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Sunday, August 28, 2016
I watched an awful lot of afternoon TV back in the 80s, but I somehow missed out on "Transformers." (Although I did buy my nephew one of the toys for Christmas once.)
This half-hour cartoon series--some would call it an extended toy commercial--about the never-ending war for planet Earth between two opposing factions of intelligent shape-shifting robots named the Autobots and the Decepticons, who can all turn into various high-powered vehicles or cyber-creatures, ran from 1984-87 and garnered a fervent cult following for which it rated a feature-film treatment in 1986.
Thus, THE TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE (30th ANNIVERSARY EDITION) (Shout! Factory and Hasbro Studios, 2-disc Blu-ray) is a great way not only to catch up on what all the nostalgia's about but also to see it at what I assume to be its very best.
Even for a "Transformers" novice like myself, the 80s nostalgia that this rollicking animated space adventure radiates is intoxicating. It's old-school anime-style cel animation without the CGI gimmicks. Even if it sometimes betrays its TV origins, it looks fantastic. And it has a voice cast that's to short-circuit for.
The film opens with a pretty spectacular sequence in which a renegade planet-sized robot named Unicron (voiced by Orson Welles in his final film appearance) attacks a peaceful world populated by robots and ingests it for fuel. The artistic depiction of this massive global devastation is stunning, the first of several more upcoming scenes that will dazzle the viewer.
After a "Superman: The Movie"-style main titles sequence featuring the show's familiar theme song, we then settle into the story proper as our mechanical heroes, the Autobots, thunder into action to stave off an attack from the evil Decepticons in the far-off year of 2005.
No sooner is this action-packed battle over than Unicron shows up and transforms some of the surviving Decepticons into his own personal army with which to defeat the Autobots and steal from them an all-powerful device known as the Matrix of Leadership. Leonard Nimoy himself provides the voice for Unicron's duplicitous number-one, Galvatron (formerly Megatron), who covets the Matrix for himself.
An interesting side note: the deaths and transformations of several regular characters during this sequence are a result of the scripters' instructions to retire the old line of toys and replace them with new ones for young viewers to covet. This proved to be more traumatic for fans than anyone expected, especially the intensely dramatic death of the Autobots' leader, Optimus Prime, who passed the Matrix on to new leader Ultra Magnus (voiced by Robert Stack.)
The rest of the film is a robot vs. robot free-for-all with several cool detours along the way, including a visit to a junk planet with "Monty Python" alum Eric Idle voicing a comedic bot named "Wreck-Gar" who listens to too much Earth television, and an encounter with a race of grotesque mecha-beings whose main form of entertainment is to conduct kangaroo courts in which to sentence strangers such as Hot Rod (Judd Nelson) and Kup (Lionel Stander) to "death-by-sharkticon."
Dealing with these foes leads to the ultimate battle with Unicron (who turns out to be one huge transformer himself) and his dark forces which provides the film with its thrilling finale. By this time, I was finally starting to sort out all the many characters including good guys Hot Rod, Kup (he turns into a pickup--get it?), female robot Arcee, human Spike and his plucky son Daniel--both of whom also get to be transformers by wearing exo-suits--Bumblebee, Blurr, and the diminutive Wheelie.
Much comedy relief is provided by the Dinobots, who lack all social graces, talk in Bizarro-Speak ("Me, Grimlock, want to munch metal!"), and live for the times in which old soldier Kup regales them all with oft-told war stories ("Tell Grimlock about petro-rabbits again!") The Decepticons are also good for a few laughs when their inter-family squabbles escalate into all-out fights for dominance among the different robot clans.
Character design is good and the backgrounds are often beautiful. The musical score is okay when we aren't assaulted by bad 80s arena rock (I did enjoy hearing "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Dare to Be Stupid" at one point).
Dialogue ranges from likably dumb ("Your days are numbered now, Decepti-creeps!") to quite good, as in the numerous exchanges between Welles and Nimoy. Celebrity voice talent also includes Scatman Crothers ("Jazz"), Casey Kasem ("Cliffjumper"), Clive Revill ("Kickback"), Norm Alden ("Kranix"), and Roger C. Carmel ("Cyclonus"). Legendary voice performer Frank Welker takes on no less than six different roles.
The 2-disc Blu-ray set from Shout! Factory and Hasbro Studios gives us both the 1.85:1 widescreen version (disc 1) and the full screen version (disc 2) with English stereo and 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish. Remastered from a brand-new 4k transfer of original film elements. (A steelbook edition and a single-disc DVD edition with only the widescreen version plus digital copy are also available.)
Special features include a lengthy and highly-informative behind-the-scenes featurette entitled "'Til All Are One" (the segment on voice talent is especially fun), several other short featurettes, animated storyboards, trailers and TV spots, and an audio commentary with director Nelson Shin, story consultant Flint Dill, and star Susan Blu ("Arcee"). The cover illustration is reversible. Also contains the code for downloading a digital copy.
THE TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE (30th ANNIVERSARY EDITION) is good old bombastic meat-and-potatoes space opera for kids and adults alike, with a welcome anime flavor. It should rocket original fans of the show right back to their childhoods (or teenhoods, as the case may be) while gaining new ones such as myself who just love a good mind-expanding sci-fi adventure.
Street date: Sept. 13, 2016
Limited Edition Steelbook
Images shown are not taken from the Blu-ray disc.