A Review of Transformers: Age of Extinction

Weighing In on the 3D Blu-ray Disc Edition

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Transformers: Age of Extinction - 3D Blu-ray/2D Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy Combo Pack. Photo © Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com

The Transformers are back! Director Michael Bay has returned to the successful film franchise with a new core cast and different take on the story. Of course there is a lot of action, and once again the film is produced in 3D. However, to find out if this film is entitled to a space in your Blu-ray Disc collection, keep on reading.

Studio: Paramount

Running Time: 165 Minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi

Principal Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor, Sophia Myles, Titus Welliver.

Director: Michael Bay

Screenplay: Ehren Kruger

Executive Producers: Michael Bay, Steven Spielberg, and Others.

Producers: Tom DeSanto, Don Murphy, and Others.

Discs: Three 50 GB Blu-ray Discs (one 3D, one 2D, one for Special Features), One DVD.

Digital Copy: UltraViolet and iTunes

Video Specifications: Video codec used - MVC MPEG4, Video resolution - 1080p, Aspect ratio - 2.40:1, 1.78:1 (IMAX Segments) - Special features and supplements in various resolutions and aspect ratios.

3D: Most of the film was shot natively in 3D - However some segments were shot in 2D and converted to 3D by Legend 3D and Prime Focus World.

Audio Specifications: Dolby Atmos (English), Dolby TrueHD 7.1 or 5.1 (default downmix for those that down't have a Dolby Atmos setup) Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Spanish, French Portuguese), 2.0 (English).

Subtitles: English SDH, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese.

Bonus Features:

Bay on Action

Director Michael Bay is an action nut - and this segment focuses on how much detail goes into the planning and execution of some of the action scenes in Age of Extinction.

Evolution Within Extinction

An approximately 2-hour making-of documentary that goes into great depth into the entire Transformers: Age of Extinction production process.

The documentary can be viewed all at once or one chapter at a time.

The chapter titles are:

  • Generation 2 (a detailed look at the new cast members and story direction).
  • Drive Like Hell (focus on the use of cars and stunt driving).
  • Small Town, Big Movie (a detailed look at the Texas location shooting).
  • Shadow Protocol Activated (a look at GM's participation in the film, along with Detroit location shooting) .
  • The Last Stand, The People's Republic (Although a lot of footage was also shot in Hong Kong, China, this feature also focuses on segments where Detriot locations became stand-ins for some of the Hong Kong portion of the film).
  • Rise of the Dinobots (bringing the Dinobots to life for their guest appearance).
  • The Finishing Touch (footage of Michael Bay's editing studio and process, how the music was scored and produced, and some nice footage of the film's Hong Kong premiere).

Just Another Giant Movie

A light-hearted featurette guest starring Michael Bay's Mom (who delivers cookies to the set but claims to have never seen any of the transformer films. Other content in this segment includes comments from some of the cast and crew on their experiences making the film, including what it is like to work with Michael Bay (which isn't always easy).

A Spark of Design

A look inside the Hasbro headquarters with a focus on the Transformer and Dinobot designs.

T.J. Miller: Farm Hippie

Comedian T.J. Miller, who plays Mark Whalberg's dubious friend in the film, goes on a quest to thank key cast and Director Michael Bay for including him in the film - with some unexpectedly funny results.

Trailers and Previews

Includes two Age of Extinction Theatrical/TV trailers. A trailer for Kre-O Transformers: Take Us Through the Movies! (sort of like an animated Lego summary of all the Transformer films up to this point. Angry Birds Transformers: Origin Story - A trailer for an imaginary "Angry Birds as Transformers" animated cartoon series, done up in 80's TV animation style.

Story

At the end of the last Transformers film (Dark of the Moon) the Earth was saved, but Chicago was devastated. As a result, the governments of the Earth now see the Transformers as a curse rather than a blessing. Now, the Autobots, headed by Optimus Prime, that were once Earth's champions, are now being hunted down as fugitives. In addition, to make matters even worse for the Autobots, the CIA is being assisted in their roundup by an Alien bounty hunter. Of course, that is just the tip of the iceberg as a worldwide manhunt to round up an eliminate the Autobots uncovers a dark secret being hidden by the government intended to defend the earth without the Autobots, may end up endangering Earth like never before. 

Blu-ray Disc Presentation - Video

To start off my comments regarding the video portion of the Blu-ray Disc presentation of Transformers: Age of the Extinction is that I view both the 2D and 3D Blu-ray Discs on a Samsung UN55HU8550 4K UHD TV, so both what I saw on the screen was upscaled from an OPPO BDP-103D Blu-ray Disc player set to 1080p output.

Thank being said, what I saw on the screen overall was excellent. However, there were some variations (especially in some facial close-ups) where I could see an excessive film grain effect (apparently, Michael Bay shot the latest installment with both film and digital cameras). Also, the film jumps from a 2.40 aspect ratio to full-screen 1.78:1 ratio for the the numerous IMAX-filmed segments. Although this jumping back-and-forth was fairly seamless during the more action-oriented portions of the film, there is a segment in the early part of the film that takes place inside an old movie theater where the aspect ratio changes between cuts where two characters are sorting through junk and talking to each other, where such jumps don't seem to make much sense.

That being said, the color, contrast, and detail (taking into consideration the use of a 4K UHD Display) was excellent and natural throughout.

Blu-ray Disc Presentation - 3D

Having a lot of experience viewing 3D, I must say that several recent films, such as Gravity and Godzilla (2014), really show how 3D can contribute positively to the visual impact of the film. I feel the same way about Transformers: Age of Entinction. In fact, Age of Extinction improves upon the excellent use of 3D in the previous Transformer's film: Dark of the Moon.

I actually saw the film theatrically at the Arclight Cinema in La Jolla (San Diego) - but attended a 2D showing so I could experience the Dolby Atmos Audio soundmix (more on that later). However, viewing the film again in 3D at home, it was almost like watching a new movie as the attention to detail, perspective, and depth really draws you into the film. Also, there were no brightness loss issues or edge softening (may be due to the UHD upscaling) that I could overtly detect.

Also, although the vast majority of the film was shot natively in 3D, there were some segments that were post-3D converted and frankly, I can't tell you what segments they were as the integration of native and converted 3D was seamless.

In addition, one of the things that was impressive about the 3D presentation is that even during the heavy, and high-speed, action scenes, there was no excessive blurring or haloing. Also, just to add more fun, there were few comin-at-ya' effects in the film - which many 3D filmakers seem to be shying away from these days.

On the other hand, although almost entirely ghost-free, there were few instances of brief ghosting or haloing - specifically one cut were the alien bounty hunter is walking forward. In this cut a mosquito-noise-like ringing halo could be observed, as well as few instances where halos or ringing could be seen around the edges of soldiers.

However, taking all into consideration, the 3D presentation was excellent, and if you are a 3D fan (or if you aren't), I would definitely check it out - it is a great demo film for how much 3D film production quality continues to progress.

Blu-ray Disc Presentation - Audio

In addition to the excellent video presentation of Transformers: Age of Extinction, what makes this Blu-ray Disc release so significant is that it is first title that contains a Dolby Atmos mix right on the Blu-ray Disc.

However, that does present a current dilemma for product reviewers as Dolby Atmos hardware for home theater (receivers, speakers) are just now starting to filter into the market and won't be fully available for review or purchase until later this Fall. That being said, here is what I can say now.

You don't need to have a Dolby Atmos setup or special Blu-ray Disc player to play this disc. The way Dolby Atmos is engineered is that it is backwards compatible with Dolby TrueHD. So, when you go into the Age of Extinction audio setup menu - non-Dolby Atmos users just need to select the Dolby Atmos soundtack and if a non-Dolby Atmos equipped home theater receiver is detected, a real time downmix to either Dolby TrueHD 7.1 or 5.1 is applied. What this does is reassign all of the directional, height, and ambience information contained in the Dolby Atmos soudtrack and place it within a 7.1 or 5.1 channel framework (whichever is being used).

Also, if your home theater receiver does not provide Dolby TrueHD decoding, you can also select the standard Dolby Digital 5.1 option from the disc menu or, in most cases, your player can set it by default.

So, in my case, listening to the downmixed Dolby Atmos to Dolby TrueHD 7.1 and 5.1 channel options, and remembering what I experienced when I attended the theatrical presentation, I did not feel "cheated".

The downmix was still very immersive and spacious, with objects placed at points in space similar to a true Atmos mix (helicopters and drones are the best examples), but lacking some of the location preciseness and, of course, some loss of the height channel experience (although the Dolby TrueHD downmix still produced a better-than-traditional "horizontal" 5.1 or 7.1 channel mix).

In other words, the presence of Dolby Atmos information on the disc does provide a better surround listening experience even when downmixed to traditional Dolby True HD. As a result, the sound mix is definitely a great complement to the 3D visual presentation.

Review Bonus: Greg P. Russell, Re-Recording Mixer for Transformers: Age of Extinction discusses how the theatrical Dolby Atmos soundtrack was remastered for a home theater setting - Watch Now.

Final Take

The Transformers: Age of Extinction 3D Blu-ray release is definitely a demo worthy disc that can show off the capabilities of your home theater, and, of course, a 3D TV or video projector.

Also, the bonus features are excellent, providing one of the better behind-the-scenes documentaries I have seen for a film.

However, is the film worthy of a space in your collection?

In my opinion, as good as the film is technically, the story and acting are just not that great. The script is full of typical cliches and the philosophical comments by Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) are the same old, same old. In fact, the only characters that are really engaging are the two main villains, the Alien Bounty Hunter: Lockdown (voiced by Mark Ryan), and Kelsey Grammer's character: CIA Agent Harold Attinger.

Also, at just shy of three hours, the film is about an hour too long. The continuous action is somewhat fatiguing - especially when some surprise guests stars are thrown into the last battle scene that may confuse those not familiar with the Transformers franchise.

After viewing the film at home, it confirmed the opinion I had after viewing the theatrical version. Michael Bay just crammed in too much - the film could have easily been divided into two fast-paced 90-minute films at the point in the story  where the action shifts from the U.S. to China.

Also, in terms of casting, Sophia Myles was under utilized, and Nicola Peltz reminded me too much of Tara Reid.

However, you can't argue with box office success as Age of Extinction was one of the top worldwide grossers of 2014 ($1 billion total) - and, let's face it, Michael Bay knows how to do 3D, and the Dolby sound mix may be the best yet on Blu-ray.

To sum it all up: Demo quality video and audio (with or without Dolby Atmos), but not such great film in terms of how it plays out story and acting wise.

DISCLAIMER: Both my attendance at the theatrical presentation and the acquiring of the 3D Blu-ray Disc package were made possible courtesy of Dolby Labs.

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