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Transformers: Dark of the Moon Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Review

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011) movie poster Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Theatrical Release: June 29, 2011 / Running Time: 154 Minutes / Rating: PG-13 / Songs List

Director: Michael Bay / Writer: Ehren Kruger

Cast: Shia LaBeouf (Sam Witwicky), Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (Carly Spencer), Josh Duhamel (Lt. Colonel William Lennox), John Turturro (Seymour Simmons), Tyrese Gibson (Chief Robert Epps), Patrick Dempsey (Dylan Gould), Frances McDormand (Charlotte Mearing), John Malkovich (Bruce Brazos), Kevin Dunn (Ron Witwicky), Julie White (Judy Witwicky), Alan Tudyk (Dutch), Ken Jeong (Jerry Wang), Glenn Morshower (General Morshower), Lester Speight (Eddie), Buzz Aldrin (Buzz Aldrin), Bill O'Reilly (Bill O'Reilly), Andy Daly (Mailroom Worker) / Voice Cast: Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime), Hugo Weaving (Megatron), Leonard Nimoy (Sentinel Prime), Jess Harnell (Ironhide), Charlie Adler (Starscream), Robert Foxworth (Ratchet), James Remar (Sideswipe), Francesco Quinn (Dino), George Coe (Que, Wheeljack), Tom Kenny (Wheelie), Reno Wilson (Brains), Frank Welker (Shockwave, Soundwave), Ron Bottitta (Roadbuster, Amp), John DiMaggio (Leadfoot, Target), Keith Szarabajka (Laserbeak), Greg Berg (Igor)

Buy Transformers: Dark of the Moon from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy DVD Instant Video

The first Transformers movie was a serious candidate for the title of all-time worst American blockbuster, but then it was eliminated from discussion and the discussion essentially closed
with the release of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Noisier and even less coherent than the original, the sequel got the critical maligning its predecessor had deserved. And yet, Revenge managed to outgross its forebear by almost $100 million domestically and more than that worldwide, cracking and debasing the list of North America's ten highest-grossing films ever. (Its subsequent expulsion is one of many things for which we can thank Toy Story 3.)

If the Internet is to be believed, audience reaction to the sequel was a far cry from the first movie's widespread approval. Nonetheless, director/executive producer Michael Bay wasn't about to halt this franchise, adapted from a 1980s Hasbro toy line, after just two movies. Thus, we get Transformers: Dark of the Moon, which kept to the script by opening in over 4,000 domestic theaters in advance of the Fourth of July.

His first day on the job, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) has knowledge dropped on him by harried conspiracy theorist Jerry "Deep" Wang (Ken Jeong). John Malkovich joins the cast as Sam's eccentric prospective employer Bruce Brazos.

Young Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) has become a man, but his heroics in the two Earth-shaking encounters with creatures from another world must remain classified. That makes it hard for the recent college grad to find a job. But, this being Transformers and all, Sam's life is of no importance without those alien vehicles/robots in it. As luck would have it, the war between the Autobots (the good Transformers) and the Decepticons (the baaad ones) rages on in spite of previous resolution.

The subtitle doesn't merely pay homage to Pink Floyd, it also drives the plot, ostensibly. The movie opens in 1961, with the Autobot-Decepticon war at full blast. In the heat of space conflict, the Autobots' secret weapon and final hope got sent to Earth's moon, where it lays in ruin there for eight years. This enigmatic hunk of metal is of secret interest to the US government and NASA, who cut the transmission during the landmark Apollo 11 lunar mission to investigate the wreckage. There is something terribly offensive about American history being used here, especially when Buzz Aldrin himself shows up to verify the cover-up. Way to trivialize your achievement, Buzz.

What all this has to do with the goings-on fifty years later in our present-day is that long-presumed dead Autobot leader Sentinel Prime is awakened from coma and reunited with his side. That is just as the beat but not beaten Decepticons would have it, because pieces are falling into place for them to reclaim their former advantage. These bad Transformers have a master plan, which centers on enslaving the entire human race.

Of course, Sam wants to get involved and do his part to help his friends, but national security wants to keep him at bay. So, he does what any threequel protagonist would do in his situation, which is to reconnect with his old allies, including the excitable Seymour Simmons (John Turturro) and nondescript Army colonel William Lennox (Josh Duhamel). The climax of Dark of the Moon starts about halfway into the movie, giving us roughly 75 minutes of uninterrupted, unadulterated Michael Bay action.

Optimus Prime and the Autobots assemble and confer with U.S. military officials.

I entered this installment with an open mind, ready yet again to give the series' massive audience the benefit of the doubt. No other movies as widely attended have left me as completely bewildered as to the source of their appeal.
And that continues to be the case because this latest adventure is as horrendous as those which preceded it. I'll try to be brief and address only the film's most glaring and fundamental deficiencies.

First, there are the Transformers themselves. Never mind that the concept of vehicles that turn into robots makes infinitely more sense for a toy line than for telling stories. Why do Bay's Transformers have to be such a mess? The cartoon series' rendering of the characters was simple and geometric, as the original toys themselves were. Bay and his design and effects crew seem to want to equip these warriors with more complexity and mechanisms. But it's just so ugly. I see these characters and I don't even know where to look. Downgrade their anthropomorphism and you chip away at personality and sympathy. We're left with something like three Transformers who are immediately identifiable and everything else is just a mass of metal clanging away for one side or the other. The scale is also off-putting. These beings are tall, too tall for the obligatory 2.40:1 aspect ratio and too tall to interact comfortably with human characters. Following what's going on is a chore and caring about it is virtually impossible.

That'd be okay if the Transformers were simply a supporting presence, like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. But they are not. They receive more focus than anything else. Still, they're only a few degrees above backdrop, because the real star of the show is Michael Bay's ego. How else can one explain spending two and a half hours in a universe and not becoming intimately familiar with any one element? By using shots that rarely last more than a couple of seconds and constantly moving his attention from one thing to another, Bay manages to say absolutely nothing about anything at all. You can argue that this is a popcorn movie that doesn't have to say anything, that it can just provide action and state-of-the-art effects. But the action and effects have to mean something, don't they? I love movies and I have an extremely tough time believing that people of any age could enjoy investing in something that provides no emotional connection whatsoever.

It's not quite fair to make that claim against Dark of the Moon, because it does serve up Bay's usual doses of comedy and characters. Some of the human interest material involving Sam's job search qualifies as moderately entertaining in a Secret of My Success kind of way. But it's sparse and entirely forgotten by the time the conflict resumes and rolls into view.

As Sam's girlfriend's successful boss Dylan Gould, Patrick Dempsey briefly reveals a badass side heretofore unknown. In the chaotic and destructive urban climax of "Transformers: Dark of the Moon", Michael Bay offers a first taste of the 9/11 movie you know he's been itching to make.

While I'm on the subject of people, there are a few bits of casting I must acknowledge. As you know, Megan Fox is out. Through her people, Fox claimed she chose not to return. That seemed doubtful based on the minimal success she's had outside the series and the type of money a threequel would pay her. Plus, the last-minute announcement did follow exchanges of hostile words between the "hottest actress in the world" and Bay, whom she compared to Hitler. Later reports confirmed everyone's suspicions that it was indeed a firing and surprisingly one that was credited to Steven Spielberg, whose name gets dragged through the mud as this franchise's hopefully hands-off executive producer.

Bay managed to get the last laugh by proving just how replaceable his leading lady was. Instead of one of the countless young actresses willing to read for "unnamed love interest", Bay cast Victoria's Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. Playing Sam's new British live-in girlfriend Carly Spencer, Huntington-Whitley proves she is cut out for modeling; the camera ogles her half the minimal time she's on screen. Her performance, as robotic as her CG co-stars, yields no chemistry with the overqualified, underused LaBeouf. And yet, their relationship is supposed to motivate a good deal of the drawn-out action ("she's the one").

Bizarrely, Bay can hire a model with zero acting experience and also continue to use the Coen Brothers' casting directory. To Turturro, he adds two accomplished performers from there. Frances McDormand plays against type unconvincingly as the no-nonsense national intelligence director. More enjoyably, John Malkovich supplies some of his patented eccentricity as Sam's potential boss. Also joining the series with gusto are Ken Jeong and Alan Tudyk, with Jeong actually getting a concentrated chunk of time (however brief) to make his mark.

Among the many shortcomings is one minor but mockable achievement. The film manages to deliver three feeble U.S. President portrayals in its first ten minutes, briefly and poorly depicting Kennedy, Nixon, and Obama. It wouldn't be as remarkable if Dark of the Moon didn't do it in such succession and go out of its way to try to show off these illusions, as if Bay was trying to one-up Robert Zemeckis' scenes in Forrest Gump. I hope at least there was some discount offered by the subpar agency of presidential look-alikes employed. That opening Americana feel is complemented by a latter part of the climax tackily and distinctly evoking 9/11.

The bad Decepticons do their thing out in the mountains, I guess.

After the epic showing made by Revenge of the Fallen and the ill will generated by it, it seemed inevitable that its successor wouldn't be able to reach the same heights at the box office, particularly with premium-priced 3D exhibitions losing their luster. But, Dark of the Moon has grossed $352 million domestically, just $50 M shy of its predecessor and still good for 19th all time on the North American chart.
And that isn't the whole story of this film's financial glory. Unlike the first two movies, which both did about half of their business on the home continent, Dark of the Moon has more than doubled its domestic earnings in international markets. The $766.7 M (and counting) overseas gross ranks fifth all time and adds up to a colossal $1.1 billion worldwide tally that is close to claiming fourth place on the global chart.

The spectacular showing follows LaBeouf declaring the film as his last in the series and speculating Bay too was finished as director. Meanwhile, in July, producer Don Murphy shared plans for the future, favoring a second trilogy over a reboot. Whatever comes next, one certainty is that Transformers is far too big a draw to end here, especially with Paramount suddenly void of huge franchises, having sold Marvel sequel rights and decided to part ways with DreamWorks Animation.

Tomorrow, Dark of the Moon comes to DVD and the Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack we review here.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy) combo pack cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Portuguese), Dolby Digital 5.1 Discrete (English)
Both: Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, DVS), Dolby Surround 2.0 Discrete (English)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese; BD-Only: English SDH
DVD Closed Captioned
Release Date: September 30, 2011 / Suggested Retail Price: $44.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available in standalone DVD ($29.99 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

As easy as the movie is to pick apart, it's tough to come up with an unkind word about the Blu-ray's feature presentation. While I remain highly unimpressed by the visuals, they appear with no unwanted flaws here, boasting the clarity, sharpness, and detail expected of 1080p. I was more appreciative of the film's sound design which disperses atmosphere and effects all around you in the potent default Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix. Two additional "discrete" English soundtracks are offered along with three foreign language dubs and one Descriptive Video Service track for the visually impaired.

The DVD's presentation ranks as one of the more dynamic ones on that format, its anamorphic picture similarly untroubled and Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack appropriately immersive.

On Blu-ray and DVD alike, "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" goes without a bonus features menu for now, to John Turturro's concern.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

No bonus features are offered on either format, not even so much as a trailer. Some movies can pull that off with no ulterior motives, like those directed by David Lynch and Woody Allen.
A Transformers movie with no bonus features? That is more than a little fishy and clearly a move modeled after James Cameron's Avatar. You can't even get to the Blu-ray before having your suspicions confirmed in an insert offering $10 off the limited Ultimate Edition of the movie, a Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack said to be "loaded with never-before-seen EXCLUSIVE bonus content." The coupon expires at the end of June, so it's safe to say the wait will not be long for this expansive collection. If I were a gambling man, I'd bet big on the release arriving no later than December 20th.

The opposite side of the insert supplies digital copy directions and an authorization code. Wisely, the digital copy is relegated to an Internet download instead of eating into the DVD's limited disc space. The inside of the eco-friendly Blu-ray case shows off more artwork from the film. Defying the otherwise minimalist presentation, the set is topped by an extensively embossed slipcover. A sticker on it allows you to save $5 on a Hasbro toys purchase of $5.99 or more through mid-October, assuming the site becomes active.

After some brief Transformer action, the menu of both discs settles on a screen of standard montage placed among space junk. Though the Blu-ray is unable to resume playback, it does at least support bookmarks.

Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) and his new girlfriend Carly Spencer (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) try to avoid being detected by the dreaded Decepticons.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

For much of its runtime, I thought Transformers: Dark of the Moon was a bit less rancid than Revenge of the Fallen, but by the end of overlong all-action second half, I had difficulty caring either way. Michael Bay's clangy, mindless trilogy appears to be the worst cinema ever rewarded so richly. This billion dollar-grossing third installment doesn't noticeably improve upon its predecessors' failings. Short on charm, focus, and humanity, it is a chore to watch and try to follow. Its success baffles me.

The Blu-ray provides flawless picture and sound, two things that must factor highly into the series' appeal. Neither the movie nor its sensory delights earn a recommendation and they are all you get here. Fans of Transformers, bonus features, and 3D probably won't have to wait long for the better edition. Everyone else would be better served by almost any other of this year's movies.

Buy Transformers: Dark of the Moon from Amazon: Blu-ray + DVD + DC / DVD / Instant Video

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Transformers: Dark of the Moon Music List: U2 - "North Star", Linkin Park - "Iridescent", "Vulcan Lyre (from Star Trek "Amok Time"), "We Are Family", Aerosmith - "Sweet Emotion (David Thoener Remix)", Stars of the Lid - "The Better Angels of Our Nation", Debby Boone - "You Light Up My Life", Goo Goo Dolls - "All That You Are", Phil Garrod - "The O'Reilly Factor Theme", Seryoga - "Discomalaria", The Kodaly Quartet - "String Quartet No. 12 in C Minor, D. 703, Quartettsatz", "Bridal Chorus", Biffy Clyro - "Many of Horror", Paramore - "Monster"

Buy Transformers: Dark of the Moon: The Album from Amazon.com: MP3s MP3s (Deluxe) CD

Buy Transformers: Dark of the Moon: The Score by Steve Jablonsky from Amazon.com: MP3s

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Reviewed September 29, 2011.



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