I loved all the Autobots and Decepticons from the TV show and the first 10 minutes of this movie. Optimus, Megatron, Starscream, Ironhide, Soundwave, Ratchet, etc. They were either valiant paladins worthy of my imagined friendship, or the perfect power-hungry or coniving scoundrels needed to counter the courageous robotic heroes in their quest for equality and honor. They of course were all slaughtered or turned into new toys.
The only new character created for this movie that I out and out loved was Unicron. He had an amazing presence, a creepy and dastardly appearance, and his threat level was through the roof! You can't ask for a more fulfilling villain. All you can ask though is: where does Unicron come from? What're his goals? What is his "destiny?" Why does just opening the robotic heart of the Autobots automatically make him explode? Granted, those are questions that when asked really make you wonder if anybody was NOT high during the entire production of this movie (how do you not answer ANY of those queries about your main bad guy when the entire plot revolves around him?), so maybe a little is left to be desired in regards to Unicron.
As for the new shoehorned-in characters who are meant to replace all the old ones that I called friends, I only really liked Autobot Springer, and Galvatron (who was just a crazier Megatron). Hot Rod was an annoying fucking turd who was 100% FUCKING RESPONSIBLE FOR KILLING OPTIMUS PRIME! Goddammit!... 30 fucking years later and I'm still super pissed about that.
Most people, when watching this movie — and especially while witnessing Prime's death — think, "Oh boy. That villain Megatron finally killed Optimus Prime. What a dickhole." But they're wrong. Despite Megatron's cheating and lying in his knock-down drag-out fight with his arch-nemesis, Prime was poised to WIN. Good was about to triumph! But then Hot Rod, that mongoloid rebellious teenage robot, jumped on Megatron (who was reaching for a gun while pretending to beg for mercy). Megatron then used the tinny twat of an Autobrat as a robotic shield so that Prime could not shoot him. Then the Decepticon unloaded like 3 or 4 mega-laser shots into Optimus' torso, ultimately finishing him off.
The rest of the Autobots then just seem to shrug off the fact that they'd still have Optimus with them if it wasn't for the worst tactical mistake ever blundered into in Transformers history.... Even topping the time the Decepticons all got drunk on energon cubes at the same time (though that was at least a helluva party). After that, one could argue that Hot Rod spent the rest of the movie trying to redeem himself, but he was really just the same douchie punk that he ever was, with apparently no extra baggage after being responsible for the killing of one of my generation's greatest fictional heroes. FUCK HOT ROD!
Yeah, Galvatron killed one of the only longterm Decepticons who was removed from toy store shelves in this feature when he turned Starscream to literal dust as soon as he arrived on Cybertron, but Starscream had it coming for a long time. Starscream was one of the only deaths in this massacre of a movie in which I just sat there thinking, "Yeah, that's actually pretty justified. After all the times he tried to kill Megatron, or usurp power within the Decepticon party, or utterly failed in whatever mission he was assigned (no matter how easy it may have been). Sorry, Starscream, but you were a backstabbing whore."
The rest of the deaths in this thing mostly bothered me because of how easy they seemed. All these super tough Autobots who were more than a match for their bloodthirsty counterparts in the Decepticon army used to either just shrug a laser blast off, or at the most only need minor repairs after a skirmish with the enemy. Here, one single shot took down two of the toughest Autobots we'd known up till this time. One of the 'Bots was only hit in the shoulder too. A shoulder-shot wouldn't have even killed a wussy human, but a robot named BRAWN dropped like a sack of robotic potatoes from the same wimpy wound! That's just bullshit, writers. You should have at least let those brave heroes go out with a little more dignity.
The Voice Actors
I didn't know that so many B-list stars who were so willing to throw their hats into the ring of voice acting in 90 minute toy commercials in the 80s. I have no idea when the whole idea of getting celebrities (instead of trained voice actors) to do the lead roles in animated movies began, but it is absolutely ridiculous to me that Leonard Nimoy, Judd Nelson, Robert Stack, Eric Idle, Lionel Stander, and of course, the one and only Orson Welles signed up to act in an hour and a half ad for Japanese robotic playthings. We're not even talking a timeless Disney cartoon here, only a feature length commercial for selling shitty plastic toys.
I'm not complaining, mind you. I honestly find it amazing and great that Galvatron is voiced by Star Trek's Spock. I guess I just didn't realize that these actors were slumming it, as it were, at this point in their careers, where doing Transformers: The Movie was a step up for them.
Okay, Eric Idle really only had Monty Python work before this, and the Python crew hadn't done anything since 1983's Meaning of Life; Lionel Stander was just a 3rd rate actor mostly known for being the butler on Hart to Hart; Leonard Nimoy pretty much just had Spock, In Search Of, and that "Bilbo Baggins" song going for him; and Judd Nelson was only at the beginning (and ultimately the end) of his career at the time... But Orson Fucking Welles! Oh how the mighty have fallen.
Orson Welles was known as one of the greatest directors of all time (with Citizen Kane and Touch of Evil under his rather extendable belt), he was a well known Shakespearean actor, the voice of Robin Masters in Magnum P.I., and his War of the Worlds radio broadcast was the stuff of legends!... But near the end of his life he was doing voice-over work for pea commercials, and voicing a giant, nasty, gluttonous planet.
Some people (like me) thought that playing something larger than his actual girthy physical self would be kind of a lifelong goal for Orson, but in one of the last interviews he gave before his death he is quoted as saying:
You know what I did this morning? I played the voice of a toy. Some terrible robot toys from Japan that changed from one thing to another. The Japanese have funded a full-length animated cartoon about the doings of these toys, which is all bad outer-space stuff. I play a planet. I menace somebody called Something-or-other. Then I'm destroyed. My plan to destroy Whoever-it-is is thwarted and I tear myself apart on the screen.
That does not sound to me like a man who is happy with his life choices at that point in his career. And sadly for Orson, his role of Unicron was the last of his life. He died just a short while after finishing up his voice-work as the rotund demon planet. Apparently they could destroy his destinyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!
And back to Eric Idle. How in the hell did he get top billing in this movie? Granted, he was up against Spock and "That Man Who Used To Be Robert Stack," but Judd Nelson was hot off of The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo's Fire just before TF: The Movie opened. And Judd even plays the main protagonist in this flick. Do Brits just automatically get top billing in things? Hollywood is weird.
Anyway, for not being actual voice actors trained in the craft, the celebrity stars do a surprisingly good job with their roles. Spock goes full-in with his demented and tortured version of Galvatron, giving Frank Welker (the voice and soul of Megatron) a run for his money. Judd does a passable job as Hot Rod, seemingly truly enjoying his time playing a flaming red and yellow dipshit robot who KILLS OPTIMUS PRIME. Lionel Stander as Kup sounds perfect as an ancient war vet who's seen fucking everything imaginable during his loooooong life spent as a soldier. But then there's Eric Idle's Wreck-Gar.... Fuck me if I knew what in the hell he was saying even a quarter of the time. They over-synthed his voice to the point where it sounds like a broken See-N-Say had its lines spoken through a broken auto-tuner. Whose choice was it to do that to the ex-Python member? The other Transformers (whose voice actors were just pulled over from the TV series) did their jobs admirably, especially Frank Welker, Chris Latta (Starscream), and the legendary Peter Cullen (aka Mr. Optimus Prime and Ironhide).
But before I wrap this section up, I'd like to talk about Orson Welles' performance. It's well known that in the last days of his life he was so worn out (and large) that he had to be rolled into the sound recording booth in a wheelchair. But even though he never bothered to read the script to TF: The Movie before coming into his first recording session, Welles did his duty, and even argued with the directors over what should be said and how he should perform the role (showing that even though the part may not have been his ideal choice, he still cared enough to make it the best that it could be). It was stated in interviews with Nelson Shin (the movie's director) that Orson's work in the studio was barely usable due to his rapidly declining health, and that the audio techs had to greatly modify Unicron's voice in order to make it functional. That's kind of a sad ending to the life's work of the uber-baritone who made "Rosebud" a household quote, but I am very grateful that he was able to complete his lines and gave life to Unicron. Greatest bad guy ever!
I don't know if it's only because I'm looking back on the soundtrack with rose-tinted glasses, or because the soundtrack is absolutely amazeballs, but the Transformers: The Movie soundtrack is fucking amazeballs. The flick is almost wall-to-wall headbanging rock anthems, glam metal, and synthesized action sequences (with the synthed portions written by sort-of-famed 80s composer Vince DiCola [think Rocky IV]). And it changed my life almost as much as the violence in the movie proper did. Only the music opened my ears and mind to something more than the regular old pop tunes I would hear on the radio at the time, which was good. And it didn't mentally scar me like the murdering of my animated friends on the big screen, which still makes me cry sometimes.
The movie starts with a haunting overture wherein we watch monster planet Unicron sail through the stars and then devour a peaceful robot world in a terrifying display of gluttony and fear. Then, after Unicron is satiated, and his orbital ring lights up like roman candle igniting a lit-up Christmas tree, the heavy metal version of the Transformers theme song kicks it into gear, sung by Lion... I have no idea who the fuck Lion is, or if they ever performed anything half as great in their lifetime, but that goes for pretty much every artist on this ear-blasting album, except for "Weird Al" Yankovic, but I digress.
"The Transformers Theme" here is out of this goddamn world. Yeah, the GI Joe movie tried to do something similar with its extended theme song during its opening pre-credit sequence, but that was just sung by the same schleps who sang the original TV version. It didn't feel different, and it wasn't really all that cool. By getting an actual heavy metal band to sing the theme song in the TF: The Movie, Marvel Entertainment raised the bar. They made a children's toy theme song powerful and wicked. If you don't believe me, give it a listen here. Thirty years later, and that's still the most bad-ass children's toy theme song ever.
After that, N.R.G.'s "Instruments of Destruction" starts playing as Megatron and his cronies obliterate the Autobots on the shuttle heading for Earth in the first act. The lyrics (like "Instruments of destruction; Tools of power plays. It's a vile interruption; Existence drifts away") make the scene even darker and more bleak than it already is, and the heavy drum beat, and some trilling guitar work to adds to the grimness of the Autobots' terrifying final moments. You may ask "Who is N.R.G.? And why should we care?" and I'll give you the answers "I have no fucking clue," and "Because 'Instruments of Destruction' is the best slaughter background song of all goddamn time!" It's cruel, it's kind of depressing, and it makes you want to sing along, especially when the lead vocalist just starts belting out "Aaaaaaaaaaah aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! AHHHHHHHHHHHHH AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" And then that final drum solo at the end that signals the scene's deadly finality. It's so choice.
Next up (chronologically in the movie) is one of the songs that changed my life (for the better). Stan Bush's "Dare." "Dare" is pure 80s pop-rock, and it's so unapologetic for its own upbeatness. The scene that it starts playing in is kind of lame: Autobot Hot Rod and 10 year-old human Daniel are fishing on Earth, and then they race to Look Out Mountain to see the Autobot shuttle land in Autobot City in the valley below. Daniel's waaaay too excited about the mundane shuttle approach (as the super encouraging "Dare" lets us know), but soon the song takes on a different meaning when Hot Rod notices there's Decepticons visible in a hole in the shuttle, and he starts shooting the shit out of it, both alerting the Autobots on Earth to the sneak attack, and causing the giant spacecraft FILLED with Decepticons to focus their entire attention on him and his human charge. The rest of the song plays while Hot Rod and Daniel try to make it to the safety of Autobot City while a fuck-ton of Decepticons shoot at their heads. "You can fly, if you try leaving the past behind; Heaven only knows what you might find! Dare - dare to believe you can survive; You hold the future in your hand."
Then there's the "Autobot/Decepticon Battle" (by Vince DiCola), which is a frantic, nerve-jangling, synthesized track that makes you think that all the Autobots being attacked by the hordes of Decepticons are about to die. And then they do.
But fear not, for following that bit is the "savior of the world" song that every kid my age now knows by heart, Stan Bush's "The Touch." This is THE song of Transformers: The Movie. This is THE SONG of my youth. "The Touch" was originally written for the Sly Stallone flick Cobra, but thank Christ it wasn't included there, for then I, and my generation of Trans-fans (wow, that sounds kinky) would never have heard it play as Optimus Prime and Megatron beat and shot the living robotic shit out of each other in the greatest grudge match of all time! "The Touch" is super positive, life affirming, and it drives you to want to do better than you think you can do in whatever situation you find yourself in. It gives you hope that the leader of the Autobots will stop the Slaughter of his people singlehandedly, and that is actually what happens while you hear the track in the movie.... Then fucking Hot Rod had to come along and cunt everything up with his retardation!... FUCK HOT ROD!.... But goddamn I love me "The Touch." And no, not even its inclusion in the porn flick Boogie Nights could tarnish its amazing '80s appeal. "You're at your best when when the goin' gets rough; You've been put to the test, but it's never enough! You got the touch; You got the power! When all hell's breakin' loose; You'll be riding the eye of the storm!"
Then comes the solemn DiCola track "The Death of Optimus Prime." It's slow and depressing, and even though as a child I still thought Optimus had a chance to pull through after his rumble with Megatron, this background music immediately made me realize I was mistaken. OP died, and this music made me feel it more than I wished to.
Nothing really to say with this one, other than it always looked like Arcee was constantly wearing some bitchin' Cybertronian Dr. Dre "Beats" headphones, and if she ever became a DJ her name would be "DJ Balldrop." I have a friend who tried to be DJ Balldrop, but he let that proverbial ball drop, and now that name's up for grabs. I claim it for Arcee, because if she ever had any balls, they'd be metal, and no WONDER she'd drop them. DJ Balldrop for life!
Then comes some more DiCola muzak with the destruction of the Cybertronian Moon Bases, and then "Escape," wherein the Decepticons attack Earth again, and the Autobots make a run for the stars. It's more of the same stuff as "Autobot/Decepticon Battle," only just a bit more rosy and a bit less dire... That's all I have to say about that.
"Nothin's Gonna Stand in Our Way" (by Spectre General, aka Kick Axe) hits the scene when Hot Rod and Kup find themselves crash-landed on the Quintesson planet (logically called Quintessa), and have to save themselves from a bunch of robotic piranhas and cybernetic squids. I shit you not. The song itself is rock heavy and sounds like a teenage anthem of absolute power over one's own life (with lyrics like "This generation; With fire in our eyes! Strong are the ties that bind us; We don't need no alibis!" and "Nothin's gonna stand in our way; Not tonight!" sung over and over again), but it maybe lost a bit of its desired affect when it was used in a scene where Hot Rod fights a mecha-cephalopod and barely wins. But just because that scene does this song a disservice doesn't mean that the number is not great. It is.
And this brings us to "Hunger," again by Spectre General. A little slower than "Nothin's Gonna," but still metal, and still mean. "Hunger" starts up when Kup and Hot Rod are judged by the Quintessons and then thrown into the Sharkticon water tank to be devoured for their crimes. These crimes are never quite clarified by the 5-headed judge presiding over their case, but they were declared "innocent" anyway, and still tossed to their supposed deaths, so like, whatever. "Hunger" then blasts while the two Autobots run/drive around smashing as many of the seemingly limitless Sharkticons as they can, while lines like "Hunger; I want it so bad I can taste it! It drives me mad to see it wasted; When I need it so bad that it's burning me!" pull you into the demolition derby going on. Good clean fun!
"Weird Al" Yankovic's "Dare To Be Stupid" comes on when the remaining Autobots on the planet of junk get chased around by Wreck-Gar and his fellow Junkeons... I.... I am at as much of a loss here over this choice as you must be. Don't get me wrong, I'm a HUGE "Weird Al" fan, but the inclusion of this track in this movie just seemed like a colossal stretch just so they could say "And featuring songs from Lion, Spectre General, Stan Bush, and 'WEIRD AL' YANKOVIC!!!!!!" in commercials and on the album cover. "Dare To Be Stupid" then picks up again after Hot Rod shares some energon goodies with Wreck-Gar and calms him down. Then the Autobots and Junkeons party with the song playing in the background while robots break-dance and lady Junkeons kiss Grimlock and make him blush... Yeah. You know what, just don't think about it.
Then finally there's some more awesome Vince DiCola melodies going on as Unicron attacks ALL of Cybertron and all the Transformers at once, and "Dare" picks up again as the Autobots arrive on the scene and shoot into the devil robot's eye. And then Lion's "Transformers" theme plays again (and repeats itself like 2 or 3 times) during the very long closing credits while Unicron's head begins its orbit around Cybertron after his explosive demise.
I know all these songs by heart (even the Vince DiCola synth tracks), and, by god, they STILL hold up 30 years later. I once tried an experiment where I had the Wolfman listen to the heavy metal tracks on this album without telling him what they were from. He loved them. Then I showed him that they were from an 80s kids movie about toy robots and he beat me up and threatened me with a hatchet if I ever told anyone that he said he liked a cartoon's soundtrack.
I will end this segment by noting that NONE of the artists who made the songs and melodies for this movie are popular outside of this toy-selling shill of a project (outside of "Weird Al," who has outlived the popularity of almost ALL of the acts he's satirized over his amazingly long career). That may sound sad and depressing for them at first, but when you consider that 99.999979% of all bands ever assembled never get noticed outside of that shitty bar they play at on Wednesday nights for peanuts and one free drink per musician, the fact that people my age know who Stan Bush, Lion, N.R.G, and Spectre General (aka Kick Axe) are, let alone LOVE their songs that they made for this movie, well, that ain't a half bad legacy. Like I said before, I still listen to this soundtrack on occasion, and it still rocks my world.
Hmmmm, it's ironic how I find it sad that certain actors did voice-work for Transformers: The Movie, but I think it's AWESOME that I was able to discover a whole new genre of music and new bands via this flick. I am an enigma.