Transformers Limited Edition 4K Steelbook Collection review – More than Meets the Eye

11 months ago 127

It’s 1986. I’m watching on the big screen as my childhood inspiration, Optimus Prime (and let’s be honest, that’s endured well into my adulthood) battles Megatron, declaring “One shall stand, one shall fall”. We learned the universal greeting. We saw Unicron devastate and transform the Decepticons into something more sci-fi than their Earth-based Autobot counterparts. We also saw the Matrix of Leadership pass to a new generation as my poor 10 year old heart broke at the death of Optimus. Hasbro dabbled with various animated versions of the epic battle between the Autobots and Decepticons for years, but they never tried their hand at the big screen again. At least, until Michael Bay picked up the Mantle of Leadership and directed the first blockbuster Transformers live film. That was 2007 – you feel old yet? Now in 2023, and on the verge of the release of the seventh film, Rise of the Beasts, we’ve finally gotten a remaster of all of these films in 4K. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, Autobots, so let’s transform and roll out!

Aesthetics:

The films come in a box with foldout flap, emblazoned with the Autobot logo on one side and the Decepticon on the opposite. Opening that magnetized flap reveals an awesome surprise – six beautiful full-sized steelcases, one for each film! It’d have been very easy for Paramount to drop these onto an extended spindle, stacking the discs on top of eachother, but thankfully they are showing a great deal of care here. It’s appreciated more than I express, and with or without the box, these steelcases are a showpiece. On each is, of course, the name of the film, as well as the primary protagonist or antagonist. The film’s names are also printed on the spine, making it possible to store them with their titles facing out.

Opening the first steelcase I was greeted with another surprise. I knew inside was a limited edition Autobot decal, but what shocked me was how high quality it is. Nobody would have batted an eye at a plain thin vinyl sticker, but here we have a thick and solid decal. There are stickers included in slipcases for movies occasionally, but I’ve never seen one this good.

The films are stacked on the right side of the case, with the Blu-ray version underneath but offset from the 4K version. I don’t mind this particular stack style as the discs don’t touch each other. The empty space on the left side of the case has a still from the film. The first case also has the digital redemption card, with codes for all six films allowing you to watch them on your favorite portable on the go.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen - Trailer

I’ve gotta level with you – these movies are a guilty pleasure. If you look purely at Rotten Tomatoes, they are a tutorial on how to slide from decent to zero, with the first film scoring 57%, and The Last Knight limping across the finish line at 16%. Bumblebee represented the first film that wasn’t directed by Michael Bay, and with Director Travis Knight and writer Christina Hodson delivering a fun reset of the franchise, it certainly put a smile on Hasbro and Paramount’s face with a 91% score! Hailee Steinfeld delivered the first human character that wasn’t eye-rollingly bad, and Bumblee’s storyline delivered in a way the previous five movies couldn’t. All that said, I’m still the first in line to defend these films. Not the storylines, mind you – they are painfully bad at best, and complete nonsense at worst, but the CGI. What Michael Bay has pulled off is nothing short of magnificent, and Peter Cullen’s buttery smooth and gruff voice as Optimus Prime makes me able to withstand the gratingly bad performances stammered out by Shia “Nononononononononononononono” LaBeuf, or the “please stop trying to convince me you’re smart” version of Marky Mark Walberg that cluelessly wanders around the latter films. In fact, there isn’t a person in this movie that you wouldn’t gleefully unplug their life support to charge your phone. That said, in the end, I’ll pop my popcorn and enjoy them as the special effects of giant robots clanging into each other like pots and pans stuffed in a dryer and set on high. It’s my childhood come to life…well, minus Mudflaps and Skids. The sooner those two end up in the car crusher the better, preferably while alive.

Transformers: Age of Extinction - Judgement

My only complaint with the physical box set is the same one I frequently have – lack of forethought. When I look at my photo album style 007 collection, it had spots for the next three films all earmarked and ready for when those would be released. As we are weeks away from Rise of the Beasts, it’d be nice if this box had a spacer to reserve the slot for the next installment. It’s a nice-to-have, but when the physical presentation is this nice a man can dream, right?

Video:

All of these movies have been released in a 4K format around the 2017 timeframe, so you can expect that these are the same transfers. Given that the first film is, somehow, 16 years old, you might expect to see some artifacting or wobble in the image, but Bay’s crew knew this was going to be a visual showcase and worked hard to ensure it would age well. The 2017 upgrade brought the film up to a HEVC H.265 encode with Dolby Vision, and most of the film benefits from it nicely. The first two films were shot primarily on ARRIFLEX and Panavision cameras, with appropriate lenses to pull together the anamorphic 2:39:1 aspect ratio, at 35mm, and then mastered to 2K at the time. As such, the film benefits most in the bright lights of the sun, such as the final showdown in the city between Optimus and Megatron. On the opposite side, you have the moment where Sam and Mikaela track down Bumblebee in the train yard at night, which looks a little more soft and with a touch of grain. It could be an aesthetic choice, or just the difference between traditional film and the upconverted digital encode, but one thing is sure – it’s a noticeable difference.

The third movie and beyond were shot either exclusively in digital, or with a digital twin – one copy in film and another in digital. As such, from Transformers: Dark of the Moon through to Bumblebee look their very best. Every bot’s gears, interlocks, whirring bits, and oiled shafty parts move around in slow motion, and now you can see every gory bit of this slice of CGI in exquisite detail. It’s clean, crisp, and even in slow motion looks absolutely magnificent.

There is a mix of aspect ratios for these 4K film releases, and that’s an understatement. Transformers – 1.85:1, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen – 2.39:1, Transformers: Dark of the Moon – 2.40:1, and Transformers: Age of Extinction – 2:39:1. For Transformers: The Last Knight, Michael Bay lost his everloving mind. He’s all over the place with 2.35:1 in one scene, 1.90:1 the next, 2.76:1 for another, and then 2.00:1 the next. It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, shifting from cinematic to Sci-Fi channel to amateur hour and back again. There’s even a dash of IMAX aspect ratios in here, because why not. Bay reminds me of the photographer that shows up with 10 different camera bodies to shoot the wedding, missing all the good shots as he fiddles with a backpack full of lenses. It’s not bad to shift aspect ratios – in fact, many films do, but usually there is a purpose to it. This just all feels very random…

Transformers: The Last Knight - New International Trailer - Paramount Pictures

Contrast and color saturation, on the other hand, is remarkably even throughout. Sure, the man suffers the same lens flare addiction as J.J. Abrams, but that needless detail is perfectly preserved. Jokes aside, the jump to Dolby Vision and HDR really punches in the inky blacks and draws out a stunningly wide color gamut. The Last Knight might be a flaming trash heap in terms of storyline, but the lush greens juxtaposed with the blues and reds on Optimus Prime’s armor is gorgeous. Similarly, the sun setting over the deserts in several of the films brings a dazzling array of golds, reds, and yellows that would feel right at home in a nature documentary, at least until a jive-talking robot or sputtering geriatric jet wobbles into the scene.

Bumblebee (2018) - New Official Trailer - Paramount Pictures

Sound:

“Wow, this Michael Bay movie is quiet” says nobody, ever. Explosions, yelling, and metal-on-metal bashing abounds across all these films, including Bumblebee to a smaller degree, and as such, your theater audio solution is going to get one heck of a workout.

If you have a setup with multiple subwoofers, you can expect the police are going to get called – these films thump. As the various Autobots and Decepticons fire their arm cannons, or take to the air and then roar off to the horizon, they will tear the roof off your theater. Michael Bay is known for making bombastic movies with massive explosions and crazy set pieces (as well as that constant up-angle spin camera move), but the man also knows how to bring audio to life.

Thankfully, the center channel gets some love as well. It would have been very easy to drown out the dialogue, such as it is, in favor of the boom pow whizbang explosions. Instead, the dialogue is clear and pushed forward for you to savor every bit of the magical dialogue that brings these films to life.

Steve Jablonsky is Bay’s go-to guy for soundtracks, and all of these movies, minus Bumblebee gets the full Jablonsky as a result. The music swells and stings at the right times, punching up the ham-fisted dialogue that it wouldn’t otherwise be able to do on its own. Inspired by the likes of Inon Zur and Hans Zimmer, Jablonsky’s scores are always bass-heavy and wide, filling the entire sound band. This 4K release makes use of every bit of that bandwidth, rattling your spine if you’ve got the gear for it. I’ve given this film series a lot of flak for its writing and unlikeable characters, but you can pick any one of them as a showcase for soundtrack audio and come out ahead, thanks to the Dolby Atmos encoding present on all of the discs.

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts | Official Trailer (2023 Movie)

Bonuses:

There are a LOT of bonus goodies on every single disc — frankly, more than it’d make sense to dig into here. Each disc got a half dozen or so featurettes, with between 40 minutes and an hour or more of behind the scenes or making-of content. These are carried forward, albeit at their Blu-ray resolution and encoding. If you are a fan of the films, there’s easily 3-4 more films worth of footage just waiting to be discovered. All of these are contained on the same disc as the films themselves, so you won’t be disc swapping to check out a deleted scene or a director’s commentary.

While all of these films have seen a 4K release in the last few years, there hasn’t been a steelbook collection like this. With gorgeous audio and video encoding, beautiful color depth, and hours of bonus features, this is the one to snap up if you’ve not made the jump to 4K. While the writing is…well, it is what it is, there’s no denying these are fun popcorn flicks for a lazy afternoon.

PROS

  • HEVC H.265 encode with Dolby Vision is gorgeous to look at
  • Rich and wide color gamut across all films
  • Dolby Atmos audio encoding is magnificent!
  • Soundtrack is consistently fantastic
  • More bonus features than you could ever want
  • Sturdy physical box and goodies

CONS

  • The “storylines” get progressively more dumb
  • Some softness to darker images in the first two films
  • Aspect ratios assigned by random lotto

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).

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