April 3, 2019 By King
Though its worldwide gross of $463 million makes it the least-successful live-action Transformers movie, Bumblebee has a chance to recoup on video now that fans who might have felt burned-out on Michael Bay get a chance to check it out more cheaply. Out now on VOD, Blu-ray and 4K, the spin-off earned the best reviews of the franchise, and won over many old-school fans with a Cybertron-set sequence depicting all the robots looking as close to their original toy and cartoon counterparts as possible. Skepticism was understandable among those who didn’t like the Mark Wahlberg-starring iteration of the franchise (I am not among them), and it’s possible a “wait for DVD” approach was taken by those who wanted their fifteen bucks back for The Last Knight. Now is the time, because Bumblebee looks fantastic on 4K, and plays even better the second time around.
Travis Knight was a uniquely strong choice for this material, not just because he played with the original toys, but because as a director of stop-motion, he has a unique insight into bringing inanimate objects to life with personality, where alpha-male Michael Bay was more interest in fast cars and military hardware crashing and blowing stuff up good. Knight also has children, which may explain why the parents in this installment, though comedically clueless at times, feel like the genuine article and not the broad comic relief of Bay’s first three films.
All that said, while Bumblebee has better characters than usual for a Transformers movie, it never loses sight of the fact that people come to these films primarily for the cool special effects. On 4K it looks sharper than it did at my local multiplex, and the sound is impressively loud yet balanced. Knight already shot the most coherent big robots fights to date, but now you can keep track of them even better, with the Blitzwing fight and the final confrontation with two Decepticons among the highlights. Most fans of the franchise will likely buy this disc primarily to watch the Cybertron prologue over and over again, but will find there are many, many more rewatch moments than you might remember that were initially overwhelmed by the OMG factor of Generation 1 robot designs.
Despite a budget for fewer robots, Knight makes certain to constantly have them transform, both fully and partially, the latter being a thing that only a kid who played with them would be likely to utilize as much. Yes, if it gets your Autobot under a door or through a crack, sometimes we did only open them up part-way – The Last Knight (no relation to Travis) briefly took advantage of this concept in a car chase, but the new movie’s Bumblebee uses all his moving parts to sometimes take new shapes just to get around things. Once in a while on 4K you can see the seams of the digital trickery, or rather the non-seam areas where a seam logically would be. But mostly, you get to revel in the robotics in a way prior films didn’t pause long enough to let you do. And call this damning with faint praise if you must, but it’s a great movie to half-pay attention to while doing something else — the plot is simple enough that it’s easy to pick up at any point, or stop and start, while you look at the cool thing in ultra-sharp resolution (though grain appears where appropriate in certain shots, but it’s very fine and not frequent).
Now, Hasbro has recently dubbed this film a reboot, which clears up some tricky continuity issues, though to be fair, pretty much every Transformers movie has ignored as much of the prior installments as was convenient at the time. The extras on the Blu-ray disc, however, take pains to connect it to the original movie, mostly via a motion comic (and print version attached) featuring a young Agent Simmons (played by John Turturro in the Bay films, and by an inconspicuous extra in this one) who encounters Soundwave and learns how to hate Transformers, before going to the subterranean base where the frozen Megatron is. Fans of certain political stripes may be unhappy with Soundwave saying “Return Cybertron to greatness again” and the Autobots calling themselves “the Resistance,” but it is what it is.
While you may play that intro on repeat on 4K still, the BR extras include an annotated version of it that pauses to name each major robot; a useful feature for kids if this is their first Transformers movie. Deleted scenes show that it took a while to find the tone: ”80s jokes about leggings and Gobots were mercifully removed, and two additional mean-girl acquaintances of Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) probably came off as just too cruel. Then there’s an entire alternate “Bumblebee trashes the house” sequence in which his energon leaks and turns most of the household appliances into feral robots. Money was clearly spent to come close to finishing it, but the house-bots used arguably too-basic designs relative to what we’ve seen in other movies and besides, Hasbro’s launching a cute line of household bots called BotBots that are meant to be adorable, and this was the opposite of that. Fun to see, though.
There are also “outtakes,” which mostly consist of John Cena improvising his scenes in a more comedic direction, effectively demonstrating how misused he is in the movie. As a military adversary to Bumblebee, he doesn’t get to show much range and comes off more like Hulk Hogan than the Rock. Given a chance to go off-script, however, and he’s gold, even if most of his little improvs would have been at the expense of taking the story in any way seriously.
A commentary from Travis Knight would have been nice, but he gets to weigh in plenty on several featurettes, and all the fanboy choices. One thing I really wish he’d done is find a way to bring back the original theme song, but hey, at least he got “The Touch” in there. Because he does have it.