I would like to spend some time talking about a subject that really has me rubbed the wrong way as of late. I’m talking of course about Wal-Mart’s Big Screen Blu-ray edition of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. If the film wasn’t a let down enough as it was, compared to its predecessor, then rest assured as this Blu-ray release definitely sinks the Titanic for the world of A/V enthusiasts like myself. This is a hard article for me to write, as I have always been an avid supporter of the Wal-Mart experience wherever life takes me. That may not be the case anymore. This admission of guilt may come as a surprise for those that know me well. Do you have some time? Let me explain what all the fuss is about.
But, before I begin my quest for enlightenment here, I just wanted to build the framework and lay down the bricks of foundation for a quick disclaimer. In no way, whatsoever, is my beef within this article in any way, shape or form directed towards the genius that is Michael Bay and the unrivaled production craftsmanship that is Lorenzo di Bonaventura. These two men have my undying respect. So what do you say? Let’s get this party started!
Despite not being a huge fan of the 2nd Transformers film, for many reason I choose not to go into, I decided to give it a second chance in its afterlife on the Blu-ray format. After all, I originally saw it in the theater and I knew if nothing else that it would be an impressive Blu-ray reference title to demonstrate the power of my home theater setup. I also have a very bad habit of tending to like things better the second time around since I am usually over critical and highly judgmental while casting first impressions on music, movies and other forms of media. This drives my wife nuts, but I attribute it to my years of study in broadcasting, production and editing, not to mention concentration in continuity. Plus, what guy is going to turn down the chance to see Megan Fox in 1080P? Hate her all you want, but there’s no denying that she knows how to work it and that she is an essential ingredient in Michael bay’s Transformers franchise.
Like most Blu-ray fans probably did, I pre-ordered Revenge of the Fallen as soon as it became available on Amazon. Before long, rumors of a Wal-Mart exclusive IMAX version began to swell around the web. Quite honestly, I would have loved to catch the film during its theatrical run in the IMAX theaters, something our city of Cleveland is sorely missing, among many other things. In hindsight, I am glad that I did not waste the effort, money and time required to do so while I was out in San Diego this past summer. But, more about that later.
Once the Wal-Mart versions were confirmed true on Michael Bay’s website, I promptly canceled my Amazon pre-order. I’m sure I am not the only one in this vote. I usually become quite the trendsetter [insert smirk]. I want to take a survey. Am I the only one who questions and frowns upon these unnecessary different retail exclusives? I find this current practice to be very distasteful, especially when we are talking about something of this magnitude, the IMAX version that is. But I guess I can’t be naïve either. The retail exclusives draw people into the stores in hopes that they pick up other items while there and the studios profit by obsessive fans needing to have every different version they can of their favorite film. Who loses here? We the consumers do.
So October 20th eventually came, not that I was counting down the clock by any means in anticipation. I leisurely strolled into my local Wal-Mart only to be pleasantly surprised by not only the super low price of the Blu-ray exclusive set ($19.96), but also by the large quantity they had available. I’m a real anal person when it comes to making sure my Blu-ray cases and cover art are all pristine. And to think, I worried the entire morning for nothing. You’ll be happy to know that I was able to pick the perfect one!
The evening of Saturday, October 24th quickly ushers in as I frantically worked fast and furious to get all my chores done so that I could hopefully sit down and relax with Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Optimism was at an all-time high as I was eagerly awaiting a second viewing of the film to not only hope I liked it better the second time around, but also to be blown away by the sights and sounds that only Michael Bay can deliver on Blu-ray.
It was shortly after 11 PM when I started the film and instead of my normal listening volume of 60, on my Onkyo receiver, I decided that 58 should be sufficient for what I forecasted to be a bombastic audio track, if memory served me correct from my theatrical experience. The end result was absolute disappointment. As the movie began I quickly grabbed my receiver’s remote hoping I mistaken a volume of 48 for 58. No mistakes were made in my initial setup and I proceeded to raise the volume up to my normal level of 60. Once again, sheer disappointment overwhelmed me, as I was astonished at how low the dialog levels were and at how lifeless the action tracks played out, lacking any of the dynamics that I have grown accustomed to from a Michael Bay production.
I am, however, happy to report that despite the many flaws (mostly plot) present within the film, I did warm up to the story a bit more than I did during my initial theatrical experience. I ponder how good it could have been, my second viewing that is, with a booming Blu-ray audio soundtrack. I was afraid I might never know until…I found out the truth. Via sources at my disposal, I read that the Wal-Mart Big Screen exclusive version’s audio was recorded four decibels lower than any other retail version of the Blu-ray. If that doesn’t sound like too much to get worked up over or complain about, then please understand the following. It is a little known fact that only one decibel equals about the “just noticeable difference” (or JND) in sound intensity we can pick up under the most quiet circumstances. So what does that say for a whole four decibels? That says a lot! I was appalled, to say the least, when I first read and learned of this news. I always heard people speak badly of Wal-Mart’s business practices, but I never thought I would be an eventual victim.
Upon hearing this disturbing news, I immediately consulted with my A/V peers and colleagues, of whom I unfortunately encouraged the purchase of this Big Screen version to. To many of them it came as no surprise as we had been talking days before about how bad the audio track sounded. It didn’t hit home or register with me fully until co-worker Larry Anderson educated me on how he took his Wal-Mart Blu-ray over to his brother’s house that was in possession of the Best Buy retail version and he said the difference in sound was night and day. It was then I knew I had been chosen to be the champion and fight for the principle at stake here. Like so many others, I wanted and paid for what I thought was the best representation of what I heard and saw in the theater. As I subsequently told the Customer Service manager at Wal-Mart, I feel cheated and betrayed by this whole situation. And yes I know. There are more important things to worry about in life. But this is a media website right?
So this past Friday I decided to vent my frustrations over the phone with the good people of Wal-Mart. The first person I spoke to, in the Electronics department, was very courteous and understanding. I explained to her that it was not about the money, but instead the principle of the matter, and that I would be happy just to get store credit if I could return the movie. She said I would need to speak with a Customer Service manager who would be able to make that decision. Unfortunately, my lucky streak was prematurely ended as I initialized my conversation with the manager.
The Customer Service manager kindly listened to my story, but quoted me more times than I care to remember about a copyright law with movies that prevents them from being able to refund a customer trying to return an opened movie. I know it is typically frowned upon and against store policies to refund any movie, game or music purchases that have been opened, but I never heard of such a law. In any regard, we all know it is usually up to the discretion of the store employees to make such determining decisions, and I am sure luck plays a wicked hand in the matter too. I told the manager that I felt betrayed by this deceitful practice and that the movie was essentially worthless to me in its present condition. She said that they could only exchange it for a sealed movie of the same Blu-ray title. After I exhausted just about every angle and plead I could think of a light bulb clicked on in my head. I made her repeat her last promise about exchanging my opened Blu-ray for a new and sealed copy. My last words to her were “OK. At least I can sell it as new then.” She immediately hung up on me. After all that, I did not even bother going to the store to make the exchange. I did not want to stoop to their level. To me, it was always all about the principle and notching the post as another lesson learned in life, the hard way. All I ever wanted was the best representation of what I saw in the theater and had I gone anywhere else to purchase my Blu-ray copy of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, my wish would have been granted.
It’s going to be a really cold day in hell before I ever buy another Blu-ray release from Wal-Mart. After all of this, I just don’t trust them. I always questioned why they censored their music selection, but were able to sell R-Rated and Unrated movies. I would have never thought I would ever hear anything as absurd and ludicrous as an audio track being different than every other retail version out there. Luckily for our editor Gregg Senko, I got to him in time. I caught him before he opened his and he was successfully able to return his Blu-ray Big Screen edition to Wal-Mart. He then walked across the parking lot to Best Buy and for $14 more he got a collector’s edition resin bust of Optimus Prime, a 2-Disc Blu-ray set and a $50 gift card to Sideshow Collectibles. That sure sounds like a better deal than the worthless coaster I have. It just goes to show you, not everything in life is a good deal. Again…lesson learned. The “blu” way!