Director: Nelson Shin
Starring: Peter Cullen, Frank Welker & Orson Welles
Synopsis: The Autobots must stop a colossal planet consuming robot who goes after the Autobot Matrix of Leadership. At the same time, they must defend themselves against an all out attack from the Decepticons.
Rating: U Duration: 85 minutes Release date: 12 December (UK)
Call it nostalgia, call it viewing a childhood favourite through rose-tinted glasses, call it what you will, but there’s something about watching The Transformers: The Movie that brings about a certain childhood glee that is desperately missing from Michael Bay’s incessant and rather depressing live-action Transformers films. With Vince DiCola’s synth score, stadium-rock soundtrack and a cast of voice actors that is unprecedented for a Transformers film, the original animated film remains the best entry in the Transformers series 30 years after its release.
Set some 20 years after the conclusion of Season 2 of the Transformers cartoon, The Transformers: The Movie picks up with the Decepticons having beaten the Autobots and now ruling their home planet of Cybertron. Despite dwindling amounts of Energon and their number split across two secret moon-bases and a new city on earth, the Autobots are planning a last ditch assault on the Decepticons to take back Cybertron. Unbeknown to both warring factions, a new threat has emerged with the power to destroy planets and is making its way toward Cybertron.
If that all sounds a bit far fetched, that’s because it is. What we have here is essentially a 90 minute extension of a Saturday morning cartoon that has the cheek to ask parents to fork out the money to pay for a cinema ticket. It’s also a unique business decision. The Transformers are a toy-line which bred a cartoon, and as with all toy-lines they all have to be renewed at some point and certain figures are carried on while others are not. The film then, exists as an excuse to cull a large chunk of the toys in favour for a new batch that will go on to form the basis for the show over the next few years. With that, a number of Autobots meet their heroic end, not least Optimus Prime, and a handful of Decpticons meet their proverbial maker. For a child of the 80’s this was a particularly scarring time, but it was also a message from the films makers that they really weren’t messing around here.
From a more grounded perspective it could be said that anyone who gets upset over the death of a cartoon character may need to have a look at their priorities, but for fans of a certain age they will remember the absolute gut punch they received seeing Optimus Prime valiantly see off Megatron, only for it to be his last act in defending his fellow Autobots and the humans he swore to protect. It’s a far cry from the modern take on the Transformers, where Optimus Prime has become an ever more cynical character, killing without mercy and even resorting to killing humans when needed. What the cartoon and the animated film had, and still does, is optimism, depth of character and a sense of enjoyment that made it one of the most popular series of the 1980’s.
Despite some gaping plot-holes, The Transformers moves at such a pace that they are quickly forgotten as the film moves from one action set piece to another. The audience are barely given time to breathe as the film moves from seeing a whole planet destroyed, to an attack on an Autobot spaceship, to an all out battle between the Autobots and Decepticons in the space of about 15 minutes. All this is done while introducing a cast of new characters as well as re-introducing old ones. Despite the business decision behind the new characters, they are all presented in a way that makes them feel like they have been a part of this universe all along, leaving the audience with few questions about their roles in the film.
Alongside the returning voice actors such as Peter Cullen and Frank Welker are a number of film stars who give the film more authority than it would have gotten otherwise. Leonard Nimoy voices new villain Galvatron, while Judd Nelson gives heart to the role of Hot Rod. There are also roles for wonderful character actors Robert Stack and Lionel Stander who lend sureness to Ultra Magnus and Kup. Eric Idle also pops up as a Transformer who has learnt to speak by watching TV and sounds more like a constant series of quotes from TV commercials. Perhaps the biggest star to lend his voice talents to the film is Orson Welles. In his final role, Welles voices the planet devouring Unicron giving the films big bad a truly menacing quality.
Your enjoyment of The Transformers: The Movie will likely depend on how much of a fan you are of the original Transformers cartoon series. It’s unlikely to gain any new fans, unless you have a penchant for collecting quality animated films. But, for those of a certain age this is the apex of the Transformers series, and 30 years after its release is still yet to be topped.
- Till All Are One – A brand new documentary looking back at The Transformers: The Movie with cast and crew, including story consultant Flint Dille, cast members Gregg Berger, Neil Ross, Dan Gilvezan, singer/songwriter Stan Bush and composer Vince DiCola.
- Audio commentary with director Nelson Shin, Flint Dille and star Susan Blu.
- Animated storyboards
- Trailers and TV spots