Category Archives: Television

6 Enduring Legacies of 1986’s Animated ‘The Transformers: The Movie’

This article originally appeared on Inverse.

Still the reigning, undefeated, and undisputed movie champion of the Transformers franchise (sorry Michael Bay), The Transformers: The Movie blew the little minds of Transformer fans across the country. Come with us as we celebrate six things that made Nelson Shin’s 1986 feature film so epic.

1) WTF is an Anime?

I know, I know. Some of you cool kids had been watching GoShogun and Robotech on the Betamax long before us noobs ever heard the word “anime,” but for many of us, this was our first foray into the darker, much more grown-up style of animation. That isn’t to say The Transformers featured the same quality of animation as other ’80s anime classics like Akira, Heavy Metal, or Vampire Hunter D; Toei Animation, who had done the animation for the TV series, has always had a bit of a bad rep for producing cheap-and-it-shows animation.

However, janky-ass artwork notwithstanding, The Transformers was distinctly different than any of the Saturday morning comic book/toy line adaptations. It was visually rich, emotionally challenging, tenaciously paced. It showed a lot of us that mainstream animated feature films could exist outside of Disney-fied musicals in which animals sang and wore hats.

2) I Recognize That Voice …

Obviously the film producers cut some major costs on the animation front, so why not blow some of Hasbro’s money on big name actors? Years before celebrities flocked to voice animated characters for Disney and Pixar, Transformers drew some big (well, big for the time at least) Hollywood names. Joining original animated series voice actors Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, Casey Kasem, and the legendary Scatman Crothers, the project featured Leonard Nimoy as Galvatron, Robert “Unsolved Mysteries” Stack as Ultra Magnus, Lionel Stander as Kup, Monty Python alum Eric Idle as Wreck-Gar, and the ailing Orson Welles in his final role as world-gobbling planet transformer Unicron. Some of the youngsters won’t remember, but Judd Nelson, fresh off of St. Elmo’s Fire and The Breakfast Club, was a legit A-List star and a huge get as Hot Rod/Rodimus Prime.

~Though he died very shortly after completing his voice-work in 1985, those close to Welles say he was very proud of his inclusion in the film and saw Anime as an up and coming genre of filmmaking. And for those who weren’t familiar with Nimoy’s Transformers past, you may have seen his turn in “Dark of the Moon” coming if you had been.~ 

3) Bitching Tunes, Bro

From Lion’s epic title song remix packing Satriani-esque guitar licks into composer Vince DiCola’s score, The Transformers: The Movie soundtrack was jammed with Aqua Net scented ’80s glam-metal greatness. (Look, the link’s right there; you should probably use it as the soundtrack for the rest of this story.) Instruments Of Destruction by N.R.G., Hunger by Spectre General, are legit heavy metal bangers. “Weird Al” Yankovich credited the success of his studio album Dare to Be Stupid to the title track’s inclusion. Stan Bush’s iconic Touch was so popular, it remained in heavy rotation on MTV for years. Quite frankly if you hear the phrase “Transformers movie” and this song isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, I have nothing but sympathy for you, whippersnapper.

4) I’ll See Your Half-Hour Commercial and Raise You Another 60 Minutes

It’s no secret that many of the great animated TV series of the 1980’s were produced specifically to sell toys. He-Man, G.I. Joe, and the Transformers all got shows based on toys. The Transformers: The Movie solidified the idea of turning a full-length theatrical into a glorified commercial (weirdly enough, the first Hasbro/Toei Animation collaboration was the Danny DeVito/Rhea Perlman led My Little Pony film). ~Which also bombed at the box office.~

While the original Transformers series was really a way for Hasbro to package an amalgamation of a couple different Japanese toy lines, the full-length movie was the platform that successfully launched a generation of original Transformers characters. And while the line went on a hiatus in the 1990s, the movie helped ensure that the multiple variations of the franchise — toys, TV series, and (unfortunately movies) would continue over the next three decades. The $1.3 billion-and-counting Michael Bay live-action flicks owe a great debt to the piddly $5.8 million the animated film pulled out of piggy banks in the ’80s.

5) Rated PG for Sentient Robot Uber-Violence

For all of the over-the-top CGI death and destruction of the Michael Bay films, the carnage in the 1986 animated version was truly shocking. Those 1980s cartoons had always hewed to one immobile rule: no matter how violent things got, no one ever died. Even when it came to giant talking robots, there were scrapes, there were bumps, and there were bruises, but characters always came back by the end.

~The only Bay film to come close to touching upon this nerve was “Dark of The Moon”.~

But when you need to make room for that second-gen toy line, the hell with convention and childhood sensitivities, amirite?

~ The idea of killing off characters, namely the 1984/1985 line, was indeed to make room for the 1986/1987 toy lines which included several movie characters.  G.I.Joe was originally in production months before TFTM went into pre-production and received permission from Hasbro to kill Duke and make way for a new leader’s toy (Lt. Falcon), causing Hasbro to commit Optimus Prime to the same fate.  Due to the parental backlash to OP’s demise, Duke’s death scene was redubbed into a ‘coma’.~

The opening scene was literally Unicron committing robot genocide on a race of unwitting cyber people. Within 10 minutes, shell-shocked children across the country watched in horror as Deceptions hopped on the Autobots’ ship and straight-up murked five stalwarts from the animated TV series, including Ironhide and Ratchet. From there, many of us watched in horror as pretty much all of our favorite Autobots were unceremoniously massacred in the Battle of Autobot City: Wheeljack, Mirage, Brawn, Prowl, Windcharger, Trailbreaker, Red Alert — pretty much everyone but Bumble Bee and Jazz — all ended up as scrap metal with little-to-no fanfare.

Everyone knew the Deceptions were bad guys, but this was the first time those of us who didn’t rock with the Marvel comics got to see Deceptions as cold-blooded killers. The first half of the movie saw Megatron and his boys go from ill-tempered, but mostly harmless comic relief to the animated equivalent of Tarantino villains finding the most fucked-up ways to slaughter your childhood. These thugs were slagging your actual toybox. And while it was traumatic as fuck for just about every 6-to-12-year-old at the time, almost 30 years later, tell me Optimus Prime’s gut-wrenching death scene still doesn’t make you want to pour a little Pennzoil out for the big homey.

 

Horrifyingly, the final version of the movie was actually toned way down for younger audiences; the original story boards show that Ultra Magnus was literally supposed to be drawn and quartered by Galvatron and the Sweeps.

Ice cold, man.

~Toned down indeed.  The original idea was that the Battle of Autobot City was to be turned into a lethal gauntlet for the Autobots where the Decepticons simply lay waste to most of the established ’84/’85 characters.  While the number of deaths was dialed back, characters such as Wheeljack & Windcharger were simply murdered offscreen and shown as corpses to get the point across.  If you watch the scene where Ultra Magnus is cut down by the sweeps, you can see the Sweeps firing the ‘phaser ropes’ originally designed to draw and quarter their prey.~

 

6) The Power of Nostalgia

Working with a paltry $6 million budget (here’s where I take the high road and don’t make a Judd Nelson/coke trailer joke), Shin and team were able to crank out that Transformers flick in less than a year. That in and of itself is a minor miracle considering it took the production team about three months to complete each 30-minute TV episode.

~Commercials actually touted the film as “Two years in the making”.~

And while the film served its purpose, hawking second-gen action figures, at the time the movie was considered a flop by just about every metric. The critics panned it for being “too adult” and let’s face it, the animation really was choppy kludge. Even with such a small budget, the film ended up losing Hasbro money at the box office, effectively guaranteeing any other feature-length toy ads would go straight to TV.

~True.  TFTM combined with the aforementioned “My Little Pony” film cost Hasbro millions of lost dollars and immediately destined the over-budget, behind schedule G.I.Joe: The Movie to a direct to television release.~ 

But nostalgia is a funny thing: for many us in the 30-and-over Transformers fan club, that first movie was an integral part of our childhood. The hell with what the reviews said — the O.G. Transformers movie rocked our collective worlds. There was so much love there, Hollywood dropped $250 million on Michael Bay to get us a live-action remake. We still love the original so much today, part of the fun of watching Bay’s explosion-fests is being able to wave our canes at the youngsters and wax poetic about how back in our day, Hollywood knew how to make a real movie about giant, alien robot warriors.

~Critics have, as a track-record, always panned what they never really understood.  Most of your early version science fiction – fantasy – comic book films suffered the same way.  TFTM is a must see for anyone who claims to be a child of the 1980’s, a fan of awesome toys or just needs a flashback as to why growing up in our generation was just plain awesome!~

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Jim Gordon Isn’t The Hero Gotham Needs, Just The Idiot It Deserves (Ouch!)

Gotham promo posterOkay, first, that’s not my headline but it is an awesome use of Gordon’s own line from The Dark Knight. Second, yes, Gotham is getting slightly worse but no worse than it started to get just before the Holiday break.

Sure, the show is called Gotham and takes place in the DC Comics fictional city of the same name that serves as the home base to The Batman: The Dark Knight, The Caped Crusader, The World’s Greatest Detective, you get the idea… But aha! The show opens with the single most defining moment in DC Comics history… the murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne.  So we have our starting point, the “birth” of The Batman or at the very least, the creation of the sense of justice and vengeance that would inspire a young Bruce Wayne to later assume the mantle of The Bat.

Starting point… not story.  And that is where Gotham has failed.

The story that should have spawned from that event was not the grooming of Bruce Wayne towards his ultimate fate but the grooming of James Gordon, golden boy detective, towards his.  Under this thought process, Bruce Wayne is an afterthought, a peripheral character who has other things to do than be continuously portrayed as a whiney-bitch Luke Skywalker type… looking off into the future and crying cause shit isn’t right. His parents were just murdered, I’ll just accept that he’s off sulking somewhere, tears in his eyes, wanting vengeance. Gordon is and should be more solidly portrayed as the main character.  Being the lead detective for the Wayne Murder Case will eternally link him to Bruce and the main theme of the show… the ground work for The Batman.  But the ground work is lain, Gordon is the lead detective in a case that was cold before the bodies were buried and Bruce Wayne will be Batmandone!

The Bat-Man

What should we be doing?  Seeing why Jim Gordon is Jim Gordon.  Commissioner Gordon wasn’t created by the circumstances of the GCPD, he was born to deal with those circumstances.  Yes, he is the ‘one good cop’ in a city of bad ones.  Yes, he does take it upon himself to set the tone for what Gotham’s Police Department should be. That’s always been his burden.  It’s why Batman aligns himself with the then Lieutenant, Captain and later Commissioner.

Do we need to see ALL of the Batman villains big and small making appearances?  No.  In some cases, it makes less sense to the origins as a lot of these people will end up being 15 years older than the Batman once he arrives on the scene (see: Harvey Dent). Can we see drips and drabs of these villains, absolutely.  This show could be filled with more Easter Eggs than the annual Egg hunt on the White House lawn… and that’s where the fun lies.

Bruce Wayne and his faithful protector (as well as best character on the whole damn show to this point), Alfred, could make appearances several times a season, not every episode.  Perhaps a two-parter each season could take place in flash-back, opening with The Batman and Commissioner Gordon going over a case that has roots in Gordon’s early days just to satisfy the unquenchable need for a “Batman” story in Gotham. The Penguin and the mafia serve as great Gordon fodder at this point, the ongoing war he fights in the background of everyday crimes until help arrives in the form of a Bat and then the war escalates in response.

Batman will always be Gotham City’s greatest hero, but Gotham is about its greatest unsung warrior.


From Rob Bricken @ io9:

Gotham is getting worse. I don’t mean the city; even though it has increased its Noble Cop quotient by +1 with Jim Gordon’s arrival, it seems to be just as messed up as it was before he arrived. No, I mean the show, and the most obvious example is the way Gordon is somehow turning dumber every episode.

Since the premiere, Jim Gordon has been a good person and a good cop. By trying to do what was right he was nearly murdered a few times, ordered to murder other people, and even busted down to insane asylum security officer for an afternoon. When he came back last episode, he appeared to have lost some of his nobility — he was more willing to bend the rules on behalf of the greater good. I thought the show might be showing us The Early Temptation of Gordon, in which he would realize if he had any desire of fixing Gotham City, he’d have to hold himself to the same standard.

Then comes along last night’s episode, “Welcome Back, Jim Gordon,” in which it’s revealed that Gordon may just be a moron. When a witness gets murdered right inside the precinct — stabbed in the back with an ice pick — of course Gordon is the only cop in the entire city the size of New York that feels like this needs to be investigated. Of course the chief and Bullock tell him to stop, and of course he doesn’t (and Bullock helps him anyways). And also of course, Gordon is stymied by the bafflingly huge amount of corruption in the GCPD, which not only allows its narcotics cops to operate their own drug warehouses but has an elaborate system in place designed to keep Gordon from busting them.

There are only two things that set this Gordon plot apart from Gotham‘s other episodes. 1) Gordon busts a cop named Delaware for being on guard duty when the witness was murdered (when do narcotics detectives have to watch the interrogation rooms?) and for having drugs in his car; the hilariously, obviously corrupt narc Flass says he was only staging an undercover operation. It’s a lie, but it could technically be true, and it points out how little circumstantial evidence “detective” Gordon busted Delaware on. 2) When Gordon can’t get anywhere, he calls up his old buddy the Penguin to see if he can find anything on Flass, seeing as Maroni runs the drug trade and Penguin and Maroni are tight. One of Penguin’s goons basically tortures Delaware’s wife until he offers a confession and shows them the ice pick Flass used to stab the witness with.

Is it part of Gordon’s fall from grace that he makes a deal with the devil to catch a crooked cop, or is it just stupidity? I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt. But Gordon’s naïve belief that somehow engaging criminals to do his job for him would have no negative consequences — even though he very specifically asked Penguin not to hurt anybody — is absolute imbecility. At the end of the episode, Delaware crawls up to Gordon and begs him not to have thugs hurt his family anymore, and you can practically hear the sad trombone noise as it dawns on Gordon that hey, maybe criminals can’t be trusted.

*Maybe it’s desperation. Gordon, seeing that he’s a man alone on an island, needs to take more drastic measures (just as Bullock did using Fish) and those measures are what ultimately leads Gordon back along the path to solidify the thought that only he can be the one to change things… he and those trusted allies he has yet to find.*

Luckily, the mob side of the equation picks up this week, although maybe it picks up too fast. Fish Mooney is tortured briefly by one of Falcone’s guys, and it’s the right sort of ridiculous. Fish’s hyper-nonchalance at being suffocated is absurd, but it works for her absurd character, and it’s a fun scene to watch Jada Pinkett Smith chew. Meanwhile, her second-in-command escapes from his captors, finds Fish, frees her, and they prepare to leave Gotham — after, of course, Fish pays Penguin a visit.

The Penguin has taken his mom to “his” new nightclub. His mom gets wasted and embarrasses him, Gordon stops by to ask for his favor, and at the end of the night, Cobblepot gets super-drunk and Gotham turns into a mini-Fear and Loathing in Gotham montage for no fucking reason. It’s not cool, it’s not good, it’s not even bad, it’s just… weird? Senseless? Inexplicable? Anyways, it’s at the tail end of this when Fish shows up, and we get a confrontation I was surprised to realize how much I’d been looking forward to. The Penguin starts by obsequiously kissing her feet, and begging to be spared. When this doesn’t work, and Fish starts berating him for being a mere umbrella holder, Oswald finally snaps. “This umbrella holder outwitted you every step of the way!” he shouts, and even Fish is stunned by how true it is. This is Gotham at its most effective, and the scene makes the episode. Then Zsasz and his gun molls pop in and chase Fish and her goon away. Butch sacrifices himself so Fish can escape, and I’m pretty sure we’re still supposed to care about his character for some reason; instead, I’m only excited to see what Zsasz does with him, since he takes him prisoner instead of killing him.

Gotham rogues gallery

In other news: Barbara isn’t in this episode — I assume she’s watching QVC on a couch somewhere, because she can’t find the remote and is too lazy to go look for it — but Bruce Wayne is back! He’s taken to forcing Alfred to drive around the poor parts of Gotham looking for Cat so he can give her a gift he bought her in Switzerland! He passes a message to her through Ivy, and she stops by Stately Wayne Manor to discover… it’s a big honking snow globe! (I assume Bruce purchased it at the Gifts That Are Supposed To Seem Really Thoughtful In TV Shows And Movies When The Writers Can’t Be Bothered To Think Of A Genuinely Thoughtful Gift store. It is literally stocked with nothing but snowglobes.) Cat loves it, but then she flips and is mean to Bruce and tells him they’re not friends and leaves and Bruce cries for a while until Alfred comes in and literally makes fun of him for crying. Your young Batman, everyone!

*Again… a periphery character at best. Same with Catwoman and Poison Ivy*

I mentioned this yesterday when I reported that Gotham had turned the Dollmaker’s real name into “Dr. Francis Dalmacher”, but there’s a fine line between fun and silly and campy and just stupid, and Gotham crosses it way too often. Maybe the most egregious example is when the GCPD Internal Affairs department rules the witness’ death — remember, he was stabbed in the back multiples times with a giant ice pick — a suicide. I know the GCPD is supposed to be corrupt, but that’s a disbelief-shattering level of absurdity that is too astonishing to comprehend, even in a show about a kid who eventually starts dressing as a bat and fighting crime. I mean, that’s as dumb as anything found in the reviled Batman & Robin movie (with the possible exception of the Bat-credit card). If the GCPD is so corrupt as to be completely unaccountable to the laws of reality, what the fuck is Gordon supposed to do? What the hell could Batman do here, other than just shut the police force down entirely?

*Or perhaps its just to show how disgustingly blatant the GCPD is in being crooked?  They’re the cops, who will you turn to when the people you’re supposed to turn to in need turn against you? I think the total absurdity of the idea this man’s murder is deemed a suicide is more a middle-finger to society in Gotham than just a writing flaw.*

And when the Gordon story falls apart, all that’s left to Gotham is watching the origins of all these beloved Batman characters. Unfortunately, with the exception of the Penguin, Gotham still has no idea how to make those stories interesting either: The Riddler isn’t doing anything but harassing a female co-worker, Catwoman only shows up when Bruce Wayne is on-screen, Poison Ivy isn’t even carrying a goddamn plant anymore, and the upcoming Dollmaker is apparently named Dalmacher because the show isn’t even trying to make its future Bat-villains compelling anymore.

*Too much going on and too much trying to please the vast Bat-Universe.*

The irony here is that it would be so easy for Gotham to be fascinating. Seeing young Bruce actually start on his path to becoming Batman would be awesome, as would watching Selina on her first heists. Giving the Riddler any kind of characteristic other than spouting riddles and being creepily obsessed with a co-worker would be great — anything that would hint at why he’ll eventually become the Riddler. Having Harvey Dent… uh… show up again to do anything, that would be nice. Look, you’re doing it right with the Penguin! You clearly have the ability! And then Gotham could finally start living up to the massive amount of potential everybody keeps saying it has.

Assorted Musings:

• As it turns out, Alfred hates children, poor people and very possibly women. His utter disdain when Gotham Alfredhe catches Bruce crying over Cat is insane. It’s like Frank Miller guest-wrote it.

*Again, the best character to this point in the show, fantastically portrayed by the Third Doctor’s son.*

• I also liked how Oswald seems to genuinely regard Gordon as a friend. It’s a strange relationship, but seeing that Gordon is the main character and the Penguin is the most interesting character, I feel like they ought to be sharing way more scenes.

*They should indeed as Gordon saved Oswald’s life, just for him to rise to power against him.*

• Zsasz’s refusal to run after his targets has a very Pepe le Pew.esque quality to it.

• Um, Bruce was seemingly pretty well-adjusted until Cat told him off and Alfred mocked his pain. I feel like Gotham may be retconning Bruce’s origin so that his parents’ murder doesn’t drive him to become Batman, a girl telling him she doesn’t like him does. It certainly seems to be what’s happening to Riddler.

*Periphery…. at best.*

Assorted Stupidity:

Sorry, there were a couple of other things in this episode that bugged me so much I had to list them even though I didn’t put them in the recap proper.

• When the witness is murdered, Gordon assumes a cop is involved (someone had to turn off the camera in the room and so forth) but the Chief warns him that he just got reinstated. If he “even hints” that a cop may be involved, his co-workers will revolt and he could get busted back to Arkham. So Gordon’s first act? Start accusing and interrogating cops randomly. Sigh.

*Sigh nothing… he won’t take directives to cover the corruption that is so blatant.  It’s why Jim Gordon becomes Commissioner James Gordon.*

• When Zsasz and his molls are in a shoot-out with Butch, Butch drops one of the girls. Zsasz and the other two stop shooting simultaneously, and look down at the girl’s dead body as if they’re all shocked that someone could possibly die in a gunfight. Also, Butch for some reason doesn’t shoot at them at while they have their time-out. It’s dumb.

• At the end of the episode, Gordon starts to arrest Flass, and of course all the other cops — who, it should be remembered, unanimously abandoned Gordon to get murdered when Zsasz popped by the police station a few weeks ago — of course don’t even move. So Gordon gives a big inspirational speech about how hey, maybe if you guys are corrupt assholes letting people get murdered in your own fucking building is a step too far, and the Chief actually steps up and arrests Flass.

• Do you realize how stupid this is? This is the chief. Sarah Essen is in charge of the police. All the police. She can effect change, so, if she’s no longer on board the helplessly corrupt train, she can actually clean up the GCPD faster and better than Gordon ever could. This obviously can’t happen, so the show is going to have to backtrack from this moment pretty much immediately.

*It will backtrack. Gordon will be guilt ridden over his request of the Penguin for help, reveal that the evidence against Flass was illegally obtained, spring Flass and everyone will chalk it up to just another corrupt cop walking free on the GCPD, giving Gordon the desire to make amends.*

• What’s even more annoying about the scene is how Gordon literally has to give a 5-minute Friday Night Lights speech in order to arrest a cop who literally confesses to murder in front of dozens of witnesses who are police officers. Gotham wans to portray this as some kind of heroic moment for Essen, where she finally steps up and does the right thing when it is almost the bare minimum of what she should be doing as a police officer. Gordon should be infuriated that she had to think about it before acting, not moved. Grr.

*Gordon is changing the mindset of a department so corrupt it allows murder in its own police houses… in a city so dark, dank and corrupt it requires a man to don a cape & cowl and dedicate his life to the cleaning up of those City streets and return it to a civilized world.  Duh!*


With that out of the way, I have often said that people who don’t understand comics shouldn’t be too judgmental of them in other mediums.  75 years of cannon is hard to squish together over an entire series, never mind a season of television, but many simply expect it.