For many viewers, myself included, the Transformers franchise jumped the shark with its fifth film, Transformers: The Last Knight, where it tried to combine robots, dinosaurs, and Arthurian lore into a mess of a film that included Sir Anthony Hopkins delivering lines that were frequently cringeworthy at best. That film was panned by critics and received the lowest audience rating of any film in the series—a meager 16% Rotten Tomatoes rating. Due to this, my expectations for Bumblebee were basically non-existent.
But the Bumblebee team decided to do some transforming of its own. This film broke the tradition of having Michael Bay at the directorial helm (though he does retain a producer credit), instead going with relative newcomer Travis Knight, whose previous directorial credit included the critically acclaimed Kubo and the Two Strings. They also went with an up-and-coming writers, Christina Hodson, for the script and story.
Those two changes made all the difference, with Bumblebee scoring big at the box office, bringing in a 93% Rotten Tomatoes rating—the highest of any film in the franchise—and resulting in a movie that has far more heart and story, and far less near-constant frenetic smash-em-up-blow-em-up action scenes. And guess what? When every scene isn’t filled with action, there is more room for story and character development, and more opportunity for the action pieces to stand out.
Also, by primarily focusing on a single robot character instead of virtually every Autobot and Decepticon still in existence, you have a chance to care more about them. Kudos to the design team that did a great job with Bumblebee’s eyes, giving him the ability to express emotion and feeling, further humanizing him.
The film begins on the planet Cybertron, with the Autobots on the verge of being completely overthrown. As a last-ditch effort, Autobot leader, Optimus Prime, sends his lead fighter and scout, B-127, to the planet Earth in an escape pod to prepare a new base of operations for the Autobots to regroup. B-127 smashes into Earth right next to an Army Special Forces training exercise, and in a skirmish while attempting to escape and battling a Decepticon that followed him, B-127 is damaged, losing his ability to speak, as well as his memory of who he is and his mission. Low
on power and heavily injured, B-127 scans a nearby yellow ’67 Beetle and transforms, where he somehow ends up at a salvage yard before being discovered by Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld). Charlie christens B-127 “Bumblebee” because of the sound his electronic mumblings make.
There are many similarities between the storylines of Bumblebee and the original 2007 Transformers film. In both movies, the human star is an outcast, nerdy high school student. That role was played by Shia LaBeouf in 2007, but this time it’s a female played by Steinfeld. Both kids encounter the discarded and barely functional Autobot, Bumblebee, while searching for their first car, taking him home and then discovering he’s “more than meets the eye.” They both rely on friends of the opposite sex to help them survive and keep Bumblebee’s secret; the bombshell Megan Fox in the original, and Jorge Lendeborg Jr. in Bumblebee. We’ve also got a strong military presence trying to track down and stop the alien invasion in the form of Agent Burns (John Cena), who is given one of the best lines with, “They literally call themselves Decepticons. That doesn’t set off any red flags?!”
Set in the late ‘80s, Bumblebee has a great soundtrack featuring many classics from bands like The Smiths, Duran Duran, Tears For Fears, and A-HA, along with several band shirts worn by Steinfeld that would have been perfectly at home on any student at my high school. Also, without the ability to speak, Bumblebee plays snippets of audio from the radio to communicate, a device that works well.
Shot on ARRIRAW at 3.4K, Bumblebee is taken from a 2K digital intermediate, not uncommon for heavily effects-driven films. But the image has no shortage of detail, especially in closeups where you can see tons of detail like texture, imperfections, and scratches in Bumblebee’s paint, or individual strands of hair in Steinfeld’s eyelashes. HDR is used to good effect during the night scenes, particularly with explosions and erupting fireballs, or the vibrant green of the Decepticon transmitter near the finale.
My favorite aspect of the video was that the camera style is far more steady and stable, moving away from the near seizure-inducing, rapid blur and jerk favored by the previous Transformer films. The action scenes here are stable and in focus, letting you appreciate all of the robot’s movements and motions.
By far the standout here is Bumblebee’s reference-grade Dolby Atmos soundtrack. This movie sounds fantastic in a well-calibrated home theater, featuring an active mix that fully engages all Atmos speakers, immersing you in the action. Dialogue remains clear and intelligible throughout, no matter how many things are exploding onscreen. Home theater owners will especially love the massive amount of low-frequency impact. When heavy objects or bots crash, smash, collide, or explode, the bass is appropriately weighty, producing frequencies that will rattle your floor and slam into your chest. But far more than just one repetitive bass note, bass here is richly textured and layered, with different amounts of impact and detail according to the scene. Excellent demo material for sure!
Bumblebee is available for download now at the Kaleidescape store, two weeks before the disc release on April 2.
Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at
@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.