Shia LaBeouf returns as Sam Witwicky in Transformers: Dark of the Moon. When a mysterious event from Earth's past erupts into the present day, it threatens to bring a war to Earth so big that the Transformers alone will not be able to save us. (from TransformersMovie.com)
In 2007, director Michael Bay defied naysayers by successfully bringing the beloved toy/cartoon franchise Transformers to life on the big screen. Unfortunately, Bay's own man-boy immaturity hindered the movie greatly, allowing for plenty of sexual jokes and profanity to permeate the film. Its 2009 follow-up was no better, if not worse, and so with a 2011 third and reportedly final film with Bay at the helm, one can expect much, much more of the same. Transformers: Dark of the Moon continues the story laid out in the first two films and serves as a probable conclusion to this story. This time, the Autobots must defend Earth from the Decepticons bringing an army and war to the planet in an attempt to take it over. Meanwhile, Sam is trying to get on with his formerly-heroic life, following the adventures in the first two films, as he seeks out to find a post-college career. The end result attempts to continue the human storytelling aspect of the previous ventures while giving just a little more focus to the Autobot/Decepticon war that served as the highlight of those movies.
Unfortunately, with each movie, the missteps that Michael Bay takes as a director either stay the same or worsen. The only thing that he seems to have improved upon for Dark of the Moon was in lessening the screentime of Sam's parents and by eliminating the painfully irritating Autobot twins that plagued Revenge of the Fallen. Still, Sam's parents are never a welcomed intrusion (and that's what they certainly are here, an intrusion), and this time around their scenes feel forced and even more unnecessary than before. Also, with the exit of Megan Fox from this installment (some sources say she quit the movie before production began, others say Bay dismissed her), we now have Victoria's Secret model-turned-actress Rosie Huntington-Whiteley making her feature film debut in Dark of the Moon. While Rosie does okay as Sam's love interest, Carly, it's obvious that she's a model (and a lingerie one at that) from her mostly uncommon appearance. But sadly, that is Bay's view of women. Most of the women in the film are either models, and showing lots of skin, or not too far from it. It was bad in the first film, but it's only gotten worse with each movie. The cartoon show from the 80s had more realistic-looking women in it than Bay's live action vision. It's pretty sad, really. The first film had just a hint more "reality" (and I use that word loosely), grounding these characters in our world, but with each movie, Bay just keeps going for the more impossible. Either the situations just get more outlandish as these films progress, or the humans are just becoming increasingly more caricature in the way they're presented (and durable, too). It's not a problem if you don't care, since this is a live action movie series based on a toy line that had become a hit cartoon series, but there was a charm to the smaller scale of things in the first film that feels lost by the bloated finish in Dark of the Moon. Excess is the rule for Bay and the climactic battle in Chicago, while wildly entertaining and visually overwhelming, is just excess upon excess upon excess.
The story driving Dark of the Moon is a pretty good one -- better than Revenge of the Fallen by far. We're introduced to a new character in Sentinel Prime, an Autobot that had been long believed to have been totally lost. Voiced by Star Trek's Leonard Nimoy (and Bay obviously had a blast making more than just a couple of Spock and Star Trek: Wrath of Khan references throughout the movie, too), Sentinel is a mysterious character who is a worthy addition to the cast of robots, while on the Decepticon end, we get to see a lot more action from Soundwave this time around, including his minion Laserbeak, and another famed classic Decepticon, the menacing Shockwave. While promos seemed to downplay his presence in the film, Megatron does return - with a vengeance - bearing the battle wound he sustained at the end of Revenge of the Fallen. All of the rest of the major cast return as well, except for Sam's annoying college roommate in the second film and the aforementioned Autobot twins. A few other new Autobots are introduced, too, but surprisingly, it's a pair of cheesy Nascars that just waste space when introducing older classic Autobots - like Wheeljack, Brawn or Prowl - from the original series would have been a nice touch. While both Revenge of the Fallen and Dark of the Moon allowed for loads of Decepticons to make their appearance, we seldom seem to get any really cool additional Autobots. And even characters like Ratchet and Ironhide who appear in all three films seem underused.
The pacing of Transformers: Dark of the Moon is also a problem. The first hour and a half or so is a bit slow moving as it sets up the story and plot for both the human characters and the robots. There are some fun action scenes, but ultimately, Bay is using the time to set things up for the movie's chaotic resolution. The movie is over two and a half hours in length and by the time it ends, you will wonder why it had to drag on for so stinkin' long. Cutting out a good half-hour of scenes from the final battle and involving the humans would have made Dark of the Moon a stronger movie. Throwing in truly disposable characters like Ken Jeong as a creepy-and-weird conspiracy theorist at Sam's workplace was completely out of left field. Bay obviously found his scenes to be amusing, but instead, it just seemed like a waste of time. Also, we receive more relationship drama with Sam this time around. In Revenge... it was how Sam and Mikaela couldn't say "I love you" to each other and it was dumb and silly at best. Here, Sam wants in on the Autobot/Decepticon brawl and Carly is afraid to lose him in this war like she lost her brother who was in the service. That and other drama between the two isn't all that interesting and ends up just seeming like an excuse to get the two involved in the action again when they otherwise probably shouldn't be. On top of all that, the excessive action scenes that Bay choreographs here make for an immense amount of violence. "Ultra-violent" is how one reviewer described it and I have to agree. Especially by the film's climactic battle, you'll find constant explosions, gunfire, flying debris, screaming, running, and other robot decimation are virtually nonstop. Robots are literally ripped to shreds, dismembered, blown up and decapitated time and time again. Also, in this installment, you'll see the Decepticons blasting humans with their guns, causing the human bodies to basically evaporate in a cloud of clothing fragments. The death toll, between robots and humans, is pretty high in Dark of the Moon.
The content in the film, aside from all I've mentioned already, includes Sam mouthing the "F" word pretty early on in the movie, with at least two other almost-"F" words and just about every other form of profanity uttered in between. Also, there is some sexual innuendo, mostly on par with the first film, but the very first time we see Sam in the movie, it's after we watch Carly's panty-clad butt ascend a staircase to find him asleep in her bed. It's a jarring introduction after a pretty cool 1960s flashback that sets up the story. There's also something icky about meeting Sam as a teenager in the first film and seeing him in a Victoria's Secret model's bed in the third. Also, I keep coming back to the fact that this is a film series based on a popular toy line aimed at kids, and these films are so very far from being family friendly. I understand Bay's reasoning in aiming these at people my age who grew up with the original cartoon series, but the fact remains that they're still making toys based on these movies and still making cartoons aimed at children, so there just really is no need for these movies to be as rough as they are. I'm thankful for the fact that Bay is done making Transformers films and I remain a bit hopeful, should there be a reboot of the series in the near future, that the franchise will be more appropriate for families. In the right hands, it's possible.
So what is there to like about Transformers: Dark of the Moon? As I've mentioned before, I grew up with not only the original cartoon series, but the original toys as well. Optimus Prime was and still is one of the coolest animated series' heroes I've ever seen. Perhaps it's Peter Cullen's booming voice or the appealing color scheme of the character, or maybe it's just because he's so noble and pure in heart (or all of the above). Whatever it is, I love Optimus Prime and I never get tired of seeing him take charge and save the day. I felt cheated by his lack of screen time in Revenge of the Fallen, as Bay had him killed off for most of the movie (and it was, painfully, the second time I had to see Prime die on screen in my lifetime, after the original 1986 cartoon film did the deed when I was a kid), so it was a treat to see him have much more to do this time around. Also, Bay is finally learning that pulling back the camera on the action for a wider shot makes it much easier to see what's going on. In the first film, he zoomed in way, way too far on the action. In Dark of the Moon, it's much easier to see what's happening, especially when he slows things down so we can see the details. And although Bay is exceedingly over-the-top with his action scenes, he still manages to generate some really cool moments during the fights. The shot that keeps replaying in my mind was one where Bumblebee transforms around Sam while he's a passenger. There's another highway chase scene in this film and it's actually one of the best action moments. And, sadly, as stupid as Bay gets with his human character story scenes, many of them are still pretty funny. John Malkovich is a great addition to the human cast and he's a gem in his scenes with Sam. Also, Shia LaBeouf really does turn in a solid performance as Sam Witwicky. Lastly, and I hate to admit it, but these movies really do play to the kid inside guys like me, and it's the action scenes especially - and the brilliant transforming effects - that I'm a sucker for. Seeing Optimus Prime on the screen reawakens the six-year-old Transformers fan in me, so I still find a great deal of fun in these movies; it's a guilty pleasure. Seeing Starscream, Megatron, Shockwave, Soundwave, Optimus and Ironhide all reimagined in a realistic setting is a delight. In the end, however, I just wish the content could be toned down so more can enjoy it.
Michael Bay's Transformers films are nonsensical popcorn movies aimed at fans of the original cartoon. Anyone looking for anything more than that are likely to leave this experience feeling underwhelmed. Bay's films are far from perfect - and Dark of the Moon, like the previous films, gives us plenty of silly moments, series continuity inconsistencies, and bad jokes to keep us nitpicking for hours, but this is the kind of movie you really need to tap into your inner kid again and suspend disbelief to truly enjoy. Again, I'm kind of hoping for a major reboot of the franchise if left in better hands in the near future, but in the meantime, we have Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and it's a frenzied adrenaline rush of action and destruction that only the man-boy inside every child of the 80s can enjoy.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 6/29/11)
The third film in the successful Transformers franchise, which closes out the trilogy of stories that Michael Bay has helmed (for now, at least), arrives on Blu-Ray with a special limited edition 3D release that packs in a Blu-Ray 3D disc, a 2D Blu-Ray disc, and 2D Blu-Ray Special Features disc, a DVD disc and a code to download a Digital Copy of the film. Last fall, the movie was also released on a single disc DVD and then a Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy combo (sans the Special Features and 3D discs), making this the quintessential Transformers: Dark of the Moon release.
Watching Transformers 3 on Blu-Ray was my third viewing. I saw it once in the theater in 2D and then again on IMAX 3D. I enjoy the film as a Transformers fan, but with the third viewing, even more things about the plot, story, and Bay's content choices irked me. While I'm not one to forsake a good story just for action, Dark of the Moon really doesn't feel like a Transformers story when Sam's little subplots appear on screen (and Bay cues a corny pop song nearly every single time). Once the grand Chicago battle erupts, Dark of the Moon seems to truly find its legs.
One thing that floored me about the Transformers: Dark of the Moon Blu-Ray release is the inclusion of a use of the "F" word that was not featured in the theatrical version. Sam whispering the word at the beginning is still there, but there's a scene where John Malkovich's character meets Bumblebee and, in the theatrical version, clearly says, "That's freaking awesome!" However, in the Blu-Ray release, I was really surprised to hear him speak the profane alternative instead (I even checked the subtitles which confirmed my disappointment). I had not heard of this change being made to the movie and it really was, not only very unnecessary but, disappointing to have the first overtly pronounced usage of the word in Bay's take on the franchise (the first movie had the word cut out, the second one had Megan Fox saying it in a distorted form during a dramatic scene at the end, and Sam whispers it at the beginning of this one). Whether or not these movies are for kids, parents will inevitably take their kids to them just because it's "Transformers" (which is STILL a franchise otherwise marketed to children!).
With all that said, the "Limited Edition 3D" set is certainly the ideal set for fans of this film. There are over three hours of extras on the "Special Features" disc, which I'll give a rundown of next...
Above and Beyond: Exploring Dark of the Moon (1:50:46) - This is the main Special Feature on this Blu-Ray disc, clocking in at just under two hours to be as long or longer than most feature films. It's got a Play All option but is broken down into five segments -- "Rising from the Fallen: Development and Design," "Ready for Prime Time: Filming Across America," "Battle in the Heartland: Shooting in Chicago," "Attack of the Birdmen: Aerial Stunts," and "Shadow of the Sentinel: Post-Production and Release."
Rising from the Fallen: Development and Design (22:24), the first segment, picks up with reflection on the reception of the second movie, 2009's Revenge of the Fallen. Bay talked very highly of the film at the time, but here, it seems everyone involved with its production, including Bay and Shia LeBouf, practically apologize for it (while Bay does make some excuses). It then morphs into where they went from there into making a third movie. We then get a fantastic breakdown of each new character and each new design tweaks from character to character in Dark of the Moon. It's intriguing to see how they took Transformers: Generation One (cartoon series) characters and morphed them into something completely different--like Que is modeled loosely after Wheel Jack (who was much, much cooler in the show) and Dino was an evolved design for Mirage (which, come on, is a cooler name than "Dino"). What they never mention, but is visible on the screen with the concept art, is how Sentinel Prime was originally going to be called Ultra Magnus, a gigantic Autobot from the early cartoons. Sentinel doesn't resemble that character at all, so it was a wise decision to change the name altogether.
The concept designs then move on to address the exit of Megan Fox as Mikaela and the introduction of Rosie Huntington-Whiteley as Carly (who was actually named after a character from the cartoon show). Bay talks a bit vaguely about Hollywood affecting Megan's appearance and eluding to it being a mutual break-up, so to speak. The film's writer also explains how they decided to morph the planned Mikaela role into being a new character completely, since her exit was after the movie's script was written. Rosie then tells the story of how Michael contacted her and we see some of her audition footage as well, followed by some exclusive screen test footage on set with Shia (1 "a" word here).
Ready for Prime Time: Filming Across America (27:50) launches with Bay's first day of filming and what it was like to film in 3D with 3D cameras. We then see the tilted office building floor set and details on how they accomplished the incredible action scene. They then take us to Detroit to see an amazing set they built to resemble a war-torn street, and then on to Washington D.C, where Bay reveals that there was a great deal of red tape they had to work through to even just film there (he said it was the worst location he'd ever filmed in). He then talks about the uber-rare, uber-expensive white car that Alan Tudyk's character drives (it's apparently worth about 1.6 million dollars!) and we even see the moment where a stunt driver actually damaged it by crashing into a highway sign (oops). Bay returns to Kennedy Space Center to film there for the second time in his career (first time was for Armageddon) and shows us some great on-set footage from their time filming there. Shia tells a story of when he had to film his emotional scene when the Autobots leave, and Bay fought him on his musical choice for getting himself ready for the scene (Shia also says they got into their worst fight ever over it too). The segment draws to a close as the crew discuss Bay's grueling work ethic (and how tough it is to work with him), as well as some of the memorable experiences they had working at NASA (Bay was even brought into mission control where he got the chance to speak with the astronauts up in space). (1 "S" word, 2 "a" words, and many bleeped-out "F" words)
Battle in the Heartland: Shooting in Chicago (13:40) - All of the detail and destruction that Bay creates in Chicago is truly mindblowing. This section is fully devoted to the mega action sequences filmed on location in Chicago -- from the pitfalls of receiving 8 inches of rain one day to dealing with 20 to 30,000 onlookers at any given time. It was a massive undertaking and it's incredible to see what was accomplished here. In addition to focusing on filming on location, the cast and crew reflect on how Michael Bay tends to change his mind a lot from the original filming plan while they're in production. It's probably one of the reasons some of his films suffer with continuity errors, actually. (2 "S" words, multiple bleeped "F" words)
Attack of the Birdman: Aerial Stunts (16:08) - The winged jumpers in the film were all done real and their inclusion in the film were all inspired by Bay seeing them on 60 Minutes one night. Here we see the guys prepping for their scenes, the location scouting, and lots of footage of them doing their jumps for the movie (and landing!). In the last few seconds of the featurette, we see a pan of the actual footage and then the shot as it appears in the finished movie and it's pretty impressive. (1 "Oh my G-d," 1 "d*mn")
Shadow of the Sentinel: Post-Production and Release (29:30) - To bring this massive documentary on the making of Transformers 3 to a close, Bay lets us into the editing room as the animators and editors talk about working on the movie and finishing the scenes with special effects that Bay filmed. Here we see some great pans of the on-set footage and then what it looks like as they layer in the various effects. The animators also talk about what it's like to work with Bay and we see a montage of Bay's reactions to their work in the editing room, which isn't always positive. They then focus on the sounds in the film, from Leonard Nimoy providing the voice of Sentinel Prime to some of the unique special effects sounds used in the action sequences. We get to hear from the sound team as they talk about stretching the limits of the technology (for example, they maxed out what ProTools can do at 32,000 fades on just the first reel of the movie and needed to be able to do more). The last four minutes of this section is devoted to the movie's premiere in Russia. (8 "S" words, 1 "b*stard," 1 "Oh my G-d," 1 "G-d," 2 "a" words and some bleeped "F" words)
It all ends with a retrospective from the cast and Bay about the six-plus years spent on this franchise and where it all could go from here. Bay admits he can't imagine handing off the franchise to anyone else, but says he needs a break to do something else before possibly revisiting the Transformers world. To make things even more mysterious, the featurette ends with "TO BE CONTINUED..." -- as if it's a given there will be a fourth one, even if Bay doesn't do it.
Uncharted Territory: NASA's Future Then and Now (26:15) - This movie continues Bay's use of NASA as an integral part of telling his Transformers story. This almost-half-hour documentary features many space experts and NASA folks talking about the history of NASA and where it may be headed. The most interesting parts about it show some great archival footage from the 60's, 70's and 80's, as well as more recent footage. What does this featurette have to do with Transformers: Dark of the Moon, though? Nothing at all. Bay makes about three or four comments about NASA with the Bumblebee Camarro behind him, while it's not until literally the last two minutes of this featurette that someone mentions Transformers being a franchise that may interesting kids of this generation in space exploration (in which some scenes from the latest film are included). It's an informative featurette about NASA, but it's really only good for those really into space science and not just casual Transformers fans.
Deconstructing Chicago: Multi-Angle Sequences is broken down into two sections: Previsualizations and Visual Effects. For Previsualizations, there are twelve key scenes available separately or as a Play All function (17:05). Once you choose something, you're then given the option to see "Previsualizations" or "Previsualization / Final Shot Comparison" with optional commentary from Michael Bay and Previsualization Supervisor Steve Yamamoto. This option is probably for diehard fans of the movies and filmmaking only, since the previsualizations are simple computer animations done as storyboards. It's neat to see the evolution of a scene but, ultimately, it's not all that exciting. For "Visual Effects" (18:36), you're given twelve film moments again and can choose between "VFX Breakdowns" or "VFX Breakdowns / Final Shot Comparison" with optional commentary from Visual Effects Supervisors Scott Farrar and Matthew Butler. This one is probably best watched as a split screen of the VFX passes and then the final film shot. What they do, however, is replay the scene over and over and over as you see the various intricate layers of detail that go into a shot. It certainly highlights the great detail and work that go into animating/creating one single key visual effects shot in a movie of this scale. It's truly impressive. One of the most incredible shots, of course, is watching the office building breaking in two. The VFX featurette is more worthwhile to watch of these two options.
The Art Of Cybertron (6:04) is broken down into five parts with a "View All" option: Autobots, Decepticons, Environments, Weapons and Gear, and Ships. When you choose "View All," you have a series of photographs you can view and go through with the use of the arrows on your remote. You can see all kinds of concept art dated from the end of 2009 all the way through the beginning of 2011 (curiously, when Sentinel was still named "Ultra Magnus"?? Some of the concept art displays a date with that name).
The Dark of the Moon Archive (6:04) is comprised of five segments: "3D: A Transforming Visual Art," "Moscow World Premiere," "Birdmen Featurette," "Cody's iPad" and "The Sound of Transformers: Dark of the Moon." "3D: A Transforming Visual Art" (3:06) features Michael Bay and James Cameron talking about 3D and the appeal of doing a big movie like this in 3D. "Moscow World Premiere" (2:29) shows clips from the premiere in Moscow, including Linkin Park's performance in Red Square. "Birdmen Featurette" (2:28) is an abbreviated, faster version of the more in-depth version seen earlier. "Cody's iPad" (2:07) is a video Bay had posted on his personal site about a handicapped boy who had learned to type his thoughts and what he wants to say by using his nose on an iPhone. In the video, Bay expresses that he had implored Apple to give Cody an iPad (since it's bigger) and help other special needs people by providing their products (not sure why it's included on here, though). Finally, "The Sound of Transformers: Dark of the Moon" (9:17) is another featurette about the sound team which expands on the sound segment seen in the bigger documentary. This one shows more of the sound guys actually recording unique sounds from scratch and experimenting with making new sound effects. They also talk about how it's Bay's first film recorded in 7.1 digital sound.
The Matrix of Marketing is the final featurette, offering Trailers (the Teaser and the full Trailer) and a Marketing Gallery that includes Posters, "Style Guide" (basically some "hero" poses from Optimus, Bumblebee, Sentinel and Shockwave with a white background) Promo Items and Concession Items (all shown flattened as the print-outs before cut and folded into popcorn bags or drink cups).
Anyone who loves special features and is a fan of the Transformers films will probably want to pick up this release of Dark of the Moon. It's a bit frustrating to think that some folks may have bought the bare-bones release that came out last year, not knowing this was forthcoming. If you did just that and were hoping to get extras like these, you may want to look for this on sale if you're going to have to shell out more cash for it. There are no deleted scenes (although, I doubt they'd be noteworthy robot scenes if there were) and there is no featurette for the voice cast outside of Leonard Nimoy as Sentinel (we don't even hear from or see Optimus Prime's voice Peter Cullen except for one brief line in a montage), and there's also not a single mention of the film's score from Steve Jablonsky. Still, these extras are pretty solid and the central making-of documentary, "Above and Beyond: Exploring Dark of the Moon" really is more than what most filmmakers give you on their home video releases these days. It's a highly flawed film, but the action sequences are pretty top-notch. Here's to hoping, if/when a Transformers 4 is green lit, perhaps a more mature director will take over and just have Bay consult on the action pieces.- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 1/22/12)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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