Friday, 20 August 2010

10 reasons why Transformers: the Movie is PURE AWESOME

Firstly, I'm not talking about the embarrassingly dire recent films; I've already berated them enough. No, I'm talking about the 1986 animated movie. The real deal. The proper shit. Transformers as they are meant to be, as all kids of the eighties will tell you (speaking of the eighties, it may have been the decade that fashion forgot...but by God they had some amazing cartoons back then).

If you've never seen the animated movie, then repent at once for this unacceptable gap in your genre education. You can start by watching the trailer.

This film is one of my all time favourites, and I'm going to give you 10 reasons as to why this is. And don't worry, there's no major spoilers.

So, let's do this.

The film starts with a planet being eaten

Yes, you read that right. In the opening scenes, the planet of Lithone is devoured by Unicron, a robotic monster planet. Now come on, how cool is that? How many other films open with a planet being eaten?

As openings go, it's brutal and utterly enthralling. It's almost a little mocking as well, as if the film is saying "You all thought this movie was about silly little toys, didn't you? Wrong, bitches. Wrong." Yet the best moment is after Unicron has finished his breakfast, and he continues on his way through the depths of space, all aglow. It's just eerie - the empty sense of desolation is so unnerving.

Optimus Prime and Megatron have the duel to end all duels 

Optimus Prime and Megatron spent most of the original TV series attempting to thwart each other's plans, and occasionally they had a bit of a one-on-one scuffle. Yet in the animated movie, they have an epic smack-down that makes their previous encounters look like a bit of polite slapping.

The duel is prefaced by the classic verbal exchange between the two leaders, one of the most quoted parts of the film amongst fans:

Optimus Prime: "One shall stand, one shall fall."
Megatron: "Why throw away your life so recklessly?"
OP: "That's a question you should ask yourself, Megatron."
M: "No! I'll crush you with my bare hands!"

What follows is a gripping duel, during which Prime and Megatron kick seven shades of shit out of each other. It's got everything: drama, treachery, stupidity - the lot. I wish I'd got to watch this film upon its release in the cinema; it would have been a joy to behold a couple of hundred kids squealing as their hero duked it out with his arch nemesis on the big screen. Brilliant. And even better, the duel isn't just there to cause a bit of excitement: the outcome is crucial to the development of the story.

Transformers die during the movie

One of the main ways in which the animated film differs from the original cartoon series is that transformers actually die in the film. In the cartoon series, this just didn't happen. There were plenty of fights, sure, and sometimes transformers would get hurt. But they didn't die. If they took a laser blast, they just fell over with no discernible signs of damage.

Not so in the movie. In the movie, transformers that get hit by a laser blast display the appropriate symptoms: their smashed frames collapse with smoke pumping from their wounds. This is demonstrated early on in the film, in a memorable sequence when the Decepticons attack an Autobot shuttle in space. The resulting battle, when compared to those in the TV series, is positively graphic. Put it this way: no one ever took a bazooka-blast to the face from close range in the cartoon. This is hardcore, dude. Hardcore.

Optimus Prime kicks heroic amounts of ass

Let's face it: many of us boys have pretended to be the heroic Optimus Prime at some stage in our lives. And with good reason: he's the ultimate role model. He's a natural leader, displaying courage and compassion. He oozes charisma. And he transforms into a frickin' HUGE TRUCK.

As if all that wasn't enough, Prime kicks some serious ass in the animated movie. Leading by example, he turns the tide against the marauding decepticons by embarking on a one-robot rampage, in which he takes down at least seven decepticons single-handedly (it's almost certain he downs a few more off-screen). Backed by an inspired choice of soundtrack (more on that later), this is easily one of the best moments in the movie. The entire sequence, including the above-mentioned duel with Megatron, can be viewed here (seriously though, do yourself a favour and watch the entire film instead).

Kicking ass never looked so heroic. Even now, this sequence sends a tingle down my spine.

It has an awesome rock 'n roll soundtrack

The signature tracks of which were supplied by Stan Bush, whose mullet haircut was perhaps even more famous than he was.

Seriously though, it's a great, catchy soundtrack that complements the film perfectly. Perhaps the best example is the musical accompaniment to the aforementioned rampage by Optimus Prime - "You've got the've got the POWER!" Hell, yeah. Check the amusingly cheesy music video for The Touch. The other notable track, Dare, can be found here with a mishmash of footage from the movie. Great stuff.

The script has some great dialogue

I've already mentioned the classic "one shall stand" exchange between Prime and Megatron, but there's plenty of other memorable lines from the film. Here's some of my favourites:

Unicron: I have summoned you here for a purpose.
Megatron : Nobody summons Megatron!
Unicron: Then it pleases me to be the first.

Hot Rod: They're closing on us!
Kup: Yep, like the Shrikebats of Dromedon.
Hot Rod: How'd you beat them?
Kup: I'm trying to remember. There were an awful lot of casualties that day.

Unicron: For a time, I considered sparing your wretched little planet, Cybertron. But now, you shall witness... its dismemberment.

Kup: Reminds me of the Nitith slave mines on Galganas 7.
Hot Rod: Every place reminds you of some place else.
Kup: Experience, lad. You should learn to appreciate it.
Hot Rod: A lot of good it's done us so far.

Unicron: Your bargaining posture is highly dubious; but very well. I will provide you with a new body, and new troops to command.
Megatron: And?
Unicron: And nothing. You belong to me, now.
Megatron: I belong to nobody!
Unicron: Perhaps I misjudged you. Proceed - on your way to oblivion.

Kup: Yep, I remember the dust was so thick on Beta 4, you had to use windshield wipers on your optic sensors.
Grimlock: Me Grimlock know all about wipers! Want to hear good part of story!
Swoop: Good part, Kup! Tell Swoop good part!
Kup: Ok, ok. Well, the dust was really thick, and this gigantic icthyac came tromping down the mountain, flames spewing out of its nostrils, and I thought for sure...
Hot Rod: Hey, Kup, don't you think we have better things to do now than tell old stories?
Kup: Like what?
Hot Rod: Like maybe figure out how we're gonna rescue our friends and then save Cybertron.
Grimlock: No! Tell story!

Endlessly quotable.

It has a giant squid in it

As if having a moon-munching planet wasn't cool enough, they managed to squeeze a giant squid into the mix as well. Not only that, but the beast tears a certain character apart. Awesome.

The script makes full use of the extensive Transformers universe

One of my biggest gripes with the recent live-action films is that they barely scratch the surface of the Transformers milieu. While I can understand that there are limitations, I still think they could have made far better use of the exhaustive amount of background material.

The animated movie certainly does. In the space of a couple of hours, the action takes place in a variety of locations: Cybertron's moons, Earth, space, Quintessa, Junk, and even inside Unicron. We see a number of exotic characters from the transformers universe, including the Quintessons, Junkions, and the Lithonians. And then there's Unicron, of course. The result is a far more immersive experience; you really feel like you're delving deep into the transformers mythology and history, rather than just watching dumb robots kick each other's asses (as you do in the recent films).

The voice-acting is superb

There's some serious talent on display here. Peter Cullen is wonderfully authoritative as Optimus Prime, while Frank Welker is utterly menacing as Megatron - as is Leonard Nimoy who voices Galvatron.

Best of the bunch though, is Orson Welles's portrayal of Unicron: the sense of doom he managed to get across in his limited amount of dialogue is simply wonderful. Welles was amusingly dismissive of the film when asked about it - "I play a planet in a film in which toys do horrible things to each other" - so it's a shame he never got to see the huge cult following the film eventually attracted. He died before the film was released; apparently his voice was so weak when he recorded his lines that the technicians had to beef the sound up.

It's a classic tale of good versus evil

Which is the best kind of story for young kids. It's inspiring to see the autobots taking a beating and yet still rising to the challenge.

There's plenty of underlying themes extolling the virtues of courage and loyalty, but the most prevalent is the theme of redemption: one character in particular has a very satisfying development arc, and their personal journey has wonderful redemptive qualities. It's not just a dumb load of violence; there's a real message here.

So, there you have it: ten reasons why Transformers the movie is awesome. Ten reasons why you should check it out.

For those of you about to watch it for the first time...I envy you.


ThRiNiDiR said...

James, we've been on the same page for so many things in the past, but this one absolutely dwarfs the rest. I've been advocating Transformers (the movie) for years now and I thought I was the only one. Two thumbs up mate.

Mad Hatter Review said...

You are certainly bringing me back. When I was a kid I made my family rent this for me every other weekend for years. That video store probably made more off us on that one video than anything else.

James said...

Thrinidir - good to hear from you, you seemed to disappear for a while! Glad to see the blog is starting to crank into motion again.

Glad you enjoyed the post; likewise I've been advocating this movie for years.

Mad Hatter - heh, I was lucky enough to have it on ancient VHS cassette. Must have watched it hundreds of times. To this day I know large swathes of the script off by heart. If you quote a line from the film, chances are I can tell you who is speaking, and what scene the line is from.

SL said...

Heh. I saw this movie in the theater when I was 8. It was a huge influence on me growing up... I've owned it on VHS and DVD, I have two copies of the soundtrack, and I have a film poster in my house... true, I am a huge nerd, but sue me. This flick is the gold standard to which all other toy tie-ins futilely aspire.

James said...

Scott, we've corresponded by email about our respective love of this movie before - I already know all about your staggering array of transformers swag! Awesome stuff.

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Lagomorph Rex said...

I think the more appropriate way of looking at it would be, it's not making extensive use of the mythos and back story.. but is in fact Creating it.

And then it was of course further fleshed out by the third Season of the TV show.. at least until Call of the Primitives where the mysterious Unicron is suddenly downgraded to having been built by a small space monkey.

Jeremy Shane said...

Great post. I saw this movie in the theater soo many times when it first came out. Still my favorite anything for transformers, so much better than the Bay movies. I remember being in shock when autobots actually started dying.

Loved the soundtrack too, the Stan Bush stuff is ok, but loved the 80s glam rock version of the opening theme as well as a few other rock like songs like "Nothings Gonna Stand in our way", etc. I'm going to have to sit down and watch this movie again now.

Jebus said...

Easily one of the greatest movies ever made, I still manage to watch it as often as I can (LOVE the soundtrack) and also remember seeing it at the cinema.

Patrick said...

1 Reason Why Speculative Horizons is PURE AWESOME.

1) This post.

I love Transformers the movie for almost every reason you mentioned. The minute or so when Optimus Prime rolls over the Decepticons into Autobot City to Stan Bush's epic You've Got the Touch is one of my favorite movie moments EVER.

And then the duel. I've been so f***ing pissed at Hot Rod since before I knew what it meant to be f***ing pissed.

I thought you were made of sterner stuff...

Adam Whitehead said...

The 1986 movie is awesome, as was the Transformers comic strip that tied in with it (Target: 2006) and a whole bunch of the stuff that came out of it. For example, popular Marvel character Death's Head originated in a post-movie Transformers comic strip.

It also had some negative impacts on the TF universe, though mostly these were in things it influenced. Unicron would turn up with increasing regularity in comics and later TV series, to the point of predictability. The post-movie cartoon series (Season 3 of the TV series) was pretty bad. And Rodimus sucked as a leader, as all can agree:


James said...

Adam - I quite like the later series, as they're more expansive that the original G1 series (in that they feature more of the universe, rather than just being set on Earth). Although I hate the way they turned Galvatron into a screeching moron. And yeah, Unicron turning up - when he, uh, got blown to smithereens in the movie - is pretty dumb. But continuity never was a strong point with transformers...

Thanks for the link - good stuff. I actually watched The Return of Optimus Prime the other night for the first time in years - pretty cool. Plot holes you could fly a jumbo jet through, but hey.

Lifeless Loser said...

An excellent post! I remember my dad coming to pick me up from school one day to take me to see Transformers: The Movie and me trying my hardest not to cry when Optimus died because I didn't want my dad to call me a big girl! haha. I always mention it to people whenever they talk about the Transformers films in work.

While I'm commenting, allow me to mention how much I really enjoy your blog. It has exposed me to a lot of books I may not have ever gotten round to reading had it not been for Speculative Horizons. China Mieville especially. Cheers and please keep up the good work!ferse