Autobots! Transform and roll out.
Growing up in the 80’s, I had two obsessions: G.I. Joe and Transformers. Yeah, there were other action figures that I collected and other cartoons that I watched; He-Man, Thundercats, for example. While I liked them well enough, none of them could ever hold a candle to the best of the bunch. The Joes and the Transformers will always hold a special place in my heart.
The Transformers began as a series of unrelated toy lines manufactured in Japan by a company called Takara, robots that could change into cars, planes, and other objects. Hasbro liked the concept that they imported them into the States and hired the folks at Marvel Comics (who also worked with them on the G.I. Joe line) to flesh out a backstory for a cartoon series that would show their toys in action. It was Marvel that created the concept of the heroic Autobots at war with their arch-enemies, the evil Decepticons, along with giving the robots names and individual personalities. Hasbro also brought in Sunbow Productions to bring their toys to life in animated form.
On a wave of high ratings and sales, Sunbow planned a trio of feature-film versions of their cartoons for the summer of 1986. Production on Transformers: The Movie began in between the first and second seasons of the television series. However, along with My Little Pony: The Movie, Transformers would fail to ignite the box office causing Sunbow to cancel a theatrical run for the already delayed G.I. Joe: The Movie. Despite its initial failure, the film has held immense popularity and demand with Transfans across the world.
To coincide with the 20th anniversary as well as the upcoming Michael Bay film, Sony has released an all-new 2-disc edition of Transformers: The Movie. The film is set 20 years after the end of the second season of the show and introduces the monstrous menace known as Unicron, a Transformer that is an entire planet. Ignorant of this grave, new danger, the Transformers continue their long-standing war. The Decepticons control the Transformers’ home planet of Cybertron, while the Autobots maintain their presence on Earth. Low on Energon (their fuel source), the Autobot leader Optimus Prime orders a small group of soldiers to make a supply run to Earth.
The Decepticons, led by Megatron, ambush the ship and mercilessly kill everyone on board. Using the ship as cover, the Decepticons lay siege to Autobot City and have the good guys on the ropes until the cavalry arrives in Optimus Prime. Peter Cullen injected a little John Wayne into the voice of Prime and the similarities to the Duke were never more apparent than here. Prime mows down the Decepticon army en route to his final showdown with Megatron. Neither one of them walk away in the same condition they came in. In a controversial moment, Optimus Prime dies while Megatron is critically damaged. The Autobots don’t even have time to mourn their leader when reports come in of Unicron gobbling up entire planets and moons as he makes his way to Cybertron.
Transformers: The Movie is just about everything you’d expect when a TV show makes the jump to the big screen. In my opinion, films like Beavis & Butt-Head Do America and X-Files: Fight the Future were really just extended versions of the episodes you would normally see. Transformers ups the ante big time. There are elements in the film that you would never see in the TV show. The budget is bigger, the animation is better (witness Unicron’s transformation into robot mode), and the stakes are higher. They even threw in a curse word for good measure.
Megatron’s assault on the Autobot ship really sets the tone for the entire film. Nobody ever died on the show. Even if they were seriously injured, you’d know in less than twenty minutes they’d get better and it would be like nothing happened by the next episode. But, Hasbro mandated that the original, Generation One characters were to be killed off to make room for new, more futuristic looking toys. Right away, fan favorites are brutally wiped out in one fell swoop. Who could forget Megatron’s execution of Ironhide as he casually stands above the Autobot lieutenant and blows him to pieces with his arm cannon? “Such heroic nonsense.”
Not even Optimus Prime was safe as he too would die during his final showdown with Megatron. Prime’s death scene was milked for all its worth as he faded away from red and blue to a dark gray. It was a pivotal moment and many young fans were brought to tears by Prime’s death. Not me though. Honest. Okay, maybe a little.
Along with the new characters in Transformers: The Movie, comes an all-star cast in addition to the regular voice actors like Frank Welker and Kasey Casem. Perhaps, the most famous (and most unlikely) was Orson Welles whose final role was the immense Unicron. From Citizen Kane to Transformers: The Movie, a bit of a dubious end. Reportedly, Welles was in awful shape and his lines were passed through a synthesizer to compensate for his poor condition.
Also present are 80’s heartthrob Judd Nelson as Hot Rod, Robert Stack as Ultra Magnus, veteran character actor Lionel Stander as the old warhorse Kup, John Moschita (the fast talker from those Fed-Ex and Micro Machines commercials) as the hyperactive Blurr, and Leonard Nimoy as Galvatron, the new and improved version of Megatron. Welles wasn’t the only cast member who gave their final performance. Scatman Crothers who provided the voice of Jazz (along with Hong Kong Phooey) would also pass away shortly after the film’s release.
And how can anyone discuss Transformers: The Movie without mentioning the soundtrack? Warning, do not listen to this music if you are lactose intolerant because it is full of cheese. The soundtrack consists of track after track of goofy 80’s rock songs by artists that wouldn’t even qualify as one-hit wonders because I don’t think they ever had any hits. While the music may be extremely dated, it adds a level of distinct charm to the film. I’m sure plenty of you have sung along to “The Touch” (“You’ve got the touch! You’ve got the power!”) during the film’s climax.
Transformers: The Movie was previously released on DVD by Rhino. That disc featured a less-than-stellar, fullscreen transfer which didn’t look any better than my VHS copy. This new edition presents the film in widescreen for the first time ever, although fullscreen was its original aspect ratio.
Disc 1 houses the widescreen version and this is the best the film has ever looked. The colors are much brighter and most of the dirt and scratches have been removed. There’s still a bit of grain, but it’s a really good transfer. Disc 2 contains the fullscreen version and it looks like this is the Rhino transfer.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 Stereo. Both are sweet sounding tracks. Everything comes in crisp and clear, while the soundtrack and effects are booming.
The Rhino DVD contained an interview with the film’s composer, Vince DiCola. That extra isn’t present here, so completists might want to hang on to their old copy. This double disc edition has a wealth of all-new features.
There are two audio commentary tracks. The first features director Nelson Shin, story consultant Flint Dille, and Susan Blu, the voice of Arcee. They offer up some nice anecdotes about working on the film, but they do tend to just describe the action on-screen. Shin is especially guilty of this.
The second track features four Transfans, Paul Hitchens, Rick Alvarez, Alex Whiner, and Joe Moore. Each are involved in various Transformer-themed websites and conventions. They offer up a fan’s perspective to the film and just sound like four guys watching the film in their living room. They point out interesting tidbits, plot holes, and mistakes.
You can also watch the film with the Autobot Matrix of Knowledge option, which is a pop-up trivia track.
Rounding out the first disc are a photo gallery and a video gallery that includes the original theatrical trailer, TV spots, promos for other Transformers releases (including a future re-release of the show), test animation, and “Scramble City”, an episode of the show that was only aired in Japan with commentary by Alvarez and Whiner.
The Death of Optimus Prime features interviews with the cast and crew about the impact and consequences over killing the much-beloved Autobot leader.
The Cast and Characters focuses on the various actors and the characters that they voice.
Transformers Q&A features the participants answering questions like “Who’s your favorite character?” and “What’s your favorite scene?”
The video gallery on this disc contains a collection of deleted scenes, test footage, animated storyboards, and toy commercials from the US and Japan.
Finally, there’s the DVD-ROM exclusive Transformer trivia game.
Film Value: 8
If I wasn’t a Transformers fan, I’d probably give the film a 5 or 6. But, you know what? I am a Transformers fan and I’m giving this movie high marks. Transformers: The Movie is an action-packed funfest that presents the characters on a grander scale than ever before. This is the Transformers at their best.