Blu Reviewed: Transformers: The Movie [30th Anniversary Edition]

30 years later and even the creative team behind Transformers: The Movie can't believe that the film has endured as long as it has thanks mostly to the diehard fan base. Thankfully, Shout Factory is well aware of the rabid fandom keeping this film alive and has lovingly restored the film with a fresh 4K master, inspiring the best reason yet to return to Cybertron and dig up some potent nostalgia.

What everyone really wants to know is how great does this new 4K master really look and how does the new 5.1 audio mix fair? Obviously, that's why you're here—and we'll get to that—but, personally, I don't think I've ever been interested in reading a review of Transformers: The Movie for many reasons. We all know it's not a masterpiece. Next to other prominent animated features of the same era, it clearly doesn't hold a candle to Nausicaa, the post-apocalyptic Miyazaki film that released only a year prior, or the legendary epic, Akira, which followed only a year and a half later. Transformers: The Movie, as much as we hate to admit it, was essentially an excuse to kill off all of the old characters and advertise the cool new toys that will be replacing them. It's a commercial. A really shiny, gorgeous, explosive commercial of near-endless destruction and action, which, yes, is still a lot of fun. For three-year old me, that was enough to get me drooling and clapping my stubby fingers together and more or less it's still enough now. Watching it again on blu-ray after a good six or more years since I last popped in the 20th anniversary edition confirmed a few fears, but enlightened me to qualities I didn't quite appreciate as much before.

The film is as run-of-the-mill and cheesy as it gets. The story sees Unicron, a gigantic, planet-eating machine making its way across the void of space toward the Transformers' home planet of Cybertron. The only time it deviates from the core plot is to unceremoniously destroy almost every Autobot and Decepticon we ever loved or give our characters an excuse to fight some wild new robo-beasts and dance with an oddball race of Transformers that live on a planet of junk. Yes, it can get absurdly cheesy at times and charmingly weird, but that's all part of why we love this film so much.

While the story is hardly engaging, the action is exciting and relentless, made more thrilling through the exquisitely detailed animation. While it's not as graceful and fluid as some of the other Japanese powerhouses at the time, Transformers: The Movie excels in being easily one of the most stunningly colored and meticulously drawn animated features of the era. When I was just a wee lad, I still vividly remember thinking how amazing it was that we could actually now see the reflections and shimmer on the metallic exoskeletons of the Transformers. It's not long afterward that all that gloss and sheen would be replaced by battle damage, leaking robotic alien oils, sparking gashes, and an array of cracks and scratches across the bodies of our favorite transforming warriors. Watching it again now on blu-ray allowed me to revisit that same childlike wonder of how incredible of a production this is. The matte paintings of strange robotic worlds or the surreal innards of Unicron's nightmarish factory of organs and alien power supplies all feel enormous and alive with complex evolution. The consoles of Autobot ships, gear, and weaponry blip and sparkle with a thousand glowing neon lights, spinning dials, and transforming parts. Not just once, but several times throughout its running time we are witness to massive destruction with hundreds (or perhaps thousands) of individually animated bits of shredded metal and debris as entire planets, cities, and bases are eviscerated by Unicron's godlike power. This is the definition of eye-candy. So rich, so vibrant and textured, you can't turn your eyes away.

We all know how iconic the soundtrack is with Stan Bush's now super familiar "The Touch" and my personal favorite, "Dare." The songs are rather corny, in my opinion, but I couldn't even tell you if I love them because of the nostalgia factor or if they're actually pretty great pieces of 80s arena rock. Stan speaks in earnest about the song's meanings in the special features and how he's had fans express their intense adoration for the music and how it touched–or even saved–their lives. Lion's own "The Transformers (Theme)" is just as audacious and equally unforgettable. Weird Al's "Dare to be Stupid" carries the film's most ridiculous scene where the Autobots meet the Junkion's who speak in TV catch phrases and share a dance party together. While the soundtrack is cemented firmly in the decade, it no doubt matches the fun extravagance of the film whether you love it ironically or for nostalgia sake.

Lines are a bold, inky black.

The original score by Vince DiCola, on the other hand, is made timeless by the recent resurgence of heavily synthesized retro music. While some may find the score a little ham-fisted or tacky, I genuinely love DiCola's arrangements and production value. As equally detailed as the animation, DiCola's layers of arpeggios, pads, bright, memorable leads, and prickly percussion have replayed in my head for decades. Like the action, his score never stops, always digging deep into the mood and movements of the film with strong personality and energy.

Needless to say, the entire roster is voiced beautifully by some of the most recognizable voices of the time. The legendary Frank Welker, Peter Cullen, and Chris Latta all reprise their iconic roles as Megatron, Optimus Prime, and Starscream, respectively. Joining them are Leonard Nimoy as Galvatron, John Moschitta Jr. (the Micro Machines guy) appropriately cast as the fast-talking Blurr, Judd Nelson as Hot Rod, Robert Stack of Unsolved Mysteries' fame playing Ultra Magnus, and the incredible Orson Welles as Unicron in his final role who would die in October of 1985 before the film's release. The cast is massive and to give credit to each of their awesome talents would take far too long, but like the music and the arresting visuals, the voice acting is as good as it gets. Performances are extraordinarily dynamic and diverse with slick post-processing for each robot, highlighting all the sticky, gritty characteristics of each actor's voice. Like a lot of people, one of the biggest disappointments of Michael Bay's Transformers is that while featuring some great voice talent, including Peter Cullen himself, there was very little done in designing the voice work. Transformers: The Movie, I still consider one of the best examples of voice design in not just animated features, but all of film. Blockbuster movies these days don't seem interested in this art form anymore for fear of masking the voice of a celebrity.

Through and through, Transformers: The Movie remains one of the most vibrantly rendered, passionately scored, and exceptionally voiced animated action films I've ever seen. It's always going to be a glorified commercial for the new toy line under the guise of a mass murdering every character we called our heroes, but even when I was a child I didn't care because I was having far too much fun.



For the first time, Transformers: The Movie was taken back to the drawing board, scanned in 6K, graded in 4K, and finalized in 1080p (MPEG-4 AVC) at a whopping 35Mbps on this stunning disc. Considering its age, it's not a flawless presentation, but it is by far the best the film has ever looked. The opening shots against the backdrop of space were a little worrisome because while the matte paintings of nebulae, stars, and galaxies are nicely done, the void is a particularly dark grey and not the inky deep black I expected. I thought maybe it was an issue with the master, but as we follow the massive Unicron to his first victim planet, lines and shadow on the huge metallic structures and robots pop against their environments with bold, black contour.

There are numerous shots appearing significantly softer than I'd like, but this is to be expected of an animated film of this age. Even modern animated films still seem to love their soft shots, so I don't consider this a flaw whatsoever. There is one extreme example of this, however, when coming upon Hot Rod and Daniel fishing for the first time, the shot appears unfocused or perhaps damaged to the point of no return and stands out like a sore thumb. It actually elicited an audible, "Whoa" from me. Otherwise, they actually got Hot Rod's color correct this time. In previously released versions, his color scheme varied between too hot or too dull, shot to shot and version to version.

Several scenes of mass destruction are loaded with fine detail in this remaster

Two other flawed shots come to mind. Early in the film, a dark corner which Daniel pops from flashes some large grey blocks and another where after Starscream boards Astrotrain he addresses the Decepticons with a huge amount of print damage rattling on the left side of the screen. Besides the strange shot of the fishing scene, these are the only two which appeared glaringly bad and each is so brief they won't ruin your viewing time. There still remains a healthy dose of film speckle and spots, but I don't think I'm alone in thinking these kinds of "errors" actually add to the experience and scrubbing the entire film clean would rob the print of its natural allure. Thankfully, there is absolutely no DNR, edge enhancement, macroblocking, color banding, or compression artifacts that I caught. It's wonderfully preserved with no shortcuts taken.

An excellent grain presence has been extracted from this master, providing a deeply satisfying filmic tone which serves to highlight the impeccable detailing of the artists and animators. It's like holding a magnifying glass up to the pencils and paints, preserving the natural pressure and texture applied by the talented hands that crafted each frame. Likewise, color leaps off the screen with an almost limitless palette. Oranges, pinks, and reds especially surge while glowing laser fire and gleaming readouts pierce like a disco ball reflecting a psychedelic dance club.

This is likely the best we'll be getting for a very long time and while it's imperfect, I am more than happy with the hard work that went into preserving this striking film.


The brand new 5.1 surround mix is a welcome addition in DTS-HD Master Audio at 48kHz, 24-bit. Unfortunately the surround channels aren't highly active nor is the subwoofer. The surrounds mostly provide some music highlights and subtle background noise with sadly no missiles soaring behind you or lasers firing across your back. The sub gets worked with some kick drums and light bass lines, but remains low and generally unremarkable. Some of the sound design falls a bit flat here, too, with colliding objects sometimes sounding more like smashing two cell phones together. This might not even be a fault of the master, but the design being a bit too thin in some places.

Maybe the 5.1 mix isn't as engulfing as I wanted, but it is damn sure bright and crystal clear. The terrific voice design is loaded with synthesized undercurrents which are now more pronounced than they ever have been. Kup's war torn voice gristles like charcoal and Soundwave's heavily modulated vocals have a wide presence unheard of before. Each layer of Vince DiCola's score is distinct as the thick pads and arpeggios glisten intensely.

This disc is certainly not demo-worthy for your killer surround system, but the music and voice work, arguably the most important aspects of the film's sonic experience, are delightfully present in the new mix.

Neon reflections, trippy lights, metallic gloss, and dark shadows all bring the Transformers alive!

EXTRAS: 6/10

'Til All Are One: Looking Back at Transformers: The Movie (1080p; 46:32) A highly informative set of interviews with the cast and crew.

Transformers: The Restoration (1080p; 7:16) A sadly short documentary on how the film was restored and remastered in 4K.

Rolling Out the New Cover (1080p; 4:49)

Audio Commentary featuring director Nelson Shin, story consultant Flint Dille, and Susan Blu, the voice of Arcee.

- The Death of Optimus Prime (1080p; 5:02)
- The Cast of Characters (1080p; 10:02)
- Transformers Q & A (1080p; 13:03)

Animated Storyboards
- Fishing Scene (1080p; 2:09)
- Battle (1080p; 4:31)
- "One Shall Stand, One Shall fall" with Deleted Sequences (1080p; 5:27)

Original Theatrical Trailers (1080p; 3:05)

TV Spots
(1080p; 5:52)

This set includes two versions of the film on two separate discs. The original theatrical aspect ratio presented in 1.85:1 and the other disc featuring the open matte 1.35:1 TV version both in 1080p and 35Mbps. For this review, I chose the widescreen version as it is the framing intended by the creators.

For hardcore fans, this set is a no-brainer and a must buy. Even if you've never seen the film or just want to add a crazy colorful animated classic to your blu-ray collection, I highly recommend anyone even mildly curious giving this a shot. It is arguably the highest point in Transformers film history and one of the most action packed cartoons of the era. Buy this now!

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- J.G. Barnes