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Transformers: The Movie (1986)

11 April 2001 by Gnoll 8 Comments

TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE


1986, Dir. Nelson Shin
84 min. Rated PG.
Starring: Judd Nelson, Robert Stack, Orson Welles, Leonard Nimoy.

Review by Noel Wood

I just realized recently that in two months it will be the fifteenth anniversary of the original theatrical release of one of my all-time favorite movies, TRANSFORMERS. Not that this is something I was pondering at my own free time, but glancing around certain web resources I noticed that this monumental occurrence was about to take place. In actuality, I was bored one day, didn’t have much in the way of resources, but really felt like writing something. So I decided that I would use this bit of information to use and write something about TRANSFORMERS THE MOVIE.

    

Actually, right about now I haven’t the slightest idea what I’m about to write. I’m just typing at this point, so what you’re about to read will be pure stream-of-consciousness drivel that probably won’t mean jack shit to you. But bear with me anyway. I’ve not written much of consequence lately and I’m using this as my guinea pig. Lucky you.

For the uninformed, Transformers were a fantastic toy line that drove children in the 1980’s nuts, myself included. The concept was simple yet clever: robots that disguised themselves as vehicles. For someone like me who had obsessions with matchbox cars and robots, it was a dream come true. Now all they needed was to make Dr. Pepper flavored Bubble Gum and I was set. (Incidentally, that happened as well, although the appeal was not quite that of the Transformers.)

    

There was also a cartoon to accompany the toy line, which was nothing more than a thinly veiled toy commercial. That didn’t bother me, nor did it bother the hundreds of thousands of kids who woke up at 7 AM every Saturday in 1985 just to see Optimus Prime and his heroic Autobots battle the evil Decepticons and their menacing leader Megatron. You know how hot Pokemon is today? Doesn’t mean anything to we of the Transformers generation. It was a pipe dream just to get a hold of that elusive Starscream figure or to find all of the Dinobots in stock. Anyway, this cartoon dragged on for two seasons, introducing a handful of characters which we children were near and dear to, until the spring of the year 1986. Suddenly, we see this ominous commercial hit the TV screens during our typical Nickelodeon afternoon. Not just Transformers the toy, not even just Transformers the TV show…this was TRANSFORMERS THE MOVIE!

I guarantee you that on the first day that commercial was run on childrens’ stations across the continent, more jaws hit the floor than the day JFK was shot. This was BIG news in the kid world. We expected to watch the local 6 o’ clock news and see the reporters touting Transformers as their top story. A collective cry out to parents to “take me to see it!” echoed throughout the country.

    

“TWO YEARS IN THE MAKING!” the announcer bellowed.

Ooooh.

“A GIANT PLANET-EATING MONSTER THREATENS CYBERTRON!” he continued.

Aaaah.

“WILL OPTIMUS PRIME DIE?”

Huh?

I’m not kidding you. One of the primary marketing tools for this landmark motion picture was whether or not the hero dies. Not just a hero, mind you, but a ROBOT. Now I don’t have the time to argue philosophies of the sentient nature of giant transforming alien robots, but let’s just say that the idea of a dead robot didn’t exactly gel with my ten-year-old self. G.I.Joe could die. He-Man could die. Hell, even the Smurfs could die. But Optimus Prime? Then you have the idea that a movie which is geared to children 5-12 is not only using the very adult subject of death as a key plot element, but it’s actually using that as a SELLING POINT for the film.

    

Okay, I’m going to go ahead and blast you with spoilers here, because if you DON’T know what happens in the movie, you probably don’t even have a desire to learn. Prime dies. The noble and beloved leader of the Autobots bites the big one. He passes away after a duel with his archrival Megatron, andget thisturns grey. Robots apparently do die. Especially when within the first ten minutes of the movie, they kill off no less than FOUR of your favorite characters. Ironhide? Gone. Prowl? Ditto? Ratchet? Later. Brawn? Adios. (Yes, and don’t bother trying to argue it.) Not only that, but we get the famous cut line from human cohort Spike where he actually says the S word, and Ultramagnus, the temporary choice to replace out Autobot leader and the robotic embodiment of Robert Stack, gets to tell a Maguffin called the Matrix to “Open, Damnit, Open!” And all of this in a kids’ movie that my dad took me to see at a tender age.

The movie itself was abounding with stars. Brat packer Judd Nelson is the lead, the rebellious, cavalier hero Hot Rod. The aforementioned Robert Stack is Ultra Magnus. Lionel Stander lends a hand as Kup, Micro Machines Man John Moschitta provides the voice for Blurr. Leonard Nimoy is the evil Galvatron, and Eric Idle is Wreck-Gar, the leader of a group of misfits called the Junkions. Even the immortal Orson Welles has his Swan Song, playing the chaos-bringer and giant transforming planet Unicron. All G.I.Joe the Movie had going for it was Don Johnson and Burgess Meredith.

    

After opening day, I saw the film one additional time during my youth. A friend and I rented it shortly after its quiet video release, and I noticed that one infamous line was missing. Years later, while recapturing my youth, I desperately tried to locate a copy of TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE. This was no easy task. I checked every Blockbuster in a ten-mile radius. I hunted at smaller stores. And finally, one fine day when I began working at the video establishment in which would be my employer for the next three and a half years, there it was. A beautiful copy of the original pressing of this monumental motion picture stood proud, somewhere between Thomas the Tank Engine and Underdog on the Children’s aisle.

    

Needless to say, we wore the tape out. Not a week went by where one of us would play the thing in the store. We promptly moved it out of the Children’s section and in to the Anime section, and eventually in to a Cult Classics section. Any time someone rented it, they received a speech about how they WILL return this tape on time and that we DO know where they live. Only a few films had the astute honor of this ritual. Only hard-to-find out-of-print titles such as BLUE VELVET and THE EVIL DEAD got this distinction. Every time it was returned, it was tested for quality. This movie was not going anywhere. Except, of course, with me.
When the video store in question closed, I was very honest in what I did in its waning days. I made sure nobody was borrowing from the register and that customers weren’t getting any special deals. The one exception I made was that I wasn’t going to let that copy of TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE that I had searched for so many years get away. That’s right. Closing time on the final night of business, I left with more than my wallet and keys. I had that holy grail of children’s films in tow as well.

    

TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE remains a staple in my video collection. It was finally re-released by Kid Rhino a year or so back, and I purchased a copy as back up (which I promptly sold off once I got my hands on the DVD.) And yes, much to the dismay of my girlfriend, I watch it all the damn time. Is Transformers a good movie? Not even. It’s got a weak script, the story is borrowed from about every other adventure story ever, and there are plot holes left and right. To a non-Transformers fan it would be just plain annoying. Is it a good part of the Transformers series? Not really. It’s got plot elements that completely come out of nowhere and are suddenly integral parts of the story. It kills off classic characters and introduces some that just plain suck. And it doesn’t even utilize a lot of the coolest characters from the previous years.

But do I love it? Oh yes. And so do countless other Transfans out there. By no means is it a good film, but it is one of my all-time favorites.

    

Till all are one!

8 Comments »

  • Rahl said:

    God i love you.

    Cos you get it.

    It’s got a weak storyline, the bit where the junkticons and the Autobots dance to Wierd Al in a massive circle dance….. It was quite strange and even a little bit crap.

    But when i got my hands on the dvd, and i saw Unicron punch the crap out of Cybertron… i almost cried with happiness.

  • Shrike said:

    You rock. I watched this thing over and over durring my childhood. I rented it from a video store, and made a copy of the tape, using dad’s crazy VCR linking expertise. I still feel a deep hollow cry in my heart as optimus dies. I’m not even sure why I like it so much, I mean, they kill off some of my favourite characters, but I still watched it over and over again. Anyway, keep up the good work.

  • Woody said:

    Nailed it on the head i still watch it now much to the disbelf of everyone i know!!!! i always hear myslef what if hot rod did not get in the way would Optimus have had the nuts to bust Megatron all over, and if so would the film have lasted as long????

  • Trasformers Passion said:

    Hi Trasnformers is the world’s best no doubt, I’m looking forward to the second part

  • Chris Dravend said:

    Thank you.. some who understands. This movie is god.
    I love the Extended albums. I too run this movie for days. even till today =)
    Hot Rod is the shit!
    Dravend

  • CFGodwell said:

    Definitely one of the best of the 80’s cartoon movies. As a die-heard G1 fan, I saw it in the (now defunct) Loews Crtiterion on 42nd street New York. I can still remebr all the smaller kids crying when Optimus caught a bad one and died.

    Starscream was in his rawest form and the great Orsen Welles as Unicron and Leonard Nimoy (Spock v1.0) is the voice of Galvatron. Come on, who couldn’t love this like us G1 fans?

    Put it this way, the battle at AutoBot City is enough to make you forget the how they just wiped Ultra Magnus off and stuck him back together like a Lego Man.

    You got it. This is one of the best.

    CFG

  • Tmiller4 said:

    Pure Trash!!

    You kill off the most important people of the show and your left with watching over an hour of people that dont mean nothing to us!!! And I have no problem with them killing of the autobots, but damn did any of the decepticons die?? And speaking of autobots…where the hell was all of them at?? How you gonna be out numbered at AUTOBOT CITY??!! Thats crazy. The decepticons have devistator in the movie, and the autobots have…no one!!! Where waws Omega Sepreme? How bout the Protectabots or the Areil Bots, and the 5th dinobot!! All I ask was for them to kill of as many decepticons as they did autobots and I would have some closer…lol. Hell I wouldnt mind if someone made a bootleg redo of the movie!! 20 years later and Im still pissed about the movie, the script!!

  • Canuck Man said:

    First of all Pure Trash if you recall a decepticon did perish. That decepticon was Star Scream who was slain by Galvatron. Recently I’ve felt that in the Transformers animated film that every Autobot and their ‘allies'(including Aerialbots,Protectobots etc) should have been featured in the movie just like the Decepticons’ ‘allies'(Stunticons,Combaticons etc thought I recall the Constructicons and the Decepticons’ “fairweathered” allies ( if you will) the Insecticons were also featured in this movie.

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