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TransformersTransformers on DVD

There isn't much more than meets the eye in this, arguably the best of the Hollywood movies based on old toy collections and/or cartoon series.

Transformers, of course, are alien robots who can mimic ordinary earth-style technology. The movie is the latest action adventure flick from director Michael Bay and executive producer Steven Spielberg, who between them have unleashed a lot of good and some less than good flicks in the genre.

Transformers is a worthy addition to the collection.

Okay, it's silly and superficial, but it's great popcorn stuff, and it looks and sounds great in the home theater.

Shia LaBeouf stars as nerdy Sam Witwicky, whose first car turns out to be - surprise! - an alien robot. Fortunately, he's one of the Autobots, the good Transformers. They're the foils of the evil Decepticons, with whom they've been at war for centuries. Both sides are on earth to find the AllSpark, a device that would grant its owner the power to rebuild Cybertron, the Transformers' home world, or "Cybertronform" any planet (and guess which planet that would be?).

It's nearly non-stop action, with astoundingly good special effects - and even some hearty laughs. For example, a Decepticon masquerading as a police car has "To punish and enslave" stenciled onto it, and Autobot Bumblebee (LaBeouf's Camaro), communicates via his car radio, using just the right phrases culled from broadcasts. There are homages (one of the Decepticons has a face that reminds one of the alien from Predator, for example) and blatant product placements (the whole movie's a long commercial for General Motors and features prominently its new Camaro ), but it doesn't matter because the movie is all fun.

Yes, fans, it's robot versus robot mayhem, with the giant droids taking out a good chunk of human stuff in the process as our buildings and technology get in the way of the battle.

The actors do a good job, though you know they know they're only there to support the special effects. Besides LaBeouf (who is very good in the starring role), we have Megan Fox as his love interest, Josh Duhamel as an Army sergeant, Jon Voight, as a surprisingly sympathetic Secretary of Defense who's in past his depth, and oily special agent John Turturro, who manages to rub nearly everyone the wrong way.

And we'd be remiss if we didn't mention the great U.S. military technology that's along for the ride, from C-130 gun ships and C-17 transports to the Osprey, A-10 and F22 Raptor. Aficionados will love it!

The first section of the movie sees the U.S. military discover the strange and deadly new threat, while "a boy and his car" (LaBeouf and Bumblebee) bond in a way that goes beyond most boy/car relationships. The Autobots need Sam because they're looking for an antique set of eyeglasses in his possession (the Decepticons want it, too, but - fortunately - the good guys get to Sam first). Once the Autobots introduce themselves to Sam, it's pretty well non-stop action between the droids and the humans, and it's spectacular.

Director Michael Bay handles the destruction and general mayhem well. And the action scenes benefit from the always-great work of George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic special effects wizards, who turn in totally believable work. The robots' transformations are spectacular, and the battle scenes will have you ducking your head for cover. It all looks so real!

Bottom line: Transformers is a tremendous roller coaster ride in the home theater, with just enough "reality" to help you suspend your disbelief at the otherwise ludicrous goings on.

The two disc DVD does the movie justice. The picture is presented in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, and it's reference quality; we're betting you'll see this one playing in electronics and video stores to demonstrate TV's. The colors are deep and rich, the picture is razor sharp and the overall look is gorgeous.

The audio, alas, is only offered in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. We'd have loved to see a dts choice, but it was not to be (perhaps the inevitable special edition will correct this). The sound quality is very good, however, with delicious use of the surround channels. We'd have liked to hear a little more low frequency effects channel, but it's pretty good nonetheless.

The only extra on Disc One is a commentary by director Bay, but Disc Two is full of goodies. It kicks off with "Our World," which includes interviews with cast and crew, footage of the stunt people working out their gags, and some on-set location stuff.

Then you can move onto "Their World," which deals with the creation of the Autobots and Decepticons through featurettes titled "Rise of the Robots", "Autobots Roll Out", "Decepticons Strike" and "Inside the AllSpark." And finally there's "More than Meets the Eye," a section on the making of the Skorponok desert battle, as well as some conceptual art and trailers.

Inside the package we got there's an invitation to enter a sweepstakes to win the Bumblebee Camaro when it's available in 2009.

Transformers, from Dreamworks Home Entertainment
143 min. anamorphic widescreen (16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
Starring Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Jon Voight, John Turturro
directed by Michael Bay

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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