Transformers: The Movie (1986) – Directed by Nelson Shin – Starring Peter Cullen, Eric Idle, Judd Nelson, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Stack, Lionel Stander, Scatman Crothers, Frank Welker, Casey Kasem, Susan Blu, and Orson Welles.
In 1986, TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE was just about the coolest thing ever.
In 2012, it’s still pretty darn awesome.
When I saw THE MOVIE in the theaters, I was stunned. That big ship just ate a planet! Autobots DIED! Spike said, “Sh*t!” Megatron was turned into Unicron’s b*tch and got turned into Galvatron!
But nothing compared to the death of Optimus Prime. By the time Optimus (Peter Cullen) passes the Autobot Matrix of Leadership to Ultra Magnus (Robert Stack) on his deathbed, we’ve already seen Megatron (Frank Welker) kill Ironhide (also Peter Cullen) at point blank range. The Decepticons intercept an Autobot ship headed from Cyberton to Autobot City on Earth and kill everyone on board. Clinging to life, Ironhide weakly crawls towards Megatron to stop him. Megatron looks down and with utter disdain remarks, “Such heroic nonsense” and then blasts Ironhide in the face with his arm-mounted cannon. We don’t actually see Ironhide getting blown to bits, but the intent is clear and it sets up the violence to come.
The opening 25 minutes of THE MOVIE are among the coolest sequences in cinematic history. It’s all-out war between the Autobots and Decepticons that ranges from Cyberton to Earth. Scores of Autobots get eviscerated. The Decepticons show intelligence and ruthlessness. We get to see a veritable who’s who of the Transformers universe. And unlike the live-action Michael Bay movies, you can actually tell these robots apart because the animators believe in things like color and individuality.
It’s this opening sequence that sees Optimus and Megatron have their final battle and it’s a doozy as the two leaders throw down in Autobot City. It’s an evenly matched affair until Prime gets the advantage and knocks Megatron to the ground. Megatron then proceeds to beg for mercy as he crawls towards a gun hidden out of sight. That’s when Hot Rod (Judd Nelson) interferes. The poor whippersnapper is trying to do the right thing, but he just ends up giving Megatron the advantage he needs to hit Optimus with enough laser blasts to cause his demise.
These opening 25 minutes move fast and hard, and they look amazing in that awesome mid-80s Toei animation style. Hair metal music (and Weird Al’s “Dare to Be Stupid”) fills the soundtrack. While I’m continuously worried that these elements will make THE MOVIE feel dated, it’s given it a sense of timelessness, instead, although that might actually be a form of masquerading nostalgia for my early teenage years.
The remainder of the movie sees a new cast of Autobots battling the Decepticons: Ultra Magnus, Hot Rod, Arcee (Susan Blu), Kup (Lionel Stander), and Springer (Neil Ross) step to the fore, joined by some old faces like the Dinobots. Megatron and some other injured Decepticons are dumped from Astrotrain (seriously, it’s a train that’s also a rocket ship – one of the coolest Transformer vehicles) in the middle of space, and captured by Unicron (Orson Welles, in his last screen role) and transformed into new Tranformers that work for him. Megatron becomes Galvatron (Leonard Nimoy) and given a mission to destroy the Autobot Matrix of Leadership, the one and only thing in the universe that can destroy his large self.
What’s impressive is that even with the majority of familiar faces gone and presumed dead, the movie is still really entertaining. In large part, this is because the film keeps everything moving at breakneck speed. Hardly a scene or two goes by without some new conflict for our heroes to overcome or some new potential toy to grace the screen: Wreck-Gar (Eric Idle) and the Junkions, Sharkticons, and the Quintessons.
Maybe because I grew up with the Transformers as being both cartoon and toy, I wasn’t bothered then and I’m not bothered now by all of these new characters being an excuse to get me to buy new toys. Know why? Because I liked buying toys. As much as it sucked to see Prime die, and Jazz (Scatman Crothers, also in his last film role) and Bumblebee (Dan Gilvezan) getting sucked into Unicron and sitting the movie out, the story here was solid enough to keep me involved. None of the new Autobots are all that engaging or cool looking, but the sheer force of the plot and diversity of Transformers keeps me entertained.
Plus, it’s wholly rewarding to watch a Transformers movie where the stars are, you know, the Transformers. While we get Spike and Daniel Witwicky here, we don’t get a lot of them. They’re characters that are part of the story, not the story itself.
Everything build towards the final battle, which sees Hot Rod versus Galvatron. During the fight, he becomes the Optimus-prophesized hero and becomes the new Autobot leader: Rodimus Prime. (Rodimus Prime? Seriously? Sounds like he should be making movies with Kayden Kross and Asa Akira instead of leading the Autobots.)
The toy angle isn’t just a cheap joke, either. (The porn crack was a cheap joke. Keep up.) THE MOVIE takes place between Seasons 2 and 3 of the cartoon, and they Hasbro wanted to use the film to get rid of discontinued toys and introduce the new line. According to the Never Wrong:
“One of the intentions of the movie was to rid the Transformers cartoon universe of the majority of characters from Seasons 1 and 2. Story consultant Flint Dille elaborated: ‘In the next season (3), we were going to have all these new characters, and people are going to be wondering what happened to the old characters that they liked so much. What we knew, in a business sense, is that they had been discontinued, because they were the 1984/1985 (toy)line – but, we needed to tie them off. So, we had this one scene where the Autobots basically had to run through a gauntlet of Decepticons. Which basically wiped out the entire ’84 product line in one massive ‘charge of the light brigade.’ So, whoever wasn’t discontinued, stumbled to the end. That scene didn’t make it into the finished movie. But if you think kids were locking themselves in the bedroom over Optimus Prime, basically in that scene they would’ve seen their entire toy collection wiped out.”
Ha ha ha! Stupid ki- wait! I was one of those kids. Dick.
As a movie, however, TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE is as cool now as it was then. Whenever TV properties gets transported to the big screen, filmmakers often struggle with how to make the story feel “big” to deserve the move. The makers of this film do a bang-up job of making THE MOVIE feel big and important and epic. Clearly, the stakes are raised here, and the added inclusion of hair metal songs (Stan Bush’s “The Touch,” Lion’s version of The Transformers’ theme song, Spectre General’s “Hunger”) make THE MOVIE feel both familiar and different from the animated series.
TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE might have been made to sell toys, but it’s a darn good movie, too.
Also, for those who want “The Touch”: