Transformers: The Movie
- Reviewed by: Le Apprenti
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Current Rating 9.24/10 | 100 Votes
Somewhere in the galaxy, a planet called Cybertron is home to a race of transformable robots and host to their age-old civil war waged between two dominant factions: the Autobots (the good guys) led by Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen), and the Decepticons (the bad guys) led by Megatron (Frank Welker). By 2005, the Decepticons are the victors of the war and the ruling force of Cybertron. The Autobots are ejected and have made their bases on two of Cybertron's moons and the planet Earth in the hopes of one day reclaiming their home planet. However, Megatron decides to launch a massive strikeforce on the Autobot base on Earth with the purpose of destroying them once and for all. The spectacular battle is highlighted by the climatic one-on-one between Megatron and Optimus Prime that resulted in the passing of both leaders.
Unbeknowst to either groups, a large threat is making its way to devour their world and their existence - a planet-sized behemoth named Unicron that crunches planets for food. The Autobots, whose numbers already heavily diminished from the Decepticon attack, are torn between battling Unicron, the re-mobilized Decepticon forces under its new leader Galvatron (Leonard Nimoy), the mysterious judges called the Quintessons and their hordes of robot-eating pirahna-like Sharkticons, and the motorcycle transforming Junkions whose lingo consists of jargons of expressions from TV. Dedicated solder Ultra Magnus (Robert Stack) takes over the mantle of Autobot leadership in facing these overwhelming odds. But it is not until another Autobot warrior is reborn as leader that the Autobots have any hopes of victory.
There are two things that a casual viewer needs to know when approaching this film. One, it is based on the animated TV series of the same name so some familarity with it is helpful. Two, it is not important to know the characters from the animated series too much since they either do not appear in the movie, appear very briefly or killed off within the first 20 minutes. With the exception of several that are privileged enough to survive the movie - such as Perceptor, Blaster, the Dinobots, Bumblebee, Soundwave and the Constructicons - most of the leading characters - namely Ultra Magnus, Hot Rod, Kup, Blurr, Arcee, Springer, Galvatron, Cyclonus and Scourge - are debutants. (See "Companion Guide" for more information on the characters.)
Outside of anime, no animated film has ever explicitly shown a character die. Adding that to the general public's lack of taste for non-American made anime and their perception that "cartoons are for kids", it is not surprising that Optimus Prime's deathbed scene raises much controversy. This is unlike Disney animated features, where only the villains die and their deaths implied but never shown. Optimus Prime's death is poignant yet emotionally moving. Its depiction, the way it involves the feelings of the Autobots and the human kid Daniel, though adult allows itself to be relatable to kids. Its salute of reverence is much akin to the passing of a beloved patriach in the presence of his loved ones. But its mere presence in an American cartoon is repulsive. Regardless, the death of Optimus Prime is one of the two most pivotal moments in the film, with the other being the rebirth of a new leader - Rodimus Prime.
There is no doubt that the action sequences are clearly graphically violent for an animated feature of that time. Characters are explicitly shown getting shot and killed from left, right and center. The general complaint is that these sequences are present at all, despite the fact that one of the driving plot of The Transformers is war and the very nature of it is... violent. Yet their graphical animation galvanizes the action sequences, delivering some of the best fight scenes ever seen in animation: the Autobot-Decepticon battle on Earth leading up to the Megatron-Optimus Prime clash, Hot Rod and Kup against the Sharkticons, the Autobots vs. the Junkions, Unicron vs. Decepticon-armed Cybertron, and Hot Rod's one-on-one with Galvatron.
The flaws of the movie have little to do with the objects of critics' - as well as audiences - wrath, though they are additional factors to pan it: reappearances of Tranformers characters in subsequent scenes after they have been killed, Hot Rod's ever-changing transformation sequences, and some plotholes. It is not clear how Hot Rod, Kup and the Dinobots are able to locate the other Autobots on Junkion after being separated from them. The party scene that follows, set to the music of 'Wierd Al' Yankovic's "Dare to be Stupid", serves no purpose other than to pander to kids. If the violence is not a turn-off, the soundtrack can be. Its blend of pop-rock flavor can either make or break the movie. Judging by the box-office gross - a measly $6 million - and critics' abhorrence, it is the latter. Fortunately, some moments when the music does make the movie are "Dare" that is used to accompany the action sequences, and "Touch" that serves as the Autobot leader's theme during Optimus Prime and Rodimus Prime's climatic battles.
The previously mentioned computer animation is featured in the Unicron scenes, most prominently in the metamorphosis of Megatron to Galvatron. It also used in detailing the planet devourer's inner mechanisms and transformation to a giant robot to a large degree. Despite its efforts, Unicron is a little more than a 1-dimensional character. His origin is never explained, let alone his background. Nor is it made clear as to how the Autobots' can be unaware of his existence while other extraterrestrial beings know about him. Is it mind-boggling that Unicron, as huge and powerful as he is, has such a fragile pair of eye lens that a small spaceship or a band of escaping Autobots can easily crash through them?
If I have to name one greatest merit of this movie, it is the voiceover work. Welles' Unicron is deep and chilling, Scatman Crothers belts a soulful tune as Jazz, while Chris Latta's shrill raspiness characterizes perfectly the overly ambitious Starscream. Frank Welker deserves the most praise for his body of voices: the digitally-enhanced icy tone for Soundwave, the metallic raspy voice for Megatron, and the also digitally-enhanced but high-pitched rhymings for Wheelie. Judd Nelson does a commendable job as the impulsive juvenile-minded Hot Rod and the veteran-sounding Rodimus Prime.
The most appealing aspect about the Transformers is their ability to transform. This cannot be made more clearer than the closing scene, where the Autobots transform one at a time for the viewers' pleasure. Transformers: The Movie is one of the few American-made animated features that dares to challenge the established social norms of cartoons and be extremely entertaining.
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