Summer 2021 is shaping up to be a big one for Hasbro fans. First, the live-action G.I. Joe films get a brand-new 4K UHD release, then Snake Eyes gets a live-action solo film, and, now, it’s time to celebrate the 35th anniversary of The Transformers: The Movie!! Much like its brethren the Joes, the Transformers are getting a first-time 4K UHD treatment, complete with brand new bonus features to go along with the HDR and slightly improved sound. Shout! Factory handled the limited edition steelbook release of the 30th anniversary and are once more in charge of another limited edition steelbook arriving more than a month ahead of a standard 4K UHD release. Is there more than meets the eye with the 35th anniversary edition to entice you to pick up a new edition? Let’s dig in and see.
Set in the year 2005 and following the events of The Transformers Season 2, the Autobots are fully engaged in their fight against the evil Decepticons, waging a war to take back control of their respective home planet Cybertron. Lead by Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen), the Autobots attempt to move into position to attack, totally unaware that Decepticon leader Megatron (voiced by Frank Welker) is several steps ahead of the noble Autobots. As the two factions start to chip away at the enemy forces, a greater threat is moving through the universe, a sentient robotic lifeform the size of a planet called Unicron (voiced by Orson Welles) hungry for other worlds and on a mission to destroy the Autobot Matrix of Leadership.
For those who first watched it upon release in 1986, The Transformers: The Movie was at once a thing of wonder and untold horror. Audiences weren’t aware that Hasbro had made the call to discontinue the 1985 line of toys, thus making the film the public way of introducing the 1986 line. But did Hasbro simply retire the characters? Nope. That would be too easy. Instead, they would mercilessly kill any character for whom a toy would no longer exist. Ask a child of the ‘80s their primary source of adolescent trauma and they’ll likely name The NeverEnding Story (1984) or Transformers, for who would have expected Optimus Prime to be taken out so earlier into the film. And the manner in which his death is handled, while beautiful and filled with the kind of pathos that honors the love fans of the series had gathered over the two prior seasons of adventures, is entirely unexpected for a PG-rated film. Is it grotesque? No. But it is final as Optimus not only has all of his life lines go flat, but his iconic blue/red form turns a ghastly grey before his head rolls to the side, the then final denotation of death in cinema. This is but one of several moments in the film that pull no punches in their removal of characters from their mortal/metal coil. The film may have been nothing more than a vehicle to sell toys to children, but the creatives behind the script kinda forgot the attachment that children form to their favorite programs and the characters within. The film itself is fine from a narrative standpoint, entertaining enough for fans of the series, and bold in the choices that it takes.
The most impressive thing, especially 35 years later, is the artistry on display in the animation. The opening scene with Unicron, specifically, is an absolute marvel, mesmerizing in its intricacies as the audience gets a look at the inner-workings of the giant machine. We don’t get a lot of complex designed in animated stories these days as the majority of popular films tend to hue closely to their target audience. Boss Baby: The Family Business (2021) doesn’t inspire wonder amid its play on family rivalry, whereas The Mitchells vs The Machines (2021) seems to restyle itself with every shift in perspective. The former is the standard while the latter is unexpected. There are literal frames of Mitchells which would be lovely to hang on a wall and the same goes for Transformers. There’s imagination and ingenuity in forming a portion of the unseen universe that breaks convention as it forms moments and locations which inspire the imagination.
Considering that the 35th anniversary edition of Transformers includes the Ultra-High Definition HDR10, the world presented before us looks even more impressive than before. It doesn’t add the depth of frame evident in Funimation’s 2020 Akira (1982) 4K UHD release, but the presentation of the animation is undeniably improved. From the opening sequence with Unicron’s attack on an unsuspecting planet, we can see improved brightness in the colors and difference in shading. Compared against the included Blu-ray, there’s almost a shroud of grey across the original image which the HDR entirely removes. Though the colors are clearly visible in the previously released 4K restoration, the 4K UHD restoration with HDR makes them more pronounced, adding some increased vigor to the adventure. Given the color focus of orange and red for Unicron, the HDR enhancement makes the robotic planet far more menacing in appearance, especially while grounding up the planet and its inhabitants in the opening. This is the kind of visual restoration that makes new editions worth a pick-up, imbuing the original release with a new look for a new era.
A word of warning in case it’s been some time since you’ve watched The Transformers: The Movie, there’s a lot of strobing in the film. Most of it is in scenes with Unicron, especially during the opening attack, but it’s present enough throughout the film that those with photosensitivity should be cautious when viewing.
Individuals who pre-ordered the steelbook had the chance of to receive an exclusive lithograph with purchase, but that bonus appears to be sold out as of May 25th, 2021. However, if you are more interested in the lithograph than the container for the film, there is no notation suggesting the lithograph is unavailable with a regular 4K UHD Blu-ray Combo purchase as of the time of this writing.
Additionally, and this may be more important for longtime Transformers fans, but the 4K UHD edition is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen format, while the accompanying Blu-ray disc contains the 1.33:1 fullscreen format that’s closer to the original television episodic format of 4:3. What does this mean? That the widescreen format will fit your screen fully, but this will crop out portions of the top and bottom. So while the 4K UHD version is prettier, the 1080p version will present the film in its intended format.
If you’ve owned the 20th anniversary edition DVD or the 30th anniversary Blu-ray (also released by Shout! Factory), then you’re likely a huge fan looking for a reason to pick up a new copy. The 35th anniversary edition does include all the previously released materials from the 30th anniversary edition, along with feature-length storyboards, deleted scenes, alternate or extended sequences, as well as acoustic performances of “The Touch” and “Dare” from Stan Bush. So in addition to bumping up the video and audio quality, you’re also getting a few new pieces of supplemental material. Whether this will be enough to entice a purchase is up to the individual. Subtitles are offered for English and Spanish, but there are no alternate language options. This is a heads up for those physical media aficionados longing for a Japanese audio track. I will caution owners of this new edition that the menu text is difficult to read on the screen, especially when highlighted. You might have to get up-close to decipher it.
For a hands-on look at the physical differences between the 30th and 35th releases, check out this video breakdown:
Picking up the 35th Anniversary edition from Shout! Factory comes down to personal choice. If you’re a giant fan of the film or series as a whole, adding approximately 20 minutes of new bonus materials plus a feature-length edition of the storyboards is likely enough. If you prefer your physical media to be the peak form of each release, then the 4K UHD will delight. That said, it may not be enough to win over the casual fan who has fond memories of watching the film and the adventures of the Autobots as a child. But then, physical releases like the 35th anniversary edition aren’t for casual fans, but for the individuals who seek the have the most complete release of the films they love. In that regard, whether you snag the steelbook or the regular 4K UHD Blu-ray Combo, you’ll feel like a winner.
The Transformers: The Movie 35th Anniversary Special Features:
- Includes The Widescreen (1.85:1) Version in 4K And Full Frame (1.33:1) Version In 1080p
- NEW 4K Transfer Of Original Film Elements (1:25:06)
- NEW Feature-Length Storyboards (1:19:45)
- NEW Deleted Scenes, Alternate And Extended Sequences (11:32)
- NEW Fathom Events 30th Anniversary Featurette, Including Stan Bush’s Acoustic Performances Of “The Touch” And “Dare” (9:47)
- ‘Til All Are One – A Comprehensive Documentary Looking Back At The Transformers: The Movie With Members Of The Cast And Crew, Including Story Consultant Flint Dille, Cast Members Gregg Berger, Susan Blu, Neil Ross, Dan Gilvezan, Singer/Songwriter Stan Bush, Composer Vince DiCola And Others!
- Audio Commentary With Director Nelson Shin, Story Consultant Flint Dille And Star Susan Blu
- Archival Featurettes – “The Death Of Optimus Prime,” “The Cast & Characters,” And “Transformers Q&A”
- Animated Storyboards
- Original Theatrical Trailers
- TV Spots
35th Anniversary Limited Edition 4K UHD Blu-ray Combo Steelbook available from Shout! Factory August 3rd, 2021.
35th Anniversary Limited Edition 4K UHD Blu-ray Combo available from Shout! Factory September 28th, 2021.