Tag Archives: Michael Bay

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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The Ultimate Doom… Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

Dark of the Moon teaserIn the Generation 1 cartoon universe, the bulk of storyline from ‘Dark of the Moon’ was contained in the 3-part episode ‘The Ultimate Doom’, and while sticking fairly close to the source material, expands greatly upon it. This film, unlike the previous two in the series and it’s cartoon predecessor finally answers that age-old TransFan question of “Doesn’t anything ever happen to the humans during all this?” since life always seemed to carry on, for the most part, uninterrupted. Well yes, something does happen… they die. And in some really weird twist, that may be the most endearing part of the film as Michael Bay does have a knack for making loss of life and mass destruction a fairly cool ride.
Apollo MissionWhile the original film was just a bit of fun in the introduction to the world of the Transformers and the wide eyed high school kid with his first car and the second film was more of a door mat as compared to a place setting for the following sequel, the third film (and supposed final in the Bay Trilogy) made up for the loss of innocent wonder and lack of a real story by tossing everything in a blender and just squeezing everything it could out.

Is ‘Dark of the Moon’ perfect. Nope, but it’s far better than ‘Revenge of the Fallen’ and expands well upon the basic aspects of the original. ‘Moon opens Decepticon huntersrather slowly after a fairly well paced historical flashback and while very easily explaining the loss of Megan Fox’s scream queen and Carly’s placement in the story.. it stumbles along a bit, but after the smaller plot bits are established it picks up and the pace carries uninterrupted till the end. Speaking of the ending… What the hell was that? The movie, once it gets going, moves at around 220mph and with two minutes to go comes to a dead friggin’ stop. Done. Finis. Go home and wait for the next director to pick it up from here…. The length of the movie already dents the space-time continuum, another minute or so to neatly tie some plot strings would not have hurt. Sh!t.

The acting, for the most part, is a bit better this time around. More big names who get a chance to go a bit over the norm (while in contrast Turturro’s Agent Simmons is toned down and far better) in acting off the seemingly more human robots. While Malkovich had a great walk-on cameo, McDormand played what would be easily described as the female Seymore Megatrons BitchSimmons. The supporting characters do a fairly good job in carrying the humor (sometimes a little forced but not as horrific as ‘ROTF’) and what dialog you might get from a Bay film and I was nicely surprised by the performance of Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in what turned out to be an upgrade from Megan Fox (No Fox fans, I wouldn’t picture the Megatron scene going the same way or better). There is a reason why Shia LaBeouf has announced he’s made his last Transformers movie… and we’ll leave it at that. But the humans have never been the real element in the TF films and thank goodness for that. Besides, anytime you can get Leonard Nimoy to quote Spock outside of Star Trek and make a few million Trekkies sh!t in their pants…
Sentinel PrimeThe writing of Ehren Kruger (who was brought into ‘ROTF’ for his expertise in the TF mythos and failed miserably) actually makes an effort to bring the cartoon and aspects of the comics to life, more so than Kurtzman & Orci had done previously. That mixed with the factual violence and collateral damage towards the human race brings the film to a more fanatic fan level. Yes, many will say the story was a rock and the acting cardboard… which in a drama would be true. This a Michael Bay cartoon come to life flick… damn, the pace of your standard Transformer flick still does better than ‘Pearl Harbor’.
City under siegeAnd to those of you who didn’t know Leonard Nimoy’s history with a previous ‘Transformers: The Movie’ and ignored the ‘Spock’ hint given early in the film… hehe surprise. As a TransFan, I’m secretly hoping the abrupt ending of ‘Moon can figure into a way of seeing a Nimoy voiced Galvatron in the sequel… fanboy dreams. But Paramount has announced the series will continue past Michael Bay and won’t be a reboot, so the abrupt ending mixed with all the questions (like why couldn’t the Autobots win the war when a diminished number less than 10 could offset some several hundred Decepticons and just what happened to all those Decepticons around the world..?) will give a lot script fodder.
Uneasy AlliesLong, fairly paced for the bulk of the film and reaching action epic, bring popcorn, gummy bears and no bathroom breaks. I know, but you’ll have to unbutton your pants and hold it.

5 Stars

“More Than You Imagine, Optimus Prime.” Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

Revenge Teaser posterAn animated Megatron once spoke these words in reference to the amount of luck the Autobot Leader was going to require…. not in reference to the level of disappointment in a live-action sequel to the 2007 blockbuster.

With deadlines in place to beat a writer’s strike and two possible strikes involving both the directors and actors guilds, this film feels just that, rushed. As compared to the original, the characters (human and robot alike) were hollow and lacked their previous depth (despite Turturro’s very good attempt to carry the film) in part because so many plot points were so suddenly revealed to be loose and required such immediate resolution only to be loosely tied at best. Megan Fox’s character, a weak pin-up/calendar girl (the way Mister Bay sometimes prefers it) in the original, could barely fulfill her duties as cleavage fodder here. Michael Bay had previously stated that the basis of the film was originated on scenes, characters and plot points rejected from the first film… well, great, you just made an entirely rejected film.

Desert WarfareThe script floats a lot more humor, some of it forced and over the top but the comic relief (both human and robot alike) at least delivers some respite from the daunting and disappointing story. Ehren Kruger was brought on board as a writer to support Orci & Kurtzman based upon his knowledge of the Transformers mythos… however he used none of it to any positive use in the screenplay.
Air Travel
As an installment in the ‘Bay trilogy’ this film did absolutely nothing to progress the drama of the Transformers, serve place setting or even advance the characters. It did however do what most studio dictated sequels will do… make a sh!tload of money while being fairly disappointing.
SurroundedEpic in length if not story, bring the popcorn but a bathroom break is allowed if you really need it.

3 Stars

One Shall Stand, One Shall Fall… Transformers (2007)

Transformers TeaserAnd even though this line was spoken as a tribute to the 1986 animated “Transformers: The Movie”, it was very, very true. The film would indeed stand, while the sequel would fall.
Giving us an introduction to the film universe of the Autobots and Decepticons, Spielberg (a long-time fan) and Bay (who initially rejected the idea as a “stupid toy movie”) deliver a fairly good movie based upon a 1980’s toy. Sure a lot of the canon from both the popular ‘Generation 1’ cartoon and Marvel comic is jumbled and sacrificed a bit for updating on film, but the fact Optimus Prime walks the Earth is just plain cool. Perhaps due to Spielberg’s hand, the film has an almost 1950’s B sci-fi flick retro feel.

Pissed offThe story that is presented is for the most part coherent, smart and well paced and definitely takes you on the journey. Some plot points seem slightly useless and over the top as special-effects fodder (fantastic special FX all the same) but seeing a race of giant robots so easily interact with humanity on film makes it worth it. The film boasts of an impressive cast of some very good actors who appeared to relish their chance to go slightly campy and over the top while taking the serious plot points seriously and integrating with the CGI beautifully.

Awe and Wonder

Sure, it took a hit from critics, but as they do with comic book movies, the professionals (and those not in the know) may have looked for too much from a toy/cartoon flick.

OptimusThe film easily reaches epic popcorn proportions and no bathroom breaks.

4 Stars

 

The second half of ‘Pearl Harbor’… Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944)

Thirty Seconds Over TokyoIf you watched Michael Bay’s romantic threesome flick ‘Pearl Harbor’, than you’ve already got the premise of the film. Now, you just need to watch the better version of it.

‘Thirty Seconds’ is easily one of the best WWII films of the 40’s, released just prior to the surrender of the Japanese Empire. It remains true to the original story, based upon the memoirs of the man who flew the mission. In ‘Pearl Harbor’, we see Alec Baldwin, here we upgrade slightly to Spencer Tracy. Both play the Colonel Doolittle role well, but Tracy is the original and the best. Though the pacing isn’t brisk, the film is worth it and can qualify as WWII epic.
Doolittle's RaidersBring popcorn and no bathroom breaks.

4 Stars