Transformers: The Movie (Revisited) (Part 1)
Hey, this is MDTartist83, once again bringing you another retro review. Okay… Most of you who have been following me already know that I’m a very passionate Transformers fan, and have been since my early childhood. And today as an adult, I still continue to hold high hopes for it despite some of the downs that it suffered throughout history (especially with Michael Bay milking the hell out of it and stomping all over it just to make money). Like I said before, as with every other long running franchise there has been some experimentation and evolution. There have been some ups and downs throughout the years, which vary depending on who you ask. I have been disappointed time and time again. And after the disappointment that was “The Last Knight”, I figured I return to the 1986 movie to do it better justice. Now, I already have reviewed this movie in a previous entry. So I guess there’s really no reason for me to go over it again. But, since most people think of the Michael Bay films whenever they hear or think of Transformers, I think it’s only just that I go over the one film which I see as a prime example of what Transformers movies SHOULD be like. So once again, let’s travel back in time to the 1980s, and revisit the original Transformers movie that started it all, given to us by Nelson Shin, a director who actually knew what he was doing.
Now before I begin with today’s subject, I want to get the obligatory history lesson out of the way. Transformers started out as a toyline in 1984, which became so successful that a TV show was made for it in the same year. The cartoon was created by Marvel and Sunbow Productions, and lasted for 4 seasons and 98 episodes, making it one of the longest running series of the 80s. And as the cartoon came to an end in 1987, the franchise’s popularity continued on from the late 80s all the way to the present day, as countless other spin-off series, comics, and movies were made. Some were better than others, but the original 80s cartoon has a special place in my heart to this day despite its many problems. Mainly because it was the show that gave birth to the franchise. Because if it wasn’t for the original line of toys plus the original cartoon, all those other shows and movies wouldn’t have existed. And Transformers is one of those franchises that still continues to go strong to this day.
So anyway, onto the subject for today. “Transformers: The Movie” is an animated film that was directed by Nelson Shin, animated in Japan by Toei Animation, and released in 1986. Now, based on what I know, the movie was not entirely successful, as it performed rather poorly at the box office, grossing 5.8 million dollars. However, from what I gathered in a Wikipedia article, the film was released on 990 theaters across the United States, and grossed $1,778,559 on its opening weekend. It opened in 14th place behind “About Last Night” which had been in theaters for six weeks at the time. The film's final box office gross was $5,849,647 which made it the 99th highest-grossing movie of 1986. And not only that, but the film received a lot of mixed reviews from critics, who bashed it for being a “Star Wars rip-off” due to the obvious influences from the said franchise. My brother Michael doesn’t give a shit about this movie. Because whenever I brought it up, the only things he can say about it is “It’s an old movie” and “It’s just a cartoon”. Like I said before, my brother is VERY biased. I remember him and I watching this movie together back when we were much younger. But he quickly loses interest in certain things and when something disinterests him, he prevents me from further talking about it and forces me to let go of it rather than respecting my decision to hold onto it for nostalgic value. But I’m not going to waste time talking about my egotistical narrow-minded brother because it’s just not worth it. Besides, this entry is about the original Transformers movie, not about him.
As I said before in my previous entry, I was only three years old when this movie was released. But sadly, I missed out on its theatrical premiere. And it wasn’t until around the ages of 5 and 6 when I saw this movie for the first time on television. It was the late 80s, and I remember it was late at night when I was watching TV with my sister while I was eating a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs. And when I changed to a certain channel, there it was. And like I said before, this movie TOTALLY BLEW ME AWAY. And yes, I do remember that far back. Hell, I remember seeing this movie for the first time like it was only yesterday despite the fact that many years have gone by since that night. And still to this day, that memory remains fresh. Now, as I "revisit" this movie, I will go over what I liked about it, what I didn’t like about it, what was weird, and what I think could have used some improvement. And similar to my review of “Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie”, this is going to be a long review. And just a warning, this review contains massive spoilers. So if you haven’t seen the actual movie, then stop reading this review and go see the actual movie, because I give away everything including the ending details.
So anyway, the movie opens up with a lion logo, with massive bold letters of “DEG”. Now, I’m not sure what “DEG” stands for. But I’m guessing it’s an acronym for something. Then we are treated to the Marvel and Sunbow logos just to let us know who is behind this movie. And after that, the story opens up deep in outer space, where we see what looks like a small object emerging from a massive star. We get a close up of this object, and we see that it’s a mechanical planet-like entity of sorts. This thing just so happens to be the main antagonist of our film, Unicron, voiced by the late Orson Welles. Now, most of you may know Orson for some of his older movies like “Citizen Kane” (1941), “The Lady from Shanghai” (1947), and “Touch of Evil” (1958), just to name a few. And yes, I have seen some of Orson’s older films. And while I don’t talk about them that much, I find them all quite interesting and thought provoking. But just in my opinion, Unicron was one of his best roles in his late career. And my brother chewed me out for this when I said that, because again, HE DOES NOT CARE ABOUT TRANSFORMERS. But I digress. Unicron is wandering the regions of space in an endless pursuit of devouring worlds. And his first target is the mechanical planet of Lithone, which is inhabited by robotic alien lifeforms. We see its inhabitants carrying on with their daily lives (much like we humans do). Though there’s one part of this scene that I often questioned as a child. We see two child-like robots racing through the facility. But… This raises the question; how do robots reproduce? I mean robots are fundamentally different from organic lifeforms. So how can robots have children? Well, it’s explained in other media. For instance, in Beast Wars and Animated, Transformers are born from “protoforms”, which await a life-giving spark and the alt-form information necessary to transform them into fully functional, living Transformer beings. Often, protoform modes are used to transport Transformers on intergalactic journeys. So anyway, as the robotic siblings race through the halls (possibly playing tag), two larger robots are seen walking their way to a science lab carrying some sort of experimental liquids (don’t ask me what these liquids are because I haven’t the slightest idea). Once they reach the laboratory, they hand them over to a scientist. But just then, a loud rumbling occurs, which knocks down the liquids, and causes some of the equipment to fall. Two of the robots (named Kranix and Arbelus) spot Unicron rapidly approaching their homeworld. And needless to say, this is a pretty dark and terrifying opening scene, as Unicron grabs hold of the planet by impaling it with his gigantic horn-like mandibles, and proceeds to literally devour the entire planet along with all of its inhabitants. Kranix and Arbelus hurriedly make their way to the escape ships, and Kranix manages to get away. But Arbelus isn’t so lucky, as he is sucked into Unicron’s mouth. And yes, I am aware that some people who reviewed this movie joked that Unicron’s mouth looks like a giant anus (which isn’t even that funny by the way). But believe me, people, it’s his mouth. So anyway, we then get glimpses of what Unicron looks like on the inside. And we get some pretty stunning visuals here as we see what looks like a mix between mechanical and organic components. Now that’s very interesting. So technically, from what I’ve gotten from this, Unicron is mostly mechanical, but is somewhat organic as well. So this kind of makes him a giant cyborg. And the way this scene is animated as Unicron’s system digests the remains of the planet is so well done. Remember, this movie was made in 1986, but the animation still looks fantastic to this day. The drawings are well polished, the moving quality is very smooth and fluid, and the level of detail is astonishing. Okay, granted; it’s not perfect. And it’s not exactly the same quality as Akira or Ghost in the Shell. Because there are some parts in this film where the animation tends to drop in quality, and some shots just don’t look as well polished as others do. But it’s still pretty good artwork overall, and the animation has aged surprisingly well. It's 100 times better than the original cartoon show by comparison. And the reason why this animation is so awesome is because Toei had a MUCH BIGGER budget for this film than the cartoon show did. And it’s amazing what studios can pull off with a bigger budget.
This opening scene is enough to convince you that this isn't your typical Saturday morning cartoon show. I mean Unicron, a planet devouring monster, had just wiped out an entire civilization! And if THAT isn't dark, I don't know what is! So I have to give props for how this movie doesn't waste time, and gets right to the point on what its about. So after that rather dark and disturbing opening scene, we are then treated to the opening credits, with a Heavy Metal rendition of the Transformers theme song performed by “Lion”, which in my opinion is one of the best renditions of the theme song EVER! As a kid in the 80s, I used to hum and sing the theme song from the cartoon show a lot. But when I saw this for the first time, I was hyped up as hell. I mean seriously, this is one of the most kick ass soundtracks EVER COMPOSED for a movie! Now, for some people this soundtrack is an acquired taste, and a lot of people have said that the music is cheesy and makes this movie seem dated. I say “screw that!” This soundtrack is actually quite soothing and refreshing! At least it sounds original! It doesn’t sound like that generic orchestra and techno crap that we typically use nowadays. And seriously, “rock and roll” music is a SERIOUS RARITY in today’s movie soundtracks. It’s just not used as often as it should be; save for what you’d find in some films where they use licensed music. So anyway, onto the opening credits sequence. We first get the “Transformers” title coming at the camera. And then we have “The Movie” coming at us. The camera goes into the hole in the “O”, and a psychedelic display of colorful lights show. Now that’s definitely retro if I ever saw it. Now before I go on, I already mentioned this in my previous review. But there are two different versions of this movie; the original US theatrical version, and the UK version. There are minor differences between the two. The main difference is that the narrator (voiced by Victor Caroli) has more spoken lines of dialogue, and the opening credits sequence is different in the UK version. In the US theatrical version, the opening credits gives us the names of the actors in a style that’s very reminiscent to the opening credits sequence from "Superman 2", where the names fly into view for a few seconds, and then fly away. Pretty cool special effects for the time. Shame we don’t use them very much nowadays. In the UK version however, this is replaced with a Star Wars style intro with text that scrolls upward, and the narrator reads through the text; “There’s an evil new force in the universe. A monster planet that devours everything in its path. And its heading for the small planet of Cybertron, where a unique race of transforming robots continue to fight a civil war. A war between good and evil that has raged for millions of years. The evil Deception transformers, led by the maniacal Megatron, have sworn to crush their enemies, the Autobots. To this end, they have relentlessly pursued them across the galaxy from planet Cybertron to planet Earth, and back again. But the heroic Autobot transformers and their courageous leader Optimus Prime, are not easily defeated.” And that’s a pretty epic narration. Now, honestly, I kind of prefer the UK opening sequence because it lets the audience know what the movie is about and gets right to the point in case you haven’t seen the TV show. Not to mention, the rest of the cast of actors is given away in the closing credits sequence. So the US version sequence is kind of unnecessary. But that’s just me. Let me just put it this way; if you haven’t seen the first two seasons of the original cartoon, you’ll have no idea who is who, or what’s going on. Not to mention this movie kind of fills in the gap between season 2 and season 3. In other words, seasons 1 and 2 are this movie’s prequels, and season 3 is its sequel.
So anyway, moving on now. Our focus is now on Cyberton, and the narrator tells us that it is the year 2005… Yeah, as of the time this movie was made, 2005 was a long time coming. So essentially, this movie takes place 20 years after the second season first aired. And 2005 was two years before Michael Bay directed the first film in his god awful live-action Transformers series which seems to go on forever. But as of today, the year 2005 is now the recent past. And by now, this movie no longer takes place in the near future, but is now an alternate history. But what the hell, this movie was made in the 80s. So anyway, Laserbeak is sent by the Decepticons to spy on the Autobots, who are making preparations to take back their homeworld, as the Decepticons have somehow taken over planet Cybertron. And Laserbeak somehow manages to sneak his way in without him being detected. You'd think the Autobots would have surveillance cameras of their own. Optimus Prime tells Ironhide to “make a special run to Autobot City on Earth”. Ironhide is about to protest, but Optimus cuts him off, and tells him that they “don’t have enough energon cubes to power a full-scale assault.” And tells him to prepare the shuttle for flight. Ironhide understands his instructions, leaves the base, and transforms into vehicle mode as he races to the shuttle. Optimus then contacts Jazz on “Moon Base 1”, and asks for “security status”. Jazz tells Optimus that there are no Decepticons in the area. Optimus asks about “Moon Base 2”, where Spike and Bumble Bee are stationed. Jazz contacts them, and tells them that they are sending out a shuttle. Spike then contacts Ironhide, and says “Hey, Ironhide. Tell my son Daniel I miss him. And tell him not to worry. I’ll be coming home as soon as we kick Megatron’s tail across the galaxy”. Ironhide replies with a thumbs up “Will do, Spike!” Little did we realize at the time that this was not going to be the typical Saturday Morning cartoon. And it sure as hell wasn’t the typical Transformers episode. No, this was something totally out of the blue. So anyway, Cliffjumper commences the countdown by the orders of Optimus Prime, and says each number as it goes down. Then the shuttle launches into deep space. Optimus Prime comments “Now all we need is a little energon, and a lot of luck.” Laserbeak, who had just finished recording, flies away back to the Decepticon’s hideout on planet Cybertron. Shockwave announces Laserbeak’s return, and Megatron welcomes him back with open arms. Laserbeak rests on Megatron’s arm, and the latter says “Welcome, Laserbeak. Unlike some of my other warriors, you never failed me.” This of course irritates Starscream, who glares at Megatron. Megatron then orders Soundwave to playback Laserbeak’s recording. So the Decepticon bird transforms into cassette mode, merges with Soundwave, and he transforms into a cassette player to playback the footage that was taken. Even though by 2005, cassette players were obsolete. The Decepticons find out what the Autobots are planning, and plot a surprise attack of their own. The scene ends with Megatron smirking while smugly saying “More than you imagine, Optimus Prime!” in response to Optimus saying that they’ll need a lot of luck. The screen fades to black with ominous music playing briefly.
We then fade to the next scene with the Autobots cruising in their space shuttle. All seems to be going well until shit hits the fan. And what I mean by that is that they are suddenly ambushed by the Decepticons, who break their way into the shuttle by literally blasting a hole in it (although logically, I’m surprised none of them were sucked out into the vacuum of space if you know how physics in space works). And it is here were we get another dark moment in this film which no doubt has horrified many fans at the time (myself included). The Decepticons proceed to brutally murder the Autobots, and they do this in mere seconds, set to the song "Instruments of Destruction" by NRG. And the first one to die is Brawn, who mindlessly charges at the Decepticons, to which Megatron gives out one of his best lines; “DIE AUTOBOTS!” Then he transforms into gun mode, and shoots Brawn dead. Prowl then shoots at the Decepticons, but misses. Then one of the Constructicons shoots him dead. Needless to say, Prowl’s death is rather disturbing as his eyes glow yellow for two seconds, and then smoke spews from his mouth before finally dropping to the floor dead. Ironhide and Ratchet then try to fight back with their own firepower, but their efforts are futile, and the Decepticons return fire, and shoot them to death. And mind you, these were characters who fans came to know and love from the first two seasons of the TV show! And seeing them get killed off like that shocked the hell out of me! I was like totally NOT expecting that to happen! And from what I heard in a commentary from the 20th anniversary DVD, the Autobot’s deaths in this scene were originally going to be more graphic and brutal, ala Mortal Kombat style. But believe me, this is disturbing enough even for us kids of the 80s to see past favorite characters get killed off in favor of new comers, which I will get to in a second. Megatron then transforms back to robot mode, and he and Starscream exchange a few words about the battle being too easy, and how they will infiltrate Autobot City in the shuttle, and catch the remaining enemy forces by surprise. Ironhide, who is on the ground dying, grabs hold of Megatron’s leg, saying “NOOO!” But Megatron replies “Such heroic nonsense” before putting Ironhide out of his misery by blasting his head off. Now that again was downright disturbing and shocking as hell. But to Megatron’s credit, it sure made him look like a badass. And after that, we get a shot of the shuttle flying towards Earth, and the screen fades to black.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, our focus is directed to a new Autobot named Hotrod (voiced by Judd Nelson), who is out fishing with Spike’s 12 year old son Daniel Witwicky. This scene marks the debut of both characters BTW. Now, one thing I always noticed about this movie is that Spike and Daniel are the only two human characters present in the entire movie. But that’s good though. Because I’d rather have less human characters in a Transformers movie than to have a bunch of annoying human characters who get in the way and serve no purpose to the plot other than to annoy the audience. Seriously though, this makes more sense than any of the Michael Bay films did. Think about it; this is the ONLY Transformers movie in existence where the Transformers are the MAIN FOCUS in their own MOVIE! And that’s the way it SHOULD BE! But there’s one question I always asked as a kid; where’s Carly? You know, Spike’s girlfriend who he met in season 2? She is Daniel’s mother! But why she’s absent from this movie is beyond me. It’s the same question I asked earlier about Spike’s father Sparkplug. Because after season 2, Sparkplug just disappeared and was never seen or heard from again. But Carly did appear in some episodes of season 3. So anyway, back to the movie. Hotrod and Daniel are out fishing. Hotrod is having a good time, but Daniel seems troubled about something. Hotrod asks “Hey, what’s the matter?” to which Daniel replies “Eh, I don’t know, Hotrod.” Hotrod inquires Daniel to tell him what’s bothering him, to which Daniel replies “Guess I just… Miss my dad…” Hotrod comforts Daniel, and says “Don’t worry, Spike will be back soon.” Just then, Hotrod catches a fish, and he reels it in. To their surprise, it turns out being a whopper. Daniel then hears his tracking device going off. He checks it, and sees that an Autobot shuttle is heading near their location. Excited, Daniel says “Hotrod! The shuttle’s coming! Let’s watch it land!” A little disappointed, Hotrod then throws the fish back in the water, and follows Daniel as he takes off on a hover board, set to the song “Dare” by “Stan Bush”. You know, it’s a real shame they didn’t invent those back in 2005. And as of the time “Back to the Future 2” was released, people speculated that we would have hoverboards by 2015. Well, we’ve passed that year now. And so far, no hoverboards exist as of yet. So anyway, Daniel rides down a path down a canyon where there’s nothing but rocks and grass. He crashes into a large boulder, and falls off his hoverboard. But Hotrod catches him just in time, and says “If you’re gonna ride, Daniel, ride in style!” Then he transforms in to vehicle mode, and Daniel falls into the driver seat. You know, I always loved the design of Hotrod’s vehicle mode. Obviously it’s a race car. But its design is very unique and cool looking. Though it’s such a shame nobody has actually attempted at making cars like that. So anyway, Hotrod and Daniel race down the valley and up the canyon, where Kup (voiced by Lionel Stander) is working with a group of Autobots at a construction site. Kup has them pull up a “stop sign” in the middle of the road. But Hotrod, being kind of crazy, races right through the sign, destroying it. Kup doesn’t take kindly to this, and has a fit, saying “Cable riding punk! I’ll straight you out yet!” Hotrod stops by a nearby cliff, where there’s some metal structure and a telescope nearby. Daniel hops out of Hotrod, who then transforms back into robot mode. Daniel peeks into the telescope, and spots a hole in the shuttle. He warns Hotrod about this, who then puts on some cool looking shades as he scans the hole. And to his surprise, he spots the Decepticons inside. He opens fire on them with his tailpipe guns, knocking out Starscream. Kup arrives to the site, and rants “What’s that darn fool doing!” The Decepticons return fire, and they all fly out of the shuttle as it goes down. Megatron shouts “ATTACK!” before firing a huge blast that obliterates the cliff. Hotrod grabs Daniel in time, and jumps off the collapsing cliff with him to a safe spot. Blitzwing arrives to the scene while an Insecticon, particularly Shrapnel, flies by. Blitzwing transforms into tank mode (which is ironic considering that a tank would be Megatron’s alternate mode in several of the spin off series), and aims at Hotrod, saying “Come on down, Auto-brat!” He takes aim, and locks onto his target. But just then, Kup arrives to the scene, and forcefully positions the nozzle of Blitzwing’s tank mode to Shrapnel, and Blitzwing ends up blasting him instead. Shrapnel comes crashing down the hill, and Kup dodges just in time before Shrapnel crashes into Blitzwing, and they both go falling down the hillside. Hotrod slides into view with Daniel in his hands, and comments “Not bad for an old timer!” to which Kup replies gruffly “Old timer?! That’s something you’ll never be if you don’t get back to the city.” But seriously, Kup is a badass in his own right. I mean you gotta give ol' grandpa robot some credit here, he just kicked those two Decepticons’ asses! But anyway, Hotrod and Kup’s conversation is interrupted when Starscream dives in and opens fire on them. They dodge the blast as Starscream flies away, and Kup says “Let’s burn rubber!” Then they transform into their vehicle modes, and race for Autobot City which is just nearby.
(To be continued)