by: Roger Barr
With Michael Bay's new Transformers movie out in theaters, I figured now would be the perfect time to remind people about just how awesome the Transformers used to be (before he bastardized how they appear) with a look at the original animated movie. Transformers: The Movie has everything a fan of the original series could possibly hope for. Appearances by almost all of their favorite bots, a showdown between Optimus Prime and Megatron, a giant new enemy, a killer soundtrack and a whole lot more. Today I'd like to talk about what I consider to be the 10 best things about Transformers: The Movie. If you disagree with some of the things on my list, that's ok... I'll give you a tasty energon treat and we'll let bygones be bygones.
Unicron. A giant planet-devouring Transformer that appears to be unstoppable. Seeing him ingest a planet with virtually no effort was one hell of a way to start off the movie. And let's not forget that Unicron was voiced by none other than the late, great Orson Welles. Who better to voice a giant planet-eater than a guy with one of the best deep voices ever to appear on the silver screen? This was also his last film role before he passed away, which I suppose is too bad because he apparently hated the role. Amusingly enough, when asked about his role in the movie, he said, "I play a big toy who attacks a bunch of smaller toys." He said this because he couldn't even remember the name of his character or the name of the movie.
We kids had never seen a robot as powerful as this in the Transformers cartoons. Forget about the Decepticons, it was obvious that the Autobots had a whole new problem to deal with. I mean, how the hell are you supposed to stop a robot that's larger than a planet? This was the Transformers' "Death Star"... a giant, brooding and seemingly indestructible evil that would destroy all in its path. The opening sequence with Unicron was also much more violent than what we were used to seeing in the cartoons.
As Unicron devours the planet, we see bits and pieces of robots getting chopped up into shreds and they actually BLEED! I'm sure it was supposed to be robot battery acid or something like that, but it was red and therefore "blood" as far as we kids were concerned.
I also need to say that I really don't blame Unicron for destroying this first planet as it's apparently inhabited by robots with glowing asses. If there's anything that deserves being completely annihilated, it's a planet filled with glowing assbots.
note: Am I the only one who noticed that if you switch two letters around, "Unicron" becomes "Unicorn"? I'd actually pay good money to see a planet-eating unicorn.
The Joys Of Profanity!
Now when you see a moon getting devoured by Unicron for the first time, that's usually enough to fill you with shock and awe. However, when Spike sees it, he actually shouts out, "Oh shit! What are we gonna do now!?" and with those words the innocence of the cartoon was lost forever. Just look at Bumblebee, even he can't believe that's he's hanging out with a human that talks like a filthy drunken pirate. This line was actually removed from most of the releases of the movie, but thankfully, it was restored in the later DVD releases. Robots bleeding, heroes dying, humans cussing... what more could a kid ask for?
note: This moment was such a big deal that on the DVD release, one of the chapters is called "Swear Word" so you can skip right to it and hear Spike's dirty fucking mouth.
Bah Weep Graaaaagnah Wheep Ni Ni Bong!
"Bah weep graaaaagnah wheep ni ni bong!" (pronounced "bah weep granna weep ninni bong!") is the universal greeting greeting used by robots to show that they come in peace. This greeting is a sore spot for some fans of the movie simply because it sounds so ridiculous, especially when you hear Eric Idle's "Wreck-Gar" character say it with the added vocal effects of an envelope filter. And I won't even get into how this phrase somehow leads to the mind-shatteringly insane scene where all the robots dance to Weird Al's "Dare To Be Stupid".Still, this phrase really stuck with many kids and I remember hearing people use it to greet each other in the hallways of our school. One class clown, who most certainly, definitely, absolutely, positively wasn't me, even said it to the math class teacher who responded with nothing but a raised eyebrow and a look of utter confusion while the rest of the kids giggled because we knew something he didn't for a change. Shove your Y=MX+B where the sun don't shine, buddy boy!
Nobody really knows where this greeting originated, but if you ask me, the answer is right there in the phrase: Bah Weep Graaaaagnah Wheep Ni Ni BONG! Case closed.
This movie introduced a whole slew of new characters including some fantastic aquatic Transformers - the Sharkticons being the most infamous of them all. Now while I love just about anything involving sharks and indeed think the Sharkticons looked awesome in all of their spiky, teethed glory... I feel that one character has really been overlooked. The Giant Robo-Squid! Most people don't even seem to remember this guy when you bring up the Transformers movie. He has a brief battle with two of our Autobot pals and that's pretty much the last anybody ever saw of him. The biggest travesty of all this? They never even released a toy version of our favorite robotic cephalopod! The Sharkticons had a nice toy released as a tie-in for the movie with a wonderfully appropriate name - GNAW - complete with big, bulging eyes and shiny silver teeth. But the squid? Nope... nothing. Granted they didn't show him transform into a regular robot in the movie, but I'm sure Hasbro could've worked something out.
My favorite thing about him is that he actually squirts out ink at the Autobots and swims away after they chop off a few of his tentacles. I don't know about you, but I think they missed out on a big chance to tie-in a Transformers toy with the popular "Zap-It" disappearing ink guns. Who wouldn't love a giant transformable robo-squid that could shoot out disappearing ink? Yo Hasbro, it's never too late to make up for past mistakes if you catch my drift...
Ahhhh, the Quintesson... who could possibly forget the Quintesson? This five-headed robot collective is the judge, jury and executioner for all trials. Now do they abide by a strict sense of duty to their planet, following preset laws by the book? No. In fact, their trials are nothing more than a joke. They don't even seem to have any real reason for putting random robots on trial other than getting enjoyment out of executing them. If you just happen to be on the planet and they capture you, you're put on trial, judged and whether they find you "innocent" or "guilty", they have you walk the plank and you're left to die in the jaws of the Sharkticons. Sure, it's not as harsh as our current judicial system, but it's close.
Prime vs. Megatron!
Whenever we saw these two goliaths go head-to-head in the cartoon, it was always a treat, but this battle had a lot more riding on it. The Decepticons had almost completely wiped out the Autobots when Optimus Prime arrives just in the nick of time to turn the tide against the Decepticons. He single-handedly wipes out all of them in an instant and all you wanted to do as a kid was jump into that scream and give him a high five while singing "You got the touch, you got the power... YEAH!" And now it was finally time for Optimus and Megatron to battle each other mono y mono.
At first it seems like Optimus is in trouble when Megatron throws a shard of metal into his gut and then pulls out a friggin' light saber out of his ass to slash him in the same spot. Optimus is able to fight his way back and he then has Megatron practically defeated on the ground with a gun pointed at him. Megatron sees a small gun on the ground nearby and underhandedly reaches for it while begging Optimus Prime for mercy. Hot Rod sees this cheap move and tries to stop Megatron, but instead becomes his hostage, thus enabling Megatron to blast away at Optimus without any consequence. Way to go, Hot Rod.
What I love here is that Megatron actually appears to be sweating! Actually, those might even be some tears now that I look closer at it. Megatron crying? Nah, he'd rip out his optics before he ever showed any tears. So first we saw the robots bleeding inside of Unicron, and now they sweat too? Perhaps there's a special director's cut where we see the Autobots taking a leak or spitting out chewing tobacco too?
Anyway, if Megatron kept on shooting Optimus, he would've been finished for sure. But Megatron naturally had to walk right up to Prime and gloat for a bit, thus giving Optimus the opportunity to dish out one last double-fisted pummeling that knocks him over a nearby ledge. Megatron was barely able to function at this point, and as a result, most people credit Optimus with a victory in the battle since he saved the day. Unfortunately, Optimus had to pay the ultimate price for this victory, which leads me to my next point...
Optimus Prime Dies!
Yep, Optimus Prime was dying and there was nothing they could do to save everybody's favorite Autobot. Yes the day was won, but how long would the Autobots last without their heroic leader? It was a pyrrhic victory to say the least. Prime tells them that he will soon be one with the Matrix and then opens up his chest to reveal it. He tells Ultra Magnus that he is to be the new Autobot leader and tells how the Matrix one day "will light their darkest hour." He tries to hand him the Matrix but it falls from his hands and Hot Rod manages to catch it just in the nick of time. Hrm, could this be some foreshadowing? Yes indeedy.
Once the Matrix of Leadership is removed from Optimus' chest, we see his life support monitor flatline, his eyes go dim and then his body loses all of its color. I always thought it was weird how his body just instantly lost the nice paint job. Either way, seeing the most recognizable Transformers character get killed off was quite a shocking and was the subject of much controversy at the time.
Another interesting fact about Prime's death is that the Transformers movie was being created simultaneously with the G.I. Joe one. When the writers of the G.I. Joe movie asked if they could kill off Duke, Hasbro liked the idea so much that they asked them to kill off Optimus Prime in the Transformers movie as well. The Transformers movie came out first and parents complained a lot about Optimus being killed off, so the G.I. Joe script was rewritten to have Duke end up in a coma instead (even though the visual footage clearly indicated he was dead).
It's too bad that's how things went down, because if you're like me, you'd much rather see a loser like Duke get killed off instead of the mighty Optimus Prime.
Fight For Leadership!
After their big battle with the Autobots, the Decepticons hitch a ride with Astrotrain and make a quick retreat. While soaring through space, Astrotrain says they need to lose some of the dead weight, and Starscream immediately sees this as an opportunity to get rid of Megatron since he's barely able to even move. Starscream picks up Megatron and carries him to the cargo door and sarcastically proclaims, "Oh, how it pains me to do this!" as he releases Megatron to die alone in space. Starscream then nominates himself as the new leader of the Decepticons.
The Constructicons immediately protest this idea because they claim Devastator is the most powerful robot and, therefore, they should rule the Decepticons. Before Starscream can even argue with them about this, Soundwave steps up to the plate and throws out a rare insult: "Soundwave superior. Constructicons inferior." OH SNAP! You go Soundwave! Naturally, they take offense to this and they battle it out with Soundwave and all of his robotic tapes. Now here's the utterly baffling part...
Not only has Starscream apparently won the battle for leadership over the Decepticons, but the Constructicons are willingly playing the trumpet for him during his coronation! Now let's be honest here for a minute: there's no way in HELL that Starscream could defeat the Constructicons or Soundwave in a fight, so can somebody please explain to me how he ended up being crowned their new leader!? The only thing I can come up with is that while the Constructicons and Soundwave were duking it out, Starscream was hiding in a corner, cowering like an infant. Then, once all the Destructicons were exhausted from beating the energon out of each other, Starscream emerged and threatened to toss them all off of Astrotrain if they didn't accept him as their new ruler.
I'm sure that's not what really happened, but it's the best I can come up with. It's easily the biggest plot hole in the entire movie as far as I'm concerned and I'd love to hear a real explanation from the writer, Ron Friedman.
Well anyway, while the Decepticons were busy fighting each other, Megatron's near lifeless body drifted towards Unicron. Unicron gave Megatron a choice: either help him retrieve the Matrix (the only thing that can stop him) or die. Megatron obviously went with the first option and in return, Unicron gave him a powerful new body and renamed him Galvatron. In all honesty, I wasn't happy when they did this, even as a kid. Megatron simply looked way cooler than Galvatron, and his voice was certainly better. Then again, that's probably because Frank Welker is the man when it comes to voices and Leonard Nimoy is... well... not.
So Galvatron instantly heads back to crash Starscream's coronation and with one mighty blast, Starscream's color is gone (just like when Prime died) and his body is virtually vaporized before our very eyes. And with that, the Decepticons now have a new leader, Galvatron, who was technically their old leader too. I guess that was Friedman's way of trying to make up for the fact that he actually let Starscream win that battle for leadership earlier on... but I still say there's no excuse for such blind madness.
Our Darkest Hour!
By this point in the movie, us kids were really emotionally invested in things. We witnessed planets getting devoured, we saw some of our favorite Transformers get killed off and we were even scarred for life by hearing a cartoon character say "shit". And now, on top of all this madness, Unicron has just transformed into his robot form and is about to tear Cybertron apart! I never did understand why he had those boney wings though, it's not like they'd aid him in flight or anything.
After crashing through one of Unicron's eyes, the Autobots try to find a way to destroy Unicron. As they fall through his body, Hot Rod gets separated from them and ends up face to face with Galvatron. Galvatron just happens to posses the Matrix after easily taking it from Ultra Magnus who was unable to open it. Unfortunately, Galv wasn't able to open the Matrix either and now Unicron is about to destroy his home planet as a result. Hot Rod puts up a pretty decent fight at first, but eventually, Galvatron catches him and starts to choke him to death because... apparently robots have windpipes that can be crushed? I don't know...
Just when it seems like all hope is lost, Hot Rod grabs onto the Matrix that's hanging from Galvatron's necklace and it begins to light up. This is it! This must be their darkest hour! Hot Rod is Neo! I mean... Hot Rod is THE ONE!
We hear Optimus' voice one last time as he says "Arise, Rodimus Prime." and Hot Rod begins to grow into the mighty Autobot he always wished he could be. It's actually a really boring transformation compared to the Tron-like transformation sequence that we saw Galvatron go through earlier on, but whatever. He picks up a squirming Galvatron above his head and tosses him with such force that he goes flying through Unicron and out into deep space. With Galvatron kaput, there's just one more big baddie to finish off...
"Now... light our darkest hour!" Rodimus says as he opens up the Matrix to unleash its power. Sure enough, it lights up and begins to tear apart Unicron from the inside out, eventually causing his entire body to explode and sending his head flying through space. Naturally this left things wide open for a sequel, but it never happened. Unicron's head did appear in some later Transformers cartoons, but that's another story.
On a side note, I've always found it amusing that Judd Nelson (aka: John Bender from The Breakfast Club) was the voice of Hot Rod/Rodimus Prime. There's something inherently hilarious about the idea of John Bender saving the universe. If only somebody had asked Rodimus what happened to Unicron and he replied, "Screws fall out all the time, the world is an imperfect place." Then this would truly be the perfect movie.
Out of everything in this movie, I'd have to say the thing I hear people quote and talk about more than anything are the songs from the soundtrack. First and foremost, credit must be given to the extremely talented Vince DiCola for putting this soundtrack together. He created the perfect blend of rocktacular music with synthesizers to help make this movie feel all the more epic. He also did the soundtrack for Rocky IV and if you listen closely, some of Unicron's music is the same music they play when Drago is on screen. So the lesson here is that it doesn't matter if you're a planet-eating robot or a killer boxing Soviet on steroids, you still get the same theme music.
There's also a great recreation of the original Transformers theme song, performed by the hairtastic metal band, Lion. And as I stated earlier, yes, Weird Al's "Dare To Be Stupid" is on the Soundtrack too.
But let's face it, there are two songs on this soundtrack that are far more important and memorable than all the others combined. Those two songs are the uplifting, high energy tracks "Dare" and "The Touch" by Stan Bush. Out of the two, I definitely like "Dare" the most (probably because DiCola worked on it as well), but there's no denying how perfectly "The Touch" was used in the movie. Seeing Optimus fly in to save the day to the sounds of "You got the touch, you got the power... YEAH!" absolutely classic. It should also be noted that the Transformers soundtrack was recently re-released and, in addition to some great extra tracks by Vince DiCola, there's a Stan Bush rendition of the Transformers theme that you've gotta hear. I'm honestly surprised it never made it into the movie.
And there you have it, the ten best things about Transformers: The Movie. Regardless of where you stand on the new Transformers flick by Michael Bay, don't ever forget about this movie because it shows how truly great the Transformers were back in the day. It taught me that I could win if I dare, and it can teach you the same. This is the one that truly had it all. This is the one that had the magic. This is the one that had... the touch.
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