A critical look at Transformers: The Movie: Part One

I consider myself a decent fan of Generation 1 era Transformers, but truthfully it wasn’t until the mid 90’s that I started watching the series (in the form of the so-called “Generation 2” updated repeats).  Most kids born in the 80’s that claim to have watched Transformers as kids are fibbing a little.  I was born in 1982, but Transformers was more of my brother’s thing as I was too young to remember it.  My series were more Real Ghostbusters and TMNT.

But there was one bit of the early Transformers that was cemented in memory due to a well-used VHS copy of Transformers: The Movie, complete with the bad ass image of the brand new Autobots shooting their guns into the sky, though for whatever reason, the main character of the movie is stuck in a tiny image in the back right corner, which is something of a spoiler if you haven’t seen the movie.

Anyway, once the show was gone from the cartoon rotation that lone VHS tape was the only Transformers left in the Dunman household, save for my brother’s toys that I demolished many of.  Don’t give me that look – he got me back by torching nearly all of my GI Joes (including Crazy Legs!).  My point is that not often did much time go by before the epic tunes of Stan Bush filled our living room as we once again saw the Autobots light their darkest hour.  My mom, heavens bless her, hated the movie with a passion, mainly because she found the musical score to be unbearable.  Later, once my adult years crept up and I became familiar with the source, I realized the other reason she despised our insistence on repeated viewings.

It’s not good.  At all.  And that’s the thing I’ve come to realize.  Granted,  the movie still holds a spot in my heart, but I find it difficult to believe that any G1 fan can actually enjoy it.

Like many children’s cartoons, Transformers existed as a 22 minute commercial for the toy line, and there were a lot of Transformers to sell.  Keep in mind that original lineup of Autobots featured 18 characters.  That’s Legion of Super-Heroes big right there, and it got steadily bigger as the show went on.  By the second season, the originals had been joined by so many new Autobots that the lineup had more than doubled.  And there was never any reason for new characters to show up – they were just there.  New toys had appeared, so the show had to feature them, right?

The movie was a huge event for both fans and those profiting alike.  For the fans, they got a full-length feature film on the big screen.  For Hasbro, they not only had a grand stage to roll-out another line of toys, but to also get rid of those who weren’t sold anymore.  And so, out with the old and in with the new.  A new status quo was established, and a new cast of heroes and villains were brought in to fill it.  And quality or fan opinion be damned.

I’ve spent nearly three decades becoming more familiar with this movie than anyone not interested in attending a Bot Con should, but there it is.  It’s hard to sum up my thoughts and opinions on this movie, so I’m going to do it in the best way I can – pick it apart in a plot synopsis and make snarky comments.  If site traffic is any indication, I’m pretty good at doing that.

So here we are – an in-depth look at Transformers: The Movie.  Get comfortable – it’s going to be a long one.  I suppose I should throw out a SPOILER alert for anyone who would be angered at reading an in-depth look at a 30 year old movie and being shocked that I gave away the name of who died.  It’s everyone.

Our pre-credits sequence opens in deep space where we see a giant robot planet approaching a peaceful world of sentient robots.  But not Cybertron, mind you.  Though we were initially led to assume that Cybertron was the lone planet of sentient robots, this movie introduces three more worlds of robotic beings, not counting the monster planet.  It’s safer to assume that Earth is the exception with its fleshy beings rather than Cybertron with its robots.

Anyway, the first planet comes up to the second one and begins to eat it.  Someone yells out that the planet is called Unicron and then everyone gets eaten except for one lone survivor named Kranix, who manages to get away in one of the two ships launched.  Seems their planetwide evacuation plan left something to be desired.  Like survivors.  Anyway, we get to see the digestion process and Unicron lights up like a happy well-fed monster planet does.  Cue the rock anthem for the credits.

One might notice from the credits that not a single pre-movie character is credited in the opening titles, not even Optimus Prime or Megatron.  One might assume that it’s because most of them don’t make it to the halfway point (except Perceptor for god knows why), but it’s mainly because the new characters all get celebrity voice actors rather than the usual stock of professional vocal talents that regularly voiced the show.  Instead, we get a rather impressive cast (for 1986) including Judd Nelson, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Stack, and even Orson Welles in his final role before his death (though people still debate whether or not he voiced the entire role).  This was fine for the movie, but once the characters showed up in the actual series for the 3rd season, all the big talent was gone and the characters were left with the stock voice talent trying to do impressions of the original talent,

Anyway, credits out of the way, we hop over to Cybertron where the usual narrator gives us the rundown of what’s changed since we last left our heroes at the end of season 2.  We’ve jumped forward a couple decades to the futuristic year of 2005 (it sounded good in 1986) and the Autobots have managed to lose the war against the Decepticons, who now have total control of Cybertron.  But not willing to call it a day, the Autobots have set up secret bases on two of the planet’s moons (creatively called Moon Base 1 and Moon Base 2) to stage an assault to retake their planet.  Well, secret in the sense that the Decepticons know about it and the Autobots don’t know the Decepticons know about it.

Our fearless leader Optimus Prime orders a site report from his trusted officer Ironhide who reports that he’s pissed off and tired of waiting to attack the baddies.  Optimus doesn’t care, and instead orders him to make a run to Earth to get energon to fuel the assault.  Ironhide tries to argue – probably that it would be easier to just get the Earthbound Autobots to bring the energon to them rather than to go all the way there and all the way back for it, but Optimus doesn’t want to hear it.  Ironhide acquiesces and takes off for the shuttle as Optimus gets site reps from the four others staged on the bases, Jazz, Cliffjumper, Bumblebee and human buddy Spike, now grown up and wearing a Transformer suit of his own.  Everyone reports all-clear of Decepticons and okays the launch, even though Laserbeak is literally standing next to Optimus watching the whole thing.

He returns home and reports to Megatron, who in turn launches a plan of his own.  The Decepticon forces (or at least a handful of them), intercept the shuttle and what follows is a sequence that still haunts my dreams to this day.

Let me start by flagging the setup.  Nevermind the strategy of the Autobots or the lack thereof, but the fuel run shuttle is crewed by an odd grouping of characters.  Ironhide is joined by Prowl, Ratchet and Brawn.  So on a menial task, Optimus sends his main tactician, two of his most skilled soldiers and his chief medic.  There’s no rhyme nor reason to the lineup, save for the forthcoming massacre, so these early characters were just being thrown together to get written out.

The Decepticons intercept the shuttle and smash a huge hole in the side.  Now you’d think that explosive decompression would suck them right back out of the hole, but we’ll assume that the shuttle doesn’t need any kind of pressure or oxygen since they can obviously all survive in the vacuum of space.  That said, the Decepticons hit the shuttle and all of the Autobots die.  The end.

Well, not really.  As the villains arrive, Brawn yells out DECEPTICONS! and then starts running straight at them.  What he was planning to do once he got there is unclear, as Megatron transforms into Starscream’s hands and they shoot him in the shoulder.  Apparently, that’s Brawn’s Achilles Heel, because he dies on the spot.  Seriously – from a single shot to the shoulder.

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Amongst other things in this movie, this is a point that’s highly contested among fans to this day.  You see, Brawn’s role is being the strongest of the Autobots, hence his name.  In his numerous appearances on the show, he’s been shot countless times, and once even took a blast from Megatron point blank in the chest.  But here, he gets hit in the back of the shoulder (though getting hit at that angle doesn’t seem possible) and drops dead.  Or maybe dead, since when the Autobot funeral barge gets discovered in the 3rd season episode Dark Awakening, his name is omitted from those read off by Daniel, though the other three are mentioned and the fourth is replaced by Huffer.  Either way, Brawn never appears again.  Though neither does Cliffjumper, and he survives this movie.  This is the stuff fan’s drool over when hungry for debate.

Back to the massacre, Prowl apparently realizes that Brawn’s strategy of running directly at the Decepticons is not going to work (he is a master tactician, after all), so he swings out of his chair, having actually bothered to pull his weapon, and shoots one solitary shot…and misses.  The Constructicon Scrapper shoots back with one solitary shot of his own and hits Prowl so hard that his chest explodes.

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This is the point that haunts me.  Not only was Prowl one of my two favorite characters (see below for the heartbreak of the other one), but his death was especially horrifying because once he gets hit, his eyes turn a horrible red and smoke starts coming from his mouth as his color turns to gray and he falls over in a burning pile of my lost childhood innocence.

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Look at that!  THAT IS HORRIFIC!  And unlike Brawn, there’s little debate on whether or not Prowl bit it.  He had all the death signs that were introduced later in this movie.

So now with the headlong charge and the single shot strategies having failed, Ironhide and Ratchet decide to go all out and just start blasting away.  For some reason, Ironhide is using a pistol instead of his normal arm cannons and Ratchet is shooting with two guns.  Not really in character for him, but it hardly matters.  Both of them miss every single shot they fire.  The Decepticons fare far better as they manage to hit every shot and make short work of the two.

So we’re now seven minutes into the movie, counting the intro logo and the credits, and four of the most popular Autobots are slag.  Seriously, these were four characters that showed up in nearly every episode of the first two seasons.  Why did they think anyone would be okay with this?  This is a movie targeted at a young audience!

With their assault a staggering success, Megatron reveals his plan to slip by the Autobot’s defenses in their own shuttle and destroy Autobot City on Earth.  Ironhide, clinging to life, makes a desperate last effort by hugging Megatron’s ankle, only to take a point blank blast to the face.  And that’s the end of the first era of Autobots.  But don’t worry – we’re about to meet the super awesome replacements!

But that will wait for next time.

 

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