Cult Movies

Cult Movie Essentials: Transformers – The Movie (1986)

The Transformers: The Movie was released in the United States on Friday, August 8, 1986 and is best summed up by this quote from legendary “Frozen Peas” salesman Orson Welles.

‘The Japanese have funded a full-length animated cartoon about the doings of these toys, which is all bad outer-space stuff. I play a planet. I menace somebody called Something-or-other. Then I’m destroyed. My plan to destroy Whoever-it-is is thwarted and I tear myself apart on the screen.’

The film was the last professional performance by Orson who died only a month later – possibly through embarrassment. So you may ask, why this film is a cult classic?

Well partly because the movie was a step up in almost every area from the television series, with a more sophisticated plot, more serious treatment of war and violence, a hugely ambitious scope and a greatly increased animation budget with a well-known cast providing voice work; Judd Nelson, Leonard Nimoy, Casey Casem, Eric Idle, Scatman Crothers, along with voice over legend Frank Welker.

The story takes place in 2005, 20 years after the events of the TV series’ second season and serves to bridge into the third season. Set to a soundtrack of synth-based incidental music and hard-driving metal music, composed by Vince DiCola, the film has a decidedly darker tone than the television series, with detailed visuals in Toei Animation’s typical anime film styling, and like G.I. Joe: The Movie, Decepticon villains that are more menacing, killing without hesitation. The film features several grand battles in which a handful of major characters meet their end. The film’s tagline was: “Beyond good. Beyond evil. Beyond your wildest imagination.”

The film’s storyline follows the same continuity as the Transformers cartoon. It introduces a planet-sized Transformer called Unicron who eats other planets, and is approaching Cybertron. As part of their continuing wars, the Autobots and Decepticons have a fierce battle on Earth which sees both Optimus Prime and Megatron mortally wounded. Prime passes the Matrix of Leadership to Ultra Magnus and dies, and Megatron is transformed by Unicron into Galvatron. Starscream (briefly) assumes leadership of the Decepticons, but is killed when Galvatron arrives at Cybertron. Galvatron then chases the surviving Autobots on Earth across space, splitting them up and taking the Matrix. The Autobots find their way back to each other, and follow Galvatron to Cybertron just as Unicron transforms into robot mode and begins to eat their world. Travelling inside Unicron, Hot Rod recovers the Matrix, transforms into Rodimus Prime, and uses the Matrix to destroy Unicron.

The body count is pretty high; among the Autobots shown dead on screen are Optimus Prime, Ironhide, Prowl, Ratchet, Brawn, Windcharger, and Wheeljack. A substantial number of Autobots from the first two seasons of the show do not appear after the film, leaving their fates uncertain.Aside from Starscream, there are virtually no permanent Decepticon deaths in the film, and the few that died were not killed by Autobots. Most of the Decepticons who were dead or dying are rebuilt by Unicron, and while Galvatron makes a few references implying he has Megatron’s memories, it is less clear with Cyclonus and Scourge, as Bombshell or Skywarp and Thundercracker (who became Scourge), are depicted as having grave markers in a subterranean Decepticon crypt on Cybertron in the episode “Starscream’s Ghost”. Shockwave’s death was scripted but cut from the finished film; it was reinstated for IDW Publishing’s adaptation of the feature, printed in 2006. However, a rather different-coloured Shockwave makes a couple of appearances in the season premiere sequel “Five Faces of Darkness”. Mirage was originally supposed to be killed by Megatron in the original script but was later cut. Dirge, Thrust, and Ramjet were supposed to have been killed by Unicron but appeared in later episodes. One of the Sweeps did die by the hands of Grimlock’s fire breath attack over Autobot City but it is unclear which character died. One of the intentions of the film was to rid the Transformers cartoon universe of the majority of characters from Seasons 1 and 2. Story consultant Flint Dille elaborated:

“In the next season, we were going to have all these new characters, and people are going to be wondering what happened to the old characters that they liked so much. What we knew, in a business sense, is that they had been discontinued, because they were the 1984/1985 (toy) line – but, we needed to tie them off. So, we had this one scene where the Autobots basically had to run through a gauntlet of Decepticons. Which basically wiped out the entire ’84 product line in one massive “charge of the light brigade”. So, whoever wasn’t discontinued, stumbled to the end. That scene didn’t make it into the finished movie. But if you think kids were locking themselves in the bedroom over Optimus Prime, basically in that scene they would’ve seen their entire toy collection wiped out.

And then there is the music…The film was produced by Sunbow/Marvel simultaneously with G.I. Joe: The Movie. The writers of G.I. Joe: The Movie film asked for permission from Hasbro to kill the Duke character. Hasbro not only approved the request but insisted that the writers of The Transformers: The Movie adopt the same fate for Optimus Prime. However, Optimus’ death sparked much controversy and incurred so much backlash that it caused the writers of G.I. Joe to make changes so that Duke simply ended up in a coma from which he eventually awoke.

If your memories of the movie are as fond as mine, then the soundtrack has the power to cheer you up no end. Or to put it correctly – “light your darkest hour”.
Wife left you?
Put this on.
Lost your job?
Put this on.

I particularly recommend listening to ‘Dare’ after a foul day. And of course, how could I forget the bizarre collection of clichés and sayings that is ‘Dare to be Stupid.’ But they pale in comparison to the power of The Touch” by American singer, guitarist and walking haircut Stan Bush. Outside of Transformers, its most prominent use was in the 1997 film Boogie Nights, performed by Mark Wahlberg’s character. His cover also appeared as a hidden track on the first volume of that film’s soundtrack album. This could possibly be an inside joke that Wahlberg’s character Dirk Diggler originally wrote the song; however, because he couldn’t pay for the recording session in the movie, the recording studio sold it later for the Transformers movie. Director Paul Thomas Anderson had also used the song in his 1988 short film The Dirk Diggler Story, on which Boogie Nights is based.

I saw this in the theatres in ’86 at the wondrous age of 7. I can’t even convey the experience to you, so I won’t bother, except to say for the first time, a seven-year-old boy cried during a movie. Of course, it was also the first time I ever cursed, as I immediately told someone behind me who was snickering that he could “Go @%#$ himself”. The only quarrels I have with the movie would be the dance scene with the Junkions, while their friends are being gobbled up by a gigantic moon-gobbling planet.

While it does kill almost everyone off from the original series, it does so with such style and respect that it almost doesn’t even matter. If you’re going to kill Optimus Prime, it’s fitting that he does so in a blaze of glory with “You’ve got the Touch” playing in the background and one liners spewing out left and right. T this movie really has it all: Robo-violence galore, a flawless soundtrack, and a Transformers Villain without rival. The plot here is such a mammoth beast. The show always had doomsday type scenarios, but never in the form of a planet eating Orson Welles. It also dares to question who is fit to lead in a battle between the Autobots and Decepticons. What they did with this movie was raise the stakes, made the animation 10x better, and made the idea all the more timeless and undeniably awesome. I don’t think The Transformers would have as lasting of an effect as it does today if there hadn’t been this slice of brilliance included.

Michael Bay please watch this film, I’ll lend you my VHS copy…

 

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