Yonks before Michael Bay made it his life’s ambition to expose the world to robot genitals, frantic product placement and familiarizing everyone with Texan legal loopholes for dating a minor, the only film experience you could have with those endearing robots in disguise was a little animated epic called, helpfully, Transformers: The Movie.
And what a movie it is. Released to ravenous fans of the on-going, galaxy spanning war between the Autobots and Decepticons, TF:TM takes place in the futuristic world of 15 years ago (give it a break, it was made in 1986). The Autobots have abandoned their homework of Cybertron and are living in harmony with humans on planet earth but before you can say “Look out! The Decepticons are attacking!” – the Decepticons start attacking. After a huge battle, the survivors of both factions struggle to find shelter off-world but waiting in the wings is Unicron; a planet sized, world chewing, Transformer God who wants The Creation Matrix; the source of the Transformers power destroyed.
Yes, the plot is very much the stuff of Saturday morning cartoons but it’s the execution and the tone that makes Transformers: The Movie rise above the fact that it’s nothing really more than a glorified toy advert.
Firstly the animation style is magnificent as it is colourful. No expense is spared during the copious action scenes where the animators have furiously animated the shit out of every punch, kick or laser blast and you get the idea that the movie may have helped a little ushering in Anime’s rise in popularity in the West. Secondly, and most prominantly if you were a child when first watching this, is the utterly stupendous and surprisingly callous body count the story leaves in it’s wake. From the opening moments of the villainous Megatron and his cronies blasting aboard a shuttle and straight up murdering a crew load of beloved Autobot fan favourites (one is riddled with so many holes, smoke pours from his mouth), to the climax of The Battle Of Autobot City that ends the first third of the movie with leader Optimus Prime literally succumbing to his wounds in a hospital bed, there’s arguably more raw trauma-fuel for impressionable youngsters here than Watership Down. Think Omaha beach for action figures and you’re not that far off. Cynical business ploy aside (kill off old toys to sell new characters), the fact that this movie is not safe and cuddly and that even adored characters can, will and do die make it resonate like a motherfucker. Plus watching an Autobot punch out the teeth of a robot shark is, frankly, bitching.
Eyebrow lifting murder rate aside, the final piece to the awesome puzzle is the quintessential yardstick that all eighties movies be judged: the soundtrack. Featuring such diverse talents as Stan Bush (whose lung busting, fist pumper The Touch was further immortalized by Mark Walberg in Boogie Nights) and Weird Al Yankovich (for some reason), the tunes help you rock out as the Autobots roll out to heart soaring effect, but it’s Vince (Rocky IV) DiCola’s synth score that take the gold.
On the negative side, those who didn’t grow up with it’s day-glo charms may well wonder what the fuss is about but if you know your Insecticons from your Dinobots, you’ll be just fine. Chuck in the guest voice talents of Judd Nelson, Robert Stack, Leonard Nimoy, Eric Idle (?) and Orson fucking Welles and you can see why the recent release of Bumblebee retconned Michael Bay’s chaotic, manic vision to a more, charming, family based, throwback to the franchise’s simpler days.
Prime entertainment for kids of all ages.