Monday, July 17, 2017

The Transformers: The Movie (1986) (Movie Review)


     Summer 2017 marks the premier of yet another live action “Transformers” movie, and I really couldn’t care less. I remember when the first live action movie premiered back in 2007, and it was kind of cool as I’d never seen special effects of that magnitude before, but it got old fast. I don’t even think I’ve watched a single “Transformers” sequel all the way through, the characters are all so stupid, and worse yet, from what I’ve seen of those films, they make big action spectacles feel boring. I can’t even bring myself to watch the first movie from 2007 a second time, as even that film felt like a mess. Now personally, I’m really not that big a fan of “Transformers” in general, I’ve never really watched the various animated TV shows, and I’ve never even seen a single episode of the now classic 80’s cartoon. I will say that I do have a great deal of nostalgia reserved for the animated “Beast Wars: Transformers” series that premiered back in the 90’s. That was one of my child hood favorites, and despite some dated animation, I think that show still holds up. Personally, all my love for the “Transformers” saga begins and ends with “Beast Wars”, but there is one slight exception ... and that’s the animated 1986 theatrical feature “The Transformers: The Movie”. Yeah, thanks to the internet I discovered that there was in fact a theatrical Transformers movie that premiered long before the live action 2007 film we’re more familiar with. So, even though I’ve never watch the 80’s cartoon, I was whiling to watch the animated film and judge it as a movie on its own. Was it any good, well ... let’s talk about it.


    Chronologically the film is set after the events of the second season of the cartoon show, and at this point the heroic Autobots are waging war against the Decepticons and their sinister leader Megatron. During a tense battle, the Autobot leader Optimus Prime parishes, which couldn’t have come at worse time, because a new threat called Unicron has just interred the galaxy, and is dead set on destroying every planet in his path. He’s an all powerful Transformer the size of a planet, but there’s only one thing that can defeat him, and that’s the Matrix of leadership. The Matrix is a device that can light our hero’s darkest hours, and in theory can vanquish Unicron. Just before Optimus Prime died he passed the Matrix of leadership to a young new Autobot nick-named Hot Rod, who sets off on a journey to become a worthy new leader and command his comrades in their epic battle to come. Right from the begging the film certainly looks like something cinematic, but really feels like it could be an episode from the cartoon. It just drops us right into the action, and we’re never really introduced to the characters, there just present from the start with no real lead in. The movie itself feels like it’s picking up after an episode, although I can’t confirm that.  


    This proved really challenging at first sense I didn’t know any of these characters. I was at least aware of both Optimus Prime and his arch foe Megatron, but they both perish in the first twenty minutes leaving me with all these unfamiliar robots which the film never gives me the chance to know. I was very surprised that with the exception of two human characters, the entire cast is all robots, which is cool, but still I found it challenging to single-out any of these robots as memorable characters. The transformer Hot Rod at least stood out as the young hero with a destiny to fulfill, but that’s all he is, just your typical coming of age hero. There was a female Transformer that stood out with something of a Princess Leia design, but that’s all there was to her character, just a familiar design. I liked the villain Devistator, but only because he’s made of several smaller robots that all come together to create a giant Transformer, and the child in me is always thrilled by things like that. The Dino Bots also stood out for being painfully annoying, stupid, and I couldn’t stand their voices. Aside from that, I really couldn’t tell one Transformer apart from the other, or perhaps I should say, none of them left a memorable impression of any sort. None of these robots interested me from a character stand point, and even the two humans were very forgettable. The only real characterization that seemed interesting was Megatrons relationship with his first lieutenant Starscream. I definitely felt a history between those two, and I found it very amusing how they exchanged insults with each other. Unfortunately neither of these characters last long, Starscream is also killed off within the first twenty minutes, and while Megatron doesn’t die he does take a new form called Galvatron, who’s so different he’s actually voiced by a different actor. Now from what I understand, the main characters from the Transformers cartoon were either killed off in this movie, or reduced to short cameo’s in favor of a new cast. Obviously a marketing tool to promote more toy’s, buy personally, if I was a devoted fan of a TV series and saw my favorite characters neglected from a theatrical movie of this sort, I would have been pissed off.


     Actually the film is quiet dark in tone, and needlessly cynical at times, to the point where I wondered if any young fans would actually enjoy it. Of course the most famous scene of all is the death of Optimus Prime, which traumatized many kids back in the 80’s. Personally, my traumatizing child hood transformer death was the loss of Dinobot from the “Beast Wars” series, and I just didn’t feel the same emotional impact with the death of Optimus. I will say that the scene in of itself was shot and executed masterfully. The voice acting is solid, the subtly somber score is effective and that final image of Optimus Prime turning from bright colors to dull rust was quiet chilling. Moments like this made the film feel surprisingly adult, but the tone isn’t always consistent. There are in fact some downright silly moments that spoiled the mood. For example, there’s a scene when the transformers randomly throw a dance part right in the middle of an active war zone. It’s very abrupt, our hero’s don’t even accomplish anything that meaningful and suddenly their break dancing, and disco dancing, and it’s all set to Weird Al Yankovic’s “Dare to be Stupid”. Again, I wouldn’t mind if the tone was more consistent, but the movie just drops us into really tense moments followed immediately by silly scenes with no proper segue in- between. I think the biggest surprise of all came from all the swearing. No joke, this animated movie based on a children’s Saturday Morning cartoon features characters saying things like “Damn it!” and “Owe Shit!” 


     Another thing that took me by surprise was the voice cast which consists of some noteworthy talents. The late Casey Kasem, famous for voicing Shaggy on “Scooby-Doo” is part of the cast. John Moschita, Jr. who’s often labeled as the world’s fastest talker is perfectly cast as a Transformer named Blurr. One of my favorite British comedians Eric Idle is also part of the cast. The villain Galvatron is voiced by the late Leonard Nimoy, who from what I’ve gathered would later do voice work in one of the live action movies. The most notable talent of all is the late Orson Welles, who supplies the voice of the films main villain Unicron. From “War of the Worlds” to “Citizen Kane”, Orson Welles was one of the most respected radio and movie talents to ever live, and this was his final role supplying the voice of a Transformer. Honestly, this is one of my favorite roles in his whole career, and even though I’m not a diehard fan of this series, I think Unicron is one of the coolest animated villains I’ve ever seen. Despite just being a giant round figure floating in space, he actually conveys this dooming presence. His laid-back theme music paired with Orson Welles chilling voice allows this villain to thrill every time he’s on screen.


     Let’s finally talk about my absolute favorite thing in this movie, and that’s the soundtrack. The 1980’s was the age when hard rock and metal tunes were at their peak, and this film’s song track is one of my favorite products of this bygone era. I was actually a fan of this soundtrack years before I’d even seen the movie, which really isn’t uncommon for me. Many of my favorite movie soundtracks I grew up with came from classic 80’s movies like “Top Gun” and “Rocky 4”, neither of which I’d see until many years later. Speaking of “Rocky 4”, that movies music composer Vince DiCola also dose the instrumental track for “The Transformers: The Movie”, and both have equally similar melodies and compositions. Some of my favorite songs from this track are “Dare” performed by Stan Bush, “Hunger” performed by Spectre General, “Nothin’s Going to Stand in Our Way” also performed by Spectre General, and of course the most classic song of all is “The Touch”, which again is performed by Stan Bush. This song and subsequently it’s music video are just drenched in 80’s cheese and I love it. Over the years I’ve recognized “The Touch” as something of a classic Transformers anthem. On that note, this films variation of the classic theme song from the cartoon show is outstanding. When Titles come up in the opening and that theme song kicks into gear, I just got chills all over. By the way, the title sequence is very reminiscent of the original Richard Donner “Superman” opening, which I thought was a great touch.  

     Another ace up this movies sleeve is the animation itself, which has a distinct influence on Japanese Anime. Needless to say, the animation is gorgeous, and a real testament to the craft considering that this film came out in the mid 1980’s before computers and CGI took center stage. Every single shot is packed with depth and detail, which I could praise all day, but it’s a double edged sword as it can also get exhausting at times. The bulk of this movie is watching robots battle, with lots of mayhem, laser guns blasting, and after a while, all the scenes just bleed together. I couldn’t even separate that many individual moments in my head, because the whole movie just felt like a blur of outer space robot fights, which again are beautifully animated, but there’s not much in-between. There were at least some select moments that stood out. The scene in which Megatron is transformed into Galvatron leads to some spectacular 80’s animation that stood apart from all the fighting. The only piece of action that seemed to be of any significance was the final dual between Optimus Prime and Megatron. This genuinely felt like a classic showdown between two iconic titans, and I got really hyped watching the two clash. My favorite scene of all comes near the end when Unicron reveals his true form as a larger than life Transformer complete with giant bat wings and devil horns. Needless to say, it’s a pretty darn cool finally, but the ending itself felt rushed. In fact, it takes the span of a heart beat to go from the climax to the credits, and it left me wondering what the heck I just watched.           
  
     As a casual viewer who’s never seen the original 80’s cartoon, I can’t say this film converted me into a fan of the series, nor do a really care to watch this again. Having said that, I certainly don’t regret giving this movie a single viewing as it definitely had some merits. The animation is worth admiring, the soundtrack is worth listening to, and the novelty of Orson Welles in his final role as the movies sinister villain makes everything worthwhile. Aside from all that, I can’t help but feel this film is only meaningful to a certain age group that grew up with Transformers back in the 80’s. Then again, I find myself noticing more and more reviewers, critics and even actors ranking this movie among their all time favorite films. Heck, Steven Yeun who played Glen on “The Walking Dead” ranked “The Transformers: The Movie” among his top five personal favorite movies. So maybe there is something more to this film that goes beyond being a fan of the popular cartoon show. I’ll say this, for as okay as I found the animated movie to be, it was leaps and bounds more mature, emotional and honestly more adult than anything I’ve seen from any of the live action “Transformers” films.


I give “The Transformers: The Movie” 2 ½ stars out of 5. 

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