Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Transformers: The Movie - It Still Has The Touch

As I have stated before, I am a big Transformers fan, having collected and learned more about the franchise for most of my life. I wasn't there from the beginning, but my first exposure to the brand was an animated series in the early 2000's called Transformers: Robots in Disguise (RID). I was so excited by this series that I began asking my parents for the toys at many an opportunity. During one trip to Amoeba Records in Hollywood, I saw a DVD called The Transformers: The Movie, and managed to obtain it. When I saw it for the first time, I didn't fully understand what was happening, but I was certainly amazed by it. It was definitely different from what I had seen on TV at the time, but it was also my first exposure to the idea that the Transformers franchise had existed before I was even born, and that another series, Beast Wars (followed by Beast Machines), also existed shortly before RID. Since then I have seen the franchise in the US grow into what it is now, and it remains a part of my life to this day. If RID is what got me into Transformers, then the animated movie from 1986 cemented it.

So you may be asking, why am I reviewing The Transformers: The Movie now when I could have done it at any other point in this blog's lifespan? Well, as it turns out, today happens to be the 26th anniversary of this movie hitting theaters for the first time (if my sources are accurate). Now, since the first time I've seen this movie, I have seen episodes of the original cartoon via old VHS releases and, more recently, a Shout! Factory DVD box set (the Matrix of Leadership Edition), so I have some knowledge of the continuity this movie takes place in. However, since I was not around in the 80's, I will be talking about the movie from a more modern perspective, with minimal references to the cartoon so I can discuss it on its own merits while attempting to maintain an 80's mindset. With introductions out of the way, let's get started.

In the then-futuristic year of 2005, the war between the Autobots and Decepticons still rages on. After Laserbeak receives some intel on the Autobots, Megatron initiates an attack on them, starting with an Autobot vessel. Once the vessel reaches Earth, it is discovered that the Decepticons have taken over as Megatron orders an attack on Autobot City. After much opposition, Optimus Prime confronts the Decepticon leader, hoping to end the conflict once and for all. Meanwhile, a mysterious planet known as Unicron has been devouring other planets in its way, and the Transformers' home planet of Cybertron is its next course.

The plot of this movie has more of an impact (and makes more sense) if you have some knowledge of the first two seasons of The Transformers cartoon series, but on its own it still tells an interesting story. It has plenty of dramatic moments in it to keep the viewer invested, including a number of plot points that leave a big impact on the events (and the franchise as a whole), but there are still a few lighthearted moments to help ease the tension. In any case, the air may be thick, but no matter what happens you want to see the Autobots pull through in the end.

On the technical side of things, this movie features some of the best 80's animation I have ever seen, especially in regards to the Transformers series on which it is based. Thanks to its bigger budget, the robot characters are much more fluid in their movements and most everything is given an impressive amount of detail, made even more awe-inspiring on a big screen. However, being an animated film, there are still some animation errors here and there, but that doesn't stop it from being any less admirable.

This movie also features an amazing voice cast, with voice actors from the original cartoon reprising their roles amongst big names such as Eric Idle of Monty Python fame, Leonard Nimoy from Star Trek, John Moschitta (the World's Fastest Talking Man), and, perhaps most famously, Orson Welles in his final film role ever as Unicron before his death. Everyone manages to pull off a good performance, especially those who have had more experience with their characters, and you really get a feel for what everyone's personalities are like. Overall, there isn't really anything bad that I can say about the voice acting.

Even more amazing is the background music. The soundtrack is filled with some truly epic sounds, including songs from the likes of Stan Bush (best known for The Touch), Lion, NRG, Spectre General (aka Kick Axe), and even one from "Weird Al" Yankovic. When there isn't a song being played from one of these artists, Vince DiCola's score perfectly sets the tone of a scene, including plenty of action scenes among the more emotionally heavy ones. The soundtrack is a delight to listen to on its own, as I have seen for myself with the CD release, and I can say that once you own a copy, you will not be disappointed. (The soundtrack can also be found on vinyl and cassette formats.)

While there are a lot of positives about this movie, there is one thing that deserves mention: all the Autobot and Decepticon deaths. You see, at the time the movie was released, Hasbro was trying to promote a brand new wave of Transformers toys to replace the ones already on the shelf that were advertised seen in the first two seasons of the cartoon. As a way to do this, the first half hour or so of the movie is really intense as it is filled with Autobots being killed off by the Decepticons, some of whom are given new bodies and identities, with at least one death on their side as well, making these scenes especially shocking at the time to those who grew up with these characters.

But one of, if not the, most memorable of these moments has to be the death of Optimus Prime. Among all the casualties on the Autobot side, Optimus Prime's has the most focus and is, as a result, one of the heaviest emotional scenes in the movie, made even more so by Vince DiCola's music for it. From my experience with the movie, it didn't mean too much to me the first several times I watched it because I hadn't seen that much of the cartoon before. However, thanks to the Shout! Factory release, I was able to get to know this version of Optimus more as a character, and as result, I was actually close to tears during my last couple of viewings. It's a very heavy scene that, once you get to know the character, is very unforgettable.

After all this time, I believe that The Transformers: The Movie has stood the test of time. Is it one of the greatest movies ever made? No. Is it a feature-length advertisement? Absolutely. However, it does represent the highest point of quality in 80's Transformers animation, and it tells a pretty good story on its own even if you're not too familiar with the original cartoon. After seeing this movie several times in all the years that I've possessed it, it is one that I never grow tired of seeing, especially because of all the positive attributes of it. If you are a Transformers collector, this movie is a must-have for your collection.

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