WASHINGTON. Director Travis Knight’s welcome reboot of producer Michael Bay’s live-cinematic adaptations of Hasbro’s beloved “robots in disguise” toy line has moved from its blockbuster run to ultra-high definition in Bumblebee.* This sixth installment to the series takes place in 1987. It offers a combined origin and coming-of-age tale about a teenage girl named Charlie Wilson (Hailee Steinfeld).
While mourning the loss of her father, she is also coping with a too-happy remaining family and befriending a robot sent from a distant planet to protect Earth from an impending invasion.
Bumblebee and the extraterrestrials
Bumblebee, the robot in question, is the popular Transformer’s Autobot B-127. Eventually named “Bumblebee” by the girl, the Autobot must learn to adapt to Earth and humans after a massive battle in which he is exposed to Sector 7 and agent Jack Burns (John Cena).
The secret government organization tasked with tracking extraterrestrials gets hoodwinked by the evil Decepticons Shatter and Dropkick into helping them find Bumblebee. This leads to some intense battles and, ultimately, to the torture of the heroic robot until Charlie helps save the day.
Mr. Knight’s greatest accomplishment throughout this film is giving a clunky robot a wide range of emotions. Much of this is thanks to the digital effects team’s meticulous work to capture facial expressions. These notably include detailed, twisting facial metal cheeks and eyelids.
Fans of the franchise will appreciate some of the scaled-down versions of the Transformers (Generation 1 models to be exact). Ditto the film’s immersion in 1980s culture, back when Hasbro’s famed toy line launched.
When compared to its predecessor movies, this latest series effort is truly, as the Transformers slogan goes, “more than meets the eye.” It ratchets down the headache-inducing, bombastic battles of the bots. Instead, within the confines of a coherent teen drama, it focuses on the robots’ interactions with humans and their human-like qualities.
4K in action
As with all live-action “Transformers” movies, the UHD and high definition shine in this addition. That’s particularly true when visually examining the wondrous, often multistory-tall robots and their alter egos.
While simply a 4K upscale from a 2K master, this edition stays sharp throughout with strong color saturation. But it’s worth noting that it is not a reference quality release. Viewers will appreciate Bumblebee equally well in the Blu-ray format.
That said, it’s hard not to slightly gasp when watching the meticulous digital design in 4K as applied to Bumblebee’s transformation into the beat-up VW Volkswagen. Viewers are able to identify many of the dented, scuffed car parts becoming its body thanks to a crisp transfer.
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Better yet, the release offers a complete, screen-filling presentation. One example: the opening fight on Cybertron is so much more enjoyable while viewing numerous and very colorful Transformers like Optimus Prime and Soundwave battle amid explosions and laser blasts.
When sitting back and appreciating the quality of the 4K upscale, one of my favorite examples is the frenetic fighting at night and the final demise of the Decepticon Dropkick. It pays a heavy price when it attacks Bumblebee as a Bell SuperCobra helicopter.
As always, the added Dolby Atmos soundtrack offers room-shaking moments during Transformer battles. But this technology also highlights a pure 1980s musical soundtrack. In so doing, it gives a nod to bands such as “The Smiths,” “Simple Minds” and “Oingo Boingo.”
The included Blu-ray disc contains all the digital goodies. It starts with the opening scene of the movie and helps viewers learn a tiny bit about the engaged Autobots and Decepticons. Peering through “Bee Vision,” viewers rewatch the roughly 4-minute battle for Cybertron. But this one gets interrupted with a full-screen encyclopedic display.
Each of the roughly dozen “extras” entries offer images of combatants such as Arcee, Wheeljack and Soundwave along with their designation, allegiance and transforming modes.
Next, viewers get a nearly 10-minute long motion comic (remember those?) sequel to the movie. Called “Sector 7 Adventures: The Battle of Half Dome,” it slightly brings to animated life a battle between the evil Soundwave versus Sector 7 agents Bumblebee and Brawn.
A 15-page, full color mini-comic hardcopy insert can also found in the shrink-wrapped package. Produced by Avalanche Comics Entertainment, it duplicates most of the digital tale,
Finally worth noting: An almost 47-minute-long, five-part look at the production of the movie. It covers the cast, 1980s-style production design, locations and the reboot of the franchise.
Most interesting are segments about the origin of Bumblebee and the efforts of digital designers. The latter are shown attempting to model the film’s Transformers to resemble their first-generation cartoon, toy and comic book counterparts.
*Bumblebee. Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment, rated PG-13. Now available on 4K Ultra HD. 114 minutes, 1.78:1 and 1.78:1 aspect ratio, $27.95.
— Headline image: Charlie Wilson (Hailee Steinfeld) hugs her new best friend in “Bumblebee.”
• This story originally appeared in The Washington Times.