Misc. Review: Transformers The Movie (1986)

Written by Richard Brown

I have to state my bias upfront about this one. I first saw this when I was in the target audience, aged six, and I consider it most directly responsible for my status as a mecha fanboy. Writing a review of this has been a battle of wills between my inner child and my inner cynic. While its animated by Toei, its not technically anime, so I was in two minds about posting this to the club website. Still, I know the club consists almost entirely of 80’s kids, so perhaps you’ll appreciate this.

The Basic Plot

The year is 2005, and the Autobots have been driven from their home planet of Cybertron by their enemies the Decepticons. As a decisive battle looms, a greater evil lurks in the background, the intelligent and destructive planet Unicron. Battle is met, and the Transformers are too weak to respond to this new threat. Hope however lies with the Autobot Matrix of Leadership, and young recruit Hot Rod.

The japanese poster

I’ll rip out your optics!

I suppose the main reason why the movie has remained a cult classic is because it did things that children’s cartoons hadn’t done before, and largely haven’t in the twenty years since. Within the first thirty minutes, virtually the entire original cast of the cartoon are felled with surprising speed and brutality. Characters with guns actually hit and kill their targets, and in kid’s TV that’s genius. It then takes things a step further, with kid’s hero Optimus Prime killed, in a no holds barred brawl with his nemesis Megatron. Children cried, and the cast actually grieved, though briefly. Let’s be honest, there are few animes that kill off so many characters in such a short space of time, and even fewer that so definitely kill off the iconic hero to make way for a new generation. With hindsight, we know it didn’t take, but the movie has something of an epic feel as a result.

However, the effect depends on you actually knowing who the characters were in the first place. If not, all you get is a stream of Hollywood violence aimed against robots with silly names. You can still tell it is a children’s cartoon in many ways, and not just for the tag-along Daniel and the female transformer Arcee. There are a host of irritating characters, such as the rhyming boy Autobot Wheelie, and the moronic Dinobots who were so much better in the comics. The movie also retains the animation flaws of the original TV series, with characters changing size, shape and colour between scenes. The film is, to be blunt, 1980’s vintage cheese, and while I like cheese, many people won’t. Any attempt to judge the film based on quality of writing, consistency of animation, characterisation or plot, will find it lacking. I’d also like to know who thought the dance scene was a good idea.

Glavatron, a.k.a Mr Spock

You probably won’t be bored. The movie is fond of action scenes to hair metal music, trying its damnest to keep you entertained. It definitely works, in that as a child I didn’t notice the plot holes, and as an adult mecha fanboy, I couldn’t help but enjoy myself. From the battle of Autobot City, to the Quitesson Court and beyond, things are fast paced and surprisingly inventive. The movie throws dozens of characters at you, but a few are memorable. Hot Rod is very much an 80’s era Neo, and his banter with the veteran Kup was of a higher standard of writing than in the series. In fact, the dialogue, while corny, is definitely one the strengths of the picture, being very quotable. Of course, the undeniable star of the whole thing is Unicron, the massive planet eating transformer voiced apparently by Orson Wells. Featuring the best animation in the movie and a powerful screen presence, Unicron left enough of a mark on me, to make me buy the first official toy of him more than a decade and a half later.

Conclusion

Erm, such heroic nonsense? The Transformers is a lot like the original Star Wars, in that it’s a badly written and shoddily made fairy tale, which nevertheless has a special place in the hearts of a generation. Mileage will vary, but if you have an over-powering urge to kill Micheal Bay, this may help.

6/10

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