Transformers the Movie (1986) dir. Nelson Shin
Voices by: Judd Nelson, Robert Stack, Orson Welles, Leonard Nimoy
***1/2 (for fans)
* (for non-fans)
With the release of the live action “Transformers” it’s the right time to look back at the first feature film incarnation – “Transformers: The Movie”. As a kid I religiously watched the TV series and collected the toys and comic books, and so back then an animated feature film version was a huge deal. Looking back on the film with today’s eyes, as a piece of film it’s has the brains and soul of a Steven Seagal film, and the animation, though much improved from the TV series, still wasn’t on par with the top notch anime of its day. But hey, it has cars transforming into robots, energon cubes, laserbeak, the matrix, Grimlock, and Orson Welles. It's a great fan film. “Now light our darkest hour” “You got the touch!”
The film is set about 20 years or so after the TV series. That little kid Spike who always got in the way is now grown up and has a son, Daniel; all the usual robots are still around – Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Jazz etc – but a few new ones as well. There’s Hot Rod (a sportscar), Cup (an aged el camino), Arcee (a female car), and Ultra Magnus (a truck). The plot put simply is this: Megatron and the evil decepticons attack the Autobot earth base in hopes of destroying their enemies forever. They succeed in their mission but with heavy casualties. Megatron and Optimus Prime have one last fight before pounding themselves into oblivion. Most of the old transformers get killed off, and the newer generation are forced to flee. The autobots get split up and are forced to fight and defend themselves across the galaxy before regrouping for one last battle against the evil giant planet transformer Unicron.
Here’s a few reasons why this film works: 1) As a kid after years of watching the watered down, after-school-wholesome violence of the TV version where the lasers always missed and blew up rocks and buildings in the background, suddenly, in this feature film, the robots are actually hitting their targets. It was thrilling to see robots get pummeled with lasers and actually die. Cool. 2) Spike now has a deep voice and swears. Cool. When he said “shit, what are we going to do now” I felt privileged and a little naughty – like sneaking a peak at a nudie magazine or something. Cool. 3) There was a hot female robot. Cool. But sadly, no, there was no robot sex with Arcee. Though it wouldn’t surprised me if there was a Japanese cut of the film with some robo-nudity. 4) 80's heavy metal music. Cool.
Ok, the metal wasn’t exactly Iron Maiden, but it was edgier than the jazz-funk score from the TV series. The Steve Perry-esque inspirational ballads are laughable now, and of course, the main theme, “The Touch” was riotously referenced in P.T. Anderson’s “Boogie Nights”. I can only giggle at those scenes now.
As mentioned the anime wasn’t exactly “Akira” standards, but it certainly was a step up from television. The opening scene of Unicron engulfing and destroying the planet is well drawn, exciting, and kinda scary for a little kid. Speaking of Unicron, as his voice, it unfortunately became Orson Welles’ last role. He died in 1985 shortly after recording his voiceover. Imagine the gravestone:
Orson Welles“Transformers: The Movie” was exactly how the TV series should have been adapted for the big screen - better animation, death and destruction, some swearing, some heavy metal music and Orson Welles. Michael Bay, what do you have? Please astound us. Enjoy.
1915 – 1985.
From Citizen Kane to Transformers.
A Hollywood Maverick.
Here's the opening: