Transformers: The Movie Review
"Hold on tight, the most incredible Rock 'n' Roll adventure ever is here"!
Anyone who grew up in the 80's remembers The Transformers. One of the most successful toy lines ever produced that spawned a series soon after in 1984. Every Saturday morning kids would get up early and watch the series about warring robots that had the ability to transform into vehicles. Why did they turn into vehicles? No one knows but it did get them to the shops quicker.
"And now the news, don't touch that dial"
The Transformers started out life in Japan as a successful toy range, it wasn't long before America and Europe got wind of this new craze that involved spending ten minutes to change an armoured bot into a car and then back again, so intricate were the mechanics of some of the larger models.
Sunbow Productions in association with Hasbro set about introducing the world to a series that would eventually get more flack for being a toy commercial than a serious piece of entertainment, much like today with the advent of Pokemon - a series that was also a lot of fun in its own right but never lived down the constant media frenzy that blamed it for causing more fights then entertaining those who sat down to watch it. Yes the toys were popular and there was plenty of reason for it. The show was a clever move, it made the toy industry millions and at the same time it captured the heart of every young boy.
Today, The Transformers can be looked back at with great fondness but not only that, it still lives on in its new incarnation - Transformers: Armada which disappointingly brings the franchise down in terms of quality. The original toy line was also re-introduced to a new generation of fans.
So on to the movie itself. (This portion of the review will contain spoilers)
Transformers: The Movie takes place twenty years after the events of series two. The years is now 2005 and the Autobots, led by Optimus Prime have relentlessly pursued the Decepticons across the galaxy in an ever heroic bid to claim back their home world of Cybertron, where Megatron and his loyal warriors now reside. Prime and his crew have set up a secret communication base on one of Cybertron's moons and are readying themselves for their toughest battle yet.
Meanwhile, a devastating new force is roaming the galaxy - A monster planet that devours other prospering worlds is rapidly making its way toward Cybertron. A war between good and evil is waging but now both Autobots and Decepticons must face a deadly foe that threatens to drive both races into extinction.
The movie was monumental for fans in that it introduced them to brand new characters and also lost a few a long the way. It was shocking, emotional and perhaps the darkest that the series had ever been to date. After infiltrating a small ship, Megatron ruthlessly destroys several well-known Autobots - Braun, Prowl, Ironhide and First Aid. Just ten minutes into the film you knew this wasn't going to be pretty as one by one our favourite heroes are being picked off.
Soon we are introduced to our hero, Hot Rod and his little friend, Daniel who is the son of Spike, now an adult who is on an away mission. As the Decepticons attack Earth and the Autobot's defence base, Hot Rod soon sets off to investigate the matter. Meanwhile, new faces Arcee and Springer are preparing the defences as the Decepticons unleash Devastator. As war wages overnight hope begins to falter but the arrival of Optimus Prime and the Dinobots lifts the spirits of the Autobots.
The film kicks in to high gear with an incredibly exciting action sequence played out to Stan Bush's "The Touch", followed by a showdown between Prime and Megatron. It would be this scene that turned the Transformers universe upside down as Optimus Prime, the Autobots brave leader is critically wounded and left to die. During his final moments Prime hands over "The Matrix of Leadership" to his close friend, Ultra Magnus. What follows is a heart wrenching moment as he finally passes away.
No one expected an event like this to happen, for a kid watching this it was simply unbelievable and watching today it is still a very sad moment. With Prime now gone, it's now up to Magnus and his young crew to carry on Prime's legacy.
Megatron had also been heavily wounded in battle and whilst being transported back to Cybertron along with several other wounded warriors, Starscream takes it upon himself to dump Megatron and Co into space and nominates himself as the Decepticon's new leader. As Megatron drifts through space he is soon found by Unicron, the devourer of planets, who regenerates his body, turning him into a more destructive weapon - Galvatron. Unwillingly Galvatron becomes Unicron's slave and is ordered to hunt down and destroy the Autobot Matrix.
30 minutes into the film sees these changes take effect and now a new cast of heroic and deadly warriors are about to wage war. Transformers: The Movie achieves something in that it's unpredictable to a point. There's no doubt that the Autobots will win at the end of the day but the events leading up to the final credits is something no one could guess.
Primarily made for a child audience the film is very violent and it was rare to see such dark storylines and destruction from the joint US/Japanese production, especially seeing as in the television series there was never such controversial moments. The decayed shells of defeated Autobots and the sheer brutality of their enemies make for some remarkable scenes.
When the movie was released in 1986, critics were ready to pan it and they did, simply referring to the film as a marketing ploy. Clearly they had no idea what they were watching or the importance it had within the ongoing series. Only the true fans stuck by it and even those who weren't fans of the series would remember the movie as being one of the most exciting features of that decade.
Not only does the movie endeavour to be the most daring instalment yet but it does so with style. Looking back at this film today it holds up exceedingly well, with some brilliant animation and a look that gives it a more epic feel than the series ever did, with more shadow and detail and a more cinematic look. At times the animation falters during non-action scenes but this is not a big problem. In fact if you compare it to most modern day American cartoons this quite easily wipes the floor with them.
Perhaps the most distracting thing about the movie are the occasional annoyances from Grimlock or new mini bot, Wheelie who do little to bring comic relief despite that seeming to be the original intent. Comedy is delivered instead by the likes of Wreck'gar, or Springer's marvellous one liners.
In fact, the quality of the writing is very high. Simple in premise but it’s the dialogue that helps to make this so special. There are a countless amount of classics quotes to be taken from this picture, I could write a top ten but that would be for another time.
Seemingly overlooked are the moments in which the movie sneakily takes jabs at certain issues that would go over a child's head in an instant. The movie took a swing at the justice system (during Hot Rod and Kup's time at the Quintesson's home world), depending how deep you want to get into this but it seems apparent to me that a system whereby judges sentence the innocent to death without a proper trial is something we've all seen in the news - not that this movie would ever change the way in which the justice system works. I do not know if that was the intent but it certainly has relevance. The age old theme of 'Good Vs Evil' is explored, as are the sticking together of friends and overcoming the toughest obstacles. Yes these are often done in film and may appear a little clichéd but to me they give this film more depth than it has ever been credited for having.
Transformers: The Movie features one of the most impressive and memorable voice casts ever put to a U.S. animation. Granted, their voices have been altered to make them sound more.... roboty but there's still no mistaking who it is delivering the dialogue.
Veterans and original series cast members, Peter Cullen and Frank Welker return to voice Optimus Prime and Megatron. Prime is the epitome of good and Cullen provides a deep and reserved delivery that matches this often gentle character resulting in a fine line between warrior and gentle giant.
Megatron is amazingly voiced by Frank Welker, a huge talent who can still be heard on television series today, and was more recently in "Futurama" as the guy who voices all the animals used in the series. Giving Megatron the twisted personality he needs Welker provides one of the most evil and memorable performances seen in an animation series, making Megatron one of the scariest figures in the entire series who is shameless to the point of showing little care for his own soldiers.
Only Chris Latta's sadistic Starscream comes close to matching Welkers performance.
As The Transformers made its transition to film so did the involved cast become bigger. Now, with the introduction of several new characters it was time to draft in a mixture of Hollywood legends and A-list stars.
Heading up the cast was young actor, Judd Nelson playing Hot Rod. Nelson brings to his character just what he needs, that headstrong yet naive personality that the young Autobot who would seem to be in his early 20's has. You have to wonder if these robots ever grow up, as there's such a varied age group between them all.
Star Trek legend, Leonard Nimoy voices Galvatron - Megatron's second incarnation. Nimoy isn't as memorable as Welker in voicing the Decepticon leader because simply, Nimoy always sounds like Nimoy. As evil as Galvatron's character is I don't feel that Nimoy brings that extra lift when he should sound twice as much of a badass than he was before.
50's Hollywood actor, Lionel Stander is the perfect choice for old timer, Kup, a war veteran and mentor to Hot-Rod who always takes time out to tell his stories. He's a crusty old robot who can still pick a mean fight.
Susan Blu voices Arcee, in the character's debut. Things got interesting when a female was introduced to the show; it leaves questions unanswered though about just how these Autobots spend their leisure time with each other but hey, it's a kids' show.
Mr "Unsolved Mysteries" and actor, Robert Stack provides the voice for Ultra Magnus - Prime's best friend and loyal soldier who wishes to take no responsibility, fearing he has no leadership ability - which is true.
Eric Idle brings much comedy in his role of junkion, Wreck'gar while Orson Wells, in his final performance voices the evil Unicron. My favourite character though would have to be Springer, voiced by Neil Ross who has lots of sharp one-liners lines and is more laid back. Rounding up the memorable voices are Casey Casem, Greg Berger, Scatman Crothers and Buster Jones.
Finally the soundtrack, you thought I was going to miss this out?
Transformers: The Movie features perhaps one of the best ever, yet cheesiest Rock soundtracks heard in any film feature but it's a soundtrack that everyone seems to remember fondly. I don't think there are many people who wouldn't recognise such classics as "The Touch" and "Dare", performed by bushy haired rocker, Stan Bush - the man who would also be known for putting his mark on Kickboxer, with "Never Surrender" to name but one. Other contributors are Spectre General, N.R.G., Weird Al Yankovich and Lion.
Vince Dicola composed the film's score, which comprises several main themes that combined with the songs create a Rock 'n' Roll adventure, as promised by posters and trailers. Today I even go back and listen to the soundtrack from time to time and take a guilty pleasure in doing so. As the action heats up and the music kicks it still makes for some grin inducing moments, along with hair-raising excitement.
The legacy of The Transformers would continue in further seasons and allow the characters who made their debut here to grow a little more. Starscream would be back to haunt the Autobots and decepticons alike and the Autobot's greatest leader, Optimus Prime would return...
Transformers: The Movie is released in the UK courtesy of Maverick.
Note - The original cover as seen in the top left of this review was strictly a limited pressing. The DVD is still available with the same extras but different cover, although some stockists still have the first print version.
Also, the movie is presented in the UK for the first time uncut. The original release had Spike swearing edited out to receive a U certificate, now presented uncut this release carries a PG cert.
There has been much dispute as to whether or not this film exists in a widescreen print. Personally I do not believe in such a claim but I may be proven wrong one day. Fans say that such a print does exist because Sunbow have said as much and the trailer is widescreen, therefore a widescreen version must exist. Let me tell you this, the trailer is matted. I have examined the framing and it features no more information than the full screen cut we already know. Here is an example:
Note: To the right of the theatrical trailer shot it looks as if more of Starscream's wing is visible. To me there isn't much there to warrant argument and it could well be a case of the DVD transfer missing out that tiny piece of information. Whatever the case I'm sure the continuing debate will go for a while yet.
With that out of the way...
The transfer is fairly decent, if not a little too dark. It's a slight step up from the previous VHS release but I still feel it could have been improved further. Colours are generally good and the image is clear, though there is a distinctly washed out look.
The movie is presented for the first time on DVD with a newly mixed 5.1 Surround Sound track. I'm disappointed to say that it's not as amazing as I had hoped it would be, and while not sounding bad it’s just lacking in any real 'oomph'. I can't imagine this posing much of a problem to the average fan though and while it might not set your speakers on fire it does sound better than it used to.
Maverick has chosen to provide the strangest of extras for this release:
Transformers Intro: I love 1984- As you load up the disc you are treated to this, a nostalgic look back at the toy craze and series. Taken from the BBC2 "I love" series.
Theatrical Trailer - This is a neat trailer that plays to a few of the songs used in the film and features plenty of action, with a fun narration by American, deep voice-over man.
Music Picture Gallery - This is a pretty mundane gimmick piece in which photos from the film are shown while "Instruments of Destruction"'s backing plays with Spike saying "Oh S***, what are we gonna do" repeatedly. This is obviously a nod to the film being available for the first time with its swearing intact.
Soldiers from the Sky - This is the first episode from the Japanese "Takara" series that introduced these soldiers into the Transformers universe. This full episode features the most laughably bad voiceover cast in the history of all voice over casts (yes it's worse than the US Escaflowne dub). It sounds like three actors playing all the characters. None of the original cast takes part and it seems to be a rush job. Now all our favourite robot heroes and villains sound like drunken Englishmen, struggling to find the lines on their page.
It would have been nice to see more extras that actually had something to do with the production of the film. The region 1 has at least an interview segment with composer, Vince Dicola and I can only hope that a better version comes out in the future.
Transformers: The Movie deserves a lot more credit than it gets. Whatever you say about the film there is no denying that it is a lot of fun and it's ok to sit down and be entertained by it.
It's animated; it has robots, plenty of action and drama and a rockin' soundtrack. If you enjoyed it as a kid then pick it up again, you may just be surprised at how much you still enjoy it.
"Til all are one"