Starring: Judd Nelson, Robert Stack, Leonard Nimoy, Orson Welles, Lionel Standish, Frank Welker, Peter Cullen, Erin Idle, Chris Latta
Director: Nelson Shin
Release Date: August 8, 1986
MPAA Rating: PG
Synopsis: After a tragic defeat and death of their leader, the Autobots must flee the pursuit of the Decepticons, and solve the mystery of the monster planet orbiting Cybertron.
My Two Cents:
So since I reviewed the Transformers film from last summer, let me now review the original Transformers: The Movie, from 1986. This was a very special, perhaps crucial, part of my childhood, and one I will carry with me always. As I said in my Transformers review, a lot of people said that movie made them ‘feel like a kid again’, but not me. This is the movie that makes me feel like a kid; it’s instant nostaliga from the very beginning. All those memories from my childhood come rushing back. Now, if you didn’t watch the old TV show, or didn’t have or play with the toys, then unfortunately, this movie will not mean the same thing to you, at all. I can understand why if people in that situation watch this movie, and don’t like it, would find it cheesy, etc. It can be hard to really appreciate if you didn’t live your childhood with these things. That doesn’t mean you can’t, but you’ll have a much harder time doing so. The animation and art work themselves are experiences to marvel; I love them. This is what Transformers are all about, and always will be, to me. A lot of different incarnations of Transformers have come and gone, but this movie largely demonstrates what they are really all about.
I’m going to get into spoilish material here, so beware.
The movie is basically a classic battle of good and evil. It doesn’t have a very deep plot and doesn’t really make you think deeply about anything. But there isn’t anything really wrong with that in itself either. We have the Autobots still battling with the Decepticons, who, in the year 2006, when this movie takes place (20 years into the future from when the movie was released), have taken over the Transformers’ homeworld, Cybertron. The Autobots continue to fight to regain control and defeat the Decepticons. They still have important bases on Earth, however, and we see (the very orange) Autobot City as their biggest Earthbound base. The Decepticons hijack an Autobot shuttle going to Autobot City, in which they plan to launch a sneak attack.
Megatron- classic badass villain
And the Decepticons REALLY fight to win in this movie. A lot of Transformers die in this movie, actually, and a lot of kids probably saw some of their favorite Transformers actually die before their eyes. And you KNOW these robots are DEAD, trust me. Transformers get shot, blown up from the outside, blown up from the inside, are disintegrated, and just get mutilated. Most of the time, this happens to Autobots, but not always.
Optimus Prime, badly damaged
The battle in Autobot City is where Optimus Prime and Megatron have their final fight, and it’s a great one. They just beat the shit out of each other, like we had never seen before. But a lot of kids were possibly traumatized, or at least very saddened because, as Optimus Prime said ‘One shall stand, one shall fall’ (this line was also used in the new film). Optimus is the one who really fell. He died in this movie, in what I still call a powerful scene. That broke a lot of kids’ hearts to see the great Optimus actually die. How could they do this to kids? Well...at least kids still had the toys, where Optimus, and all their favorites, could always come alive.
Optimus Prime, Dead
We see a lot of Autobots dead, but I had to wonder exactly how many Autobots were in the city, and how many died. This is a point I’ll get back to later in this review. In the seasons after the movie, there are a lot of Autobots we don’t see again, so I wondered if they were killed in the city. What happened to Bluestreak, Warpath, Beachcomber, Tracks, Trailbreaker, Inferno, Cosmos, Grapple, Hoist, Gears (for some odd reason, Gears is listed as being in this movie in the credits, but he wasn’t there, and certainly had no lines...), Skyfire, Sideswipe, Smokescreen, Sunstreaker (we do see him in the movie, but not what happens to him, and he doesn’t appear again, after the movie), and others? Did they all get killed? Possibly.
One of the things this movie did was make way for all-new Transformers; sort of like ‘the next generation’, but I don’t know if I’d call it that. But the movie was clearly meant to be the beginning of a new age for the Transformers. We meet new Autobots Ultra Magnus, Springer, Arcee (a rare feminine Transformer. Some had appeared in episodes before the movie, but they were scarce), Blurr, Wheelie, Hot Rod and Kup. The movie focuses mostly on them, especially after the battle in the city. The Decepticons get their all-new leader, Galvatron, and his loyal minions Cyclonus and Scourge, and his henchmen, the Sweeps. These guys are all bad-ass, and I sure loved them all as a kid. Megatron was very sadistic, and loved torturing the Autobots, but Galvatron was different in that his attitude seemed to be ‘Just kill them’. And that’s all his minions lived for. Bad ass.
We are also introduced to one of the most celebrated and loved villains in Transformers history; Unicron. We see Unicron at the beginning of the movie, and his appearance doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the movie at first, but it becomes clear after the city battle. Unicron is super-bad ass; he’s literally a planet that eats other planets. He’s like a different kind of Death Star (an analogy that James Rolfe also made). However, Unicron is also clearly some kind of metaphysical evil being as well. He has some strange powers; he seems to have some sort of extrasensory ability, as he was able to see Optimus Prime die, and pass on leadership to Ultra Magnus. This may have something to do with the fact that Optimus passes along the Autobot Matrix of Leadership, simply referred to as the Matrix (Yeah, that’s right. When the movie The Matrix came out, all I could think about was Transformers when I heard the title...), to Ultra Magnus, and Unicron wants the Matrix destroyed, as it’s the only thing that can destroy him. This connection isn’t explained really, but in some ways, it doesn’t need to be. Unicron is the ultimate evil the Autobots have encountered, and the Matrix is something like the ultimate good that can destroy him. Fair enough. The Autobots eventually learn of Unicron and set out to somehow stop him, after the city battle.
Unicron- Bad Ass.
Unicron also has the power to change other Transformers. After the Decepticons leave Autobot City, being somewhat defeated, the bodies of the most-damaged Decepticons are dumped into space; including Megatron, and by Starscream. At least, Starscream is getting his wish of being Decepticon leader. The discarded Decepticons encounter Unicron, who he claims ‘summoned’ them to him, and in exchange for his ownership of them, Unicron gives them new bodies and new identities. Megatron becomes Galvatron, and the other Decepticons with him become the new super-warriors Cyclonus, Scourge and the Sweeps. The scene in which these Decepticons change is really neat, and you see ‘x-rays’ of what they look like inside.
This is what the inside of a Transformer looks like
We also meet another new set of infamous Transformer villains; the Quintessons. The name comes from the fact that they have five faces, or rather, in the movie, there is only one of these particular beings (referred to as ‘the Imperial Magistrate’). In the TV show after the movie, there’s 4 or 5 of the 5-faced ones. The other inhabitants of the Quintesson world, Quintessa, are also referred to as Quintessons, even though they only have one face, and all look different. The Quintessons are evil and sadistic, like Megatron, and basically, they live to do nothing but kill everything they meet. They hold ‘trials’ for everyone they capture, and everyone is always found ‘innocent’. Now, ordinarily, this means that when one is innocent in court, they are let free. Not on Quintessa. All innocent ones, which is basically everyone, are still executed. They are dropped into the Sharkticon pit, where they are eaten. T he Sharkticons...look nothing like sharks, but rather they are rotund Transformers with a lot of shark-like teeth, and spiked tails. The other Quintessa inhabitants are the prosecutor, whose head is shaped like a Xenomorph’s, the executor, the Sharkticon Guards, and another set of Transformers, whose name I am not sure of. They transform into somewhat alligator-like beasts. A Sharkticon toy was made, but not any of these other guys. I always wished that I had some...
The Quintesson Imperial Magistrate
Also, when Hot Rod’s team crashes on Quintessa, Kup teaches us the ‘universal greeting’. So this movie is educational.
Eventually, the Autobots make it to Unicron, who starts attacking Cybertron. But before he does, he reveals his secret; he’s really a giant Transformer. This may not be that ‘surprising’, but his transformation scene is really awesome. And after he’s all done, we see Galvatron actually looking afraid at what he is seeing. Certainly, he’s more than shocked. I always love seeing that, too.
As you may have guessed, the Autobots do prevail, and the Matrix is used to stop Unicron. He isn’t comepletely destroyed though; his head becomes Cybertron’s new satellite. And the Autobots get a new leader. Before he dies, Optimus tells the Autobots that ‘one day, an Autobot shall rise from our ranks, and use the power of the Matrix to light our darkest hour’. Hot Rod fulfills his destiny, and becomes Rodimus Prime. Some of the metaphysical aspects of the Matrix are also demonstrated, as Hot Rod GROWS, literally, when he becomes Rodimus, his face has ‘age lines’; he simply looks like he’s an older robot. He is also now able to transform into a different vehicle; from a muscle car, into a Winnebago-ish vehicle.
Again, there is nothing deep about this movie, and one could easily criticize it for not having enough plot. But well, it’s only 88 minutes to begin with, and it does move fast. But I still call it a great movie experience. Yes, most of that comes from my childhood, but I still enjoy the movie even today. I love the animation and art work, and it just demonstrates what I think Transformers are all about.
The music also helps create a unique atmosphere as well. The score was composed by Vince DiCola, who was nominated for a Golden Globe for Staying Alive, but also won a Razzie for Worst Musical Score, for Rocky IV. I like his music in this movie though; it’s very well-done atmospheric mood music. It may be dated, but I think it still works. Unicron’s theme is particularly memorable, and I also like the theme of the Decepticons. I think there are also some nice moments during Optimus’s death, and when Hot Rod finds himself deep inside Unicron. I’ll always remember those, if nothing else...
But I also have to make note of the soundtrack; 1980’s hair metal. Yeah. But they’re all songs by people you’ve probably never heard of, and who probably stopped existing many years ago....James Rolfe called this music and Transformers ‘the perfect marriage’, and he’s right. Trust me, it does work. It all fits in perfectly. It wouldn’t work as well today, most likely, and certainly not in a film like the new one though...Also, it has a great placement of Weird Al’s Dare to be Stupid. Yeah, it’s awesome.
And of course, the most memorable songs from this movie are Dare, and The Touch, by Stan Bush (the latter was...badly sung by Dirk Diggler, in Boogie Nights...). You might think they’re bad, but I find them to be feel-good songs. And...they just....fit right in.
Sharkticons don't look like sharks.
I cannot review this movie without also talking about the cast, of course. It has a lot of stars in it, really; Leonard Nimoy as Galvatron, Robert Stack as Ultra Magnus. Judd Nelson as Hot Rod, Eric Idle as Wreck-Gar, Kasey Casem as Cliffjumper (he was on the show all the time, too, though) and Orson Welles as Unicron. Yeah, he’s really bad ass in this movie. This was also Welles’s last movie before he died, and legend has it that he actually didn’t finish all his lines before he died, and Unicron’s last lines were given by Nimoy. Now, it really does sound like Welles, so I doubt this rumor is true. But if it is, then Nimoy can do an exact impersonation of Orson Welles. That in itself is really awesome. All of these stars actually do a really great job, and provide fitting voices for their characters; especially Unicron. He sounds menacing and forboding. All the more reason Unicron was a great villain, and Welles went out with a bang.
Also, John Maschita, Jr., the Micro Machine Man, plays Blurr. Remember him? :D
You have a lot of the main cast members from the show playing their characters, too. Peter Cullen is Optimus Prime, and is great, and the great Frank Welker, who has been everywhere in cartoons, is Megatron, Soundwave, and all his tapes. (For the new film, they got Cullen back to play Optimus, but not Welker for Megatron. I wish they did, though...That would have made that movie better...) There are also a lot of miscellaneous voices that I really love, such as the Quintessons and their various ranks. It’s all just classic.
Now, there are some things that kind of bug me about this movie, or at least, are things to note:
-There are 5 Dinobots, but for most of this movie, only 4 appear. I say ‘most of the movie’ because the missing Dinobot, Snarl, does appear. In ONE scene. But that’s it. He does not appear at any time before that (not even when the other Dinobots drop into the city), and right after that shot where you can briefly see him, he’s gone. This is obviously an animators’ error, I’d guess, but a weird one.
-Something that always bothered me about the Transformers is the fact that some Transformers can alter their size to fit certain needs. For example, the most known example is Megatron transforming into a Walther P-38, but shrinking down to hand gun size so that he can be fired by another Decepticon. Sometimes certain Transformers can become VERY huge so they can transport large numbers of them. In this movie, we see AstroTrain do that when the Decepticons leave the city. Also, Cyclonus, in his space jet (or..starfighter, maybe) form enlarges so much so that Galvatron can sit inside the cockpit. And of course, there’s Devestator. The Constructicons are a special team that can transform and combine to form a super-robot, Devestator. Now, on the TV show, Devestator was always HUGE. The Constructicons somehow enlarge themselves so that Devestator’s parts are massive. If your standard Transformer is 30-50 feet tall, Devestator was well over 100 feet tall. 150 feet maybe, even (in the movie though, they did cut him down A LOT. He wasn’t nearly as huge). How the Hell did he BECOME that huge? How do Transformers shrink or grow when they need to?? It’s never explained, and also doesn’t really make sense anyway.
-When Megatron and his forces are reconstructed by Unicron, Scourge and his Sweeps (that sounds like a heavy metal band, doesn’t it?) all look the same, so you have to wonder how you tell them apart. And...what are the names of the other two Sweeps? Do they even have names? Also, when Cyclonus is created, there’s two of them, too. The second one is never given a name. All Unicron says is ‘Cyclonus the warrior, and his armada’. But then, after that, this second Cyclonus disappears. Like Snarl, he also doesn’t appear in any more scenes. So what happens to him?? What the Hell is the deal?
-On the subject of Scourge, this isn’t a ‘problem’ with the movie, but it’s just a weird thing. What the Hell does Scourge transform into?? He...flies, and can fly through space, so I guess he’s a ‘starfighter’ or something. But...he doesn’t LOOK like anything. Well...except a boat. He looks like a boat. A flying boat. That’s what I used to always call him when I was a kid. It’s...just weird. Also, what’s funny about Scourge is he has pink fingertips. Yeah. Pink. Just....weird.
Scourge and the Sweeps; Flying Boats
-Another Scourge-related issue; there’s one scene in which, including Scourge, there are 4 Sweeps. When Scourge and the Sweeps are all created, there are only 3. Again, clearly another animators’ error, but still not a pretty blatant one.
-Although a lot of Transformers die in this movie, there is apparently some secret to saving them. Wreck-Gar and the Junkions, on the junk planet (Uh, fitting, non?) seem to know how to bring back dead Transformers. If you get blown apart, they know how to just put you back together and...you’re alive again. So now I have to wonder, once the Autobots make friends with the Junkions, why didn’t they bring Optimus and the other dead Autobots to be ‘reactivated’ or..’fixed’, or whatever? Yeah, I know; if you’re really actually dead, they probably can’t bring you back. It’s just something to point out.
-During the attack on Autobot City, Perceptor says the Decepticons outnumber the Autobots. Well...how many is that? The problem is, we know all the Decepticons that Megatron brings with him, but we don’t know how many Autobots were in the city, or even with certainty how many were killed. Megatron’s attack force includes: Megatron, Soundwave, his 5 tapes, Starscream, AstroTrain, Blitzwing, Thundercracker, SkyWarp, Dirge, Thrust, Ramjet, Shrapnel, Kickback, Bombshell, Scrapper, Hook, Mixmaster, Longhaul, Scavenger, and Bonecrusher. That’s a sizely and powerful force, but they were supposed to be against an entire city of Autobots. And...the Autobots were actually ‘outnumbered’ by the Decepticons? Boy....there really must not have been many Autobots in the city....It would have been different if Perceptor had said they were outgunned, or just not strong enough to defend against the Decepticons. And that would have made sense, since the Decepticons really, really wreck the shit out of the city. There is one shot that shows the city from above after the attack, and...the city is almost completely gone. But no, Perceptor said they were ‘outnumbered’. There’s something not right about that....
-And that’s another thing; are the Autobots just not good at building defenses? They had a ton in the city, but...the Decepticons just...destroy everything, and kill almost everyone.
-It’s not clear how far away Cybertron is from Earth, but Galvatron’s forces get there way too fucking fast. Unicron attacks the Autobots’ moonbases, with Galvatron watching from Cybertron, and Ultra Magnus receiving the distress calls in Autobot City. Literally, the Decepticons arrive in Autobot City like, a minute later, right after the Autobots receive the last transmissions. Or at least, it looks like it. You could explain it away that MAYBE Blaster tried to reconnect or something, and it took some time (Blaster is somehow missing after the last transmission, and does not escape Autobot City with Hot Rod or Ultra Magnus). But that’s really pushing it. It looks like right after they receive the last transmission, that’s when Ultra Magnus says to board the shuttles. Then Galvatron appears right after. MAYBE the Decepticon ship has some kind of...hyperspace-like ability or something, but we are not TOLD this. Another example of...very poor planning.
Galvatron and Cyclonus; so bad ass they don't NEED to make sense
As far as I’m concerned, this is the best and greatest Transformers story now, and ever will be. A large part of that are the nostalgia and connection to my childhood, but also, a great many Transformers series and incarnations have come and gone in the 22 years since this movie was released, and absolutely nothing compares. We had Beast Wars, which I despise, and a number of Transformers anime series (Robots in Disguise, Armada, Energon, and Cybertron. and there’s even more in Japan, but trust me, they don’t look that good), and they all fail to come anything close to this movie, in any sense. They’re all just...not very good. There’s also the brand new Transformers Animated, which is a weird title because it makes it seem like the Transformers have never been animated before. I’m...not touching that series....It’s just....so very wrong. It’s awful...
We’ve also had new Transformers comics emerge, and sadly, most of those are also just not good. The now-out-of-business Dreamwave Productions is responsible for bringing them back to comics, and their first story was very good, and was classic Transformers. After this movie, I’d call that book the last good Transformers story made. After that, it all went downhill. I sadly have no hope that anyone, ever, will give the Transformers the proper treatment they deserve again. I think a lot of fans like myself would love to see the original Transformers in a new series like this movie. That would be great. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like anyone has any interest in ever doing such a thing.
This movie reminds me what the Transformers are, and what they could be today, but never will be. That does disappoint me, but well, that’s just the way it is. I can always look at this movie and be reminded of what they meant to me as a kid, and the special place they have in my mind; and that determines what they mean to me now as well.
It's the Matrix, Neo. Uh, I mean, Hot Rod. I mean, Rodimus.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
Starring: Judd Nelson, Robert Stack, Leonard Nimoy, Orson Welles, Lionel Standish, Frank Welker, Peter Cullen, Erin Idle, Chris Latta