The Transformers: The Movie (1986)

I am old enough to remember no one knowing who any of these characters were, yet still young enough to be a Millenial.

You know what was awesome? The 1980s. I don't mean that it didn't have its problems, as any period of time does have a fair amount of those, but it really was this cool time to be around during. You had all this great music, the true rise of the video game industry, one of the absolutely best times to be a comic book fan, more toys than any child knew what to do with, and had the cartoons. Oh, wow, did the 1980s give us a plethora of cartoons and animated films. Hell, I'll admit to only recently discovering a few that I actually missed as a child. Think about that. But when it came to cartoons, there area few that are so universally beloved from that time that everyone knows of them. And among those, there is the most famous one in the pack. A show about alien robotic beings who could change into various things to hide in plain sight.

No, not that one. The one that people don't make fun of.

Transformers, touted as being "more than meets the eye" was a huge success. So huge that it still lives on today as a popular toyline, cartoon, and series of explosions that have been edited to be feature length films. I think that last one has a bunch of CGI robots in it too, but it's mostly explosions. But the franchise was never bigger than it was in its heyday, as it's hard to argue that Transformers ruled the 1980s. It originally began life as two separate toylines in Japan that were both brought over to the west by Hasbro and sold as Transformers. They hired Marvel Comics to produce both a comic series and cartoon to build the backstory for the line and it thrived. So, it's not a big shock that we got a movie out of the deal. Wait, didn't I already review the movie last year? Yeah, I seem to recall talking about Transformers...wait...oh no...


No, no, no, that was not Transformers. That, the Transformers got their big film debut back when they were actually at the height of their popularity, in 1986. It was meant to be a massive epic that sprawled out before its audience, bringing a new threat bigger than any the heroes had faced previously and introducing us to new protagonists, as it was set in the future from the events depicted in the cartoon at that point. What happened? Well, a lot of kids cried and parents got really pissed off as a result of this. But why? For that answer, let's delve into the movie that actually did push some limits, and see why many Transformers fans still consider it the gold standard while also kind of hating parts of it.

Yeah, because I'm sure it could never get worse, right?

We're going to go into this assuming you know the basics of the cartoon. Autobots and Decepticons crashed on Earth, chilled here for an incredibly long time, woke up, fought it out, Decepticons kept their homeworld for themselves, Autobots are still fighting to free said homeworld. There's your basic set-up. It's now the year 2005, YouTube was just founded, oil prices are up, the Pope just died, bird flu is freaking people out, and Johnny Depp is freaking them out even more as Willy Wonka. Optimus Prime, the big damn hero himself, sends a shuttle of his most trusted men to Earth for supplies to help them fight off the Decepticons. Sadly, Laserbeak overhears this and Megatron is now wise to Prime's plan. He hatches a plan of his own.

"We'll pull off our heads and let weird alien people turn into our new heads. It's perfect!"

Okay, no, that doesn't happen here. That happens later on in something that is a lot less well put together. No, his plan is to attack the ship and commandeer it for themselves, allowing them to fly into Autobot City on Earth without their enemies even realizing it. It shouldn't be an easy feat either, since the shuttle itself is crewed by some of the best bots Prime has. Ironhide, his second in command, is commanding the vessel and he has Ratchet, Prowl, Bluesteak, and Brawn backing him up. These guys aren't slouches. So, what happens? Megatron and his previously ineffectual soldiers burst and brutally murder all of them.

Holy fucking shit!

This right here...yeah, we need to just talk about this for a hot second. You see, Hasbro had a whole new swath of toys coming out. That meant new characters, so they wanted to push said new characters. Where did that leave the old characters? Well, apparently it left them to mostly become hot metal corpses. The attitude was that, since they are only robots, no one will care all that much if they're killed off. Man, I'm sure that didn't backfire at all of lead to any sort of outrage from parents consoling their weeping children who just watched beloved characters die is rather graphic manners. Hell, remember Ironhide and how important he was, what with being the second to Prime? Megatron shoots his half-dead form in the face. It's a scene that really highlights two things: that Hasbro probably should've actually used their brains and secondly, the writers of this film wanted to illustrate how much more serious things are.

Remember, kids, it doesn't matter if you see robots die horribly. They're just robots...with personalities, feelings, and desires.

On Earth, we get to see our new main characters introduced throughout the next 10 minutes or so. Hot Rod, a young Autobot, is hanging out with Daniel, the son of the Autobots' longtime human friend and comrade Spike Witwicky. They're fishing when they see the shuttle coming in and Hot Rod noticed the giant smoldering hole in the side. Huh, Megatron probably should've thought about that. So, he starts shooting, this gets the old soldier Kup's attention, the Decepticons bail out and begin their attack, and shit officially hits the fan in a big way. This entire battle in Autobot City is a truly epic sequence. We get brief intros for our new main characters (Hot Rod, Daniel, Kup, Arcee, Springer, Blaster, Perceptor, Blurr, and Ultra Magnus) and we see a whole lot of robot death. I hate to keep harping on it, but it really is kind of grisly for a films made for children. These are living beings, characters featured prominently for two seasons of the cartoon. That's 65 episodes in total, each running roughly around 22 minutes apiece. Kids are pretty attached to guys like Wheeljack, the Autobot inventor or that smartass Windcharger. So, let's just have a lingering shot of Arcee dragging their lifeless bodies.

Ah, good ol' childhood trauma as can only be delivered by executive mandate.

The Battle of Autobot City is, quite honestly, the biggest action sequence in the entire film. It puts the shit in Michael Bay's live action shitfests to shame too, as the animation is so damn good. We see Devastator tearing through the city, Starscream shooting off his own foot, Insecticons getting mutilated under wheels, Dinobots tearing into Decepticons, and finally...we get to see Optimus Prime arrive after Blaster sent out a distress call. It is such an epic moment that the song played during it is considered to be his de-facto theme song. He tears through the Decepticon forces all by himself, despite coming with back-up who just stand back and admire how badass their leader is. Seriously, you explain why Hound and Sunstreaker just stand there.

"Are you kidding? We're saw what happened to Brawn when he got shot in the shoulder! We're not fucking with this movie."

He goes to confront Megatron, they have their big battle and Megs begs for mercy, clearly planning to grab the nearby gun just out of Prime's sight. Hot Rod sees this and tries to stop Megatron, but instead becomes a shield as Megs then blasts the hell out of Prime. But he can't help but gloat, allowing Prime to hit him so hard that Megatron is about to give up the ghost. The Decepticons run away, soundly defeating more severely than they're ever been before, seeing as a large number of them are now either dead or dying. They pile into Astrotrain, who is about what he sounds like, and we get to watch Optimus Prime slowly die in an extremely dramatic scene. The colour literally drains out of his entire body and a child weeps over his lifeless form.

Now he'll never know how the Harry Potter series ends.

Now that Prime has bailed out before the live action movies can be made, Ultra Magnus is the leader because Prime says it's his destiny to hold the Matrix...even though we got a super dramatic moment of Hot Rod holding it and it lighting up like a damn spotlight in his palms. I wonder if that's foreshadowing anything? Up in space, Astrotrain tells the Decepticons that he can't make it home if they don't lighten the load, which should be easy. I mean, they all fly. The ones who aren't injured could easily fly outside, as the cold vacuum of space doesn't really effect any of them. So, of course, they toss all the dying ones out into the void instead, because Decepticons are just massive lazy dickheads. This includes Megatron, which is something that delights Starscream. Now, let's talk about the elephant in the room...the planet-sized one that eats planets.

Basically, he's a robot Lovecraftian nightmare voiced by Orson Welles.

Yeah, this is our main antagonist in the film. He's this giant god-like entity who cruises through the universe devouring planets whenever he gets the munchies. We actually get to see a rather horrifying depiction of this early on in the film when an entire race of robotic being not unlike the ones we're following are all devoured. This is how you make a scary giant monster. You don't try to make it scary visually by giving it spindly bits or gnarled just show it doing mass genocide on a planetary scale. Godzilla would have a hard time with Unicron, no matter how much you love the Big G. He'd put up a savage fight though, that you can be sure of. Now, I bring him up now because, as the mostly dead Decepticons float around in space, in drifts the big bastard and he makes a proposition to Megatron. New bodies, new lease on life, and the chance to finally kill all the Autobots. All he wants is their servitude and...well, to delete them so he can upload their new versions. It's an interesting idea here, because rather than outright killing these characters, they're getting remade into new forms. Megatron agrees, not realizing he won't really be him anymore, and he becomes robotic Leonard Nimoy...also called Galvatron.

Then he sang a song about Bilbo Baggins and Unicron began to regret his decisions.

With his new soldiers in tow, Galvatron's first act is to go blow up Starscream, who is being crowned as lord of the Decepticons. It's another rather graphic death for a character. Yeah, you can roll your eyes and say "how can a robot's death be graphic?" but then you see shit like this.

At least these are beautifully animated deaths though.

See, I grew up on really gory films. I read Eerie, Creepy, Conan, and Heavy Metal as a child. But that stuff never got to me. These deaths...they just seem so much worse when you really stop and think about them. The idea that you can look at these deaths and not find them graphic means you have no real attachment to the characters present, in which case you shouldn't be watching the damn movie. My niece reacted to these deaths when she watched it for the first time in a manner you'd expect someone to react to characters dying in such brutal ways. She was shocked, sad, and emotional. Sure, she was under the age of 10 at the time, but that doesn't mean her emotional response is somehow wrong. She saw these characters as living things and seeing them die left an impact. In a way, that's a good thing, because it helps you remember the film. But when your main audience is children, it really does feel incredibly questionable. Part of me thinks the animators and writers made it so harsh because they knew it'd backfire on Hasbro in the end.

Then again, maybe they're all just assholes who enjoy killing off characters like George R.R. Martin on a bender.

Under Galvatron's orders, the Decepticons launch another attack on Autobot City, driving the main characters to board ships and flee into space. The surviving Autobots from the first two, they're off doing something, I guess. Yeah, most of them are kind of glazed over both in this film and in the third season of the show, which takes place after the film. The general attitude seems to be "fuck 'em, their toys are old". At least they didn't get to die horribly though, so I guess that's a plus. Only one of the dead Autobots is lucky enough to get brought back and that's as an animation error.

Brawn was too tough to let a little thing like death keep him down.

They escape into space but are still under attack, resulting in one ship being shot down and the other faking their deaths by separating have the ship so it can be destroyed. The half-ship ends up on the planet Junkion where they set out to make repairs to the ship. But Unicron tells Galvatron that they're still alive, prompting him to send him to finish off Ultra Magnus and to destroy the Matrix, because Unicron sees it as a threat. Magnus and the others put up a good fight, but he gets blown apart and Galvatron takes off with the Matrix believing he can get his freedom with it. Then, because life isn't hard enough for the mourning Autobots and traumatized human child who has now watched two Autobot leaders die, the locals pop up to try and continue fucking up their day. Well, shit.

Oh, and as far as he knows, his dad is dead too. For kids!

Meanwhile, Hot Rod wakes up underwater on another world where he fights robotic wildlife to save Kup, who he then repairs just in time for the two of them to get taken prisoner the Quintessons, these weird floating multi-faced guys who apparently created the Transformers. While in prison, they meet the last living man from the planet Unicron munched on earlier and he tells them about Unicron, because they're not stressed enough. Then he gets fed to the Sharkticons, which are pretty self explanatory. Kup and Hot Rod decide to let themselves be dropped too, using their car forms to drive underwater and build up enough speed to drive out of the pit. While this all is happening, the Dinobots are wandering about too and meet Wheelie, a young auto-tuned Autobot who befriends them, and they all show up to aid the other two heroes against the Sharkticons. Grimlock stomps his foot and declares the Sharkticons, who are very reluctant to fight the bots currently murdering the shit out of them, turn on the Quintessons. They do, the heroes get on a new ship, and they leave to go find their friends. Said friends are now starting to notice that there are beings popping out of the ground and that might be a bad thing.

Those aren't Digletts...too much red.

A fight scene ensues, the other group arrives, Hot Rod and Kup defuse the situation, and the Junkions rebuild Ultra Magnus as good as new...which begs the question of why they didn't later have them rebuild all of their dead friends, but whatever. They talk about Unicron and all decide to go fuck him up, they proceed on their ships to do just that, and the main cast ends up crashing into the now transformed into a giant fucking death robot Unicron's eye as he is ripping up Cybertron. Inside of him they get separated a bit, with Hot Rod finding Galvatron, who Unicron forces to attack him against his will, and Daniel getting separated from the others only to find a horrible giant melting pot of screaming robot death where Jazz, Bumblebee, Cliffjumper, and Spike are all about to be dropped to their slow painful melty deaths. His dad tries to teach him on the fly to operate his suit's gun to shoot the lid shut on the thing, which luckily works out. Too bad for all those screaming melting robots already dying painfully though.

Walk it off, boys. Walk it off.

Hot Rod gets the Matrix off of Galvatron, releasing its power to deus ex machina the fuck out of Unicron's innards and he evolves into Rodimus Prime, the new leader of the Autobots. He meets up with the others and leads them out while some truly badass 80s metal plays and they crash through Unicron's other eye, meaning he's now blind and blowing up from the inside. Unicron then finishes blowing up and they all end up on Cybertron where Rodimus declares this is a new age for all Cybertronians. We then get the amazing theme song from the beginning of the film again as the credits roll and Unicron's head floats off into space so Starscream's ghost can later use it to come back to life.

Yes, really. Transformers is so beautifully weird.

This movie is amazing. The animation is stellar and still stands as some of the finest of its time, with so much attention to detail that it really is shocking to observe all the various moving bits. As an animated feature, it really is something that should be experienced. It does trail into some really questionable areas plotwise, though, with the various deaths and very heavy drama. I applaud them for not writing it in a way that coddles the audience but I can easily see why they got in trouble for it too. For many kids back then, this was their introduction to the concept of death as they saw these characters die in gruesome fashions. Many people still say that the death of Optimus Prime sticks with them as one of the saddest film deaths ever, because people really do care about him as a character.

But don't worry, he came back again just in time for the show to end.

The backlash over the deaths in the movie made Hasbro reevaluate their stance regarding killing off characters to push new toys, which had an interesting effect on their next big animated feature, G.I. Joe: The Movie. I'd go over that more but...well, we have a whole month left to get to it. Hint, hint. Anyway, it's a great movie and the soundtrack is probably one of my favourite albums to come out of the 80s, with ridiculously catchy heavy metal tunes that fit the film perfectly. All in all, it's a very strong start to my animation celebration, which is why I chose to talk about it first. Check it out for yourself, you won't be disappointed. So, until Unicron zaps some talent in Michael Bay, I'll be here wishing this movie had a Blu-Ray release in America. Seriously, someone needs to get on that. Later days, bleeders.

Also, yes, Arcee is jawsome. More female robots please.