1986. There are two major milestones that seem to mark the expiration date on my childhood that particular year. One, being a huge comic book fan, this was the year DC Comics unveiled John Byrne's Man of Steel mini-series, re-inventing the history (along with the previous year's Crisis on Infinite Earths) and painting a new perspective for me of one of my childhood heroes, Superman. And two, TRANSFORMERS: The Movie ...which surprisingly starts out with the death of another hero...Optimus Prime. It should be noted that I was 12 that year, just an Earth's rotation off from my teens and had just began discovering that girls were for more than pulling pigtails on the school bus.
Thus, I crawled from the ashes of the Great Robot War between the Autobots and Decepticons.... and began the sad long road that led to the hollow man you see before you now....
I'm sorry. Suddenly I became J.D. Salinger there for a minute. Only not as talented. Or entertaining.
TRANSFORMERS: The Movie should be considered a milestone, though. Far from a box office success during it's intial release, and heavily panned by several mainstream critics (most of them pointing out the obvious fact that it's intially a feature length toy commercial), in the twenty years meantime it's garnered a fairly sizeable cult following amongst not only fans of the 1980s animated television show and toy enthusiasts, but with cult film fans in general.
What's the appeal? Why does it stand out amongst such similair fare produced during the same period, such as GOBOTS-Challenge of the Rock Lords, The Secret of the Sword or RAINBOW BRITE and the Star Stealer?
Death and foul language, pure and simple.
"Dirty words" have been a stick in Standards and Practices' craw since the creation of the medium. But, the depiction of on-screen death in children's animation during the anti-violence crusades directed towards programming for youngsters of the era was a somewhat taboo act. This is why the anti-terrorist forces of G.I. Joe may have fired a million rounds (or "laser bolts", another loophole that was exploited during the period) but no one affiliated with COBRA, with the exception of robots and dinosaurs, was ever hit or injured. This undoubtedly angered several tax payers, what with such an ineffective paramilitary unit obviously funded by the government...."Yo, Joe", indeed.
But several violent on-screen deaths, beginning with the Decepticon raid of the Autobot shuttle not 10 minutes into the film... this was unheard of. And, for an animated property to kill off it's star, especially a franchise whose prior existence had been dictated by toy sales....this was pop culture suicide.
Instead, TRANSFORMERS: The Movie proves to be the exception to the rule. Optimus Prime's death adds a level of depth and true suspense to the proceeding for which several young fans were no doubt unprepared. It also lends a hand in expanding the mythos and canon of the characters themselves, introducing elements of a greater mythology (such as an Autobot theological belief system that is hinted at..."Till All Are One"), an act that no other kiddie shows of the day can lay claim to.
In hindsight, it's a fairly impressive bit of voice casting, featuring the standard TV cast, as well as Judd Nelson as the reckless youth Hot Rod, Lionel Stander as the gruff veteran Kup, Leonard Nimoy as bad guy Galvatron, Robert Stack as Ultra Magnus and the real stand-out, Orson Welles as ultimate evil Unicron, in what I believe was his last released role.
Plot-wise, if you ever sat through an episode of the show...it's basically more of the same: Giant robots duking it out with each other, with clearly drawn lines of good guys and bad guys. But, this time around, the stakes seem to be higher thanks to the actual possibility of characters suffering or benefitting from the consequences of their actions. A refreshingly nice change-up from the norm.
Disc One's "Restored" version of the film shows hints of major color correction and just general bits of digital clean-up, which is off-putting to the long-time fan who's grown accustomed to incredibly dark VHS and DVD transfers of the film. Whereas older transfers exhibit a "filtered" film look, the colors have been amped up on this new version to the point that it basically looks like any typical episode of today's animated television programming. There are several instances where I'm looking at something and thinking, "Is that supposed to be that color? Has it always been?" Otherwise, it looks pristine...hat's off to the Sony/BMG crew behind all the work on what's probably one of the more noticeable (to the average naked eye) animation clean-ups around.
Autobot Matrix of Knowledge (Full-Length Movie Featuring Fun Facts and Trivia)- the typical text commentary track, full of all kinds of useless knowledge about giant robots.
Commentary with Nelson Shin (Director), Flint Dille (Story Consultant) and Sue Blu (Voice of Arcee)- Fairly boring, slightly dry and technical.
Fan Commentary- Fun in spots, but annoying to the point where you begin to wonder if the participants have any kind of life outside of their appreciation of the show.
Original Theatrical Trailer and TV Spots
Scramble City with Commentary- An episode of the Japanese show that was never aired in the United States, which was meant to serve as a bridge, story-wise, between the second season of the show, the film, and the following third season.
TRANSFORMERS 2007 Live Action Movie Trailer and Special Sneak Peek- Typical studio fluff piece..not really giving us any glimpse of the film itself, but giving enough of a tease to generate interest.
Full Screen Version
Why'd so many robots have to be killed to achieve this end result? Well, according to Flint Dille, story consultant: "..it was a toy show, we thought we were just killing off the old product line, and introducing a new one." Seems a very typical 1980s motivation (money) led to the creation of a very atypical 1980s "feature length toy commercial"...
Anthony Conn, aka The Hong Kong Cavalier, 12/17/2006