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Out Of Time: Transformers: The Movie

The title might catch people’s eye considering that even with the under-performance of Transformers: The Last Knight at the box office, Michael Bay’s franchise is still going relatively strong. But we’re not here to focus on that. No, we’re here to focus on the original Transformers movie. The 1986 animated film.

When it was released in August of 1986, it didn’t set the box office on fire the way many people were hoping it would. It opened in 14th place and was the 88th highest grossing film of that year.

Considering the immense popularity of the cartoon and the fact that it featured many well-known actors voicing the Transformers (Judd Nelson, Robert Stack, Leonard Nimoy, Eric Idle and Orson Welles in his last role) it’s reasonable to ask: Why did it not become the blockbuster that a lot of people were hoping it would? I think there are a few factors at work here:

1: The movie was released about a year after the cartoon and the toy line’s popularity had reached its peak. A similar thing would happen with the Masters Of The Universe movie a year later.

2: The fact that it was tied directly into the cartoon (it served as a bridge of sorts between the second and third season) may have been confusing for people who weren’t regular viewers.

3: SPOILER WARNING. Negative word of mouth regarding character deaths. In the film, several beloved Autobots die, most notably Optimus Prime. A lot of parents were probably having to comfort kids who were in tears at the death of beloved cartoon heroes.  The overall tone of the movie was significantly darker than a lot of people were anticipating.

Going back to what I noted earlier about this tying into the series, this was intended as a sort of bridge between seasons two and three. Season three was supposed to introduce a whole new line of Transformers.

4: Critical reception was pretty low. While many critics are not fans of the Bay entries, fanboy tendencies are higher now than they were in the 80s.

So those factors combined caused the Transformers movie to not do too well at the box office. This, combined with the failure of the earlier My Little Pony movie, caused the GI Joe movie to get bumped from a planned theatrical release to video (as well as airing as a four-part episode of the cartoon).

Now we come to the central question: How well does Transformers: The Movie hold up 31 years after its original release? Do the Michael Bay films blow it off the screen?

Let’s address a few central issues. First off, the animation could have been better. In some ways, one senses that the name actors as voices was a compensation for cutting corners in the animation department.

The second factor I noted above also limits its appeal to a large audience, That’s the most likely reason for why Transformers has a cult following these days as opposed to a larger one.

But for that cult audience, this movie holds up quite well. In fact, I’d wager that for most people within five years of my age either way who watched the cartoon as kids, this is the Transformers movie. Forget the big budget noisefests. Those basically use the Transformers as an excuse to show money on the screen for two and a half hours. This one was made by people who were to put some actual thought into the characters and was willing to take some chances. There are some actual surprises here (as I noted above) while the Bay films are quite predictable.

So while Transformers: The Movie may not be a forgotten masterpiece, it actually holds up well as an entertaining movie. It’s way more entertaining and involving than any of Bay’s entries and it actually gibes the characters things to do as opposed to using them as decoration. Yes, the Transformers has the touch. It’s got the power.

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Posted on July 8, 2017, in Movies and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. The song ‘the Touch’ was also the song that Marky Mark’s character in Boogie Nights was recording in a failed attempt to become a rockstar.

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    • Ha, yeah, that was great. “The Touch” is also in the soundtrack of the video game “Saints Row IV”, and the dialogue for the climatic battle in the game (“Why throw away your life so recklessly Saint?”) is scripted exactly like the one between Optimus prime & Megatron in the film. Dare!

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  2. This was the first film I ever purchased on DVD (2001; I’m a little slow buying tech, so I’ll have a smartphone by 2027), and I LOVE IT!!! The soundtrack? Oh, I’ve purchased that in Media Play in 1998; I got it for “The Touch” of course, but wow, I think it’s good overall: “Dare to be Stupid” by Weird Al? Yes, but then I found I liked the two song by Spectre General, “Nothin’s Gonna Stand in our Way” (wanna bet?), and “Hunger”, while the instrumental “Escape” by Vince DiCola (who I think has done some excellent work outside of this transformers deal). Actually, I’m inspired to listen to this album again; yep, good stuff: “Escape” indeed.
    As for Orson Welles, I know this wasn’t deep Theater & he did it for the money, but he boiced a larger than life tranforming planet that devoured other planets; I think for a film that was created just to sell toys ans reel in suckers like me, he was kind of honored there (now if they made him Bubblebee, well, that would’ve been an insult).
    I still like Generation 1 Transformers the best (which is why I thought the 2015 video game “Transformers: Devastation” was awesome; short ‘n sweet robot beat ’em up). I don’t know, I watched generation 2 for awhile then moved away from things I considered toys, but then saw it again in a different light in the late 1990’s (hence the purchase of the soundtrack).

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  3. Oh, I didn’t like the character’s deaths in 1986 though; at the time I sent a letter of complaint to…somebody. Maybe it was to Hasbro, I can’t remember, but I never got a reply. Again though, after a few years passed and I understood things better, the wound healed.
    As for the animation in this film, yeah, if Nelson Shin and AKOM had anything to do with it, that’s explains everything: they later got booted from “Batman: The Animated Series” for subpar animation, so Shin and AKOM always did seem to cut corners.
    I like the first Michael Bay Transformers a little, but they didn’t even try on the sequel, and if they aren’t going to try, I’m not going to watch.

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  4. I was 13 when it came out and at the time had virtually a complete set of Transformers (if only I had held onto them instead of getting rid of them in a move!). So this movie was perfectly timed for me and I loved it. Seeing actual deaths and even swearing was amazing for me then. I had really hoped for a sequel but then again if they had done it we’d be looking at 2-3 years later and I was pretty much done with toys like that by age 14-15.

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    • I hear you; I was a couple of years younger, but the animated film was probably the apex of Transformers for me (I still had no idea about generations or that the Transformers model would sustain itself), but after dabbling into Generation 2 a little bit (I had Blur, Kup, Hot Rod, Rodimus Prime, Glavatron, and an Ultra Magnus that also stood in for my broken Optimus Prime) I was done by 1988, and by the end of 1990 my family moved, so I have no idea what became of my Transformer figures. For me though, it was fun to play with those toys, but it was fun that it was, and even though I’m highly nostalgic, it isn’t something I look back on and miss. Owning certain NES games like “Contra” and my VHS copy of “Maximum Overdrive”, while renting films like “Exterminator 2” from the local grocery store? THAT’S when the nostalgia kicks in.

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    • jeffthewildman

      I had some of the toys myself as well as a thing I got for Christmas one year where you could talk through it and you’d sound like a Transformer. I remember saying “Autobots! Transform!” into it.

      I was a fan of the first two seasons of the show. I remember going to my aunt’s house after school in first and second grade ad alternate between riding my bike around the neighborhood, playing with the neighborhood kids and watching transformers. That ended when I got to third grade and ended up in an after school program. That’s why my experience with the transformers TV show ended after the second season and this movie. Even so, my interest was starting to drift elsewhere by that time.

      The interesting thing is that while I was totally into Transformers I could never get into GI Joe. I was a far bigger fan of MASK. Transformers and MASK were my main things. I don’t think I ever totally sat through an episode of GI Joe.

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      • I was into G.I. Joe at first, until it was taken off the air for censorship or something (the time G.I. Joe WASN’T there), and after that I didn’t care about the show anymore (still played with the toys though).
        I had this one white Transformer via mail order, but it was stolen by this kid named Eric in second grade summer school (we were good friends during our senior year, and he copped to the theft, so we kind of had a laugh about it. He payed for my “To Die For” ticket, numerous food court meals, and some CD’s, so it was all good).

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  5. Pre 86 Movie Character To Replace Optimus Prime?

    http://officialfan.proboards.com/thread/560924/movie-character-replace-optimus-prime

    Post by CMWaters on about an hour ago
    Title had to be short to fit, but I’ll explain better here:

    I was watching a video that gave the overview of the G1 Transformers cartoon, and the person doing it had an interesting thought: what if instead of one of the new characters we got for the movie, one of the pre-movie characters had become the new Prime and led the way. You could still get a new toy out there, but you would also have had a better connection with the series because it was a character you knew gaining a new position.

    The example the guy gave was Bumblebee (though he admits not thinking of a good name for a Prime version of him), and I kinda agree with that: you still get the “young leader not sure of himself” thing that you had with Rodimus, but with a character that we knew. Plus, there was still the connection with Spike, and you wouldn’t lose Hot Rod and his connection with Daniel (and thus less Wheelie on the show).

    What say you though, FAN?

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    • I wouldn’t change a thing; many Autobots were slaughtered anyway, so Hot Rod “growing up” to be Rodimus Prime, lighting the Autobots’ darkest hour, w is fine by me. Like I said before, the Ultra Magnus toy was basically a white Optimus Prime (kind of white in the style some vehicle models are before you paint them), but the film had Magnus unable to open the Autobot Matrix (hard to believe; I’m sure Robert Stack was quite capable of opening it), so there goes the best candidate to replace Prime.

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