harsens_rob (harsens_rob) wrote,
harsens_rob
harsens_rob

Movie Review: The Transformers the Movie (P1 of 3)



The Transformers, the Movie

{Not the Bay film... the one before that}

1986

Starring: Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, Chris Latta, Judd Nelson, Leonard Nimoy

DIR: Nelson Shin



Blurb: The year is 2005, and the Decepticons have retaken Cybertron from Optimus Prime and his Autobot warriors. Both sides are seething with anger, and that hatred has blinded them to a hideous menace headed their way. That menace is Unicron, a monster so powerful he devours planets. Unicron has chosen to take control of the Autobot Matrix for his own evil purposes, and to accomplish this he has created a force of super robots. By gathering the remains of fallen Decepticons (spoiler alert in description, so we cut it off here).


This is a movie review: Spoiler warning applies, including character fates. Also, I couldn't resist the screen caps. I just couldn't. And, because there are so many scene transitions, this review ended up really long, but if you're a fan of the series and the movie, I think you'll find it a good read anyway.




My Blurb: Oh, the 80's. Fashion was awful. Hairstyles were awful. But the important thing for this review is that it was also a time when just about every single cartoon on kids television was an empty and obvious attempt to manipulate children into collecting expensive toys. These toy lines NEVER stopped producing new characters, which then 'debuted' on the cartoons so that kids felt deprived if they didn't get every single one, even though it was practically impossible because they were being released faster than middle-class parents could hope to keep up with. I think this was especially true with GI Joe and with today's subject, The Transformers.

I was much too old for this cartoon, but my brother watched it and I found myself getting pulled into it because a) I'm immature when it comes to these things and b) the characters really were engaging and full of personality and occassionally there would be a semi-story arc or a particular episode that would transcend the toy marketing gimmick. When the movie came out, I didn't catch it immediately, as it just seemed too stupid. But, the local theatre where I was a college student was having a late showing. Me and my friend at the time got ourselves wined up and went on a lark and for a laugh of this purely guilty pleasure when we discovered our mutual shame.

Little did I know that of the three characters I had a particular shine to, two of them would end up dead... one of them pretty brutally, too. I can't imagine what happened when parents took their kids to see this, only for them to watch their beloved television characters wiped out before their eyes (this was PG, but I have a feeling it was more for the words 'damn' and 'shit' that got used, than the cartoon violence). I'm sure many a parent were suddenly consoling crying children (especially with the death of a main character).

Now, this was - of course - designed to wipe out the old toyline and replace it with a new one for the shelves. But the makers of Transformers got more than they expected when the cartoon was lambasted. Most of these criticisms were about the pointed marketing of the toys, but I don't think that was the actual problem -- I think it had much more to do with the way the onscreen deaths were depicted, but those high-'n-mighty film critics didn't want to admit to being upset over something as 'silly' as cartoon robots being destroyed....

Also, you wouldn't get anything out of this cartoon if you weren't familiar with the characters. This is definitely made for the fans.


Scene 01: Our film starts in the depths of space. We hear the low roar of a large vessel (as we've been conditioned to expect, even though we all know there would be no sound in space - that would make a really undramatic and boring soundscape, though).

A large globe with a ring around it passes between two suns, one red and one blue.





Commentary: This is a gorgeous bit of animation. We are also getting the 'Unicron Theme' here and it is my favorite music in the movie. It's beautiful and menacing and wonderful. Alas, this brings me to my major gripe about the movie. Although this opening has an epic look to it, this isn't maintained throughout the movie. In fact, when we join our main characters, the animation suddenly takes on the flat, jerky TV-look animation look of the 1980's era, and it is really unfortunate. Going forward, you can just basically presume that I have a minor complaint about the animation in nearly every scene, but there are a few that I may specifically point out... in fact there is definitely one that I will be complaining about later.


We focus on this globe traveling away from the red star. It is apparently an artificial planetoid, as it seems to be mechanical in nature. The artificial planetoid barrels down toward a planet in the system and we have a sense that it will be inhabited and that the peoples there are going to have a bad, bad day.


Scene 02: From within the gaping maw of the mechanical thing, we see the planet come into its sights. We zoom out to the planet proper, which is also completely mechanized, much like our heroes and villains' homeworld of Cybertron. In fact, you may be forgiven for thinking it is Cybertron.


Scene 03: It's not. But, this is a world composed of apparent sentient robotic lifeforms.


Commentary: This culture is a little too ridiculous, though, even for a cartoon. There are robot children running around laughing and playing?! WHY?! What purpose would building robot children have?! And do they continually upgrade them, or transfer their minds to new bodies to simulate 'growing'... WTH?

I mean, even if I had been a child, I would've been like, "UM... THESE ARE ROBOTS, YOU KNOW!"



So, anyway. These folks are doomed.


Scene 04: We follow a pair of sentient robots to a work lab, where SCIENCE!! is occurring. Suddenly, there is a violent rumbling throughout the planet. One of the robots runs to a viewscreen and sees the planetoid coming much too close. He recognizes it as Unicron.


Scene 05: Unicron fires a massive blast at the planet, as the citizens panic and try to flee in space vessels. The beam turns out to be a tractor beam, helping Unicron tear the planet apart for consumption. He also has those massive mandible-like extensions that tear into and pull the planet from its orbit into his massive maw.


Commentary: Yeah, the gender thing. For some reason, the robots in the Transformers-verse have clear genders, even though they don't have y'know... parts where you'd expect. Just go with it.



The planet of robots is utterly annihilated, with seemingly only one ship escaping the tractor beam. We follow one of the captured ships into the maw as a robot passenger screams in terrorized doom. We get a glimpse of how Unicron destroys everything for fuel.


Commentary: Wait. This was made primarily for kids, right? Oh, it only gets more graphic visually later on!


With the planet consumed, Unicron suddenly lights up like a happy Christmas Tree of Unspeakable Evil.


We drift away from Unicron and travel through space: Insert Theme and Credits (Which is so gloriously 1980's cheese, that it sails through horrible and right into awesomely inappropriate overwrought rock. I LOVE it.)


Scene 06: We return to a zooming in shot of Cybertron and its two moons, as narrator basically gives us the Blurb information.

Laserbeak leaves the planet and heads for one of the Cybertronian moons. Laserbeak is a cassette robot that has the general form of a bird. He acts as a spy and intelligence agent and reports back to the boombox that is his host (really) Soundwave. Anyway, he cruises past us: Y'see the Decepticons have overrun Cybertron and forced the Autobots off-planet, but the good guys still control the moons.


Scene 07: Laserbeak spies on and records Optimus Prime and Ironhide discussing their plans (Yay Optimus! Yay Ironhide! Interestingly, both of these characters have the same voice actor and are both among my top three characters. The third is Grimlock, who we'll see later...).

Ironhide is in a foul mood because his long range sensors are seeing nothing but Decepticons on Cybertron and it chafes his circuits. He demands of Prime when they're going to go down and bust some "Decepti-chops".


Commentary: Okay, one of the annoying things is how many words you can put "Decepti-" in front of, and how many of them they find a way to use. Although, I do personally like 'Decepti-creeps'.


Prime assigns Ironhide to a special, secret shuttle for Earth. He explains that the Autobots don't have enough Energon Cubes to power a full assault that is needed and they need to get more.


Commentary: So, Energon is basically colored cubes of energy that acts as a food source for Cybertronians. The pursuit of this is what led to Earth's involvement in the Cybertronian War whose history we won't go into here. Basically, any sort of weather pattern, oil, wind energy, plot convenience, etc can be turned into Energon. Cybertron itself was running critically short due to eons of warfare. Back to our movie:


Scene 07: Ironhide transforms and rolls out to the shuttle.


Scene 08: In the meantime, Prime checks with Jazz on if the shuttle is clear to make a clean getaway.


Commentary: Jazz is played by Scatman Crothers, who is effing awesome! He also did this character throughout the cartoon series (at least pre-movie, I loathed the after movie cartoon and quickly stopped watching it because the writing took a nosedive with GHOSTS... OF ROBOTS.... Argh). His Jazz is so full of personality that y'got to love him. Scatman definitely didn't sleepwalk through voicing his character which puts this Autobot in my top 5 characters, just behind Starscream, who we'll meet soon enough.


Scene 09: Jazz checks in with Moon Base Two, where Bumblebee and the Autobots' human ally Spike Witwicky (both from the series, though Spike is an adult now, with a kid of his own) are based. They confirm that Decepticons aren't in the immediate area.


Scene 10: The shuttle takes off for Earth, with Prime stating that all they need now is a lot of luck. Alas, Laserbeak makes his getaway completely unnoticed (Yeah, sensors are pretty much hit and miss depending on what the script requires).


Scene 11: Laserbeak returns to Cybertron to share the information he's gathered, with Megatron (the main villain) making a snide comment at Starscream's expense.


Commentary: Starscream and Megatron have a serious hate-hate thing going on. I can't tell you the number of times that Starscream has tried to wrest control of the Decepticons from Megatron and everytime, Megatron threatens to destroy him for his betrayal... until the following week, when they're back side by side and sniping and arguing again. Apparently, they've been doing this for 20-friggin' years!

Starscream is my 4th favorite Transformer, even though I don't like him. Weird, huh? It's the personality thing! Megatron would probably fall into the top 10, maybe #8 or so. Let's see: Six would be the combine, Devastator, Seven would be Soundwave, yeah - Megatron is Eight. Nine would probably be Bumblebee and Ten... hmmm... I think Kup, the only new character I really like.



Megatron is very happy at the news that Energon is a problem for the Autobots....


Scene 12: The shuttle passes what appears to be Mars and one of its moons. It comes under attack by the Decepticon forces. The pilot is a police vehicle, whose name is Prowl. Also on board, we'll see Ratchet (who I like) and rounded out by Brawl, who I was always utterly indifferent to.

Suddenly, the entire side of the shuttle is blown inward. This isn't an issue, since y'know... robots... air not a requirement. But the fact that the Decepticons have the Energon-weak Autobots outgunned is a problem. A fatal one....



(Oh, hey Kids! Did you like Prowl?)


How's about Ironhide or Ratchet... weren't they great in all those episodes of the cartoon series you watched everyday?



Megs comments to Starscream about how it was almost too easy (and why he even talks to the prat is a question for the ages), to which Starscream complains about how it was much easier than the true target... the Moon Bases. Megatron tells Starscream he's an idiot (the Decepticons aren't exactly flush in Energon, either).

Megatron takes control of the shuttle and (Oh, so cruel... did I mention that I really loved Ironhide?) Ironhide weakly grabs his ankle and gives a dramatic "NOOOOO!"

Megaton looks down in amused contempt for this show:

"Such heroic nonsense."

He blasts Ironhide in the head - though, we're thankfully spared seeing the direct hit. Megatron's plan is to destroy Autobot City on Earth and secure the Energon supplies using the shuttle to slip past their defenses before they know what is hitting them.





Comment: And this music is glorious in its 80s-ness, too.


Scene 13: On Earth, a robot we'll get to know as Hot Rod is fishing with his friend, Daniel (little boy of Spike Witwicky).


Comment: He's basically one of those irrepressible jokers, who make for real life douche bags. Naturally, he'll be a main character so we can enjoy him like nails across a blackboard.


'Dano' is missing his father. Fishing gets interrupted by Daniel's handheld computer thingie beeping. It is letting him know there is a shuttle coming in and he's excited to watch it land.


Scene 14: Daniel takes his hover-skateboard (HEY, WHERE IS OUR ROCKET POWERED SKATEBOARDS?!), but isn't very good at it, because he tries to go up over a bush and nearly smashes himself on the rocks. 'Fortunately' (okay, that was pure snark), Hot Rod is there to grab Daniel before he gets injured and transform into his car mode for a drive to a look out point where they can get a view of the shuttle coming in.


Scene 15: Of course, getting to "Look Out Mountain" requires going through a 'road closed' sign, where Kup and some anonymouses are doing something or other. He nearly runs Kup down. For some reason, this is taken as irrepressible behavior, instead of as monumentally dangerous and stupid (especially with Daniel riding in Hot Rod's car mode).


Scene 16: Daniel uses digital telescope thingie to focus in on the shuttle and he notes the huge hole in its side. Hot Rod uses his own visor to telescope in and sees the shape of one of the Decepticon boarding party (I believe, Starscream). He begins firing at the shuttle, which draws Kup's irritation.


Comment: Irritation? Is Hot Rod in the habit of such homicidal behavior as firing his blasters at his own?! Not that it would shock me, mind.


There is an exchange of fire and the Decepticons abandon the shuttle prematurely to press the attack plans. Megatron blasts the cliff side observation platform on the mountain, sending Daniel and Hot Rod down the face.


Scene 17: Hot Rod is able to leap and land on his feet, grabbing hold of Daniel and cushioning him. But, they're not out of the woods as the Triple Changer, Blitzwing transforms from a jet to a tank and fires on them.

The shot is wide from the mark, thanks to the intervention of Kup....


Scene 18: They take off for the Autobot City, while taking fire from among others, Starscream, who likes to exclaim villain-y type dialog while firing.


Commentary: And this is one of those highlights of badness in the animation. Kup and Hot Rod driving down embankments is really crappy looking, even for a cartoon.


Scene 19: In the meantime, Megatron's other forces attack Autobot City, where they have the Autobots stationed there outnumbered. Ultra Magnus (who is cool by dint of being voiced by Robert Stack) orders Autobot City to be transformed into its sealed state. Arcee objects to Springer (another Triple Changer who can go from ground vehicle to helicoptor) that Hot Rod and Kup are still out in the open, but Springer tells her that they can't wait. Magnus also wants a counterpart to Soundwave called Blaster to radio prime for reinforcements.


Commentary: There are a few things I want to bring up here. First, I do like that this cartoon was given a PG rating in order to explore the costs of the warfare between the Transformers in ways that you simply wouldn't get away with in an 80's cartoon series. This was the time when we had to "THINK OF THE CHILDREN!" and ergo, god forbid they should be taught anything like "life is cruel", "sometimes good people die", "war is wasteful and hard and sometimes the good guys don't win" or anything distasteful like, y'know - real life lessons.

Yes, this was to get kids to love the new toys and they needed to make room by thinning out the old stock characters -- but they could have easily just been shunted off screen, never to be heard from again. I appreciate that there is death shown among the Autobots (although, you'll note they're not really allowed to kill their foes just as ruthlessly).

The second thing is Arcee. She's the first obviously female Transformer that has ever been seen. This is a two edged sword. Although it shouldn't have taken this long (the cartoon series was on 2 years before The Movie) to go after the little girl market, Arcee's design is TOO stereotypically feminized. She's been given a chest, for one. She also is, of course, pink. And, she was even given Princess Leia buns on her head, because even for a race of robots, women's hairstyles are important *roll eyes*. Finally, she has bikini-shaped bottoms.

I like her because of the voice actress, but they really did not need to try so hard to make sure that kids 'got' that she was a girl-bot. She also doesn't get to act as a hardened-by-war warrior, naturally -- and her vehicle form is a cute, delicate-looking, little sports coupe, because god forbid a 'chick' should be a tank, or a drag racer or a truck... that would silly. I do like her mildly sarcastic attitude though, especially when it comes to Hot Rod, who is a twit.



Scene 20: During the transformation of Autobot City into its battle mode (and the city itself doesn't appear sentient -- there is another Autobot City that is called Metroplex, even though the logistics of transforming a whole city into a walking robot make it an extremely stupid idea), Starscream gets caught by his foot and has to blow it off to escape! Yes!


Commentary: And, then in a second crappy animation blunder (blunders and continuity issues were a constant throughout the run of the cartoon, unfortunately), we never see this damage again and he has zero hinderance from standing and walking around. Still, that was neat.


Scene 21: Megatron orders the breaching of their defenses (rather pointlessly) and the Insecticons go into action, eating through the blast doors of the city. They're interrupted by the arriving Kup and Hot Rod, who end up running over Kickback's (a grasshopper -- just go with it) head! Neat!


Commentary: Really, I take way too much joy in this animated feature for any true adult. It definitely causes me to go into geek-gasms.




Scene 22: With the city under sustained heavy fire now, Perceptor (a microscope -- argghh) reaches Blaster and he uses the subspace antennae to send a call to Moon Base One. Megatron also hears the SOS and orders Soundwave to cut of transmission. He sends his microcassette transformers after the antennae tower.


Commentary: Yeah, Rumble! Yeah, Frenzy!


Scene 23: After they rip off the antennae, the cassette-icons break in and Perceptor tells Blaster to run and save himself, while he acts as a self-sacrificial delaying tactic. But Blaster exclaims (awesomely):

"No way! Two can play!" Did I mention he does this while kicking a Decepticon out of mid-air and releasing his own cassette-abots!? Oh, yes... it is so very (ridiculous) cool.


Scene 24: In the lower levels, the Decepticons have made it to another sealed entrance. In order to stop them, Springer has to move a grenade launcher into the right place and calls Arcee for help. She's busy moving more Autobot corpses (two more down from the cartoon series).

Hot Rod, Kup and Daniel arrive and together they're able to slid the grenade launcher into the proper place as they listen to their foes breaking down their defenses.

Arcee tells Hot Rod that she was afraid he'd be trapped outside the city (and they would have been if the Insecticons hadn't eaten their way through a door). He tells her that he wasn't worried for a microsecond, to which she responds:

"Then, you probably didn't understand the situation."


Scene 25: With Megatron outside another heavily fortified door, he orders the Constructicons to merge for the kill. (YES - DEVASTATOR!)




Scene 26: The battle rages all night, but in the morning's light, it is obvious that the Autobots are out of time and Autobot City lies in ruins.

It's a good thing that Prime has arrived -- with the Dinobots, who are tough enough to go toe to toe with the combiner (YES - GRIMLOCK!)

The battle is rejoined now that reinforcements have arrived (though not nearly impressively so -- one shuttle with half a dozen Autobots??).


Commentary: Also, strangely, one of the Dinobots is missing. There should be five of them.



tbc
Tags: review the transformers the movie
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