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Bumblebee (4K UHD Blu-ray Review)

While I had never been all in on the modern day Transformers films like childhood me would have hoped, oddly enough, the spin-off prequel film Bumblebee not only garnered my attention through production. And in on odd spin of events it won over my heart completely and even made my 10 favorite films list for last year. I don’t know that there’s a series that won me over completely like this on the 6th entry (Fast & Furious movies got me at 5). In actuality its the 7th theatrical Transformers feature if you count the original animated film (Which I do love). Paramount is bringing this film set in the VHS hey-day to 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray on April 2nd. Pre-order using the Amazon link below, or by signing up to hold a copy at your local Phar-Mor.

Film 

Cybertron has fallen. When Optimus Prime sends Bumblebee to defend Earth, his journey to become a hero begins. Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld), a teenager trying to find her place in the world, discovers and repairs the battle-scarred robot, who’s disguised as a Volkswagen Beetle. As the Decepticons hunt down the surviving Autobots with the help of a secret agency led by Agent Burns (John Cena), Bumblebee and Charlie team up to protect the world.

In a surprising turn, this 6th Transformers film grabbed me at attention and had me sucked in from the moment the studio logos went away. Nostalgia is a powerful and very addictive thing, but Bumblebee hit me in the right spot. THIS may not be the exact Transformers film I had been hoping for when I was a kid or back in 2007 when the first hit theaters, but its the closest to it. Being set in the 1980s tosses many retro aspects at us, the film earns every bit of its “easy” touchstones by having a well crafted personal story with genuine well rounded characters and conflicts while the giant robots smashing each other serve as a bonus.

That opening that instantly won me over for the remaining duration of the film and transported me back to being 5 years old was barely 3 full minutes in length. There is a gigantic battle happening on Cybertron. Its furious, fast and thrilling. But there was something else that really set the tone and vibe that this was going to be “different” and stand alone from the previous live action Autobot adventures. Everything in this scene was wildly recognizable and incredibly easy to follow on an aesthetic level. From camera movements to characters, you can tell what everything is. And I know the exact moment that my heart sank and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing; Arcee. Action is happening and the camera pans over to some Autobots during it and she is plain as day, the 2D hand drawn character come to life in a different form of animation. Suddenly all of them clicked, there they were! Optimus Prime LOOKED like Optimus Prime. Ultimately, I scratch my head and wonder…WHY WASN’T THIS THE WHOLE MOVIE? But its a fantastic tease and really provided promise that this film was in good, caring hands that would bridge generations of Transformers lovers together.

Travis Knight’s film from Christina Hodson’s script aims to recapture that Amblin magic that is ever so popular these days. But instead of Ready Player One’ing it with “LOOK AT ALL THESE THINGS! YOU LIKE THESE THINGS!”, its opts for character, drama and narrative to deliver those goods. And it succeeds wholeheartedly. Its more concerned with building fun relationships and Hailee Stenfeld’s Charlie Watson’s struggle to carry her life forward following the passing of her father. The mold here and structure is that of Spielberg’s E.T. with touches of other popular films here and there (A hologram message Optimus Prime is given a “Help me Obi Wan Kenobi” moment). On the other end, Jon Cena’s character is basically “keys” with a bit more screentime.

Steinfeld’s Charlie is the best thing to happen to the franchise as it gives us a real, truly sympathetic and full fledged “fits with Tranformers” personality there is. We’ve had Shia’s “Boy and his car” story, but it was generic and more like “Asshole, idiot has cool car, think he’s privileged now” that I really couldn’t see eye to eye with. Charlie is a car fanatic, but its deeper and has more thematic meaning and truly whips up everything to grand and emotional proportions. They surround her with a truly fun, at times cartoonish cast of characters (Kudos to Pamela Adlon casting as her mom) that help to lighten things up and add to the adventurous fun on display in the film.  Jorge Lendeborg Jr. truly does enjoy quite a scene stealing performance and pairs very well with Steinfeld.

Opening sequence aside, the action takes a more restrained approach comparatively to the other Transformer films. But we are also treated to different kinds of set pieces. There’s a relatively nice car chase in this film.  Knight’s film also isn’t hell bent on showing as much destruction per minute as possible. The United States is in pretty good shape following the film. Its light on the Transformers, helping to make them more familiar to us and easily discernible in the action sequences. The film also isn’t dependent on the entire world collapsing if the day isn’t save. The smaller stakes really help to make things much more personal and have the audience invested in the person character and robot journeys that have led up to that point in the film. Bay did some very impressive stuff with his time in the Transformer universe that should be admired, but Knight’s new take is a very refreshing approach and somewhat fun and relaxing to scale back on.

Bumblebee was quite possibly the biggest surprise for me in 2018. I can’t lie and say I had zero optimism going into it, because that’s not true. But, to the degrees that this film worked for me, I’m still in disbelief. I had thought that maybe it was the initial punch in the face; that I was starry eyed with surprise and the second viewing would have me at “Cool it Brandon, its merely all right”. No, I felt even stronger for this movie the second time out. And I’ve been singing high praise and recommending it to doubters since it hit theaters. I’d love for THIS world to continue and be its own thing. Its looking that way. I do have one big request. We’ve had PLENTY of Earth-based Transformers movies. Lets get away from that. Deliver us a story that takes us straight to the heart of Cybertron. Figure out a way that gets Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr, the little brother and a new character sent/transported there (Cuz they seem to think we must have humans and well, I like this humans in this movie)…and lets go to town. I’ve seen Transformers: Earth Jamz 6 times now. Let’s go to freakin’ space now!

Video 

Disclaimer: Screen captures used in the review are taken from the Blu-ray disc, not the 4K UHD disc.

Encoding: HEVC / H.265

Resolution: 4K (2160p)

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Layers: BD-66

Clarity/Detail: Bumblebee comes to 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray as a 4K upconvert. The film was shot at 3.4K and mastered with a 2K digital intermediate. That’s no bother as the film and its computer effects look pretty terrific here, with wonderful attention to detail and good crisp sharpness abound. Its not the most popping assault of colors on the live action settings and objects, but it does a real nice job in presenting a more refined, lived in look (Including some animation). In an interesting choice, its presented in a fully open 1.78:1 frame as opposed to the theatrical’s 1.85:1 ratio.

Depth:  Depth of field is great here as the spacing in natural or CGI scenes feels a welcome 3 dimensional look to them. Movements either in character or camera are natural and smooth with no motion distortion issues abound.

Black Levels: Blacks feel a natural, deep look. It gives the film a hair darker touch than the standard Blu-ray, but that’s the case with pretty much any 4K title. Detail holds strong in nighttime sequences, dark rooms, hair follicles or fabrics. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction: Colors are strong is both natural and vivid fashions. The opening on Cybertron has a great time with bursting colors to contrast the more robot gray setting. Lasers, glowing eyes and more really buzz off the screen. The natural setting has some terrific reds and greens that really lift off the screen. Fire does roar quite a bit and the explosions always look natural and a part of the picture as some 2K DI’s can tend to look a hair on the fake side. Not the case here with Bumblebee.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural, looking full and flush, consistent from open to close of the film. Facial features and textures like moles, freckles, scars, make-up lines, sweat, dried dirt/blood and more come through clear as day from any given distance.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English Dolby Atmos, English Audio Description, Czech 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish (Spain) 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish (Latin America) 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, French (Canada) 5.1 Dolby Digital, Italian 5.1 Dolby Digital, Hungarian 5.1 Dolby Digital, Polish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Portuguese (Brazil) 5.1 Dolby Digital, Russian 5.1 Dolby Digital, Thai 5.1 Dolby Digital, Turkish 5.1 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English, English SDH, Arabic, Malaysian, Cantonese, Czech, Danish, ELL (unsure what this one is), Spanish (Spain), Spanish (Latin America), French, French (Canada), Hindi, Icelandic, Italian, Korean, Hungarian, Mandarin, Dutch, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese (Brazil), Portuguese (Portugal), Russian, Roman, Slovak, Finnish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish

Dynamics: Bumblebee rocks from the opening moments with a fully engaging, well thought out and effective Atmos track. This is pretty much par for the course for the series (And Paramount, natch). The mix features a healthy, balanced effort for the vocals, effects and music in the film. Everything has its chance to shine and the score and featured songs really liven up the experience. During battle its loud and a full 360 degree assault, but also is able to keep the vocals plenty audible while also feeling a natural part of the environment. I’m pretty sure this more than satisfying Atmos track is going to appease the Autobot/Decepticon battle loving crowd easily.

Height: Your ceiling speakers are plenty active during the film as there is much overhead to be happening. Jets, laser blasts, debris, cars zooming over the camera and more all fill the kinetic demand of the film at every appropriate time.

Low Frequency Extension: The subwoofer is working over time and calling in some temps as it bumps and bounds for explosions, transformations, car crashes, laser blasts, gunfire, punches and all sorts of destruction with rumbling efficiency.

Surround Sound Presentation: As mentioned previously, this 360 degree experience is well managed and thought out. From rolling motion across the room front to back/side to side to just a little unique environmental detail during a scene, this mix makes the most of its opportunities and delivers a full menu of sounds with good precision.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear, crisp and carry good attention to diction form the performers. As mentioned, the volume placement in the mix is on point and dialogue feels a natural part of any given environment from the quiet home life to the engrossing battle of Cybertron.

Extras 

Bumblebee comes with the Blu-ray edition and a digital copy of the film. In addition there is a physical Sector 7: The Battle of Half Dome comic book included under the slip cover.

Sector 7 Archive – 

  • Agent Burns: Welcome to Sector 7 (HD, :50) – A sorta training/facility intro video with John Cena in character introducing the motion comic.
  • Sector 7 Adventures: The Battle at Half Dome (HD, 9:19) – An all new motion comic.

Deleted and Extended Scenes (HD, 19:05)

Outtakes (HD, 9:32)

Bee Vision: The Transformers robots of Cybertron (HD, 3:56) – Goes through the opening scene and stops on each Autobot or Decepticon and gives you profile/database information on each one.

Bringing Bumblebee to the Big Screen – This is a multipart making of that features cast, crew, animators, producers and such going over the step by step of different aspects of the film, including a bigger piece about the decision to go back to G1 animation for the designs. Much of the interviews appear to have been done during the shooting of the film or during a press run. It ends on everybody relishing in their love for everything 1980s and trying to sell it without being overt.

  • The Story of Bumblebee (HD, 3:54)
  • The Stars Align (HD, 7:04)
  • Bumblebee Goes Back to G1 (HD, 10:02)
  • Back to the Beetle (HD, 6:20)
  • California Cruisin’ Down Memory Lane (HD, 19:57)

Summary 

Bumblebee has won me over and then some. I would hope the Transformer brand continues along this path with these same characters. But if not, I’ll always be happy that we had this one movie where everything came together for me. Paramount’s 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray comes together wonderfully with a terrific experience in both sight and sound. Extras lean a bit more toward the EPK territory regarding the featurettes and interviews, but its enough to enhance and add on to the experience beyond watching the film. This is an easy recommend for me in the best format you have available.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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