by Marc Kandel
This was my first DVD, grounds for crucifixion on this site, but I confess, I never tire of watching it. This was essential viewing from my youth, a surprisingly satisfying offering from what was essentially a marketing ploy created to sell gobs and gobs of toys. Okay, I bought Aliens too, but the Fellini fans will probably still take offense. Eh. Fuck em'. Snobby, dead-arty-eye-tal-loving twats- don’t you judge me! Ahem… On to the review…The plot: In the far off year of 2005, retreating from a crippling attack on the last of their dwindling strongholds resulting in the death of their commander, the Autobots must contend not only with their old adversaries the Decepticons, but must face an even more terrifying threat: Unicron, a planetoid that consumes other planets, on a direct course to their Decepticon-occupied homeworld of Cyberton. Now tell me “The Godfather, Citizen Kane and Casablanca” have anything on that. Go ahead. Try. That’s right. You can’t. Rick Blane, Sonny Corleone, Charles Foster Kane… Nobody’s got the skills to step up to such cinematic beatdown gods as Galvatron and Wheelie. True.
"The day the lasers started to hurt…"
In my middle school and I’m not ashamed to say a goodly portion of my high school days, upon coming home, the TV went on and there was a solid hour of peace and contentment in my home to the exclusion of all else, unmatched even in my quieter moments today, focused solely on the adventures of groups of special elite commandoes and robots in disguise blasting the shit out of everything on screen yet never actually hitting anything. It was colorful, loud, cheesy, energized, and totally, unabashedly fun. Sure, character development was nonexistent, as were changes to status quo, and likewise, the plots never veered very far from a simple yet keenly effective formula- the bad guys have a plot, the good guys find out about it, and the two kick the crap out of each other for the last fifteen minutes until the baddies retreat. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I speak of GI Joe and the Transformers.
For the TV episodes, I have to say I enjoyed the Joes a bit more, as there was just a fraction more character development (mostly in the Cobra camp) on that show than there was on Transformers (the Megatron/Starscream rivalry just couldn’t match the crafty one-upmanship and backstabbing between Cobra Commander and Destro), who instead spent their couple of seconds away from the general plot wisely branding that catchy wharnk-wharnk-wharnk-wharnk transformation sound into my brain. But it was all good clean fun with some sterling animation for the time, nobody got hurt, and it made me happy, only stunting the loss of my virginity by roughly a year or two… or four.
Funny thing happened in 1987: Transformers got a movie, and all the rules got broke- big time. Appearing on the big screen suddenly had these guys sporting some bigger ball bearings and this friendly, quaint little adventure cartoon I had come to know as a kid turned into a giant robot snuff film; An honest to God Grand Guignol dispatching legions of anthropomorphic cars and planes with relish. Within the first ten to fifteen minutes of the film, we see an entire planet of cybernetic beings, including happy go lucky robot children (who will never grow u.. um, get upgraded and refitted to adult robots) completely obliterated (with neat crunchy sounds), followed by a vicious mow-down massacre of nearly all of the kind, personable, Autobots that comprised the bulk of the cast from the TV show that I would jump of the bus and tune in to watch every afternoon. And then Megatron kills Optimus Prime. Optimus. Prime. Optimus “so badass that I'm programmed with John Wayne’s voice” Prime.
Holy fucking shit, this film meant business.
Now mind you, up until this point, kids like me were used to watching dozens upon dozens of robots the size of small houses battling in environments littered with children, buildings, incendiary chemicals, trees, construction workers in really faggy yellow boots, etc., exchanging massive amounts of firepower, and occasionally if you looked hard enough some of the laser shots would bounce of the ground or a wall, leaving a timid curl of smoke, with little to no property damage, and certainly no casualties. As of “Transformers the Movie,” these gentle, playground laws of robot combat no longer apply. Within seconds, shots that would have had less effect on the average Autobot paint job than a key to the side door wielded by a disgruntled valet are now punching Mack tire-sized holes in our heroes, who spew fuselage and vomit death curls of black industrial smoke as their spark goes out forever.
Brawn, Doc Ratchet, Wheeljack, Prowl, all the old gang I used sit back and have a chocolate milk to in the afternoon, attempting to cling to something that wouldn’t have me prowling the corpse littered halls of my school with the smoking .44 in my hand, all are wiped out ruthlessly and efficiently in seconds. The point blank head shot Megatron delivers to a broken, slumped Ironhide is particularly memorable and heartfelt. This then is tragedy, grand opera of the highest order.
I was stunned at how good this movie was. The pace is unrelenting, the stakes and tension palpable. The protagonists are dealt setback after setback, loss upon loss and must constantly keep moving, threats closing in from all sides, pausing only to add in a few insanely distracting kid-friendly scenes such as the introduction of an obnoxiously obvious kid-character named Wheelie (who yes, I did use in the opening paragraph for comedic effect- I hate him, but am not above using him for a quick yuk) and a horrifying Weird Al Yankovic musical number, neither having any place in this masterpiece, serving only to foul the magnificent through-line of action and pathos.
I know, I know, the intended audience is actually ages 5-12, but gad how I hate compromise. Otherwise, the film is riveting as our Autobot friends must deal with not one but two formidable threats, separation, death, and as I said, Wheelie, who is 500 times more annoying than Jar Jar, Dobby, and even Bumblebee could ever hope to be. How, in a movie where dozens of hardened Autobot and Decepticon ass kickers and name takers get logged off, does this irritating, appeals-to-kids-in-the-minds-of-corporate-drones-whose-last-interaction-with-a-child-was-probably-on-one-of-those-secretive-Thailand-trips-to-satiate-his-dark-boy-hungry-lusts, fop manage to survive? How, I ask?
But Wheelie hatred aside, this film’s a damn good time. It also features some really excellent voice work from various players. We have Leonard Nemoy as the arch-villain Galvatron (a rebooted, upgraded Megatron), who takes care to impart every sentence with brutality and malignancy. We have Robert Stack as Ultra Magnus, whose best moments are not driving the Autobots into battle, but wrestling with his inadequacies as a leader- it’s a damn cartoon, but this man does his job and you’ll believe a robot can regret. Of course we cannot forget that this film is the final cinematic offering of Orson Welles, voicing Unicron, the planet killer. It’s a worthy, fine effort, and somewhere in heaven, atop a never-diminishing pile of Mrs. Pell’s frozen fish sticks, the blazing spirit of Orson Wells sits, contentedly munching away and looking over all of us, swelled with pride (and fish sticks) in this, his finest moment as a performer. His last gift and legacy to all of us: Unicron.
And yes, though there are numerous plot holes you could drive Omega Supreme through (20 years and the people of Earth are still ignorant that their planet is populated by GIANT ROBOTS), ridiculous gaps in logic (Ultra Maximus gets drawn, quartered, and then reassembled and restored while a piece of shrapnel to Prime’s gut flatlines him?), and of course, Wheelie, the film still soars above mediocrity by never letting up on the action, providing an exciting ride for the viewer.
One could say that this movie represented the passage of childhood into adolescence, where a once friendly, playful environment grew teeth and started to change into a place where actions led to very real consequences, and we found that childhood comrades would not be with us forever, and that change was inevitable, but not necessarily a bad thing as through change, we might grow stronger, you know, like Hot Rod. One could also say that Hasbro, sensing the bottoming out of a toy line that was starting to show its age in an increasingly competitive market after 3 or 4 years, wanted an event to launch the newest toys and cartoon seasons and this was a profitable way for them to clean the slate, and get kids buying the next wave of transforming toys.
Reason dictates that it’s probably the representation of this latter motivation. But who knew they’d be so stunningly ruthless and delightfully sadistic in their efforts and actually turn out a respectable, exciting cartoon to do it?
Certainly not this boy. But 2005 has come and gone, and alas, no final wars, no Golden Age of Cyberton, and I’ve yet to see even one construction worker wearing those curious sunlight yellow booties. Just a shitty Beast Wars show and a truly shitty Transformers Armada, utilizing that bane of coherent thought, Anime, the Barney and Friends replacement to fourteen year olds searching for something to have some inexplicable fascination with bordering on fanaticism, to further despoil, castrate and raze this band of once formidable metallic warriors in disguise. Sure, we finally got our Unicron toy, but alas, my interests veered away from giant robots and toy soldiers to important things, like internet porn and Marvel Legends Action Figures.
Sometimes I do actually take a quiet moment from my mania, sit back, and marvel that I ever was able to get my dick wet. Thank God for hookers. And chloroform.Transformers the Movie is science fiction fun of the first water, an entertaining piece of ballsy nostalgia with solid animation and voice work backing up a good, simple story. And Spike the human says “shit” in the third act. Now what could be better than that?
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=927&reviewer=358
originally posted: 03/04/06 15:46:42