Why Transformers 2 is better than you think it is

Contributed by
Dec 14, 2012, 4:09 PM EST

If there's a summer blockbuster that inspired more disagreements and debates this year than Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, I don't know what it is. Michael Bay's monolithic sequel earned more than $800 million worldwide, and also received some of the harshest criticism of any film in the director's career.

Newly released on Blu-ray, it remains to be seen whether the film's oft-contested winning streak continues on home video, but for my money, the film is actually a lot more effective on the small screen, thanks in no small part to the two-disc special edition set's abundance of extras and bonus materials—not to mention the availability of the "pause" button.

Truth be told, I actually enjoyed the film the first time I saw it, or at least took it for what it was—namely, the biggest, "most" movie I'd ever seen—and dismissed its many logical and narrative shortcomings as something that perhaps should be expected in a sequel to a film based upon a line of toys. If you disagree, fair enough—and far be it from me to sing the praises of stuff like twin robots that sport (at least) borderline-racist hip-hop accents—but given the subject matter and (especially) the director involved, it seems disingenuous to be surprised at almost anything that happens in Revenge of the Fallen.

On the small screen—or at least smaller, depending on the size of your TV—the movie plays surprisingly well, especially its first half. The scope and literal size of the images on a movie screen are overwhelming, massive, and cut so frenetically by Bay's four editors that it's no wonder that people said they couldn't keep track of what was happening. But at home, where you're able to capture the entirety of each frame in your field of view without having to scan the equivalent of the broad side of a barn, the movie actually make a lot more visual sense, if not always narrative.

Additionally, you can go backwards and forwards in its often troubled timeline to revisit a detail that you might have missed previously. And, finally, there's the all-powerful pause button, which can and should be used frequently in order to stave off headaches, provide potty breaks and break up the film's single-minded momentum.

Perhaps tellingly, the commentary track features Bay, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, but the screenwriters were not present in the director's recording session, and vice versa. While that makes for a lot less backbiting than one might expect, Bay's vision for the film as a fun thrill ride seemed to be almost directly at odds with Orci and Kurtzman's focus on story and characters, and while everyone involved is respectful of one another, their comments suggest that the film is almost shockingly good given the odd and unwieldy way in which it was conceived. Not only did the delay caused by the writers' strike adversely impact the amount of time and focus that Orci and Kurtzman (along with Ehren Kruger) could devote to the script, but Bay's use of a 13-page outline to propel the film through preproduction stymied many of their efforts to create something that was more cohesive, since Bay found locations and came up with some of the set pieces himself that later had to be forced into the rest of the story.

In which case, there's something pretty amazing—sociologically, if not artistically—about the fact that with only the most marginal of blueprints, Bay and company put together a hugely successful summer blockbuster. Just the idea of having a massive budget, incomparable production infrastructure and a looming release date and pulling off what ultimately became one of the biggest movies of the year is incredible. Not to mention the fact that no matter what you think of the end result, Bay understands virtually all aspects of the production process; on multiple occasions during the commentary track, the director discusses collaborating with his crew and generally achieving his shots in very specific ways that reflect a comprehensive understanding not only of technique but the effect of all of that muscular imagery he creates.

The bonus materials on the second disc delve specifically into all aspects of the production, starting with "The Human Factor," a documentary about the making of the movie that includes behind-the-scenes footage, interviews and background details about Transformers' development. As is perhaps to be expected, this is significantly more revealing than it might even intend to be, given some of the aforementioned constraints; notwithstanding stuff like one designer's confession that he knows nothing about cars and therefore designs the 'bots simply from his own imagination, there's footage of Orci, Kurtzman and Kruger holed up in a hotel suite furiously trying to finish pages—and later, shape existing scenes—as the film's release date grows near.

"A Day With Bay," meanwhile, follows the director through 24 hours of the promotion campaign, including interviews with Japanese journalists and shots of the Japan premiere; while the most surprising revelation here is that Japanese journalists are just as stupid as American ones (the most frequently asked question at the junket is "If you could transform into anything, what would it be?"), Bay dropped a few hints about his participation in subsequent press events that explain a lot about the limited number of interviews domestic audiences read with him ("I'm going to ditch the American junket," he says candidly).

"25 Years of Transformers" and "Giant Effing Movie" provide even more background about the film and the franchise, the former examining the legacy of the toy series and the latter chronicling the production in a more intimate and personal way. While there's a surprising lack of footage of Megan Fox in much of this—not owing to any particular reason, mind you—Shia LaBeouf makes a game host, playing to the camera and goofing off in a way that really highlights what a talented and centered guy he is.

Additional interactive features offer fans a chance to look at scene-specific breakdowns of the film's blitzkrieg action, to peruse biographies and backstories for each of the characters in the film and to create their very own Transformers. But even as someone who defended the film or maybe just celebrated what it was rather than decried what it wasn't, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen really seems to have a chance to be rediscovered and re-evaluated on Blu-ray. And ultimately, even if the extras, bonus materials and Bay's comments fail to transform your expectations, at least you can re-examine the experience at your leisure rather than relentlessly, all at once, and on a screen that swallows you whole.