Friday, September 26, 2014

The Transformers The Movie Review

The Transformers the Movie
Kid Rhino/Sony Entertainment
Movie - 86 minutes - 1 disc
$21.99 (2006) 2-disc
$19.95 (2000)
ISBN 603497664429
English Audio - English Subtitles
Director - Nelson Shin
Studio - Marvel Productions/Sunbow Productions/Toei Animation

Synopsis: The year is 2005 and the Transformers have been active on Earth for 20 years.  Over this span of time many intense battles have raged between the two Transformers factions.  The heroic Autobots led by Optimus Prime strive for peace while the violent Decepticons led by Megatron seek conquest.  Humanity has found friends among the Autobots who protect the Earth from the constant attempts by Megatron to pillage the natural energy resources of the planet.  Spike Witwicky and his father Spark Plug were the first humans to befriend Optimus Prime and his group.  Now Spike has a family of his own and his son Daniel is growing up among the amazing alien robots.
Spike's son Daniel fishes with Hot Rod
The evil Decepticons now rule Cybertron and the Autobots are preparing a massive assault to bring peace once again to their home planet.  They have built the sprawling Autobot City on Earth and turned both of Cybertron's moons into staging areas for their upcoming assault.  Many Autobots have relocated from Cybertron to Earth in order to prepare including the brash Hot Rod, veteran Kup, speedster Blurr, brave Springer, lithe Arcee, and powerful Ultra Magnus.  Hot Rod and Daniel have become particularly good friends.
Megatron brutally dispatches an Autobot
Out in space a massive artificial planet roams the galaxy devouring robot worlds and harvesting their resources to fuel its never-ending travels.  The planet is called Unicron and a scourge on the universe.  What happens when Unicron sets its sights on Cybertron?
The massive, planet-devouring Unicron prepares to feast
Megatron sees the perfect opportunity when a transport is sent from one of Cybertron's moons to Autobot City on Earth.  He and a massive force of Decepticons hijack the transport and kill the Autobots inside.  The stakes become real when Megatron leads a devastating assault on the unprepared Autobots with Optimus Prime off-world.  Both new and familiar Autobots must fight for their very lives in all-out war.  Will Optimus Prime and the Dinobots arrive before it's too late?
The Decepticons lay siege to Autobot City on Earth
What happens when a leader falls and the Autobots face their darkest hour?  Unicron is the most powerful (and malevolent) sentient creature in the universe, but why is it afraid of the Autobot Matrix of Leadership?  Journey across the galaxy as these questions are answered and more new faces (sometimes five-faces at once) join the fight.  A new generation of Transformers emerges, but will they save the day or arrive just in time to perish in Cybertron's extinction?
Optimus Prime and the Dinobots race back to Earth to save the day
Pros: Story is more mature than the television series (with one instance of cursing, several early character deaths), animation is better than the television series, voice acting is very well done (final voice role for Orson Welles as Unicron), many new characters introduced, relatively cohesive story progression to save Cybertron, soundtrack is classic '80s synth-metal, some great match ups (Dinobots vs. Devastator, Soundwave's and Blaster's cassettes mix it up), some light-hearted moments (like when Kup tells Grimlock to get his noodle out of his face!)
The Dinobots battle Devastator
Cons: Animation still has a lot of errors - perspective problems (Unicron's size fluctuates in comparison to other characters), incorrect colors (especially for similarly designed characters like the Seekers), 20th anniversary edition's widescreen format is actually full screen version with top and bottom cut off (i.e. some of the actual picture), sound quality is not great, some beloved characters die far too easily (a simple blast never killed anyone in the TV show), focuses more on new characters than the fan-favorites
"One shall stand, one shall fall!"
Mike Tells It Straight: This movie is the pinnacle of mainstream US animation from the 1980s and absolutely screams retro!  The soundtrack is a non-stop orgy of progressive synth-rock played by different bands, but sounding exactly the same (well, maybe Weird Al's Dare to Be Stupid sounds different).  Being a child of the '80s I have fond memories of this movie and it made an incredibly lasting impression.  I was right at the target demographic age, but not old enough yet to question the plot or see through the paper-thin corporate agenda of Hasbro.  See, this movie and the entire The Transformers television series were one big commercial to sell toys to male children.  They succeeded very well as the hundreds of versions of Optimus Prime in existence today can attest.
Optimus Prime and Megatron have a truly epic showdown
Let's start by describing the origins of The Transformers toy line.  Japanese toy company Takara Tomy had two transforming toy lines which were licensed to Hasbro for release in the US.  Hasbro hired Marvel Comics to create the characters and story unifying the different transforming toys.  Hasbro launched their toy line in 1984, Marvel began publishing a comic book series based on the toys and the backstory they had created, and Marvel/Sunbow Productions began airing a television series which deviated from the original Marvel backstory.  It was an absolute blitz of The Transformers on mainstream American kids and they literally ate it up.  The exact same formula had worked for Hasbro/Marvel with the relaunch of the G.I. Joe franchise two years earlier.
"I'll rip out your optics!"
By 1986 a new wave of toys were being introduced to the line and two seasons had elapsed for the television series (some 70 or so episodes).  By popular demand a theatrical movie was created which would bridge the gap between the second and third seasons of the television series and introduce the new toy lineup.  Hasbro used the movie as an opportunity to get rid of the old lineup of characters (most famously the Autobot leader, Optimus Prime) and killed most of them off in the first third of the film.  I'm still reeling from the shock of Optimus Prime's death.  The sheer gravitas of it all presented in a children's cartoon was astounding for the time.  Prime was the hands-down favorite character in the franchise and seeing him pass was a bold move.  You won't see that happen again in a mainstream cartoon.  The other deaths (Ironhide, Ratchet, Prowl et al) were not as grand as Prime's death and seemed utterly callous considering Hasbro's corporate motivation.
Optimus passes the Autobot Matrix of Leadership to Ultra Magnus,
but it nearly gets dropped
The new characters had bright colors, futuristic themes, and I don't think they quite resonated with the audience who had grown accustomed to the original lineup.  They did have solid personalities and grew on me by the end of the movie.  The animation was a big step up from the television series, but still suffered from the same production flaws - incorrect coloring, constantly changing sizes of characters, and simplistic animation.  The plot was very straightforward and it felt like the movie was cut up into nicely segmented scenes for later airing on television (which it was).  It's an action movie with a pumping soundtrack that never really lets up.
Kup, Arcee, and Hot Rod must travel back to Cybertron
Where this movie excels and why I think it made such an impact is the age demographic shifted higher.  The television show was strictly for kids and characters shrugged off massive amounts of damage with no fatalities.  Each episode was highly formulaic with the Autobots eventually winning a battle against the Decepticons and a return to the status quo.  I believe the movie's creators considered the audience for a theatrical release to be older than the typical television viewer.  The story elements changed significantly.  The movie brought in a truly menacing villain (Unicron) who immediately devours a planet of sentient robots.  He's quickly established as an extinction-level threat who can obliterate the status quo.  Then Megatron slaughters a bunch of Autobots and Optimus Prime dies.  Many of the younger viewers of the television series may not have even understood what death meant before seeing the film.
Starscream crowns himself king in Megatron's absence
Now this movie blew me away as a kid when I had only watched the first two seasons of the television series (rushing home from school to catch it each afternoon).  It was a serious game-changer in my early viewing experience.  Optimus Prime died for God's sake and one of the characters even swore (Spike's infamous 'sh*t!' when Unicron eats one of Cybertron's moons).  The emotional impact of the movie coupled with the intense marketing propaganda of the show made a lasting impact on many viewers leading to an enduring franchise legacy some 20+ years later.
Megatron is reborn as Galvatron (left), the unwilling puppet of Unicron
Now let's talk about watching the film today.  The original viewers had only seen at most two seasons of the show when the movie hit.  It was a big deal.  The level of saturation of The Transformers is much higher these days after four live-action films.  Optimus Prime has almost a hundred different figure variations (even a gorilla - Optimus Primal) and several subsequent television series have followed the original Generation 1.  If you are unfamiliar with The Transformers then watching the animated movie first is ill-advised.  The emotional aspect will be entirely lost on you.  Sit through the first two seasons of the series and then watch the movie.  Understand the animation is not at the same level as today - it's hand drawn (which I actually prefer for character animation).  The nostalgia factor is high and the easily the biggest draw for this movie.  If it meant a lot to you as a kid then it will be a bittersweet reminder of those bygone days.  Enjoy it for what it is.  I prefer the Rhino version and hope it gets a quality Blu-Ray release someday.
Grimlock and his new friend, Wheelie, take on some Sharkticons
TO BUY and Recommendations: