Film Review: Transformers: The Movie (1986)

Release Date: August 8th, 1986
Directed by: Nelson Shin
Written by: Ron Friedman
Based on: The Transformers by Hasbro, Takara
Music by: Vince DiCola
Cast: Eric Idle, Judd Nelson, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Stack, Lionel Stander, Orson Welles, Frank Welker, Peter Cullen, Scatman Crothers, John Moschitta Jr., Michael Bell, Casey Kasem, Chris Latta, Clive Revill

Toei Animation, Sunbow Productions, Marvel Productions, Hasbro, De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, 84 Minutes

Review:

“Megatron must be stopped… no matter the cost.” – Optimus Prime

I’ve been meaning to revisit this for awhile, as I’ve also wanted to review the television series seasons after the movie. However, my DVD was missing and I just found it under my DVD shelf. It could’ve been there for years.

Anyway, having dusted this off, the 20th Anniversary Edition, I fired it up and gave it a watch. Man, it’s been too long and it doesn’t matter that I have nearly every line of dialogue still memorized, because every time I see this, it still feels like the first time.

I love this movie and it’s definitely the better film between it and Hasbro’s other major motion picture: G.I. Joe: The Movie. This was also the only one to get a theatrical release, as the backlash this film received, as well as it under performing, made them re-think their strategy.

However, the backlash and criticism was stupid and I wrote about it here.

Beyond that, it doesn’t matter that the franchise’s primary hero was killed off in the first act of the film. In fact, it gave this film much more weight than an episode of the cartoon could have. It also paved the way for a new line of toys and characters, which is really what this franchise was designed for.

For fans of the animated show, this movie was larger than life. It took these beloved characters and their universe and threw them up on the big screen and gave audiences a story that was worth that larger piece of real estate.

Now the plot isn’t perfect and the film has a few pacing issues but the pros far outweigh the cons and Transformers has never been cooler than it was with this movie.

The animation is done in the same style as the television show except it’s much better and the film looks stupendous. Honestly, it still looks great and it has held up really well, even with modern CGI and computer programs doing most of the heavy lifting.

Transformers: The Movie still feels like a living, breathing work of art. It’s an animated film of the highest caliber from an era that was stuffed full of so much fantastic pop culture shit.

That being said, there wasn’t an animated film that I appreciated and enjoyed as much as this one when I saw it. Looking at it now, I still feel the same way, other than a handful of Japanese animes that I discovered later.

Sure, this is no Akira but for something produced by an American company, it’s light years ahead of its domestic competition. Hell, I even prefer it over the best Disney movies of the ’80s.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the original Transformers television series, as well as G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.

Vids I Dig 207: Toy Galaxy: Porkchop Sandwiches!: The History of the ‘G.I. Joe’ PSA Parodies

From Toy Galaxy’s YouTube description: Where were you when you first heard the term Porkchop Sandwiches?

One of the first viral video sensations on the internet holds a place close to our heart because it involves GI Joe. Back in the early 2000’s a bunch of re-edits of original GI Joe cartoon PSA’s were uploaded to the internet and they got a lot of attention.

Vids I Dig 101: Toy Galaxy: The History of ‘Jem’: The ‘Transformers’ Formula Applied to a Show For Girls

From Toy Galaxy’s YouTube description: On this episode we cover the history of Jem and the Holograms.

After having much success with Transformers and G.I. Joe, Hasbro decided to take that same formula of a cartoon developed around a toyline and apply to a line aimed mostly at girls.

Vids I Dig 088: Toy Galaxy: The History of ‘G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero’ – the Cartoon, the Toys and the Comic Books

From Toy Galaxy’s YouTube description: On this episode we dive deep into the history of GI Joe: A Real American Hero.

The cartoon, the action figures and the comic books all working together in a first of its kind effort to resurrect a property that had been dormant for a number of years.

Vids I Dig 026: Toy Galaxy: The History of ‘Visionaries’: The Hologram Gimmick Didn’t Sell

From Toy Galaxy’s YouTube description: On this episode we cover the history of the Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light.

Released by Hasbro in 1987 their play gimmick was holograms. With a comic book series from Marvel and an animated series what could go wrong? Plenty.

While Visionaries didn’t sell in 1987 the property has been sitting on the edge of resurrection for a number of years, including a new comic and maybe a new movie.

Vids I Dig 012: Toy Galaxy: The History of ‘Inhumanoids’: The Monsters Get Top Billing

From Toy Galaxy’s YouTube description: Inhumanoids was a 1986 cartoon and toy line created by Hasbro that lasted only a single season.

Unique because the title characters were the bad guys, the Inhumanoids, and not the good guys, the Earth Corps (bunch of nerds).

There was a line of large action figures and the stories in the cartoon were serialized so it had a lot going for it but not enough for it to break through the glut of ’80s properties.

Talking Pulp: The Death of Optimus Prime and Why It Was Great

August 8th, 1986. That was the day where everything changed.

Transformers: The Movie hit theaters and little boys and little girls had their hearts broken when they witnessed, on the big screen, the death of the franchise’s biggest hero, Optimus Prime.

I was seven years-old when I saw the movie and it had a profound effect on me. I was crushed when the film got to that moment but unlike most of the kids in the theater, I got over it as the film rolled on. Because even though I was shocked, I knew that everything changed and nothing was safe. I mean, that was kind of cool. No one had any idea where the movie could even go after that moment, which was very early on in the story.

In that moment, I knew that even though all seemed lost, the stakes had never been higher and that the Autobots faced their greatest challenge. I knew that fresh, exciting and different days were still ahead. And I may have not actually understood this with great detail but I remember vividly what I felt: shock, awe, surprise and an overwhelming desire to see the Autobots overcome adversity, hardship and evil. It also made the villains darker, which I loved.

I guess that this had a huge cultural impact because parents were so upset that they made their feelings widely known. Hasbro responded by having G.I. Joe: The Movie altered so that Duke’s death, the G.I. Joe’s beloved field commander, was rewritten so that he just fell into a coma for the rest of the film. It doesn’t matter that you saw a venomous snake bite him through the heart with actual blood splatter, he lived to be okay.

Hasbro certainly didn’t want more backlash from angry parents with kids that had their hearts crushed like Duke’s in the snake’s mouth. But really, Duke’s “death” was more violent and shocking to see than Optimus Prime’s. I mean, Duke was human, there was blood and his human facial expression really sold the moment. But I’ll probably save this whole topic for an article at a later date. I just wanted to shed some light and add some context on the Optimus Prime death situation from a cultural perspective.

Anyway, Transformers: The Movie moved forward past that tragic scene. Optimus Prime’s Matrix of Leadership was first passed to Ultra Magnus but by the end of the movie, it found the one Autobot truly worthy of carrying it into the future: Hot Rod. Hot Rod unlocked the power of the Matrix and evolved into Rodimus Prime, a sort of hybrid between himself and Optimus, as he grew taller, broader and went from being a cool hot rod to a hot rod mixed with a semi truck.

Rodimus (with the Matrix) defeated the Decepticons and their new leader Galvatron (a suped up version of the former leader Megatron). Rodimus also helped destroy Unicron, who was basically the Transformers version of Marvel’s Galactus but actually cooler. By the end of the movie, Rodimus Prime rose to the occasion and the Autobots that survived this nearly apocalyptic event would go on to protect Earth from Galvatron and his minions in the future.

When the later seasons of the Transformers cartoon hit the airwaves, it took place after the movie and things were very different. Many episodes were dark and bleak and while this probably didn’t appeal to parents looking out for their kids’ best interest, as a kid, I really liked these episodes.

It was the first time that I experienced something I love in entertainment, going darker and getting grittier. As a kid, I thought it was cool as hell and it made this show about cartoon robots seem more real and more mature. In a way, the show was growing up and evolving with me. People look down on this era of the show but if I’m being completely honest, I preferred this era. Plus, the feeling that no one was truly safe, carried over from the movie.

I also preferred the characters and the toys that came out that tied into this post-Movie era. The toys got more elaborate and creative. You had Headmasters, Triggermasters, more creative and futuristic vehicles and Hot Rod was always f’n cool to me, even as Rodimus.

On the Decepticon side, as much as I loved Starscream and his Seekers, I really loved Cyclonus and the Swoops. Megatron is my favorite Transformer of all-time but Galvatron was less bumbling and seemed like he was a more capable madman. Also, Cobra Commander from G.I. Joe even shows up in an episode with the name “Snake”. It’s obvious that it’s Cobra Commander and he is there to assist the villainous Decepticons, years after Cobra has ceased to exist.

You also got really cool Combiners like Predaking and awesome battle stations that transformed into massive robots. I owned Fortress Maximus and it was probably my most beloved toy in the ’80s. It was also a sign of pride for me, as I saved up over $100 to buy it with my own money. I also bought Skorponok and Trypticon because they were two of the coolest f’n toys ever made.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love so many of the original Transformers, as well as the earliest episodes, but there was just something more grown up about the show after the death of Optimus Prime.

If Optimus Prime didn’t die and the show didn’t take a darker turn and get more mature, I probably would have lost interest in it. There were already 65 episodes before The Movie. The formula had run it’s course and change was needed to make things fresh and interesting again. Plus, Hasbro had all these new toys to sell and the old robots were just in the way of the new ones. This is the same reason why the G.I. Joe and Cobra teams changed so frequently on G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.

But then, like a beacon of light and hope at the end of the dark tunnel, Transformers did something really amazing. The show found a way to resurrect Optimus Prime.

I remember seeing the ad for the Return of Optimus Prime and it’s like the world stopped. After truly enjoying the post-Optimus era, absence made the heart grow fonder and it’s as if I didn’t realize how much I wanted him and needed him during his absence. Optimus Prime going away for awhile made the character stronger. Everyone I knew, back when I was in second grade, was glued to their television sets on February 24th and 25th, 1987 for that two-part story that closed out Season 3.

And what a story that was! Optimus Prime took the Matrix back, Rodimus stepped aside and everything was restored. Plus, the Autobots now had the edge over the more sinister Decepticons.

The point here, is that Optimus Prime dying created backlash and made children cry but it was necessary in making Transformers survive. It enriched the mythos, it paved the way for new characters, new toys and it opened the door for riskier and more interesting storytelling. It changed the tone of the franchise, which I feel was needed after the 65 episodes before The Movie.

I think Hasbro was smart in doing what they did. Without the death of Optimus Prime, we might not have Transformers today. The sacrifice of the franchise’s most popular hero gave that franchise meaning beyond just being some cartoon made to sell toys.

Also, no matter how much money they dump into these modern Transformers movies, they have yet to come up with a story that can even exist in the same orbit as the original animated film. Without the death of Optimus Prime, what was that film? It probably would’ve just felt like a normal multi-part episode like G.I. Joe: The Movie did because they didn’t commit to the bit and kill off Duke.

With Transformers: The Movie, Hasbro did everything right.

And now I leave you with Stan Bush’s “The Touch”. Drink it in, bathe in its glory.

TV Review: The Transformers – Original Miniseries & Seasons 1 & 2 (1984-1986)

Also known as: Transformers: Generation 1, Transformers G1 (informal titles)
Release Date: September 17th, 1984 – January 9th, 1986
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Transformers by Hasbro and Takara Tomy
Music by: Johnny Douglas, Robert J. Walsh
Cast (voices): Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, Chris Latta, Michael Bell, Corey Burton, John Stephenson, Jack Angel, Casey Kasem, Scatman Crothers, Charlie Adler

Hasbro, Sunbow Productions, Marvel, Toei, AKOM, Claster Television, 65 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

“Sometimes even the wisest of man or machine can make an error.” – Optimus Prime

*Written in 2015.

The original Transformers television series, simply called The Transformers and now commonly referred to as Transformers G1 (for Generation One) was a sister show to Marvel/SunBow’s G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.

It had the same art style, the same producers and directors and the voice cast of both shows were pretty much identical. It was also obvious to kids at the time but we didn’t care that Starscream and Cobra Commander had the same voice. All we cared about is that this show was just as badass as G.I. Joe.

Also, like G.I. Joe, this animated series was used as a vehicle to sell a tie-in toy line produced by Hasbro. It worked well, as the Transformers characters were some of the best-selling toys of all-time. In fact, after Star Wars, Hasbro’s G.I. Joe and Transformers lines have to be the hottest selling toys of the ’80s for boys.

In regards to the show, there were great multi-part episodes and many stand alone episodes. This was the typical format of male action cartoons of the era. We were treated to great stories, a rich mythos and interesting characters. The show was well executed and was one of the highlights of 1980s pop culture.

It has gone on to spin-off a bunch of other animated series, as well as live-action films (those are atrocious though), video games, comic books and thousands of toys. The franchise, born from this animated series, is still one of the most lucrative of all-time and continues to try and reinvent itself every few years.

In the end though, there has never been an incarnation of Transformers that has been as iconic and near perfect as the original animated series. And while people consider this era, the original miniseries and the first two seasons, which take place before the animated feature film, as the peak in Transformers entertainment, I am one of the weirdos that actually prefers the show after the film.

The reason why I wanted to single out the two halves with different reviews is that the second half, after the movie, is darker and has a slew of new characters and situations. The movie changed everything and it significantly altered the show’s tone. I will review the second half of this series at a later date.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: The other Marvel/Sunbow Transformers and G.I. Joe stuff.