The Transformers: The Movie — 35th Anniversary Edition

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Shout! Factory;
Animated;
$29.98 UHD BD Steelbook;
Rated ‘PG’;
Voices of Judd Nelson, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Stack, Lionel Stander, Eric Idle, Orson Welles, Susan Blu, Neil Ross, John Moschitta Jr., Gregg Berger, Corey Burton, Frank Welker, Peter Cullen.

Loaded with some great retrospectives and a beautiful 4K transfer, Shout! Factory’s 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray of the 1986 animated “Transformers” movie is quite a revelation that should excite fans of the franchise, especially those who prefer the classic animated series to Michael Bay’s live-action versions.

In two seasons of the original “Transformers” cartoon based on the popular Hasbro toy line, none of the characters ever died as a result of the never-ending war between the Autobots and Decepticons. They could be severely damaged, but were quickly repaired. At the end of the first season, the entire Decepticon faction fell into a pit of lava, only to be back at full strength without explanation at the start of the next season.

Suffice it to say, storytelling sophistication isn’t one of the prime requirements for a show designed to showcase toys to kids, even though the adventures seemed like fantastic entertainment to their core audience.

So it was quite a shock when The Transformers: The Movie hit theaters in 1986 and spent the first third of its running time wiping out most of the original toy line. In fact, some kids were absolutely traumatized by the infamous death of the beloved Autobot leader Optimus Prime, so much so that Hasbro and Sunbow Productions had to revise plans in the following year’s G.I. Joe: The Movie to kill off Duke (a plot point not enacted on screen until 2013’s live-action G.I. Joe: Retaliation).

By eliminating its older characters to introduce characters from the new toy line, The Transformers: The Movie essentially serves a pilot for the show’s third season, which kicked off about a month after the film hit theaters.

As obvious as the commercial reasons were for swapping out the characters, the fact that a kid’s show was willing to brutally kill off so much of its cast on-screen, including its most popular character, actually made it seem edgy. Contributing to this reputation is the fact that this is an animated movie in which several characters use swear words in a way the show would never have gotten away with.

On top of that, the animation is beautiful, a budgetary step up from a cartoon series that was already visually distinctive. It’s easy to see why the animated movie remains a favorite among “Transformers” in an era of live-action adaptations that seem to sideline the characters in favor of relentless action scenes.

The Transformers: The Movie has received several home video releases through the years, with Shout! Factory, which has released most of the “Transformers” TV shows on DVD the past few years, giving the film a long-awaited U.S. Blu-ray release in 2016 for its 30th anniversary.

For its 35th anniversary, the film has received a new, pristine 4K transfer of the film, which is certainly a definitive presentation. While there are some flaws in the print, it’s clear these are the result of the original animation and film elements, and not part of the remastering process (though high-def tends to make them a bit more noticeable; the introduction of Hot Rod and Daniel has been noticeably blurry in every single home release of the film dating back to VHS).

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Shout! Factory’s new 35th anniversary Steelbook 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray combo pack (4K and regular Blu-ray combo packs in standard packaging will arrive Sept. 28) includes two discs. One offers the film in 4K resolution with HDR in the 1.85:1 widescreen ratio common to movie theaters and HDTVs. The other disc has the film in the 4:3 format of old televisions.

The film was actually animated with television in mind and then cropped for movie theaters, so the 4:3 presentation actually provides more of the overall image, though it’s not as if anything important was cropped out.

The movie is rather notorious for being the final film recorded by Orson Welles, who died five days after his final voice session (and about 10 months before the film’s debut), after complaining to his biographer that he was “playing a toy in a movie about toys who do horrible things to each other.”

Welles played Unicron, the planet-sized Transformer now considered a seminal figure in “Transformers” lore, and the bad guy that didn’t make it into the Michael Bay movies until 2017’s Transformers: The Last Knight. (And to Welles’ point about playing a toy, the planned Unicron movie toy was canceled due to cost and production issues, and the character wouldn’t have a toy released at retail until 2003; Hasbro this year released a deluxe giant Unicron collectible that it crowdfunded at nearly $600 per pledge).

While the film is better known for its association with Welles, it was also the final film for Scatman Crothers, who voiced Autobot Jazz throughout the show’s run. (Interestingly enough, while Jazz is one of the few original characters to survive this film, he’s actually the only Autobot who doesn’t survive the first movie of Michael Bay’s live-action franchise that debuted in 2007.)

The other major contribution to the film’s legacy is its music: Vince DiCola provides the score following his work on Rocky IV, while Stan Bush’s song “The Touch” (originally written for the movie Cobra) has practically become an anthem for the franchise (though it didn’t make it into a live-action “Transformers” movie until 2018’s Bumblebee).

Non-“Transformers” fans might recognize “The Touch” as the song mangled by Mark Wahlberg’s Dirk Diggler character in Boogie Nights that he records for his attempted post-porn career debut album (and possibly implied, within the world of the film, to have been written by John C. Reilly’s Reed Rothchild character, mentioned early in the film to be an aspiring songwriter).

DiCola and Bush are among the many talking heads reflecting on the film in “’Til All Are One,” the 46-minute retrospective documentary made for the 2016 release that carries over here. The piece also includes fascinating anecdotes from several of the film’s voice cast and production team, who are quite up front about the series’ origins as a not-too-subtle toy commercial.

Carried over from the Sony BMG 20th anniversary DVD are the feature commentary with director Nelson Shin, story consultant Flint Dille and voice actress Susan Blu (Arcee); and the featurettes “The Death of Optimus Prime” and “Transformers Q&A.” These were on the 2016 Blu-ray as well.

The Blu-ray also includes previously released trailers and TV spots.

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New to the 2021 edition is a feature-length storyboard version of the movie, using the original storyboard sketches assembled to match the audio of the film. Presented separately are a number of deleted sequences presented in storyboard form, with clips from the movie spliced in to show where the scenes would have gone in the final film.

The 2016 Blu-ray had just a couple of storyboard sequences. The extended storyboard fight between Optimus Prime and Megatron from the 2016 version is presented in the deleted scenes on the 2021 version, with a few modifications. Where the 2016 version was all storyboards, with film audio for the parts that made it into the final version and music for the deleted parts, the new version splices actual film clips in between the deleted storyboards, which are presented in silence.

There’s also a gallery of new character artwork by Matt Ferguson, for the promotional art of the new Blu-ray.

Finally, the 10-minute featurette about Stan Bush, including acoustic performances of “The Touch” and “Dare,” and produced for the 2016 Fathom events theatrical re-release, is included on the new Blu-ray.

All the extras are contained on the regular Blu-ray disc in the combo pack. The 4K disc includes just the commentary.

Legacy extras that were on the 2016 Blu-ray but have been dropped for the new version include the “Cast & Characters” featurette from the old Sony DVD, plus featurettes about the 2016 restoration and box art.

The Steelbook package also includes four cards containing scene stills from the film.

Airplane! (Paramount Presents)

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Paramount;
Comedy;
$29.99 Blu-ray, $16.99 Steelbook;
Rated ‘PG.’
Stars Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, Leslie Nielsen, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Even though it’s celebrating its 40th anniversary, Airplane! Is one of those movies that just seems timeless. The comedy remains as funny as it ever has, despite the multiple viewings many viewers will have had of the film by now.

The story involves a passenger plane from Los Angeles to Chicago falling under trouble after the flight crew and many of the passengers fall ill due to food poisoning. The only other pilot on board is Ted (Robert Hays), the veteran of an unspecified war dealing with PTSD, and who is only on the plane to try to win back former flame Elaine (Julie Hagerty), one of the flight attendants.

Aside from countless sight gags, puns and deadpan recitations of absurd dialogue, the film’s great strength it spoofs the entire genre of disaster movies, rather than relying on specific pop culture references (though there are a few that will seem outdated, they are easy enough to move past considering the rapid pace of the gags).

But Airplane! also holds up thanks to its endearing characters and the memorable performances behind them. In addition to Hays and Hagerty, there’s Lloyd Bridges as the chief flight controller trying to keep the situation under control, to Peter Graves as the pilot hoping to impress young boys in his cockpit, to Robert Stack as the cocky pilot brought in to talk Ted through landing the plane. Then there’s Leslie Nielsen, former dramatic leading man whose late-in-life reputation for slapstick comedy roles kicked off with his pitch perfect performance as the dead serious doctor trying to treat all the passengers for food poisoning.

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The writing-directing team of Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker and David Zucker took special care to ensure that the touchstone gags were funny in their own right, not simply relying on audiences to recognize a reference to something that was popular at the time, as so many parodies of the past 10 years have done.

At the same time, film historians have had a field day picking apart the primary inspirations for the film. For the most part, Airplane! Is a remake of the 1957 air-flight disaster drama Zero Hour!, re-creating so many scenes and lifting so much dialogue verbatim from that film that the filmmakers ended up buying the rights to the original film’s screenplay. But the film also borrows heavily from 1970’s Airport and its increasingly preposterous sequels, even down to specific camera angles.

Interestingly, the original novel on which Airport was based was written by Arthur Hailey, who also co-wrote the Zero Hour! Screenplay. Maybe he should have received an honorary co-writing credit on Airplane! as well.

Ultimately, of course, Airplane! proved so effective at spoofing its source material that it’s likely to have a longer lasting legacy than any of the movies its aping. In fact, those older movies are now almost impossible to take seriously anymore without bringing Airplane! to mind.

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For its new 40th anniversary Blu-ray re-release, Paramount has cleaned up the film with a new 4K scan that makes the colors pop and brings out more textures and details than earlier HD releases.

However, the studio has continued its frustrating trend of eliminating legacy material for its new “premium” edition Blu-ray line. For those who don’t have the movie on Blu-ray yet, it’s an easy pick-up. But fans of the movie who want all the available extras aren’t going to want to switch out their older copies any time soon.

The only extra carried over from the 2011 Blu-ray is the audio commentary with producer Jon Davison, Abrahams and the Zuckers. The new Blu-ray does add an isolated track of Elmer Bernstein’s standout musical score (from this film to Ghostbusters and others in the 1980s, the veteran composer had picked up quite a reputation for scoring comedies).

Both these audio options are found not in the extras section, but in the audio setup section.

The two newly produced featurettes debuting with this Blu-ray are pretty good. The first is a nine-minute “Filmmaker Focus” mixing interviews with Abrahams and the Zuckers with clips from the movie as they recount the production. The other is a 35-minute Q&A with the directors filmed at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood at an event held Jan. 10, 2020.

Missing from earlier releases are the trailer, a trivia track and the “Long Haul” version that offered prompts during the film for viewers to access deleted scenes, interviews and other bonus content. Surely some of these could have been repackaged as standalone extras.

Compounding the confusion is why Paramount would include a digital code with a less-expensive Steelbook edition containing the same disc, but omit the digital copy from the version with the standard Presents packaging that includes a slipcover with fold-out movie poster. It’s almost like a dare to not to buy the Presents titles.

Great Day in the Morning

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Available via Warner Archive
Warner;
Western;
$21.99 Blu-ray;
Not Rated.
Stars Virginia Mayo, Robert Stack, Ruth Roman, Raymond Burr, Alex Nicol.

By the year Great Day in the Morning was released, owner Howard Hughes had finished ruining RKO Pictures to the point where he now could sell it — thus enabling him to pursue worthier pursuits like, say, seeking out the right size of Kleenex-Box loafers that folklore says that he would sport in his lair from time to time. The new 1955 purchasers had been the General Tire and Rubber Company, which wasn’t quite the final word in Dream Factory glamour, so I suppose it was something of a miracle that a movie as respectable as 1956’s Great Day in the Morning made it into theaters during this final period before almost immediate studio extinction.

As its year’s Westerns go, this pre-Civil War love triangle is hardly The Searchers (which opened 10 days later) or 7 Men from Now; it’s not even an impressive second-tier achievement like Delmer Daves’s Jubal, which still remains formidable enough to have rated Criterion treatment. But as an assignment for director Jacques Tourneur, who rarely was given break-the-bank budgets, it merits the “mid sleeper” accolade if you can get over the once de rigueur Indian shoot-out that opens the action and then a Confederate point of view. We’re basically talking something the Tourneur level of, say, Anne of the Indies, Circle of Danger and Wichita — all of them movies I like to a relaxing degree yet ones that wouldn’t get anyone to say, “Let’s go the mat defending them.”

Still, if you like electric color schemes photographed for the wide screen — here the process was the initially short-lived Superscope, which much later evolved into todays’ Super 35 — prepare to indulge. This opportunity doesn’t arrive, though, until after some exposition that finds a Confederate loner (Robert Stack) smelling the aroma of elusive gold in 1861 Colorado. Until some angry Native Americans interrupt the journey, he’s working his way toward what turns out to be Denver, though a Denver strikingly humble in appearance. One cannot conceivably imagine the John Elway of merely a century-plus later lobbing forward-pass bombs — and in a stadium where beers probably cost even more than what Morning’s shifty saloon owner (Raymond Burr, once again corpulent  enough to earn his character’s name: “Jumbo”) is charging to thirsty prospectors.

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Stack is rescued unexpectedly by a blonde looker (Virginia Mayo) traveling with protective males, his life saved thanks to a shot fired by Leo Gordon (in glorified cretin mode) who immediately regrets his act upon learning that the apolitical Stack nonetheless harkens from North Carolina. Gordon is a “former” sergeant in the Union army, and one can only imagine just how transgression turned him into the past tense, though the other bodyguard (Alex Nicol, smitten with Mayo) is more agreeable. Her goal in Denver, by the way, is to open a women’s store full of intimate wear to service the two women in town who wouldn’t be mistaken for Marjorie Main or Minerva Urecal.

Actually, the only other obvious town looker besides Mayo herself is saloon associate Ruth Roman — she of an amazing turquoise dress that is so dramatic a visage that some fan of this Warner Archive Blu-ray posted a representative still (and in the correct aspect ratio) on my Facebook newsfeed page. Roman takes one look at Bob’s bare chest, determines that boss Burr isn’t the way to go and rigs a poker game to enable Stack to take over the joint. Burr was at the tail end of a villainous tenure that served him (and the movies) so well from about 1947-56 — about a year-and-a-half away from premiering in somewhat slimmed-down fashion as TV’s “Perry Mason.” You can effortlessly envision the CBS purchase order to whatever the Costco of the day was, ordering him 800,000 water pills.

Colorado, thus far noncommittal, is full of both Yankees and Rebels, but the situation won’t last long, and Stack needs to get what he can get from a ton of now-dead claims before more Northern military arrives and makes away with all territorial spoils this side of Mayo’s lingerie. The last situation plays out in ways that result in perhaps predictable fatalities, especially when Stack finds life in one of the deceased mines; as a result, the original burned-out prospector, working side-by-side, balks at paying Stack an agreed-to 50% share for having received a grubstake for a second try. This all makes it tough on the local priest (Regis Toomey), who has to maintain peace between factions — kind of like the way that that clergyman did between invading aliens and earthlings in George Pal’s version of The War of the Worlds. Of course, you may recall that he ends up being melted by death rays.

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Adapted from a Robert Hardy Andrews novel that had been kicking around a few years, the screenplay by Lesser Samuels (hey, I thought he was blacklisted in the ’50s) has some pretty fair dialogue (occasional zingers included) for a borderline A-picture from the era. Morning is a type of picture that has always interested me: One where the parties involved tried to go an extra half-mile when one cared or was looking (certainly not General Tire and Rubber). Of course, this one had more resources than others in its situation had: Tourneur, who had cult favorites Nightfall and Curse of the Demon coming up next; Colorado locations around Silverton; 2:1 framing for theaters that wished to show it that way; Technicolor (not the discontinued three-strip kind but at least with stable IB printing, which was more than Warner Bros. could boast at the time, The Searchers aside); and that Ruth Roman dress, of which I can’t say enough or more, other than to add that Roman is pretty good in the role.

To use his oft-employed highly expressive Trump adjective, I wasn’t “nice” to Roman recently by taking a mild swipe. I still think she leaned toward the overwrought, and Hitchcock himself is said to have been perturbed that Warner forced her on him for Strangers on a Train. Here, though, she’s less icy than usual while co-offering an undeniable workable contrast in personality against the more outgoing Mayo. The movie’s key problem is that a key character gets killed off a little too early (no spoilers), and we’re forced to root when Stack locates his inner Confederate for the big action conclusion. The last probably plays better with regions where even fast-food joints serve juleps than it does with a lot of 2019-ers, myself included.

Still, it’s gratifying that Warner Archive has elected to give a picture this relatively obscure the full treatment, including four much earlier Tourneur MGM short subjects as well. However, it’s worth mentioning that at the time, Morning was popular enough to get held over for a second week at one of my hometown’s downtown theaters (co-feature was Bill Williams in Wire Tapper, which couldn’t have done much for the gate). This wasn’t all that common at the time unless the picture was a commercial blockbuster — which leads me to note that two of the other competing theaters weren’t running Bowery Boys movies but the Burt-Tony-Gina Trapeze and some minor piece of change called The King and I. This all correctly indicates that audiences really used to love their Westerns once they veered away from the coasts.

Mike’s Picks: ‘Glorifying the American Girl’ and ‘Great Day in the Morning’