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Transformers: Age of Extinction Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Review

Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014) movie poster Transformers: Age of Extinction

Theatrical Release: June 27, 2014 / Running Time: 165 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Michael Bay / Writer: Ehren Kruger

Cast: Mark Wahlberg (Cade Yeager), Stanley Tucci (Joshua Joyce), Kelsey Grammer (Harold Attinger), Nicola Peltz (Tessa Yeager), Jack Reynor (Shane Dyson), Titus Welliver (James Savoy), Sophia Myles (Darcy Tirrel), Bingbing Li (Su Yueming), T.J. Miller (Lucas Flannery), James Bachman (Gill Wembley), Thomas Lennon (Chief of Staff), Charles Parnell (CIA Director) / Voice Cast: Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime), Frank Welker (Galvatron), John Goodman (Hound), Ken Watanabe (Drift), Robert Foxworth (Ratchet), John DiMaggio (Crosshairs), Mark Ryan (Lockdown), Reno Wilson (Brains)

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The next time someone questions the taste of American moviegoers, I encourage you to point out that more than three-quarters of the global earnings of Transformers: Age of Extinction
came from outside of North America. Foreign markets grow in size and importance to Hollywood studios every year. If a big, expensive action movie falters domestically, chances are good the rest of the world will save it from financial disaster. That's happened again and again.

Age of Extinction, the fourth and latest installment of the ridiculously lucrative, critically-derided, Michael Bay-directed, Steven Spielberg-produced franchise, didn't require that kind of salvation. But as the series' lowest grossing chapter domestically by far, it certainly didn't mind the rest of the world picking up the slack. Globally, Extinction was barely short of matching the worldwide haul of its immediate predecessor, 2011's Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Extinction's $1.1 billion global gross is the 11th biggest on record and this year's #1 showing by an extremely comfortable margin. The fatigue it showed in its native country, where it received some of the worst critical marks of Bay's much-maligned career, was more or less invalidated by distant audiences. For instance, Extinction became the highest grossing film in the history of China, grossing just under 2 billion yuan, or just over $300 million, significantly more than it earned locally.

What is the appeal of Transformers? I've been wondering that for seven years now. Aware of the animated series and toy franchise since childhood, I never paid much attention to either. Giant robots turning into cars? Okay. No crazier than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Thundercats, or Hungry Hungry Hippos. Of the 1980s franchises itching to be rediscovered and appreciated anew, this one didn't leap to mind. But it did for Bay, Spielberg, Hasbro, DreamWorks, and Paramount. The initial 2007 effects-heavy live-action movie did little for me. Critics surprisingly thought it was passable. Many moviegoers loved it. Two years later, the inevitable sequel was loathed by critics and generally unloved by viewers. But it did even bigger business. Threequel Dark of the Moon saw declines at home but growth overseas.

Although it was presented as the end of a trilogy and human star Shia LaBeouf moved on, there was just too much money to end there. So, Bay continues the story to critical disgust and extraordinary financial gain. His Pain & Gain collaborator Mark Wahlberg, a bigger star than LaBeouf anyway, assumes the lead role. A new nubile young actress (The Last Airbender's Nicola Peltz) fills the leading lady vacancy left by Megan Fox and that Victoria's Secret model Bay cast to succeed her (undoubtedly making a point about actor replaceability) after Fox's since-resolved row with Bay. Respectable old pros like Stanley Tucci and Kelsey Grammer provide support, following in the footsteps of such Coen Brothers-approved veterans as John Turturro, Frances McDormand, and John Malkovich.

Mark Wahlberg takes over Transformers' leading man duties as Cade Yeager, a struggling rural Texas inventor with a teenage daughted (Nikola Peltz).

Extinction opens with some archaelogical finds in the Arctic and the real explanation of dinosaurs' extinction,
but our attentions soon move to Paris, Texas, where Cade Yeager (Wahlberg) is on the verge of being evicted. A tinkerer with few inventions of which he can be proud, this widower serves his rural community with pay-what-you-can repairs. His country estate is full of near-successes and broken down junk. Cade adds to that with the discovery of an old truck found inside a rotting, long-shuttered movie theater.

Cade, his employee and comic relief Lucas Flannery (T.J. Miller), and Cade's 17-year-old daughter Tessa (Peltz) are surprised to discover that the truck is actually a Transformer and not just any old Transformer, but Autobots leader Optimus Prime (voiced as always by Peter Cullen). Optimus is severely injured, but he reveals his faction of robots-cum-vehicles is being hunted. They have been hiding and have cut off all contact with humans in the five years passed since the "Battle of Chicago."

Soon, government agents descend on the Yeager house, desperate to locate the missing general. They are being commanded by Harold Attinger (Grammer), a seasoned CIA black ops agent who is determined to capture Optimus Prime at any cost. Attinger is working in tandem with Joshua Joyce (Tucci), a wealthy and explosive visionary who has been using his resources to make Transformers' technology accessible for humans. Joyce's big product in development, a limitless instant matter transformer, is certain to have enough applications to instantly change the world. Unfortunately, his company is running extremely low on "Transformium." In the meantime, Galvatron, his company's manufactured Transformer, is on the prowl for Optimus.

The five surviving Autobots -- who are mostly characters we haven't seen in this series before (including a chainy-bearded, cigar-chomping soldier noticeably voiced by John Goodman) -- have a reunion in the desert. Their human allies have grown to include Shane (Jack Reynor), Tessa's secret boyfriend, a 20-year-old Irish race car driver. Cade vehemently opposes the relationship, even if he learns it's legally acceptable per a "Romeo and Juliet" loophole that Shane carries around with him.

The action moves from Chicago to China, which gets a chance to shine in the climax consisting of roughly the film's final 45 minutes. The Autobots come riding in on the Dinobots, allowing the franchise to check off one major item from fan wishlists.

Surviving Autobots Bumblebee, Optimus Prime, Hound, and Drift assemble in the desert.

I have written off this series three times already. I return for each sequel purely because someone who writes about film for a living cannot ignore a franchise this popular and influential. I have been vocally disappointed by these movies' success, not simply because I don't like them, but because they represent an affront to the medium. If we as a civilization are to hold up Transformers as the gold standard of entertainment, then cinema as we know it is doomed. Fortunately, the effects of the series' prosperity have not been entirely lamentable. Yes, all studios have unfortunately adopted "bigger is better" thinking. Two of the oldest and most accomplished studios -- Disney and Paramount -- have essentially given up on small and mid-sized movies in favor of tentpole franchises and brands. While no good can come of that, we're still getting good movies. In fact, a number of the most expensive and most successful releases of 2014 have also been among the year's best films, including Guardians of the Galaxy, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Extinction is certainly not in the same class as those achievements, but I feel comfortable in calling it the most enjoyable installment of its series to date. Keep in mind that is not intended as high praise. Still, I'd be remiss not to acknowledge that this sequel has made noticeable improvements in some of the areas I previously felt were most lacking. For instance, Extinction offers the series' best human interest material to date. That's a very low bar to clear and I wouldn't be singling out this area if the predecessors hadn't been so deplorable in this regard. Nonetheless, this movie does a better job of making us care about the Yeagers than past ones have done of getting us to invest in meaningless, one-note personalities played by the likes of Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson.

Wahlberg does little to convince us he's a small town Texas inventor. (On that subject, there's something tacky about such an extravagant production centering on struggling working class characters.) Though the film saddles him with the cliched overprotective single dad act and occasional hysterics, the actor still remains a likable lead. Tucci also proves to be appealing, giving the movie some of its better comedy. Peltz and Reynor are simply pretty faces and in the former's case, short shorted legs. Reynor's accent may be natural, but he's inconsistent in how he hides or doesn't hide it.

Billionaire visionary Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci) marvels at the game-changing technology his company is developing. CIA agent Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer), the film's villain, takes any means necessary to protect the nation.

Another minor but important improvement: Transformer action and effects are staged more coherently than before. There are very few scenes in which metallic characters are surrounded by a mess of gray metal. Scenes set in the country, the desert, and high above Chicago make it easier to discern what is going on even when this large scale action plays out on an average-sized television.

A number of past problems resurface here. The movie can only go so long before it's one giant metal mass fighting another, a concept that was tiresome even at the start of the franchise. Ehren Kruger, the lone screenwriter of this and the previous installment, gives us many bad one-liners.
One can't assign him much blame, however, because Bay's direction, with its quick cuts and ludicrous amounts of destruction, always feels like the force most responsible for the results. To call this installment overlong is an understatement. It helps to go in knowing the length and expecting an endurance challenge. The director truly does cram a lot of movie into the nearly 3-hour runtime, but no one is the better for it. This could very easily be split into two 90-minute movies, at minimal additional cost and probably double the profit. These half-movies wouldn't be very satisfying for moviegoers, but then neither is this epic whole one.

Making China the star of the climax is an obvious yet cunning strategy that clearly paid off. Hollywood's response to the growing foreign markets has increasingly been to pander to them with international settings and flavor. Extinction isn't shy about showing off the culture, celebrities, and locations of the world's most populous nation. For that, it was rewarded extensively by Chinese moviegoers.

Paramount forgoes the double dip approach taken on Bay's last two movies, treating Age of Extinction to loaded Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D combo packs in this week's physical home media debut.

Transformers: Age of Extinction Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic); Blu-ray 3D: 1.85:1-2.40:1 Widescreen
BD: Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Discrete English, Portuguese); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Both: Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, DVS), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Discrete English)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese; Blu-ray Film only: English SDH
DVD Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: September 30, 2014 / Suggested Retail Price: $49.99
Four single-sided, dual-layered discs (3 BD-50s & 1 DVD-9)
Blue Keepcase in Lenticular Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD ($39.99 SRP), Blu-ray Combo Limited Edition Gift Set with Grimlock and Optimus Collectible Statue ($119.99 SRP), standalone DVD ($29.99 SRP), and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

The cover art of this Blu-ray 3D edition touts the fact that it offers an expanded image as seen in IMAX 3D theaters. What that means is, as on the recent films of Christopher Nolan, Age of Extinction alternates between the 1.78:1 aspect ratio (which actually measures 1.88:1 here, though overscan will probably still allow it to fill most 16:9 screens) and the blockbuster standard 2.40:1 aspect ratio used for the entirety of standard theatrical exhibitions. That design takes some getting used to (if you even notice it),
but it allows the film to take advantage of the higher resolution compositions from the many scenes shot with IMAX cameras (with visible gains in detail). Only the Blu-ray 3D opts for this approach, with the standard Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD versions all presenting the entire film in 2.40:1.

I must confess that though stupidly written and dizzyingly overedited, Age of Extinction is nicely shot. It offers a number of striking compositions in both of its ratios.

Unsurprisingly, the film looks as terrific as each format allows. There is some seemingly deliberate light yet noticeable grain at times. And the film's length seems to make compression on the Blu-ray 3D tighter than you'd like. Nonetheless, the picture also boasts the sharpness, clarity, and vitality you expect for a production spending a nine-figure budget twice over.

As pleasing as the visuals are, sound is a greater force on the film (and probably its best shot at extending the series' record of minor technical Oscar nominations). Blu-ray viewers have three options for watching the film in its native English. The default and most desirable is a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix that the disc simply calls Dolby Atmos. It is the first of its kind to use the branding of that top of the line theater technology on a home media release.

You don't watch a Transformers movie without expecting your home theater to get a workout. This mix offers an insane amount of directional effects, immersive atmosphere, and range. The track gets impossibly loud at times, though the dynamics aren't inconsistent enough for you to reach for your remote frequently. Nonetheless, if you're worrying about neighbors or sleeping family members, you may be better served by the Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Surround 2.0 English mixes that are both distinguished as "Discrete" soundtracks.

Director Michael Bay shares some, but far from all of his genius in "Bay on Action." Only a Michael Bay movie would be crazy enough to build Hong Kong in Detroit.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

All bonus features are found on the third disc of this 4-disc set: an extras-only standard Blu-ray with all-HD content.

The extras begin with "Bay on Action" (10:45), which lets director Michael Bay share some of his secrets to being such a genius action filmmaker. Behind-the-scenes footage and film clips complement his sometimes sequence-specific reflections. One almost detects a little bit of an ego from Bay as he toots his horn.

Evolution Within Extinction represents the biggest section of the bonus disc. It consists of 8 making-of featurettes which add up to 2 hours, 2 minutes, and 50 seconds of content.

"Generation 2" explains how this film takes the series in a new direction with new Transformers and human cast members.
"Drive Like Hell" talks about the vehicles (as if the film didn't give them enough exposure) and the training needed for actors to drive them. "Small Town, Big Movie" addresses the experience of bringing a city slicker filmmaker's arsenal of explosions, car chases, and stars to rural Texas. "Shadow Protocol Activated" raves about the varied other locations and sets that were filmed often with stunts and practical effects.

"The Last Stand" focuses on the climax's ambitious construction of Hong Kong in Detroit. "The People's Republic" covers filming in the real China. "Rise of the Dinobots" discusses the introduction of the fan-demanded class of Transformers. "The Finishing Touch" examines the post-production process, with looks at editing, visual effects, voice acting (giving special notice to 30-year Optimus Prime voice, Peter Cullen), and music (acknowledging the contributions of Imagine Dragons), following through all the way to the Hong Kong premiere.

Michael Bay's mom doesn't watch the Transformers movies, but cares enough to visit the set on multiple days, as seen in "Just Another Giant Effin' Movie." "A Spark of Design" teaches us how Transformers are made. Well, the Hasbro toys, anyway.

With that section out of the way, most of the remaining listings are simply single featurettes.

"Just Another Giant Effin' Movie" (10:03) gives us a concise and human survey of the production's excitement. There are cast and crew hijinks, explosions, birthday greetings, and thoughts from Michael Bay's mom.

"A Spark of Design" (15:24) celebrates the environment of creativity found at Hasbro's Rhode Island campus. It's promotional to be sure, as it shows off what various employees contribute to the creation of toys (Stomp and Chomp Grimlock is used as an example), but at least it's well-made and attempts to connect itself to the movie.

T.J. Miller has trouble getting in to present Michael Bay with this Transformers fruit arrangement in "T.J. Miller: Farm Hippie." Angry Birds meet Transformers in this puzzling trailer fashioned like a 1980s cartoon.

"T.J. Miller: Farm Hippie" (19:43) tags along with the actor as he visits the home of Mark Wahlberg, Kelsey Grammer's agent's office, the garage of Optimus Prime, and the office of Michael Bay to express his gratitude (with gifts and autographed headshots) at being part of "T4: AoE." A welcome departure from the norm, it's a very humorous piece which makes up for Miller's too limited screentime in the film.

Finally, Trailers holds four short clips, starting with two Age of Extinction theatrical trailers (2:34 each). More interestingly,
we get the comic animated short KRE-O Transformers Take Us Through the Movies! (3:42) in which the four films in the franchise are recapped by a tiny Optimus Prime (Kre-O are Hasbro's versions of Lego). Angry Bird Transformers: Origin Story (1:16) teases a crossover fashioned like a 1980s cartoon in which the Angry Birds of the video game are also the Transformers characters.

The movie discs' main menus move us through the alien ship, playing clips between laser beams. The bonus Blu-ray fixes us on a looped, animated environment. The Blu-rays support bookmarks, but do not resume playback.

Holding the four plainly-labeled discs on two swinging trays, the thick blue keepcase is topped by a lenticular-faced slipcover. An insert supplies your Digital HD UltraViolet code and advertises other Transformers BDs. The reverse side of the cover displays additional artwork.

Optimus Prime strikes Galvatron in his empty soul in this visual effects action shot.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Age of Extinction is the best film in this Transformers franchise to date, but it's still not good enough for me to recommend. With better human material and more coherent action, this fourquel/reboot is fairly watchable. It's also much too long, consistently stupid, and pretty much a waste of time. That it doesn't inspire the same level of hate as its predecessors is something, though I can't shake the feeling that the money used to make this could be so much better spent on so many other things.

Paramount's Blu-ray 3D combo pack does offer a technical feast with some of the most potent sound committed to high definition to date, plus a wealth of bonus features, some of them unusual and highly entertaining. With a much better film, this set would be easy to recommend. Here, the most I can say is that other reviews seem disproportionately harsh given how terrible this series has been in the past.

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Reviewed October 1, 2014.



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