Well damn… I feel like I owe my readers and fans an apology on this one. Due to the fact that I recently returned to my previous job officiating football (European not American), I was unable to see a movie for this week and I am late for this review to boot. My bad on that one, but I’m able to shift my schedule so this shouldn’t happen again. Either way, I still need to fill the ‘Sunday’ slot with something so I have decided to review a nostalgic movie from my past. Growing up, one of my favorite shows to watch was always the First Generation of Transformers. A few of my next door neighbors watched the series when they were younger and had most of the first two seasons on VHS. I would borrow them all the time so I could watch them and eventually they gave the tapes to me. If there is one cartoon that really sums up my childhood I have to say that it is Transformers.
Yes I am well aware that the episodes were episodic and the main reason the show even existed in the first place was to get little boys and girls to buy their toys. But still, nothing was cooler than watching giant robots fight each other and transform into cars, planes, dinosaurs, bugs, and so forth. So really… I have absolutely no problem with it. Critically in retrospect I can pick apart the show for hours, but that sure as hell isn’t going to stop me from enjoying them.
Which brings us to today’s topic. Not the television show per say, but the 1986 movie that was released to pander more toys to children on the big screen, the oddly titled The Transformers: The Movie. Redundancy aside, this movie is still covered in controversy to this day for all the very strange reasons. While the TV show itself was a very light-hearted thirty minute romp on Saturday Morning Cartoons where there was plenty of gun play but nobody really died as a result of it, this films body count is so high and traumatized so many children that Michael Bay and the army of Hollywood Producers could only hope to achieve. The film was created when Hasbro was cycling their toy line with the old line of toys being taken out of production and the new toy line coming into play. That being said, they needed to introduce these cool new characters to sell to children. They did this by absolutely annihilating every child’s collection of toys and killing off some of the most popular characters in the series. Oh yes, all of these characters either died in the movie or were ‘changed’ into new characters when they were about to die: Ironhide, Ratchet, Megatron, Starscream, and the big one Optimus Prime. This isn’t all of the characters, but keep in mind that even with the recently released movies, these are five of the biggest named characters in those movie and they were murdered for the sake of changing toy lines… Yeah needless to say many kids left the theater crying. But we will get into more detail about that in a second.
The story centers around a gigantic world eating sentient planet called Unicron voiced by none other than Orson Welles himself (in his final role before his passing I should add). After devouring several planets, he is dead set on turning Cybertron into his next meal. On Earth in the distant year of 2005, it is supposed to be a normal day at the Autobot complex when the Decepticons attack and this time they are there to kill every last motherfucker in the place. The rambunctious new Autobots lead by Optimus Prime’s buddy Ultra Magnus and a hot headed youngster named Hot Rod attempt to hold the Decepticons at bay until help arrives. After an intense and ‘oily’ battle, Optimus Prime arrives to save the fucking day and after a heated battle with Megatron both have become mortally wounded. Optimus Prime on his death bed attempts to hand off the literal Autobot Matrix of Leadership to Ultra Magnus before succumbing to his wounds, turning gray, and dying (see you in therapy kids)! The rest of the story centers around the newly created Galvatron and the Decepticons attempting to wipe out the remainder of the Autobots and the Autobots attempting to go against the world eating super creature Unicron and save the day once again.
After mine and Brandon’s lengthy discussion about Anime last week (click here to listen in) I would actually say that this film could be classified as an anime by its animation style and story line. It is by all accounts a Space Opera and the animation and style has all the tropes of an anime, which I find to be an awesome addition to the movie. The film has a much grittier and darker tone to it than the television show and the animation has a lot to do with that.
Unlike the Show, You Feel Like There is a Lot at Stake
Even as a child, I would watch the television show to be entertained… But I knew nothing was going to happen to the characters. It is pretty obvious that the show had a formula even to an eight year old. Decepticons try to screw things up, Autobots come in to save the day, throw in some one liners, some family friendly comedy, just a touch of 80’s cheese, then rinse and repeat. I never got the sensation that any of the characters were truly in utter peril.
Than the movie comes along and throws that whole idea out the window. Even as an adult now, I can’t help but watch the movie with a slight feeling of dread for the characters in the film. Optimus Prime of all characters is killed in the first act! If something as sacred as Optimus Prime kicks the bucket then you know all bets are off. Any one of these characters is expendable. Even Cybertron itself is at stake as it is being eaten by a gigantic world eater and I wasn’t sure that it was going to survive that. The whole plot centers around the Autobot Matrix of Leadership and the idea of lighting the darkest hour… Well this sure as shit was the darkest hour to be sure.
This is One Ballsy Film
You have to hand it to the producers of this film… This film has a pair of brass balls that is dangling all the way to the floor. Not many films before and since this film have attempted to almost completely annihilate the VERY popular cast of characters and substitute brand new ones. I mean, yes the backlash was so heavy that it really hasn’t been attempted since then, but man you have to give these people props for their outright defiant challenge of the system.
The Elephant in the Room
Yeah… Just because it was a huge risk and I respect the hell out of them for trying it (even though it was for all the wrong reasons), it doesn’t necessarily mean that it was going to pay off. You can kill off many characters of a show to be sure. I’m not saying death should not occur… What I will say is that whenever you have a characters as beloved and popular as Optimus Prime and you kill him off because you want to sell a new toy… Yeah you have to sell the shit out of that and they just didn’t. Optimus Prime was loved by children all over the world! This character is on the level with Spider-Man, Superman, and Batman and he is killed by some young Autobots idiocy and by no means a ‘grandiose’ death in a cinematic sense. Then to have him lay on his death-bed and watch him slowly turn gray and die… Jesus! I’m surprised adults didn’t start crying at that point.
Ironhide, Ratchet, Skywarp, Thundercracker, the Insecticons, and even Megatron and Starscream I can understand it AND kids would understand it! It is war, there are casualties. We may not like it, but that is the way it is. Than you kill off arguably the most popular and definitely the most influential character of the series… That is when the backlash really hit. They took a risk but the problem is that they just took it too far.
I consider this movie to be really good all things considered. There is a lot of action, it has a very anime feel and style to it, it is well animated, and their truly feels like a lot is at stake. Not to mention, the film takes a lot of risks that most filmmakers wouldn’t have the balls to attempt to do today. Sure some of them didn’t pay off, but that isn’t anything a little retcon couldn’t fix later in the show for better or worse.
Final Score 3.5/5
Thank you for reading and as always, please like and subscribe for more. I apologize for the tardiness, but return tomorrow (Tuesday) for a relatively newer release as I review the movie John Dies at The End.