DVD Review: 'Transformers The Movie' 20th Anniversary Special Edition
Stockpile some energon cubes to make it through the plentiful, but worthwhile extras
If I sound a little effusive, I fully acknowledge that growing up with two brothers in the '80s had an undeniable influence on my nostalgic tastes. Only perhaps "Robotech" would engender a stronger feeling in me. So anyway, with this DVD on my shelf, I no longer have to watch the deteriorating VHS copy of the film I "borrowed" from some poor schlub in college.
The appeal of "The Transformers" is manifold. Robots and warfare are obvious pluses for excitement-hungry kids, but there was more to it than that. The classic battle between good (the Autobots) and evil (the Decepticons) brought a sense of romantic, grand-scale idealism to our small lives. The film was all that and more. With its Messianic themes, theatrically quotable lines (e.g. "Bah weep graaagnah wheep ni ni bong."), multiple betrayals, bizarre humor, an eclectic cast and totally '80s soundtrack, the movie was mechanoid melodrama at its best.
Unicron (voiced by Orson Welles in his final filmed role) is a planet-sized robot that devours other cybernetic worlds. The only thing he fears is the Autobot Matrix of Leadership, a glowing orb-y thing that used to sit in Optimus Prime's (Peter Cullen) chest cavity before he bequeathed it on his deathbed to Ultra Magnus (Robert Stack). But Unicron enlists the aid of deposed Decepticon leader Megatron (Frank Welker) who, in return for an overhaul, will retrieve the Matrix for Unicron.
Between the filmmaker and fan commentary, choose the latter since the four featured fans are frighteningly well-informed about all the behind-the-scenes minutiae and aren't afraid to share their opinions, which often jibe with the viewers'. Never liked that upstart Daniel? You're not alone. Think Perceptor is a fairly useless wartime robot since he can only transform into a giant microscope? They agree. Similarly, the "Autobot Matrix of Knowledge" is for fans by fans. It's basically the movie enhanced with pop-up text providing explanations, trivia or cheeky commentary.
For more of the filmmakers' perspective, check out the featurettes. "The Death of Optimus Prime" examines the aftermath of killing off the fearless leader, while "Cast and Characters" looks at the film's principal roles, especially those filled by guest stars like Leonard Nimoy (Galvatron) and Welles. "Q & A" is frivolous and asks the filmmakers for their favorites, gets them to sing the theme song and explains the origin of the Transformers name.
The trailers, TV spots, toy commercials and even the sweepstakes ad have pretty lousy video quality, but shouldn't be missed for that '80s cheesy goodness. The Japanese toy commercials are intriguing since they often used stop motion animation and feature lots of the combiner robots.
The "Scramble City" episode is both fascinating and frustrating. It's an episode that only aired in Japan that precedes the events in the movie. It therefore introduces many of the new faces that we in the States only saw for the first time in the film. So, after viewing this, Ultra Magnus doesn't seem to be just some random Autobot who showed up for the film waiting for Optimus to die so he can get his hands on the Matrix. Unfortunately, the fan commentators are back, and we can't hear any of the episode, which most likely never got translated from Japanese. I would have at least like to have the option of hearing the original audio because you can pick up so much by someone's tone of voice and very little from trying to lip-read cartoon characters.
As for the 2007 Michael Bay film, the DVD includes the teaser trailer that all fans have seen by now as well as a featurette with an interview with Bay saying how he was "stoked" to do this film. There's not really much content here, but it helps build anticipation for July 4, 2007.
Even more background info about the film and animation in general can be found in the photo gallery, remaster side-by-side comparison (a significant improvement) and on the DVD ROM's exclusive web content that includes a wallpaper for your cell phone, more photos, storyboards and various interviews. The DVD ROM also features "Activiate Autobot City," a relatively easy game that enlists your help fighting off the Decepticons with your vast knowledge of the movie.
There are really too many other bonus features to go into here, but make sure to look for the fairly obvious Easter eggs hidden on both discs. I won't ruin the hunt by telling the specific locations, but three of the four I found featured some great commercials -- both Japanese and American. The other one was disappointing.
The menus are aesthetically pleasing and easy to navigate, but in order to get to some of the Easter eggs, you need a maneuverable remote. Also note that the film was shot for the full screen, so us widescreen snobs are actually missing the full experience because of cropping.
EXTRAS: Autobot Matrix of Knowledge; filmmaker commentary; fan commentary; Scramble City episode with commentary; remastering side-by-side comparison; "Transformers" 2007 live-action movie trailer and special sneak peek; Activate Autobot City trivia game; "Death of Optimus Prime" featurette; "Cast and Characters" featurette; "Transformers" Q & A filmmakers; promo trailer with commentary; test, deleted/alternative footage w/ commentary; animated storyboards; US and Japanese toy commercials; Scramble City commercials; DVD-ROM link to exclusive content; original trailer and TV spots; Cinex and credit test; photo gallery; tranforming Optimus-Rodimus lenticular cover; Easter eggs on both discs