My world was destroyed by a cheap animated movie whose only goal was to sell me a butt-load of new, expensive robot toys. It failed in its attempt to hawk shittily-made toys to me, but 1986's The Transformers: The Movie has lived on longer and stronger in my memory than most movies at the time did. Instead, it gained infamy by fucking with my 10 year-old brain (by displaying horrific images of death and destruction the likes of which my sheltered little eyes had never seen before), got me into rock music, and taught me to outright HATE a fictional character more than should be healthy.
It all started back in the early '80s when cartoons were finally permitted to start being cool. Prior to Reagan's Amurica, animated TV shows aimed at kids were not allowed to exist for the sole purpose of selling toys (un-Amurican, I know!), or they had to be educational or some shit like that. But then things changed when, I'm guessing, the law makers of the time realized that reruns of Popeye the Sailor Man and Wacky Races just weren't cutting it anymore, and that American kids could handle a bit more bite in their weekday afternoon entertainment. And so, shows that mainly existed to peddle plastic action figures like Masters of the Universe, GI Joe: A Real American Hero, Spiral Zone, and (most importantly) The Transformers were allowed to be born and be awesome. Well, Masters of the Universe was kind of lame and aimed at toddlers, but it was the first shot fired, and for that it will always have my gratitude.
Anyway, so the Transformers started out with a mini-series in 1984, which was thrown together pretty quickly, merging several separate Japanese transforming-robot toy lines into one blob of metallic awesomeness. This then led to a short 13-episode first season, which led to a 49 episode second season (which brought the full number of installments up to the lusted-after 65 episodes required for a weekday syndication ride). It was a commercial smash success.
Toy robots that transformed (hence their brand name) into cars, jets, insects, dinosaurs, and fucking GUNS (guns that were made of actual metal that looked pretty fucking real, mind you... God bless the 80s!) were rolling off store shelves, and the leader of the good robots (the magnificent truckster Optimus Prime) and the ruler of the bad robots (the literal walking handgun Megatron — who if kids ran around with him in his gun form it looked just like they were out to rob a liquor store with an actual Walther P38) quickly became iconic faces in pop culture. The names and insignias of the freedom-loving Autobot good guys, and the tyrannical Decepticon bad guys were known throughout classrooms and playgrounds across the country. Lord knows my parents must have been fully versed in the Autobot-Decepticon war that ravaged their home planet Cybertron for several millennium before finally bringing it to modern Earth, as I told them almost daily about the latest animated adventure that aired that afternoon. Damn... How did they keep a straight face as I surely rambled on and on about those cartoons and toys, fully immersed in the tale as I was? Honestly, this makes me worried about having kids. If they start ranting and raving about My Little Pony, or Steven Universe, or any other shitty cartoon on the telly at the time, I will just laugh in their faces and tell them that their shows suck. Then I'll make them watch Mr. Robot or Breaking Bad to show them what REAL televised storytelling is all about. I take my entertainment very seriously.
Anyway, so after 65 episodes were in the pipeline, Hasbro and Marvel decided that it was time to up their game and create a theatrical version of their toy-line that would not only sell new robot play things to their target audience, but also actually get children and their parents to PAY to see it! It was actually a genius — if not greedy as all fuck — move.
So along came the summer of 1986, and for months and months my friends and I were inundated with commercials (that aired during the Transformers TV show, which was itself a commercial for the Transformers toy line) asking very important questions about the upcoming Transformers feature event. Questions like, "What is Unicron?" "Will Optimus Prime die? And if so, who will become the new leader of the Autobots?" The movie even had the greatest poster with the coolest tag-line on it (I had this very poster on my bedroom wall from my 11th birthday till I graduated college... Don't judge me): "Beyond Good. Beyond Evil. Beyond Your Wildest Imagination." It was going to be the greatest thing I'd ever witnessed in a theater since Return of the Fucking Jedi... I just knew it.
Then came August 8, 1986, and my good friend Jon and I convinced our parents to drop us off at the only cinema in town playing The Transformers: The Movie (we couldn't figure out why only one out of 5 theaters in town was showing it, and why it was only playing on one screen in that theater). Our parents refused to stay, but told us they'd be back to pick us up in an hour and a half. I think they went to a local watering hole and all got drunk and mocked their slightly retarded offspring for falling for that marketing blitzkrieg that made us HAVE to see that movie on opening weekend.
THE MOVIE ITSELF
For those of you either not familiar with The Transformers: The Movie, or not able to recall its "what the fuckitty" plot, let me quickly get you up to speed on the basic premise.
It is the year 2005 (19 years into the future from where the TV series left us at the time), and all the Transformers that were introduced in the second season are nowhere to be found (we're talking dozens of robots), all because production on the higher-budgeted movie began before the second season was fully written and marketed... But the core cast of Autobots and Decepticons is still alive, and they're still fighting over the energy-drained Cybertron. There is a whole new cast of movie-made, totally unfamiliar Autobots helping out Optimus Prime though (that kids could run out and buy as soon as the credits rolled)!
But before we get into the meat and potatoes of the Autobot/Decepticon War, we are first introduced to Unicron: a gigantic orange robot planet with a creepy orbital ring, two enormous pincers, and a gaping, glowing maw that devours other planets that appear to be in its way... Its "way" to what? We're never told, but moving on.
Unicron, the rogue monster planet, has perhaps one of the most memorable and utterly bad-ass introductions of any villain of all time. He just appears, shooting through space, between a pair of crazy-looking binary stars, he targets a peaceful robot world with lots of robo-kids running around and playing, and then he fucking EATS it. The whole planet. He captures it in his giant pincers and crunches it into oblivion. Then he lights up his rings in a form of a giant robotic *burp*, or an unbuckling of his pants and a *sigh* of a well-ingested meal.
That totally beats Darth Vader just walking through a door after all his troops have already killed everybody, or the Terminator stealing some punk-ass bitches' clothes.
We then catch up with Optimus Prime as he and his posse (on one of Cybertron's moons) are getting ready to wage their final strike against the Decepticons who still hold Cybertron proper under their metallic thumbs. But first, Prime and his crew need more energon cubes (the Transformers' power source), and so the OP sends his main team of loyal 'bots (consisting of Ironhide, Prowl, Brawn, and Ratchet) to Autobot City on Earth to bring back a shit-ton of energon to power their strike. Unfortunately, Megatron and his Decepticon cronies find out about this delivery and stealthily take over Ironhide's shuttle, tying up their Autobot captives as a future bargaining chip. I'm kidding, they actually SLAUGHTER THE LIVING FUCK out of every Autobot inside the shuttle during one of the most messed up and violent scenes my young mind had ever witnessed up till that time. Hell, the ED-209 malfunctioning in the boardroom scene of Robocop barely beats out this Autobot incineration in this "made for kids" movie.
We witness beloved characters that we've grown to root for, and have seen evolve over 65 episodes of TV programming, get slagged over and over by lasers, watching their eyes turn dead, and horrible, horrible smoking flames burst out of their silently screaming mouths. This is all done to the heavy metal song "Instruments of Destruction," sung by N.R.G. (who've I'd never heard of before or since).
Megatron and his homies sustain no casualties, and as the boss-man is reiterating his plan to his toadies (about using the Autobot shuttle to sneak past their enemies' early warning systems and wipe them all out on Earth), good old Ironhide (who's still barely functioning) crawls up and powerlessly grabs Megatron's foot in protest. Megatron calls his action "heroic nonsense," and then BLOWS HIS HEAD INTO A COLORFUL CLOUD OF DUST right in front of our unbelieving eyes.
This was just the preamble to the shitstorm that was to come.
We're then introduced to a buttload of new Autobots that we'd never seen before (including hothead Hot Rod, crotchety old Kup, tough guy Springer, pink ladybot Arcee, rapid-talking Blurr, and Robert Stack)... And that we don't give two shits about. All these new 'bots are just living peacefully on Earth, in the middle of a gorgeous mountain portrait somewhere in the Northwestern U.S.... Until the confiscated shuttle comes in, and the Decepticons launch a full-on attack against the woefully unprepared, dumb-ass good guys.
Even as a kid I realized that they were just throwing new characters at us in order to show us the upcoming Fall toy line (I used to LOVE when new, cool characters were added to the TV series! It meant that soon I'd be able to bug my parents for the action figure for my birthday or Christmas)... But the absolutely unnecessary slaughter of everyone that we knew before (with the exceptions of Bumblebee, Jazz, Perceptor [really? Not Prime, but Perceptor?], and the Dinobots) was just so ill-thought out.
It'd be like if all the Disney movies were interconnected, and they were tired of trying to sell old Snow White and Cinderella shit to their main child demographic, and so in the new movie that they just released, Frozen's Elsa accidentally DEEP FREEZES the early Disney princesses, and then Ursula shatters their iced corpses into millions of pieces in front of a theater full of unbelieving 5 to 10 year old girls. Sure, the old princesses for the most part were outdated and kind of dumb, but why oh why would you think that straight-up MURDERING them was the best route to take?
Oh, and did I mention that there's a little kid hanging out with the Autobots, because the boy's father, Spike (one of the only few human characters in the original show), apparently doesn't mind his child getting caught up in the middle of an intergalactic war? A war being waged by GIANT ROBOTS who could accidentally step on the kid and not even notice until a few days later? Well there is, and this boy, Daniel, is supposed to be our connection to the events in this movie, even though he's not HALF as traumatized as we (the audience) were by what was seen and experienced that terrible night in that theater 30 years ago...... Sooo coooooold.
Anyway, a HUGE, robotic-bloody battle then takes place wherein the Autobots try to hold up inside the fortress-like Autobot City while they wait for their distress signal to reach Prime and hopefully bring much needed reinforcements. During this battle, EVERY SINGLE AUTOBOT IN THE BASE (who is not a brand new toy) gets killed, and their bodies thrown into a junk heap. Then comes dawn and the Decepticons' final push, with the super-robot Devastator (6-in-1 combined Constructicon robots) in the lead.
Springer, Hot Rod, Blurr, Kup, Arcee, and Robert Stack appear to be all that's left of their once great army, and they wax on philosophically about having "better things to do tonight than die," but then hope arrives! The OP and the Dinobots (giant, stupid, but tough as hell robotic dinosaurs) show up and bring the battle back to the Decepticons! Yay!
Optimus Prime then faces off robot to robot with Megatron, and shit gets real real fast as they shoot, stab, kick, slice, and robotic-punch the living SHIT out of each other, turning themselves into recyclable materials right in front of our unbelieving optics. You have to remember, that for 65 episodes of cartoon continuity before this movie, the most that these robots' guns did to each other was cause whoever was hit by their lasers to fall down as if pushed. Mostly their lasers just missed their targets, like Storm Troopers. But here, shit was dangerous, unforgiving, vile, and horrific... I could not look away.
So, new Autobot Judd Nelson, I mean Hot Rod, fucks up and gets drawn into the fight (despite even being warned against doing so), and he gets used as a robotic shield, allowing Megatron to shoot the EVER-LIVING-SHIT out of Optimus over and over again. But just before he keels over, Prime is able to knock Megs off a 100-meter drop, fucking him up but good too.
The Decepticons retreat, and the remaining Autobots take the barely functioning Prime away to the medical ward, where you'd think they'd have a literal dump-truck of spare parts lying around (BECAUSE THEY'RE JUST CAR ROBOTS, and you can easily replace a tire or door or whatnot on a vehicle), but alas, earwax. And then we, the Autobots, and Daniel, watch in dismay and dread as Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots, and robotic father-figure to a generation of latchkey-kids, dies on a slab, turning silent and grey as his corpse turns cold.
Optimus Prime died a pointless death, and he didn't even manage to take out Megatron with him. Fuck. Thanks, Hot Rod.
Luckily, though, Optimus was able to open up his torso and remove The Matrix of Leadership and pass it on to Robert Stack before it perished with him.... Wait, what was that? "What is 'The Matrix of Leadership' that apparently always lived inside fearless leader's chest cavity?" Well, it's an orange sphere with a strange ring around it, and a glowing, open maw in the front.... HOLY SHIT! It's a mini Unicron! It took me 30 years, but I just got that... Fuck me...
Also, it's lucky that apparently ALL OTHER AUTOBOTS have the same open space in their torsos to place the Matrix in if it is ever passed on to them. We're told it "will light [their] darkest hour," but that cryptic phrase doesn't help anybody at the time, and just leaves this magical, mechanical, mysterious device to be the be-all end-all McGuffin device of this movie.
Then we cut back to the monster planet from earlier (awesomely voiced by Orson Welles in his [sadly] last role ever). Somehow Unicron sees the Matrix surviving Optimus' death, and he/it throws a hissy fit in space. Seriously, how the fu-dilly-uck did Unicron see Optimus' death? Did he hack the Autobot City security cameras? ARE THERE Autobot City security cameras in the med bay?
After witnessing the mass deaths of all my Autobot friends, I honestly felt no desire to rush out and buy their shittier replacements. Not only could they not hold a candle to Prime and Ironhide and Ratchet, but their toys sucked for the most part. But I'll get to that later.