The Transformers: The Movie (1986) – By Jonathon Pernisek

 Next year Michael Bay (otherwise known as the only director who shoots his films with the attention span of a crack-addicted, voyeuristic teenager) will release his sure-to-be epic adaptation of The Transformers. The recently released teaser trailer for the film is the very definition of sensationalism, making the project seem like a landmark in cinematic history. From the raw emotion of the background music and abundant use of ominous text cards you’d think the darn thing is about the Biblical apocalypse rather than, say, robots that turn into cars. What I’m trying to say here is Bay may be taking the source material a bit too seriously, since the original film version of the toy line is mindlessly dumb and seems to be comfortable in knowing that fact.

What passes for a storyline in The Transformers: The Movie is complicated to the point of excess, considering the script’s only real purpose is to get us from one robotic battle to the next. This is proof positive of my not being the intended audience for this picture, since dedicated fans will surely get more out of the plot than I ever could. Taking place in the distant future of 2005, TT:TM sees the do-gooder Autobots (led by Optimus Prime, who can turn into a semi-truck) facing off once more against the evil Decepticons (led by Megatron, who…turns into a really stupid pistol). Both factions find themselves dealing with a force much more powerful force in Unicron, a true-blue bastard of a planet whose only purpose in life is to eat other planets whole. Padding is added in the form of subplot after subplot, including the death of Optimus Prime (a scene so sappy in execution it made me laugh) and various adventures on different planets due to ship malfunctions.

As I said earlier, while the actual twists and turns of Transformers are completely inconsequential, at least the movie seems to realize and in fact revel in its own contrived nature. The cast of robots is immense for no other reason than to introduce new figurines for the ’86 shopping season, and proceedings often stop dead in their tracks for one lame-brained mechanical skirmish after another. It’s safe to say the movie is violent to the point of excess, with swarms of androids dieing left and right. After a while the sight of robots having their brains, chests, and kneecaps blown away by laser fire actually got a little sickening. Chalk it up to the mentality of the ‘80s, I suppose, since nowadays kids seem to be championing more peaceful folk like SpongeBob Squarepants, but at least there’s no hint of an apology for the carnage and mayhem onscreen.

What really rockets this animated spectacle into the stratosphere of insanity is not its constant pumping of adrenaline or crass sense of commercialism. No, it’s the soundtrack, heavily weighed down by more cheesy, hair band-driven rock ballads than you can shake a glittery, neon-colored stick at. Artists include Lion, N.R.G., and Kick Axe, whom I’m sure we all remember for their various hits, such as “The Touch,” “Nothin’s Gonna Stand in Our Way,” and “Dare.” There’s more than enough cheese to sample when you’re with this crowd, but throw in Weird Al Yankovic’s “Dare To Be Stupid” and suddenly you’ve achieved schlock genius. You haven’t lived ‘til you’ve seen cartoon ‘bots grooving to the Divo-inspired rhyming styles of Weird Al. And if you think you have, then buddy, you are just plain wrong.

I’ll end this review by taking stock of the vocal talents on display, since there are quite a few surprises amongst the credits. Eric Idle of Monty Python fame shows up to play Wreck-Gar, though I’d be lying if I said I remembered anything about the character. Voice-over staple Casey Kasem also appears Cliffjumper, who I have to assume was the robot that…jumped off…cliffs? You can see how much I paid attention during all of those battle sequences. Leonard Nimoy apparently took a break from recording all of those unreleased Hobbit albums to play Galvatron, a souped-up version of Megatron who I’m sure was a big hit at toy stores. Last but not least is Orson Welles, who earned his last film credit with Transformers by playing the diabolical Unicron. When asked about his character, Welles had this to say:

"(I play) a big toy who attacks a bunch of smaller toys.” A cynical description, yes, but accurate nonetheless. Listening to Welles you can almost picture him leaning back in a creaky armchair throwing back martini after martini during his studio sessions. It’s no wonder the man couldn’t remember his character’s name when asked, since it must be pretty darn humbling to go from playing Death in The Hearts of Age to a hungry planet with plans for universal domination.

What can really be said about The Transformers: The Movie when you get right down to it? Fans will more than likely be satisfied, but I highly doubt any already wary viewers will be converted by its sensor-slamming visuals and uber-geeky moments (a kid cries over the death of a semi-truck, people). Based on this experience, though, I am a bit more interested to see just what Michael Bay will do when his time behind the camera comes around. Will he include keyboard ballads and quavering rock verse? One can only hope.