Transformers The Movie. What a blast from the past. A movie outing for arguably the most successful cartoon of the 1980's which many people of a certain age remember with fondness, but has the march of time been kind to it or is it just embarrassing to watch now?
Transformers The Movie focuses on the Autobots and Decepticons, two opposing races of sentient transforming robots who have been at war for centuries. Past events have brought them to Earth and back across the galaxy to their home planet of Cybertron, which, at the start of the film, has been conquered by the evil Decepticons under their megalomaniacal leader Megatron. The Autobots, lead by the heroic Optimus Prime are getting ready to launch a counter-offensive from Cyberton's moons, but the Decepticons learn of their plans and attack their main supply base on Earth, leading to a reopening of hostilities which causes many casualties on both sides. However, a new and more terrible threat is on the horizon, which will change the future of both races. A planet-sized metallic being known as Unicron, who literally eats planets to power himself, has turned his sights on the energy rich Cybertron and the Autobots themselves, who hold the only power in the galaxy that can destroy him...
It is very easy to forget just how big Transformers was in the '80's, but if you ever had any doubts then this film will lay them to rest. Unlike most cartoon spin-offs Transformers The Movie had a big budget, and it really shows. The animation is (for the most part) crisp and fluid, the art is superb and the design is just stunning. No expense was spared on the voice cast either, which includes big names such as Judd Nelson, Leonard Nimoy, Eric Idle and, somewhat unbelievably, Orson Welles in his final ever film role. The film simply hasn't dated anything like its contemporaries, and Metrodome's remastering has really drawn out the vibrant colours and improved the visual clarity tenfold.
The story is action packed and enjoyable from start to finish, but what really makes it stand out is the fact that it is very, very dark. In the West we are not used to seeing characters die in cartoons, so this US/Japanese co-production, which has a death toll that rivals that of your standard Arnold Schwarzenegger film, really takes you by surprise. Major characters drop like flies, and because of this you there is a lot more emotion and tension as you are never quite sure who will survive. Unicron is a suitably awesome villain played with real gravitas by Welles, but for me the creepiest thing to come out of the film is the twisted court presided over by the sinister multi-faced Quintesson. However, for all the darkness Transformers The Movie is a real rip-roaring adventure, and the only real problem is that it is very much a product of its time.
The cheese-tastic soundtrack is comprised of the kind of squealing power metal that instantly projects images of tight leather trousers and gargantuan mullets, causing an uncontrollable urge to do air-guitar in all but the most strong-willed. It is probably the most unbelievably 1980's soundtrack I have ever heard, but thankfully steers mostly clear of that most hideous of the decade's musical genres - synth pop. The main problem though is that the film will mean a lot more to people who remember/are familiar with the 1980's Transformers series.
Older viewers will remember the first time, the childhood trauma of watching half their toy collection become obsolete as the death toll rose, the shock of favourite characters callously killed off. It is a measure of the huge popularity of the franchise that the film was bold enough to do this and come out unscathed, but for new viewers it simply won't have as much impact. The characters are harder to care about in the context of just the film, and that is its main failing - to get the most out of it you have to watch a large portion of the series first. That's not to say it's not an enjoyable film, but you'd be hard pressed to feel much when a character dies after a few minutes of the film unless you have seen the 30-odd episodes of character development that preceded it. This is a film for fans, it expects you to be familiar with most aspects of the Transformers universe before you watch it.
Transformers The Movie is a real rarity, it's a film based on a TV series which is not only better than its source but succeeds in being a truly cinematic experience. There is a grand scale to it, and a desire to tell a more complex story. Sadly its appeal outside of its fanbase is limited by the amount of prior knowledge that is required to full appreciate it, and it is marred by some incredibly cheesy moments. However, there hasn't been another cinematic outing for a children's cartoon that has rivalled the film's boldness - this is where Transformers grew up.
Metrodome really tried to push the boat out with the
extras, but most won't have much rewatch value for all but the most hardcore of
fans. The final title check footage and Cinex colour and exposure test
footage are curiosities at best, as is the alternate UK/US footage which focuses
on the opening and ending sequences and the removal of some swearing. The
TV spots are extensive and do provide some retro fun even if they are a bit
samey, whereas the Japanese trailer is overlong and mainly interesting for the
differences in some character's colour schemes. The script is available to
read provided you have a DVD ROM drive and there's a whole episode of the
forthcoming Transformers Headmasters series, which demonstrates such a
drop in animation quality when compared to the film that it's embarrassing to
watch, but the pick of the crop of extras is the character biographies.
The biographies are in depth and interesting, providing a wealth of information
on a number of characters that makes you care about them a lot more. The
only problem is that there aren't enough of them, several major characters -
including Soundwave, Grimlock, Perceptor and Devastator - are omitted, despite
having major roles in the film, and more surprisingly Arcee's name is mis-spelled
in the menu listing. It's a real shame that more wasn't put into this
extra instead of including some of the test footage.