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Review: Transformers The Movie – Reconstructed (UK R0) DVD

Written by Big Bot on September 6, 2005 | Reviews |


Review by Chris McFeely
Director: Neslon Shin
Starring: Judd Nelson, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Stack, Lionel Stander, Orson Welles, Peter Cullen, Frank Welker

I shall not waste your time or mine doing an extensive review of a film we have all seen many times over. Suffice to say that it’s a cheesey, fun movie that stands out as one of the biggest Transformers stories, which set in motion a series of story concepts that have constantly been mirrored in the fiction to this day. The story’s a bit lurching, and completely derails itself in the third quarter as the writer indulges his imagination with pace-disrupting sequences on Quintessa and Junkion, but it remains an enjoyably watchable affair, moreso if you are a fan.

Okay, now, this is where it’s at.

I do not know the technical terms. I do not know the first thing about “interlacing” or “artifacting,” or even what those are. So this is going to be in layman’s terms, which I hope is enough.

For years, fans have debated the existence or not of a true widescreen version of the movie, since no such version has ever been released. It has, eventually, been realised that is because no such version does exist – the film was animated in fullscreen (4:3, the size of a regular TV screen), and for its theatrical release, was cropped into a widescreen (16:9) ratio. However, what is also apparent is that there is a small amount of additional footage in existence around all four edges of the picture, which has previously been cropped off.

And this, my friends, is where the “Reconstructed” subtitle of this movie comes into play. Using assorted technical jiggery pokery, Metrodome have had the movie image resized, to fit as much of this additional image into the frame as possible. And they have succeeded greatly.

The resulting image is not full widescreen, but is, however, somewhat wider than a normal, fullscreen 4:3 image. To accommodate this, the DVD is presented in a widescreen format, with the image “curtained” on both sides with narrow black bars. Consequently, if viewed on a widescreen television, these black bars will be the only empty space on the screen. However – and this is the negative result of this process – if viewed on a regular, fullscreen television, you will have to adjust your TV setting to a widescreen aspect ratio to view the film without stretching, meaning that black bars will appear on the top and bottom, working with the side bars to completely frame the image. Thankfully, I myself have a widescreen TV, so this does not affect me, but I understand that this will surely be rather off-putting to some viewers.

Additionally, there were early conflicting reports that the aspect ratio of the active picture image might change from scene to scene, as a result of each one being filmed differently. Well, you’d need to be looking very, very closely to spot it – any fluctuation in the size of the image width is barely perceptible though it does occur. And when I say barely perceptible, I mean, I had to hold something with a straight edge up against the screen to be absolutely sure if the picture was overlapping it at times. Rest assured, the image is not jumping from widescreen to fullscreen, as initial fears suggested.

There are, however, one or two moments where the picture resizing reveals reasons why it wasn’t done before. The glowing line on the edge of the title sequence, for example. Or when Grimlock growls at a Sharkticon, you can see, just at the very bottom of the screen, the un-delineated bottom of the animation cel, where the paint fades out – basically, it’s a part of the movie that wasn’t properly animated, because it was never truly intended to be on the screen. Although in all honesty? I can only tell you it’s there because I was made aware of it beforehand. I doubt I would have noticed it so readily had I not, and it’s miniscule anyway.

Hopefully, I have sufficiently explained all this.

But on top of all this picture resizing, the actual video itself has also been remastered, the only other DVD release of the movie to have done this being Rhino’s R1 version, which I do not own, but have seen images of, and have heard to be criticised for being overly dark. Well, that is certainly not a problem with Metrodome’s version. Admittedly, the opening scene of Unicron’s fly-by does not immediately fill the viewer with confidence – the colour balance is way off, with the blacks of space and shadow possessing a distinctly greenish hue. Thankfully, it’s not something that’s repeated – everything soon falls into line, and results in a very nice looking version of the movie that’s bright, sharp and colourful; the screencaps on Metrodome’s messageboard did not do it justice. There are times, mind you, when it seems a little too light, occasionally appearing a little washed out, and there are occasional moments where scenes and shots seem unremastered – for example, Astrotrain’s take off seems very saturated and blurry. But in this case, I’ll take the bad with the good – when all is said and done, I really like how the majority of the film appears.

Oh, and finally, one more thing about this release makes it unique for the UK – it’s actually the US version of the film, featuring the cast instead of the Star Wars scrolling text and Victor Caroli’s narration, Spike’s expletive, and no closing narration assuring us that Prime would return. As far as I know, this version has never been released in the UK before.

Ah, hereby hangs a tale.

Everyone remembers Rhino’s season boxsets, right? How the 5.1 audio tracks were filled to overflowing with oppressive, excessive new sound effects, which either by accident or design, sometimes wound up on the 2.0 audio tracks, which were supposed to contain the original, unmodified soundtrack of the show? Sure you do.

But do you also remember how, when questioned about this, they claimed that these sounds were always there, and that we just hadn’t been able to hear them before now?

That is, of course, a load of the purest arse.

But that’s what we’re hearing again.

Transformers: The Movie – Reconstructed presents two audio options – 5.1 and 2.0. And both soundtracks have been mixed by the same sound studio – “Magno,” I believed the name is – who did Rhino’s sets. And surprise surprise, they both feature a collection of new noises not in the original film, matching those inserted into the season sets, and the studio (notably, NOT Metrodome, but the studio themselves) is proclaiming they were always there.

Déjà vu.

Well, anyway, there is at least something positive to be said about all of this – the sound effects this time around are, to my ears, suitably more subtle and better integrated to the original audio than on the season boxsets. Well, on the 2.0 track, anyway – I don’t have a 5.1 sound system, so I can’t really comment on what it sounds like coming out of that. And in truth, some of the new sounds do work well. Starscream’s death, in particular, I feel gains a bit of oomph from the remixed sound, which is done well enough that I genuinely had to check an older copy of the movie to make sure that it was remixed (something that I had never had to do when dealing with these new sounds before).

The most noticeable alteration – and what is probably the most awful one – is during the “Touch” scene when Optimus Prime blasts through the Decepticons to get to Megatron. As he opens fire on the ‘Cons, the nigh-iconic blaster noise is supplanted with a ghastly “banging” sound, like miniature explosions, or a pop-gun. It’s just not right. And even though rest of the remix is not hugely objectionable, I would still have desired that at least the 2.0 track remain unmodified in the name of accuracy to the original. But that seems to be the furthest thing from the studio’s mind.

The packaging consists of a standard, blue-coloured DVD case. The regular, widely-available sleeve that goes in this case features the US poster artwork for its cover, while UK retailer Silverscreen is offering an exclusive reversible cover, featuring both the US poster artwork, and the UK’s version. This might have been done as a result of the negative reaction a lot of UK fans had to the use of the US artwork, but y’know what? I still support the decision to use it. Sure, the UK version might be better drawn, but Optimus Prime’s back is not a great focal point, and the image is messy and busy. The US poster better reflects the movie (even if it doesn’t even show robot-mode Hot Rod), and again, I don’t think it’s ever been used as a cover for a DVD or video in the UK, making it stand out (Maverick’s video release of the movie a good couple of years back did use a nastily-redrawn version of this cover, though).

Included inside the box is a sixteen-page booklet primarily written by Metrodome’s Jezz Vernon, covering the reconstruction process, the extra features, a run-down of the cast, how the movie fits into the series timeline and some notes on its production. Vernon intelligently and accurately gets the information across – a very good job for someone who is not actually a Transformers fan. The booklet is rounded out by three short pieces of writing from three fans (Seibertron.Com’s Raymond T., TheTransformers.Net’s Darren Jamieson, and me) about what the movie means to them, and then with an advert for the upcoming release of the Headmasters boxset, advertising its feature, and snipping some of the text I wrote for it’s booklet and packaging.

And at last, we come to all’a this. So lets hit them one by one.

Well, the first special feature isn’t on the features menu – by selecting the icon in the Transformers logo on the main menu, you can choose between an Autobot and Decepticon theme for the main menu, nicely accompanied by a G1-cartoon-style scene transition when you switch designs.

The first option on the Special Features menu is “Compare and Contrast” – a section which gives you the opportunity to look at the alternate scenes from the UK version of the movie, as discussed above (the Stars Wars text and narration, no swearing and closing narrative). This is a great idea, but when there was originally talk of creating a branching version of the movie that would allow you to watch either version you chose in context with the movie, this doesn’t quite live up to that. It’s still a really good extra, though.

Next on the list is the disc’s ROM feature – a despicably bad transcript of the movie, which the menu incorrectly calls the original script. What was really necessary here was the real original script that’s around online. This thing is, in all honesty, just a bit of a mess.

“Trailers and TV Spots” lifts things up a little, though. In additional to the US Theatrical Trailer, and the extended, four-minute Japanese affair with the additional shots of Unicron eating Lithone and Diaclone-colours Ultra Magnus, there are twelve TV adverts for the movie, including a tie-in sweepstakes competition, an ad for the Ultra Magnus and Galvatron toys, and a series of ads for the Sharkticon toys. Admittedly, it all gets a bit repetitive, and a few of the ads clearly came from low-quality VHS sources.

The next option is a series of animation tests, showing the final test of the opening credits (the cast names flying around), and then a series of further colour and exposure tests, including various pieces of animation. Mostly notably among these is what would be called a “Clean Opening” – the shots of Laserbeak’s approach to Cybertron’s moon sans the credit text that appears over them in the finished film.

Character Biographies are up next, split into Autobots and Decepticons, covering the living and the dead. Arcee, Blurr, Hot Rod, Kup, Springer, Ultra Magnus, Brawn, Ironhide, Optimus Prime, Prowl, Wheeljack, Ratchet, Windcharger, Galvatron, Cyclonus, Scourge, Bombshell, Kickback, Megatron, Shrapnel, Skywarp, Starscream, Thundercracker, and out in his own section, Unicron, all get covered, although these are simply the profiles which previously appeared on Madman Entertainment’s R4 Australian release of the movie (happily claiming that Skywarp is Cyclonus – something that I personally agree with, but wouldn’t state so factually if it were me).

The final extra is the big ‘un. When the previous licence-holders, Maverick Entertainment, released their version of the movie, they included as an extra the first episode of the Japanese-exclusive series, “Headmasters,” in its wretchedly dubbed form. Well, Metrodome have done them one better – as an advertisement for the upcoming complete Headmasters boxset, they’ve included the first episode as well, this time in it’s original Japanese language (with the correct opening and closing) with a set of newly-created subtitles. There’s no dub option here, but there will be on the set.

However, it should be noted for anyone concerned that the subtitle script used for this episodes is an early one, from before I got my hands on it to correct any spelling or TF-based errors or inconsistencies. So if you see any (there are a few) don’t worry, ‘cause they should be gone on the boxset itself. Take that very British line, for example – “I’m Grimlock and I’ll do you all in!” I turned that line into “Me Grimlock smash you!” 🙂

And that is Transformers: The Movie – Reconstructed. It’s clearly a very fan-targeted project, and in general, it’s a film that looks very nice and holds a lot of curiosity value for those who have a copy already. The audio is main the hiccup, and the extras are not as hot as they could be, but there is already talk of another version in the future. There is no region information printed on the sleeve that I can see, but I assume that it has indeed been released with Region 0 encoding, meaning that our interested cousins across the pond can import with minimal concern.

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