Review of Transformers: The Movie

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The celebrity massacre of 2016 has reminded millennials of their inescapable mortality. As a child of the eighties however I am already well acquainted with death, because I grew up watching Transformers: The Movie. No, not the Michael Bay garbage flicks – the animated one starring the first generation Autobots and Decepticons. Although awesome, the film is a traumatic eighty-five minute bloodbath (or should that be oil bath) were fan favourites are killed off by laser-gun fire, which is suddenly fatal despite never causing much damage in the TV series. Like Akame Ga Kill no one is safe, although the body count isn’t a case of director Nelson Shin trying to be edgy. Hasbro decreed that the old guard should perish to make room for a new line of toys that they were hoping to peddle.

OVERVIEW

Transformers: The Movie takes place several years after the events of the original series, as evidenced by Spike’s age. The former oilrig worker has a son now and has grown up to become a foul-mouthed adult (much to my amusement he utters the line “oh shit” in one scene of this PG film.) During the series/movie interim Cybertron has been conquered by Decepticon troops, forcing Optimus Prime’s Autobots to colonize the planet’s moons and relocate to a metropolis situated on Earth. Fearful of an imminent attack, the evil Megatron hijacks a shuttle and uses it to sneak a platoon of Decepticon warriors into Autobot City. Many valiant heroes are slain in the ensuing assault, including Optimus Prime himself. Damn it Hot Rod you fool! Why did you have to interfere in the Megatron/Prime duel? He had the battle won before you got involved.

From that point on the story goes off world, with the surviving Autobots being relentlessly pursued by Galvatron (who is basically the latest Megatron model – same robot but he now has a better camera and you can’t plug your old headphones into him.) Galvatron chases after the good guys, as they possess the McGuffin that is the Autobot Matrix of Leadership. Said relic is the only thing in the universe capable of stopping Galvatron’s master Unicron. In case you didn’t know, Unicron is pretty much a sentient Death Star. Instead of obliterating planets with energy weapons he prefers instead to consume them whole. Cybertron is on Unicron’s menu and he intends to chomp on it faster than a sumo wrestler goes through a sushi buffet. Oh man. Defeating the ravenous evildoer would be so much easier if he had a vulnerable thermal exhaust port.

VERDICT

My rating for Transformers: The Movie is four and a half stars. Younger viewers may disagree with that nostalgia-influenced score, but its tough to be unbiased when Transformer cartoons and toys dominated my childhood. The comedy provided by the Dinobots and Blurr’s motor mouth still makes me chuckle, and the action continues to make my heart race after all these years. Compared to the TV show, the movie’s visuals have aged well and benefit from the added polish of a 4k transfer in the latest Blu-Ray release. On the audio front the soundtrack holds the honour of being one of my favourite movie scores of all time. The tunes on offer include a song from geek icon Weird Al Yankovic and loads of cheesy eighties rock. Warning – listening to Dare and The Touch will immediately cause you to grow a mullet.

I am surprised to learn that the movie was a financial flop in the States, causing Hasbro to cancel production of a planned Jem animated movie (shame they didn’t axe the crap 2015 live action film too.) If you take into account worldwide sales (and how many times Transformers: The Movie has been re-released on DVD) I do however suspect that the film has since turned over a profit. Is Transformers: The Movie the pinnacle of animated storytelling? Hell no, but you won’t care one iota if you happen to be a fellow eighties kid. At the very least I would recommend giving the movie a bash because the main villains are voiced by screen legends Orson Welles and Leonard Nimoy. This eighties classic will “live long and prosper” in the hearts of Transformers fans forever… I doubt the same can be said of the rubbish Michael Bay is currently pumping out.

27 thoughts on “Review of Transformers: The Movie

  1. Still so much more fun than the more recent movies (though I do think that Transformers Prime was a marvellous series). I used to have this on VHS, and the swearing was cut out, so when it popped up on the DVD I was surprised. Even better, there was a DVD extra where they used the ‘Oh shit’ soundclip repeatedly over the top of some stills.
    I think this was the first movie soundtrack I bought on CD too (vinyl goes to The Warriors). I swear Stan Bush has probably made a living off The Touch and Dare alone … I certainly can’t remember him doing anything else. Interesting aside though: the band on the soundtrack called Spectre General were actually called Kick Axe. Wikipedia cites legal complications as the reason for the random name change, but I’ve read at least one article claiming that the producers thought that ‘Kick Axe’ sounded like too violent a name for a children’s film.
    Gotta love the mass slaughter of heroes in this though. They played it up so well in an episode of The Goldbergs too with the shock of seeing Optimus die being suitably well referenced … even if they did bring him back in season 3 after people failed to get behind Rodimus Prime.

    • I know exactly what you mean. My uncle owns the release with the “oh shit” tune. Many moons ago I owned the Transformers soundtrack on cassette, but sadly it got lost during a house move.

      Thanks for the informative comment. I liked Hot Rod in this movie, but he wasn’t leadership material. Maybe his reign is a factor in why the series following this movie was less popular that the earlier seasons.

      • It could well be. I seem to remember Rodimus doing a lot of ‘Wo is me, I am not as good as Optimus was’, at least in the Optimus returns arc, so that may have scuppered him as a leader.

      • They could get a lot more swearing past the censors would be if all the bad words are said in Serbo-Croatian.
        Best way to get a : “Oh NO — (this situation) this blows donkey dong!” line into the cartoon battle.

  2. My mom absolutely refused to let me see this movie for the longest time. Maybe because it was so traumatizing to see all those deaths. I have that image of the dying Autobot (Bluestreak, I think?) with fire coming out of his mouth permanently imprinted in my brain.

    I hated that they killed off so many Gen 1 characters just to sell more toys. I hated the new designs that weren’t based on real vehicles.

    I seem to recall the blowback for killing off Optimus being so strong that Hasbro had to alter their original plan to kill off Duke in the G.I.Joe movie.

    • I think Prowl is the name of poor Autobot who suffered a flame spewing death. When I was a kid I didn’t mind the high body count, although it was disappointing to see popular characters like Wheeljack die off-screen.

      From what I have read elsewhere, Duke’s death was indeed changed to a temporary coma due to the Prime backlash. In some versions of this movie the narrator ends the film by saying “Optimus Prime will be back” to soften the blow.

    • It was especially shocking because Western cartoons tend to sugar coat things and not show the consequences of violence. Take Go-Lion (Voltron) for example. The scenes were citizens get killed got removed from the Western release. Creative editing and dubbing also allowed them to white wash the fact that in the Japanese version one of the team’s main characters died.

  3. There does not seem to be much praise for the live-action movies, so it is not surprising that the cartoons are reviewed favorably. I only watched the first one, or the second … I really can’t remember as nothing really happens in them.

    My pitch to the studio would be that in the next Transformers movie, they have one scene where the real film characters get sucked into some type of A.I. time-space-alternative battle and fight each other as cartoons.

    The old school fans would LOVE it, and it would probably be better reviewed than most of the lame action series.

    … oh OK. Thank you for meeting with me Mr. Bay, I will see myself out.

    • I watched the first movie, with low expectations, and thought it was alright. The second one has terrible reviews and features some racist caricatures. I wasn’t fond of the third movie because the humor sucked and the action dragged on forever. Yes, the animated movie is just a chain of action scenes but at least it wraps things up after 85 minutes.

    • I haven’t watched Beast Wars in years. Due to the advances in technology I suspect the visuals haven’t aged well. Transformers turning into animals always seemed weird to me, but I suppose it’s no worse than the Gobots who had characters who turned into rocks.

  4. It’s kind of amazing what movies could get away with a G/PG rating years ago. Transformers can get a PG with a swear word. Frozen gets a PG because of… a big snowman who roars and a minor chase scene?

    • I’ll never understand how age ratings work. Mundane things, like someone smoking onscreen, can result in a movie getting a higher rating. One brief sex scene can result in an R rating whilst PG-13 flicks are packed with gun violence.

  5. From what I remember as a kid, the reason it didn’t do so hot at the box office, was because here in the States a LOT of parents thought the Optimus Prime death scene was too dark, and wouldn’t take their kids to the theatre. I saw it at a neighbor’s house after school back then, and I remember it being pretty heavy the first time I saw it. This is rumored to have been why in the animated G.I. Joe movie Duke went into a coma. Supposedly, he was going to be killed off too, but after the Optimus Prime reception they changed it. That’s how the rumor goes.

    Anyway, in spite of the plot discrepancies, and the high body count, it is still a memorable movie. It also was a surprise hit for Stan Bush, since he hadn’t written “The Touch” for Transformers. He was hoping it would have been in a Stallone movie like Cobra.

    • Poor Ironhide. Everyone is reduced to tears by Prime’s passing, but no one cares that Ironhide took a barrel blast to the face.

      I don’t know much about Stan Bush, aside from his contributions to this movie’s soundtrack. From looking at Wikipedia I am surprised to learn that one of his songs was used in Sailor Moon.

  6. I simply LOVED this movie. It was actually pretty great how it bridged the two series of the show, and Optimus Prime getting killed in the first twenty minutes was a mad twist.

  7. I may have mildly enjoyed the Michael Bay fiasco’s the the original Transformers movie is the only one with any relevance. Me and my brother STILL use the universal greeting to this day, and Unicron scared the hell out of me when I was a child. He was creepier than the death star because he was essentially a monstrous robot that ate planets. It’s like the Brethren Moons in Dead Space D:

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