because the Atmos data extension is simply ignored by gear that doesn’t support it (and there were no ill effects like dropouts or other artefacts). The 7.1 is quite simply amazing, with a completely seamless rear sound field, dialogue and music that’s never lost in the din and a cavernous bass extension. What I like about Bay’s audio ethos is that he doesn’t assault you with bass for the hell of it; most of the human weapons sound like cap guns compared to the cannons which the Transformers carry, and the sequence when Lockdown’s ship is hoovering up parts of Hong Kong will shake the pictures from your walls. 10/10 all the way.

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The bonus material all resides on a separate disc. There's almost 3 hours of content here, starting off with Evolution within Extinction which is a 2-hour 'making of' that charts the movie from beginning to end, starting off with design and casting, then moving on to the various location shoots in the US and China before looking at the post-production phase and finishing with the world premiere in Hong Kong. It's nothing revolutionary but it's a solid enough piece, with plenty of contributions from all of the key personnel in front of and behind the camera. (It's playable in one chunk or in 8 separate featurettes.)

Next up are several standalone featurettes: Bay on Action does what it says on the tin, it's 10 minutes of the director talking about the way that he shoots action. Just Another Giant Effin' Movie is essentially a 10-minute gag reel, full of crew members goofing around and looking like they're having a ball. A Spark of Design is an interesting 15-minute piece about the processes that go into creating and building the Transformers toys, taking us on a quick tour of Hasbro's HQ to show us where the magic happens. T.J. Miller: Farm Hippie is nigh-on 20 minutes of Miller (who plays Lucas in the movie) doing some ironic 'comedy' with Mark Wahlberg, Kelsey Grammer and Michael Bay. It's far too long but I did get a couple of laughs out of it.

Lastly we get a selection of trailers: two for the main movie, another for Kre-o's Transformers toy line which is actually pretty funny and one for Angry Birds Transformers, which is a brilliant minute-long spoof of the old G1 Transformers cartoon, complete with cheesy rock soundtrack and a wobbly VHS-style appearance.

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Overall

Transformers: Age of Extinction is yet another crowd-pleasing giant robot actioner from Michael Bay. Love him or hate him, he certainly puts every cent up on the screen and this 3D Blu-ray version provided one of the most dazzling and disorienting home cinema experiences I’ve ever had, with the stunning visuals and soaring 7.1 audio combining to bludgeon my brain into mush. Add to that a very nice fixed-aspect 2D version, a bonus disc with some worthwhile special features plus separate DVD & digital copies, and this import 3D Blu-ray is an excellent package that comes highly recommended for fans of cinema's premier merchant of mayhem.

Film
5 out of 10
Video
10 out of 10
Audio
10 out of 10
Extras
8 out of 10
Overall

8

out of 10

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