“Does Prime die…?”
I’ve wanted to do this for a while; take a fresh look at classic nerd movies with the perspectives of time and everything following them.
We’re going to start with a bit of a hybrid. It’s not only a seminal movie for thirtysomething toy geeks, it’s also one of the lynchpins in the mythos of one of the greatest of action figure brands. The year was 1986. The occasion was my best friend’s 12th birthday. We went to Movieland on Central Avenue in Yonkers, New York and saw…
After Star Wars introduced me to the very concept of action figures, there were The Big Three: Masters of the Universe, G.I Joe, and Transformers (for me, there were also Power Lords, M.A.S.K., Rambo, and, yes, a few Care Bears figures, but we’re not here for any of them). The last of these was the only property whose cartoon made the jump from the 12″ box on the second shelf of my wall unit to the big screen, so we were pretty excited about it. Of course, what I know now, but wouldn’t have even considered then, is Transformers-The Movie served just one purpose: get kids like me excited for the new characters and toys in the ’86 range.
There were many ways to do this. The filmmakers chose galvanizing horror.
Transformers-The Movie bothered me. Not bothered annoyed, bothered disturbed. I mean, I loved it; we talked about it constantly, but it also bothered me. I wasn’t prepared for how violent it was, I wasn’t prepared for how, at times, mean-spirited it was, and I certainly wasn’t prepared for half my small Transformers toy collection to be capriciously murdered in front of me.
I also wasn’t prepared for everything I knew about Transformers as a world, as a universe, to be obsolete and different by the time the house lights went up and I’m sure I wasn’t alone.
Does Prime die? No way, we thought, but boy, did he. That got to me a bit but, frankly, the image of Starscream turning an ashy gray and crumbling into nothing haunted me. So much so that, years later, when I saw the movie on VHS for the first time, I found myself dreading that part, and I was in my late teens.
I wasn’t crazy about Kranix’s death, either.
Think about now much emotional stock we place in our toys as children. Toy Story 3 was all about that. Looking back, it’s amazing to me Flint Dille and the powers that be at Hasbro could be so flip about annihilating characters with whom kids spent two years falling in love.
Big wheel keep on turning.
Didn’t Galvatron once sing that?
Saying all of this, when I sat down to watch the movie again for this review, it wasn’t the Qunitessons I looked forward to seeing, or Hot Rod, or the planet of junk, it was the first act for which I couldn’t wait; the battle for Autobot City. I still find the deaths of characters like Wheeljack and Brawn heartbreaking, but I’m old enough to handle it, now, and I realize it’s those deaths, in part, which make the first 20 or so minutes of the movie epic.
And, I now realize, ballsy.
Back to 1986. I can’t say the movie failed to do what it set out to do; the toys continued to sell, basically without interruption, until I wrote this sentence, and then continued selling, but, for me, a lot of the joy left Transformers the day I saw the movie; I just didn’t realize it at the time. My parents bought me a Hot Rod, but I didn’t get any of the other new movie characters, nor did I really want them. In the movie’s defense, I should say I would be a teenager late the next year, a point at which playing with toys rapidly becomes verboten in kid culture, so I had to bow to that pressure. Still though, Transformers just didn’t feel the same, anymore. As one of the guys on the DVD’s fan commentary said, in his eyes, Generation 1 ended the moment Galvatron’s foot crushed Starscream’s crown. I think that’s true.
Of course, the movie also worked another way.
Since they were summarily cast aside in ’86, the original G1 characters have more than been redeemed. No one likes Rodimus Prime more than Optimus Prime, or Galvatron more than Megatron (I’m a big Kup fan, now, though). Who among us can wait for the Generations toy line to return to the pegs with new (Brawn, Huffer, Gears, and Arcee, please, Hasbro) figures?
And who are the titanically wretched Michael Bay movies based on…? Truk not munkee. Or Johnny and Spock.
When I watched Transformers-The Movie this time, a few things occurred to me I’d never noticed before. Ultra Magnus is a terrible leader. Why does every planet in the universe have transforming robots on it? The shuttle massacre would have earned the movie an R rating if it involved live-action, or even animated, humans. Where does Blurr go after about an hour? How are the Constructicons blowing those horns? Huh, Wheelie wasn’t THAT annoying. Do Transformers only truly die when they turn gray?
I know this hasn’t been a traditional movie review, but it’s pretty pointless to even attempt one with Transformers-The Movie, particularly for someone my age. Looking at it objectively, all the drama is in the first act, the Matrix is a MacGuffin AND a Deus Ex Machina, Optimus Prime and Megatron are, by far, the most compelling characters (not a surprise, considering their history and all the stunt casting of the new characters), there’s just about no narrative flow after the Autobots flee Earth, the mega 80s rock soundtrack is, at times, literally noise, and there are animation errors all over the place.
But it’s still a lot of fun.
There are certain things you latch onto, or latch on to you, when you’re a child you take with you throughout life. For good or for ill, Transformers-The Movie is one of those things for a lot of us. It taught us about death, disappointment, omnipotent planet-eating entities, and introduced us to the concept of nostalgia in the span of 86 minutes. Today it remains one of the most treasured touchstones of toy nerd culture and is something TransFans can still appreciate on its own terms, largely for the same reasons it was such a mindfuck in 1986. We take it seriously in a way people even just a bit older or younger than us don’t. Or can’t.
Can’t say that about The Care Bears Movie.
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