Transformers The Last Knight is set to hit theaters on June 21, 2017. That film marks the fifth installment in director Michael Bay’s series of live-action Transformers films that first debuted in 2007. Bay’s series has been extremely financially successful, even if it’s been derided by critics, and The Last Knight (which stars Sir Anthony Hopkins alongside series regulars Mark Wahlberg, Josh Duhamel, and Stanley Tucci) will
certainly probably be one of the biggest box-office successes of the year.
Why are Bay’s films such hits? A variety of factors, primarily the big-budget CGI spectacle of watching Autobots and Decepticons duking it out while incurring collateral damage. Another huge part of Transformers appeal is nostalgia, appealing to ’80s kids weaned on the popular cartoon series and toy line by Hasbro.
And the hallmark of Reagan-era Transformers awesomeness was 1986’s The Transformers: The Movie, the first big screen incarnation featuring everyone’s favorite shape-shifting robots. For many hardcore fans, Transformers The Movie not only rivals Bay’s films, it actually succeeds in ways the modern live-action movies fall short. Not bad for a movie that only cost $6 million to make and flopped upon its release.
Here’s 16 reasons why Transformers The Movie holds up so well over 30 years later, and why it remains the Autobot/Decepticon movie to beat.
16. They Killed Off Optimus Prime
In the 2007 Transformers movie, there’s a moment towards the end of the film where Optimus Prime almost bites the dust, until Sam Witwicky saves the day. The Optimus Prime in the 1986 film was not so lucky. He died, and near the beginning of the movie, no less.
This was a downright traumatic development. Prime is the fan favorite, the main protagonist, the paternal figure watching over his fellow Autobots as well as the humans on Earth he’s sworn to protect. But thanks to a conniving Megatron, he’s destroyed–living only long enough to pass the “Matrix of Leadership” to Ultra Magnus, who would be the group’s new leader.
15. They Killed Off Other Major Characters Too
Not content with stomping on our hearts with the shocking Optimus Prime death reveal,The Transformers: The Movie slaughters a host of main and supporting characters as well, including Brawn, Prowl, Ratchet, Ironhide, Huffer, Wheeljack, and Starscream, to name but a few.
In many cases, these deaths happen so briskly that there’s barely time to grieve. So why were the filmmakers hellbent on killing off so many beloved characters in such a rapid and brutal fashion? The answer is fairly cynical: it coincided with Hasbro’s launch of a new toy line with replacement characters and new incarnations of old favorites. Hats off to the director and screenwriters, though–what could have come across as a crass, feature-length commercial took on an unexpected level of pathos.
14. It Didn’t Glamorize Violence
Parents have long been concerned with violence in children’s entertainment–a trend that continues in the 21st-century Transformers films. In the ’80s, they were even more obsessed it seems, which is why so many cartoons of the era made pains to avoid showing any death or graphic killing onscreen.
When you’re dealing with robots, you can get away with more in that department, with the lack of gore and all, but Transformers: The Movie used its PG rating to really push the limits. It did so, however, in a way that showcased the ramifications of death. These killings were treated with a straight-faced soberness that’s downright surprising given the subject matter. That examination is lacking in the current franchise.
When Optimus Prime (and the other aforementioned victims) bought the farm, there were a lot of kids biting their lips so they didn’t shed any tears in front of their friends. Even the death of the ever-annoying Starscream packed a punch.
13. Amazing WTF Moments
The live-action Transformers films have developed a winning formula of CGI bombast and smaller character moments punctuated by broad humor. Transformers: The Movie isn’t lacking in the laugh department either, but it’s more off-the-wall. Some of the humor isn’t even intentional–it’s an involuntary response to the absurd delight the film offers.
Take the reference made to Of Mice and Men, when Dinobot Grimlock asks Kup to “Tell Grimlock about petro-rabbits again.” Or the Transformer squid! The Sharkticons! And the cheesy ’80s music! (More on that in a bit.)
The Quintesson is another joyous oddity; a five-faced robot judge, jury, and executioner that sentences all its subjects to death, whether they’re innocent or guilty. And then there’s the moment when Starscream assumes command of The Decepticons, coronated by trumpet-playing Constructicons.
The capper is a scene featuring Bumblebee and his human pal Spike. As they watch in horror as the planet/villain Unicron devours a moon, Spike shouts “Oh s–t! What are we gonna do now!?” A kid’s movie with profanity? That was awesome! Sure the new films contain some spicy language, but in an ’80s kids cartoon? It was surreal, and without precedent. Why was in included in the film? To avoid a G rating (PG rated films have more screenings per day, therefore a higher margin of profit).
12. It’s The Citizen Kane of Animated Robot Movies
Sure, the latest Transformers movie may have Sir Anthony Hopkins around to class things up, but The Transformers: The Movie featured an appearance from the director of the greatest film of all time. That’s right–Orson Welles, the director and star of the iconic Citizen Kane, lent his inimitable voice to Unicron, the evil robot planet that threatens both Autobots and Decepticons in the 1986 film.
Welles had done voiceover work for many products and films over the years, and he simply viewed Transformers as just another gig, joking that he spent his day “playing a toy,” adding “I play a planet. I menace somebody called Something-or-other. Then I’m destroyed.”
Transformers The Movie would be Welles’ final role, and his voice was so weak that it had to be electronically modified for maximum impact. Yet his presence was still felt, and it classed up the source material. “This is my command: you are to destroy the Autobot Matrix of Leadership” may not be up there with “Rosebud” in terms of legendary film quotes, but it sent chills down every kid’s spine who saw it.
11. The Rest of The Cast Ain’t Too Shabby Either
Orson Welles may have been the most high-profile member of the Transformers: The Movie cast, but he wasn’t the only cast member with an impressive resume.
Monty Python’s Eric Idle lent his quirky humor to the role of Wreck-Gar, a comedic Transformer with a warbly voice and facial hair. And Leonard Nimoy voiced Galvatron, i.e., the resurrected Megatron.
Other actors of note include Brat-packer Judd Nelson (Hot Rod/Rodimus Prime), Unsolved Mysteries host and Untouchables star Robert Stack (Ultra Magnus), Casey Kasem (Cliffjumper), Scatman Crothers (Jazz), and fast-talking Micro Machines pitchman John Moschitta, Jr. (Blurr). And of course, we can’t leave out Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime, who still voices the character in the modern-day Transformers films.
10. No Racist Portrayals of Autobots
The most uncomfortable element of Michael Bay’s Transformers series is certainly Skids and Mudflap–a pair of Autobot twins first introduced (in the live-action series) in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
The pair brought a ton of criticism from critics and audiences alike for perpetuating racial stereotypes. The characters were accused of basically being robotic caricatures of young black men, complete with gold teeth and exaggerated, stereotypical dialects.
The Transformers: The Movie has no such distractions. The characters are robotic in nature, and minus the natural inflections of the performer’s voices, they feel appropriately alien in tone. One can still be critical here, of course, as the film featured a primarily white cast, and only one female Autobot. However, that can still be somewhat excused for being a product of its era, when representation was far more limited. Surely we can try harder in the here and now.
9. A Megatron With Gravitas
Megatron is a pretty one-dimensional baddie in the modern Transformer movies. His motivations are relatively threadbare. But the character is downright Shakespearean in Transformers The Movie.
A creature seething with hatred for Optimus Prime finally gets his wish after he kills the beloved Autobot leader in the brutal opening battle (after shamelessly begging for mercy a few moments earlier). But he too is damaged in the battle, left for dead by his Decepticon compatriots in the depths of space. He is then rejuvenated and recreated as Galvatron, tasked with helping Unicron to destroy the aforementioned Matrix.
Megatron relishes his new role, while also dishing out vengeance to his former teammates, including the ever craven and conniving Starscream, who he destroys with relish. And, whether he’s Megatron or Galvatron, he can turn into a firearm, which is still way cooler than turning into a jet or a truck a la the Bay-verse. A hero is only as good as his villain, and Megatron more than fits the bill here.
8. Non-Stop Action
Michael Bay’s Transformers movies are most popular for their final showdowns, where Autobots and Decepticons smash and bash each other with reckless abandon, using their herculean strength and excessive bulk to lay waste to cities.
Transformers: the Movie has plenty of that, but it places more emphasis on the characters abilities to, you know, transform! This gives the film a dynamic, kinetic scope the modern films lack. In fact, the animated film is a non-stop chase and fight film from the start, with plenty of battles, aerodynamic acrobatics, and animated spectacle.
The film moves in such a fast and nimble way that you don’t even have a chance to catch your breath, let alone get bored, and unlike the overlong, turgid run times of the modern movies, it’s over in a brisk 83 minutes. Less is more, especially when its jam-packed with so much action-filled eye candy from start to finish.
7. Leaves Earth For Space
While the Transformers hail from the synthetic planet Cybertron, their adventures are largely stuck on Earth. This is true in both the live-action films and the original animated series.
What makes Transformers: The Movie the most expansive and grandiose installment is that it frees itself from its Earthbound shackles. The film is a true cosmic odyssey, taking the Autobots and Decepticons into deep space to battle Unicron, a villain far too large in scope to battle on Earth.
Everything on the movie operates on a huge scale, taking the audience on a journey to bizarre alien worlds, and its widescreen vistas makes it a cut above your average toy-related tie-in entertainment. It’s the Star Wars of the Transformers universe, for lack of a better descriptor, and nothing has topped it since.
6. The Awesome Cheesiness of the ’80s Soundtrack
The modern-day Transformers soundtracks have featured a variety of rock bands, including Green Day, The Goo Goo Dolls, Disturbed, Linkin Park, and Nickelback, along with the standard contemporary score that accompanies the modern blockbuster.
We bet you can’t name any of those songs, though. They don’t really stand out. The same cannot be said for the soundtrack to Transformers: The Movie. It features the most badass song ever: “The Touch“, performed by Stan Bush. That track, played throughout the movie, features the iconic chorus: “You’ve got the touch, you’ve got the power!” If you’ve never seen the film and that still sounds familiar, it’s because that song was also performed by Mark Wahlberg (perhaps this made him predestined to appear in a Transformers movie) and John C. Reilly in Boogie Nights.
If that nugget of ’80s cheese wasn’t awesome enough, the soundtrack also boasts Weird Al Yankovic’s “Dare to Be Stupid” and a killer hair metal rendition of the classic theme song by Lion.
5. Every Transformer In One Movie
In the interest of building a franchise, the Michael Bay Transformers series has teased out fan-favorite characters in a piecemeal approach. The first film brought in the MVPs like Optimus Prime, Megatron, and Bumblebee, and each successive sequel has added more beloved Autobots and Decepticons. This makes great business sense, but Transformers: The Movie threw caution to the wind and put in everybody.
What’s even more impressive is that the film never feels overstuffed. Everyone from the Constructicons to the Dinobots gets their chance to shine. The movie is a money shot fever dream for fans, putting Hasbro’s entire toy line on display in all its glory. It holds nothing back. The Transformers: The Movie is a glorious robot buffet with something for every fan to savor, but it’s never sensory overload. That’s an impressive balance rare for any film with a stacked cast, let alone one starring giant fighting robots.
4. The Dinobots Aren’t Just Window Dressing
Transformer fans finally got their long-awaited wish for live-action Dinobots in Michael Bay’s 2014 film Transformers: Age of Extinction. However, their debut in the series (which stands as the worst reviewed film of the franchise so far, with a less than stellar Rotten Tomatoes rating of 18%) gave them an underwhelming presence and a lacking personality, tossing them into the film’s final act. They were more afterthought than an integral presence, which is downright insulting to both the characters and the fans.
Transformers: The Movie gave fans all the Dinobot action and characterization they craved. They were an essential part of the team, and they had some choice scenes (like Grimlock’s goofy Of Mice and Men reference we mentioned earlier). When you have robot dinosaurs, you should use them as much as possible, and one hopes that will be rectified in Transformers: The Last Knight.
3. Puts the Focus On Robots, Not Humans
There has been a trend throughout live-action films dealing with giant robots and monster movies: the belief that an audience can only engage in a film of such magnitude if it has a human element, a regular character that acts as our guide through the fantastical scenarios. And whether it’s Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, or Mark Wahlberg, there’s plenty of human faces and mortal subplots involved in the Transformers franchise.
Meh. You don’t need all these characters to drive the story! Past iterations of Transformers seemed to understand this. In the 1986 film, you have two human characters: Autobot allies Spike and his son Daniel. The rest of the film is non-stop robot action featuring plenty of charisma from the likes of Hot Rod, Starscream, Ratchet, etc.
2. Awesome Old School Animation
There’s a lot to be said for modern visual effects. CGI has allowed blockbusters to display bold, grandiose characters, worlds, and battles that simply wouldn’t be feasible before the advance of digital effects, and Bay’s Transformers universe features some of the most cutting-edge CGI around.
But there’s something about the original animated series that caters to the imagination in a purer way, and Transformers: The Movie was a cut above the TV show’s animation–adding more layers and panache to bring the Hasbro toy line to life.
Sure, the critics were far from kind to the film when it came out, but it’s become a fan-favorite for a reason, and its old-school animation is a huge part of the appeal. Not only that, but it puts the emphasis on “transform,” with a more logical approach to the primary function of the characters instead of the often eye-straining and physics-defying morphing we see in the new movies.
1. A Plot That Leaves You Emotionally Invested
The main reason The Transformers: The Movie is better than all the other films is also the most obvious one: it has a better plot. While it’s not overly sophisticated (it was made for children after all), it has enough moving parts and character development that it’s a more cohesive and enjoyable viewing experience than all the films that have followed. What could have been a mere placeholder between the second and third season of the TV series is a compelling piece of fiction in its own right, adding more dramatic weight to its characters than ever before.
Beginning with the death of a major character and concluding with an intergalactic battle against a robot planet is engrossing due to the characters’ inter-dynamics, along with with a real sense of jeopardy. Unicron and Megatron/Galvatron kill a lot of robots in this film, many of whom are fan-favorite characters. The film has the dramatic weight required to elevate it far above an expanded television episode. It’s “More than meets the eye”, indeed.
That concludes our piece on why The Transformers: The Movie is the best Transformers experience ever! Do you agree? Share your thoughts in the comments.
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