Monday, August 8, 2011

Celebrating The 25th Anniversary of Transformers: The Movie

25 years ago today, I became 12 years old, and to celebrate, my family went to see an opening day presentation of Transformers: The Movie*. For modern-day Transformers fans, it probably comes as a bit of a surprise that the franchise had a theatrical movie many years before the Michael Bay live-action movies started setting box office records. But this was the Transformers movie for my generation of Transformers fans.

Premiering during the summer between Seasons 2 and 3 of the original 1980's Transformers cartoon, Transformers: The Movie represented a significant shift: changing the setting from then-modern day Earth to the then-future year 2005 and a broader interplanetary context.  Along with this change came a series of new characters (most of which I actually don't have the original toy versions of) including Hot Rod, Kup, Galvatron, Cyclonus, Ultra Magnus, and others.

Besides just the characters, the movie introduced some concepts that have become deeply embedded in the franchise in the years since.  It's now almost impossible to imagine the Transformers without the Matrix of Leadership, and the planet-devouring Unicron, introduced and destroyed within the course of this movie without any hint of a backstory, has since been elevated to a Satan-like universal-level threat, eternally able to resurface despite all manner of apparent annihilation.

Of course, the thing that Transformers: The Movie is most remembered for (among those that remember it, in any event) is what was later considered to be Hasbro's greatest mistake in the history of the franchise: the death of Optimus Prime.  The idea, of course, was that they needed to move characters for toys that were no longer available at stores out of the way in favor of characters for the new toys that kids could buy.  No one had imagined how traumatized many children would become at seeing one of their heroes--even an animated cartoon character--die.  Like most television cartoons of the era (and, indeed, even most today), death was practically unknown.  Characters would shoot lasers (never bullets!) at point-blank range and still miss!  A theatrical movie afforded the creators the freedom to do things that would never be allowed on television, having characters actually die was only one of the freedoms that were taken.  Optimus Prime was by no means the only casualty of the movie, but his passing was certainly the most acutely felt.

Although the movie is now regarded as a classic among Transformers fans, it was almost universally reviled by critics.  That's perhaps not terribly surprising, as critics have much the same impression of the current live-action movies.  Unlike the current movies, however, Transformers: The Movie didn't perform terribly well at the box office.  No matter.  I'll still enjoy watching the movie again this evening in honor of the anniversary.

*Yes, I know that the title of the movie technically has another definite article: "The Transformers: The Movie." But not only is that not the way I generally see/hear the movie referred to, but including that definite article all the time makes composing coherent sentences a real pain, so I'm just not going to bother. You have my permission to accept that the fact that I'm referencing this fact down here as sufficient testimony to my obsessive nature, and we'll all move on....

1 comment:

  1. I have a five-year-old, so a while back I picked up the original Transformers movie - in no small part as a protest against the current films. And despite the death of Optimus Prime and a certain level of pervasive cheesiness (mainly in the form of Eighties Power Ballads - they're everywhere!), I've really enjoyed rewatching it. (And re-rewatching it... and re-re-rewatching... did I mention that there was a five-year-old involved in this?)

    For one thing, it's pretty obvious that they went all-out when they produced it. The voice talent is an amazing list; the movie is (IMHO) quite a bit better scripted than its modern successors; and even the cheesy eighties power ballads were cutting edge for the time.

    So yeah, the movie holds up surprisingly well.

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