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Transformers: The Movie (1986)

After almost a decade of war with Earth as the main battleground, the war between the Autobots and Decepticons has come to a head. With their home planet of Cybertron under full Decepticon control, the Autobots prepare to take back their home using the allies and resources they have gained from their time on Earth. With victory so close at hand, Megatron makes one final push to eliminate the Autobots once and for all. Who will survive the final chapter of the Cybertronian war and will they be able to enjoy their hard earned victory when the threat of a planet eater appears out of deep space?

Transformers: The Movie is an animated feature film that was based on the original Transformers cartoon series. It was directed by Nelson Shin and acted as the bridge between the second and third seasons of the cartoon series. The movie was released in theatres on August 8th 1986 in the US and December 5th of that same year in the UK. While the film had a relatively unsuccessful theatre release, only making $5.6 million in the box office, it became a cult classic after it was released on home video. The film is also noted as being the final film which both the great Orson Welles and Scatman Crothers (who had provided the voice of Jazz in the television show) lent their considerable voice talent.

I'm going to say right away, that this is a difficult movie for me to approach objectively given the fact that it was one of those films that I adored watching as a child. This movie and a few home video releases of the original cartoon show, were the first exposure to the Transformers franchise that I ever had. While I may not have been there for the long haul like some fans had when they first saw this movie, the impact it had certainly wasn't lost on me (the worn out old VHS tape is proof of that).

That being said, without the rosy coloured clouds of nostalgia, do I consider Transformers: The Movie to be a good film? Yes, but just barely.

The film isn't terrible, especially judging by Michael Bay's subterranean standards, but it does have more than a few problems. The first half of the film, what I consider to be the better half, is full of intense action and a darker tone that the show had never dared to try before. Many beloved characters, both Autobots and Decepticons, from the television show were killed off left and right. Even the series leads, Optimus Prime and Megatron were not spared from this treatment. While the real reason for this bold move was simply to get rid of the old toy line and introduce a new one, the character deaths still gave the final battle that fans had been clamouring for the weight and epic tone it deserved.

However, once the movie reaches its second half (primarily once the last major character of the show is killed off) the story and pacing goes a bit off the rails. The sequence of events that take place in outer space, while not terrible, is unfocused. All sense of urgency that the plot was originally going for slowly starts to fade and doesn't come back until the last ten minutes of the movie. Also, one or two major plot holes seem to pop out of nowhere and confuse matters even further.

The characters introduced in the film were also a bit of mixed bag. Due to the emphasis on action, there wasn't enough time to develop any of the new cast (at least not as much as the cast from the show), so there was less of an emotional impact if anything happened to them. Also, dumbing down the freaking Dinobots to be the movie's primary source of comic relief, with little to nothing to contribute to the story, was a big disappointment for me personally.

Although Transformers: The Movie may not technically be a good film, it is an important one. What began as a simple way to market toys to kids had clearly become something more by the time of this film's release. The death of Optimus Prime became such a point of contention with fans that he was eventually revived in the last season of the show, officially becoming the franchise's poster character.

In addition, almost every subsequent television series (Beast Wars, Beast Machines, Animated, etc) became more character driven and dabbled with their own take on various science fiction stories. As a result, the fandom surrounding this toy-based series grew even larger, branching into not just animated cartoons, but comic books and video games as well. Go to any Transformers convention and chances are you will hear more than a few lines from the animated movie quoted more than once. The primary villain introduced in this film, Unicron, also left such a big impression on viewers that the character has been referenced and re-imagined several times for multiple different Transformers products and series.

For all its faults, there are aspects of the film that non-transformer fans may appreciate. One of these is the all-star voice cast. Judd Nelson (Hot Rod), Leonard Nimoy (Galvatron), Robert Stack (Ultra Magnus), Eric Idle (Wreck-Gar), and John Moschitta Jr. (Blurr) are just a few of the major league actors that were cast in this movie and all of them do a wonderful job working alongside the rest of the series prominent actors such as, Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime), Frank Welker (Megatron, Soundwave), Chris Latta (Starscream), Casey Kasem (Cliffjumper), and Scatman Crothers (Jazz). Even if you don't fully invest in the story, the movie is a bit of a novelty if you are a fan of any one of these actors.

Another aspect of the film that makes it a bit of a time capsule is the soundtrack. Whereas the original show relied on incidental orchestration (some of which was re-used from GI-Joe), the movie score composed by Vince DiCola was full of synth-rock pieces and several songs performed by Stan Bush, N.R.G, Spectre General (Kick Axxe), and Weird Al Yankovic. This soundtrack is widely popular among both Transformers fans and rock and roll enthusiasts and even got a 20th anniversary re-release in 2007. The animation, while still keeping the same style of the series, definitely made good use of its film budget to give the shots a unique character all their own. I would argue that some sequences, primarily the opening sequence, was way ahead of its time in terms of scale.

Though Transformers: The Movie has bad pacing and is full of 1980s cheese, it succeeds in telling the story of the Transformers, where the live action films continuously failed. It kept the story to a basic good v.s.evil struggle with the titular robots as the focus, not the accessory. If you have any interest in the Transformers franchise at all and you haven't seen this movie, then I would highly suggest checking out. Anyone outside the fandom may have a harder time enjoying this film, but if any of the above aspects appeal to you, Transformers: The Movie is a colourful cult classic that should keep you entertained for its 84 minute run time.

  Transformers: The Movie is available on DVD as part of the series 20th Anniversary. Which includes commentary from both film makers, fans and plenty of bonus features.