For all children of the 80s, you can show him or her a picture of a Generation 1 (G1) Transformer and they will definitely recognize what it is and that the Transformer is from his or her childhood. Similarly, most children will recognize the reimagined Transformers as well. Transformers has now become ingrained culturally in the United States that spans multiple generations.
August 8 marks the 30th anniversary of the very first Transformers movie. Aptly called “Transformers: The Movie” it served as a feature animated film based on the G1 Transformers; these were the robots of the 80s: Jazz, Bubblebee, Optimus, Iron Hide, Cliffjumper, Wheeljack, Megatron, Starscream and Soundwave. After the success of Transformers seasons 1 and 2 this film was created in 1986. It had two functions: capitalize on the success of the TV show and introduce new characters for merchandise purposes. In fact, that was how the show really started. The characters were toys that translated into a TV show. See? Greed does have more positives.
The story picks up 20 years since the start of the Transformers season 2 when the Autobots escaped to Earth. The Autobots now have established an outpost near their home world: Cybertron. Cybertron is still controlled by the Decepticons but Optimus Prime is preparing for a massive invasion. However, there is a greater, looming threat of Unicron, a living planet that consumes other planets. This will prove to be the Transformers greatest danger yet.
So… How does this film hold up? Let me go over the positives of this film first. There is not one minute that isn’t fun or exciting. There is an action sequence every 5 minutes. I’m not kidding. The action is constant. This is every boys dream for a movie. Screw character development, just have lots of scenes where big robots are fighting all the time. I personally think this works really well. They knew what people wanted: robots fighting and beating the shit out of each other. This film has that in droves. I mean, watching Unicron transforming, Hot Rod vs. Galvatron and Optimus Prime destroying Decepticons like it’s his job are fantastic action sequences. Prime fighting Megatron is still one of the greatest Hollywood showdowns of all time and this film does it justice. It is full of excitement and wonder.
Though that doesn’t mean there is no stakes or character development; it just takes a BIG back seat to the action. I actually really like how this is the most rushed and condensed hero’s journey for Hot Rod. The guy has a lot of bad qualities but he’s the Luke Skywalker of this film. Puck is the veteran; the guy with great quips who never gets too stressed with what’s going on. Galvatron is fantastic and I really like Ultra Magnus; Magnus is the chosen, handpicked leader but not the leader of destiny. You can tell you want Magnus as your second in command. The dude has “it” for leadership. You see how all of these characters go through the adventure and there is enough to distinguish between each one. I know the difference between Arcee, Magnus, Hot Rod and Puck and who they are.
Let’s talk about stakes now. Actual characters die in this. Wheeljack (every time I see that I my heart sinks, it’s just so sad that a prominent character is killed off so easily), my favorite growing up, is killed.
Iron Hide meets his end with A BLAST FROM MEGATRON’S CANON TO HIS FACE.
Several Autobots are killed. Several Decepticons are killed (like when Puck runs over an Insecticon’s FACE). These characters actually meet an end. Ultra Magnus was killed (though brought back to life later); what this shows is that this film was unafraid to kill off characters (ignore the fact that they did that so they could promote and sell other Transformers toys). Then there was the big one: killing off Optimus Prime. The hero, the father figure, the pinnacle of good, honor and leadership is dead. This crushed so many of our childhoods; it shows that even good people will be killed in war and yet evil can survive. It shows that absolutely no one is bigger than death, anyone can be a causality of war. It is painful but war is painful. Good sometimes does not win every battle. So when my tears were shed during that scene for YEARS, when Prime died, a part of my childhood innocence died with it.
The other big quality about this film that I really like is the soundtrack. My goodness, this is the greatest hair metal soundtrack ever assembled. The opening theme by Lion gets the party started, then the blood pumps with “Dare,” then the absolute epic “The Touch” (Dare and The Touch were written by Stan Bush) which encapsulates the whole film. Those 3 alone do quality work for the film but then you add in “Dare to Be Stupid” by Weird Al Yankovic and it puts this whole movie over the top. Spectre General’s “Nothin’s Gonna Stand in Our Way” and Vince DiCola’s “musical score” (which is really hair metal instrumentals) really makes this one of the greatest soundtracks ever assembled. I just saw Suicide Squad and this is better than that. The music in this is really part of the heart and soul of the movie. It is just as important in establishing mood and tone as the action. It keeps the action sequences fresh and you associate lines with the music; they have a symbiotic relationship with each other. Look at this scene below, this is the best example of this connection:
Speaking of lines, oh my goodness, this is like if Rambo, Terminator and Predator got together, wrote a bunch of lines, it went through the PG machine and it became a script. There are one liners EVERYWHERE. And it is full of 80s glory. Look at some of these lines
“I have better things to do tonight than die” – Springer
“Bah weep grah nah weep nini bong” – Puck (it’s the international greeting, learn it, mother*ckers)
“One shall stand, one shall fall” – Optimus Prime
“Megatron must be stopped, no matter the cost” – Optimus Prime
“Connation, Starscream? This is more like bad comedy.” – Galvatron
“I have summoned you here for a purpose.” – Unicron
“Nobody summons Megatron” – Megatron
“Then it pleases me to be the first.” –Unicron
These are fantastic. This is what brings a charm and a fun to the film.
Here’s the other thing: the performances are great. Even with all the action, the parts that have dialogue back and forth we see good performances. Frank Welker kills it in everything he does including Megatron, Peter Cullen is great as Prime, Leonard Nimoy crushed it as Galvatron. Then, of course, there is Orson Welles as Unicron. Welles and Nimoy trump any actor that are in the Bay films. The biggest issue I have with the movie are the human characters. Daniel is most annoying little crapper in this film. I was rooting for him to die several times during this movie. He never did and hasn’t yet. I still root for it, though. The kid is whiny, helpless and does nothing for the movie or the battles. All he does is hold the Transformers down. Wait, that’s a lot like the Bay films.
So, how does it hold up to the films today? Well, the robots are the focus; not the humans. That’s the big problem. Transformers: The Movie is so much better solely based on the fact that the TRANSFORMERS movie focuses on the Transformers (amazing!). The weakest parts of Bay’s films are the scenes with humans. Also, the Decepticons are indistinguishable. That’s not a problem now. Also, there isn’t a lot of transforming. In Transformers: The Movie the transformations are used for fighting and for moving around. In Bay’s, it’s used to disguise themselves or drive a bit. Also, there is so much “destruction” porn where there are no real stakes. None of the characters die. The other problem with Bay’s films is that it tries to be realistic in a fantastical world. It tries to take itself much more seriously. Bay’s films lack the fun that are in Transformers: The Movie. Also, the performances in Bay’s films are awful; there are redeemable performances in Transformers: The Movie. Another strength for Transformers: The Movie is that it took place outside of Earth. The majority is building the universe. Bay’s films are about making destruction on Earth, focuses on humans and just creates indistinguishable robots with no personalities.
So, as we look aback on Transformers: The Movie, let’s remember what it is: it’s an action film featuring giant robots that fight each other. It has all makings of a great 80s movies: it has great one liners, amazing music and action sequences that keep your interest. There are characters that die, there are actual stakes. This film rides a nostalgia train today; those 30 somethings who watch it will still enjoy it; those under the age of 12 will appreciate the action. It is one of the most enjoyable rides you will go on. It holds up as the greatest Transformers story of all time.
My rating: Spend 2x as much money to see it