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Gobots: War of the Rock Lords (1986)

22 May 2003 by Gnoll 6 Comments


1986, dir. Don Lusk and Ray Patterson

75 min. Rated G.
Starring: Roddy McDowall, Telly Savalas, Margot Kidder, Foster Brooks.

Review by Noel Wood

Since my employer decided last week that they no longer had any work for me and eliminated my position, thus nudging me unwillingly into the realm of the unemployed, I’ve done many a thing to pass the time. Oh, sure, I’m spending hours planted in front of my computer applying for jobs and filling out college applications so I can maybe get my education on, but that’s not to say I haven’t spent a lot of time doing what we all wish we could do: absolutely nothing. It’s only been a couple weeks now, and the first of those weeks was spent on vacation, but I’ve still managed to carve a nice-sized dent on my couch from watching the old picture tube. What has consumed much of my time (other than the brilliant VH1 Classic channel) is my Transformers: Season Two Part Two DVD set that I acquired recently. It’s been interesting, to say the least, catching up on episodes of a cartoon that I hold dear, some of which I haven’t seen in nearly twenty years. But while I have been enjoying one of my guilty pleasures on DVD, I’ve also managed to sneak in a viewing of another piece of entertainment from around the same time: the 1986 theatrical film GOBOTS: WAR OF THE ROCK LORDS.


Now, for those unfamiliar with the GoBots, they were sort of like the Transformers’ less-cool cousins. They had a similar story, similar toys, and a similar cartoon show, but the Transformers, by the opinion of just about everyone on the planet, was the far superior of the two series. Now, many people assume that Tonka’s GoBots were indeed a ripoff of their Hasbro-made cousins The Transformers, but that’s the farthest thing from the truth. Both series were based on pre-existing toys from Japan. The GoBots were based on Bandai’s Machine Robo line, while the Transformers were culled from Takara’s Diaclone and Microman toy lines. In fact, Gobots were the first to arrive in North America, beating their eventual defeaters into stores by several months. I remember having easily a dozen or so GoBots before the Transformers came along, starting sometime in the spring of 1984, while I didn’t get my first Transformers until Christmas of that same year. What a truly great time it was to be a kid in the 1980’s. Not one, but two lines of toys that changed from robots to vehicles. I’ve mentioned this before, but for me, that was like a toy valhalla. It’s kinda like how when I was watching the GoBots movie I’m reviewing here I was eating Snickers Ice Cream. It’s like, let’s take the two best things we can possibly think of and put them together! So we have robots that turn into vehicles, ice cream with candy bars in them, hey, maybe someone will make some music fusing the elements of this new-fangled rap music with good ol’ rock and roll! Oh wait, they already did that, and now we’re stuck with Fred Durst.


Anyway, I’m getting way off track here. A few weeks ago, I decided to invest eight of my hard-earned dollars into a copy of WAR OF THE ROCK LORDS (I was still employed at the time, naturally.) And then, I decided to watch it. Now, I’m not sure why I decided to spend my money on this thing, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as sitting through THE MATRIX: RELOADED last weekend. It’s half the length, for starters, which is a plus. And at least the GoBots are designed for children. But still, this movie’s pretty bad, and I can see now why it’s managed to fade into obscurity while its sister release from the same year TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE has become a cult classic.


GOBOTS: WAR OF THE ROCK LORDS, like many other toy commercials thinly disguised as children’s entertainment from its era, boasts a celebrity who’s who for its primary voice talents. TRANSFORMERS had Judd Nelson, Orson Welles, Leonard Nimoy, and Robert Stack. GOBOTS had Roddy McDowall, Foster Brooks, Margot Kidder, and Telly Savalas. Not a bad lineup of stars, if you ask me. Now, for some reason, several sources list Kathleen Turner as a cast member for the GOBOTS movie, but that appears to be a mistake. On the IMDB they just credit her as “voice”, indicating that someone probably just assumed that Margot Kidder’s raspy-voiced character Solitaire was played by Ms. Turner. Having now seen the film, you have my word: Kathleen Turner is not in it. Furthermore, I’m convinced that there were only a dozen regular voice actors doing kids’ cartoons in the 1980’s, which is why they felt the need to hire celebrities to fill roles in the movies to make them feel more special. And I never really noticed it as a kid, but re-watching old episodes of all my favorite childhood cartoons today I notice how many characters have almost the exact same voices. I mean, I never noticed that The GoBots‘ Turbo had almost the exact same voice as G.I.Joe‘s Destro until I watched it recently. It’s pretty weird to hear a trace of the Transformers‘ Optimus Prime coming through when you’re watching the GOBOTS movie. It almost seems like he’s a traitor in a way.


Anyway, on to the movie itself. GOBOTS: WAR OF THE ROCK LORDS (or BATTLE OF THE ROCK LORDS, as my video copy says on the packaging) clocks in at a mere 74 minutes. That’s probably a good thing, because lord knows I couldn’t take much more, and I was a fan of these suckers back in the day. The film starts off with a title sequence, featuring some of the most suck-ass theme music I’ve ever heard. They shine the spotlight on our big stars and drop the celebrity names. There’s Margot Kidder as Solitaire, who changes from gem to robot. And Roddy McDowall as Nugget, who changes from gold nugget to robot. And Telly Savalas as Magmar, who changes, believe it or not, from volcanic rock to robot. Pretty simple stuff, folks. These are the Rock Lords, and they’re the reason this movie exists. They’re basically a gimmick, a spinoff if you will, to boost sales for a declining toy line. I know as a kid I wasn’t content with planes and tanks and race cars, so I was all like bring out the robots that turn in to inanimate objects! Yeah, there’s a whole world of fun that comes from Rock Lords. It’s like the Pet Rock, but with a twist.


The action begins as we meet our Guardian GoBots: Leader-1, Turbo, Scooter, Small Foot, and others, along with the inevitable stupid-human sidekicks Matt, Nick, and AJ. Matt was kind of a father figure, and the other two were kids. With names like Nick and AJ, they remind me of the brothers from Simon & Simon, except slightly different. I just wished I’d have remembered the names Rick and AJ when I got asked that question at trivia one night. Anyway, I digress. There’s a ton of Guardian robots here, and I guess the filmmakers just assume everyone’s familiar with them already, because nary a one gets any character development whatsoever. At least in TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE the action focused almost exclusively around brand new characters that were at least introduced to us in the film’s first act. Not that we should use that as a barometer for how films should be made, but I’m just sayin’. The Guardians meet the Rock Lords. Or at least Nugget and Solitaire. Solitaire tells them of their plight on their planet and how the evil Magmar (yes, there is a Pokemon named after him) is doing all kinds of nasty evil things and of course the good GoBots are going to help. Of course, the Renegade GoBots catch wind of all this, and make sure to interfere.


That’s really your plot. For the next 65 minutes or so, this movie launches into this clusterfuck of action sequences and really lame jokes and puns about rocks and doesn’t really do much to entertain. I really started getting really bored really quick and started counting the times Nugget’s faceplace fell down or he fell over. I would have turned it into a drinking game, but I’m still deciding whether or not I ever want to drink again. There’s some spaceships flying through asteroid fields and evil leaders vying for power and lots of robot-on-robot violence that you’ve seen a hundred times before. Really, to be honest, there’s not much of note here. In fact, I’m starting to wonder just how much actual review I’ll be able to get into this review. I mean, technically, I’m still in the same paragraph that I started out using to review the movie, so I guess that means that everything that I type in this paragraph is still technically review territory, right? Then if I were to start telling you what I ate for lunch and dinner today, it’s still technically be part of my review, right? Just as long as I don’t insert that paragraph tag in here any time soon.
Well, I can’t really keep this up forever. By the way, it was ravioli for lunch and steak for dinner, if you care.


I never did see GOBOTS: WAR OF THE ROCK LORDS in theaters. Or even on home video as a child. I waited until less than two weeks from my twenty-eighth birthday to see it. Willingly. On purpose. I even spent my own money to do so. Jeez, if I keep this up, I’ll be crying myself to sleep tonight. Now that I’ve seen the film, though, it’s a good thing I never did see it. Thank Goodness I used that 74 minutes I could have spent watching robotic rocks shoot lasers from their fists for something more productive, like launching myself into the air from my swingset or seeing how fast my Roller Racer would go on a downhill incline (if you’re curious, with the aid of a friend’s older brother following behind in his car pacing me, we clocked it at about 65 mph. And I wonder that I’m still alive.)


In other words, GOBOTS: WAR OF THE ROCK LORDS is a bad movie. Only see it if — well, don’t see it. Let me say I’ve done my public service by deterring you. But if you do insist on it, you can usually find a cheap used copy from Amazon.com, by following the link above and to the left. Just don’t come blaming me when your viewing of it cuts into your swing-jumping time.


  • Joe said:

    “I never did see GOBOTS: WAR OF THE ROCK LORDS in theaters. Or even on home video as a child. I waited until less than two weeks from my twenty-eighth birthday to see it.”

    There’s your problem. This movie was designed for children in the 1980s, not adults in the 2000s. Really the only reason you SHOULD be getting any enjoyment out of it now is for nostalgia.

    That being said, this movie was released in theaters at one point?

  • joe s said:

    i watched gobots when i was younger and the movie was one of the best films i ever saw, i could watch it today and still enjoy it just as much!and im 20 now!

  • Dizrythmia said:

    I did see the movie when it came out in theatres. In Australia it was known as “Machine Men: Battle of the Rocklords”. While I don’t remember much about the movie itself I do remember enjoying it.

    What else do I remember… I had an aisle seat in the cinema… my father walked out halfway through & didn’t come back in, I had to meet him outside… that’s about it.

    I’m going to have to track down a copy now… I can’t find a copy in AU (the ONLY place Gobots were known as Machine Men apparently), so I’ll have to opt for the NTSC alternative.

  • Rory said:

    I remember losing one of these toys in the sandbox as a child, and crying for days. I don’t remember seeing the movie, but I am planning on buying the Rock Lord that I lost on e-bay.

  • Celeste said:

    All I remember about Gobots War of the Rock Lords is that I didn’t really like it. The amount of violence in this movie was kind of pointless.

  • Dork Droppings – For the Dork in All of Us! » Blog Archive » In Defense of the GoBots! said:

    […] might seem contrary to other things I’ve written in the past, but all I’ve ever really talked about here was the War of the Rock Lords movie specifically. […]

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