Further Childhood Recollections

(Transformers, the Movie)

It's not as if this was really a major experience in my life. Transformers were a childhood fascination that marked one of my last gullible forays into spoonfed pastimes. They were uniquely suited to appeal to a young proto-geek; they didn't actually plug in and do stuff on their own, but they were fairly manipulable. Much less static than, say, "GI Joe," which was their main competition media-wise. The early versions of the toys were pretty well made (I was fairly gentle with my toys compared to most kids -- Cancer sign and poverty upbringing and all that). There are probably vast wodges of psychological endearments involved.

"Transformers, the Movie" was a sort of transition point in the lifespan of the toy-tv show-movie agglomeration. For one thing, the monetary stakes got substantially higher -- this wasn't a cheap movie by kid-movie standards. Hasbro, the toy company who probably made the most direct profit from the Transformers, used it as a sort of staging-point for many and varied marketing efforts, which fairly rapidly diluted and ultimately killed off the product line. The movie illustrated a transition between the "cuddly, loveable" robots and the "fearsome, violent" robots that now more or less define the toy-robot field (if there is one). Some robots in the movie turn into cars, trucks, etc; they mark the earlier period. Others turn into spaceships and tentacle things, which mark the later. Having grown up largely averted to violence, the attempt to convert the Transformers into revenue-maximizing violent plastic things turned me off, and I drifted away.

Oddly, the movie didn't generate all that much in the form of direct merchandising spinoffs. Some of the characters didn't translate well into toys directly -- Unicron would have been a tough one to build, and the Quintessons wouldn't have sold.

The General Storyline

The movie starts thusly: the (antagonist) Decepticons have conquered Cybertron, the machine-planet where both robot factions originate. The (protagonist) Autobots hold two of Cybertron's moons and have a fortress imaginatively labelled "Autobot City" on Earth. The Autobots are preparing an assault to retake Cybertron, but it never gets mentioned after the first few minutes of the movie -- presumably it wouldn't matter, since the plan would have gone to hell anyway. Also there's an unexplained (but apparently distant and unrelated) second robot planet which gets destroyed by Unicron, a large planet-eating robot (one of several "third parties" to appear in the movie; the TV series largely avoided them). Then there's a big battle on Earth between Autobots and Decepticons over Autobot City, narrowly won by the Autobots after a battle between Optimus Prime (leader of the autobots) and Megatron (of the Decepticons). Optimus Prime dies, Megatron more or less does. The Decepticons fly home, throwing a bunch of wounded decepticons out of the space ship on the way, including Megatron. Ultra Magnus, a large blocky robot becomes the new leader of the Autobots, taking the Creation Matrix (the source of the Autobots' power, discussed in the comic books a lot but seldom referenced by the TV series -- too ethereal, probably). More explanation for the second half.

Family Home Entertainment, I've always inferred, was a media distributing company of some persuasion. They also marketed several other kids' cartoons and educational programs. Their logo sequence appeared at the start of the VHS version of the movie, but in the DVD release it had been replaced by the paired logos of Sunbow and Marvel Productions. FHE also produced or was in some way involved in a run of VHS tapes of a few early episodes, including the pilot, and marketed at store counters as impulse purchases and/or rentals. How they made out with that strategy I don't know.

This is the expensive opening shot (one of quite a few expensive scenes). Unlike the TV series, which constantly reused a few painted backdrops, the movie had quite a lot of nicely detailed ones, especially for the scenes occuring in space. They tended to be muted a bit since they were generally more detailed than the foregrounds. The thing in the foreground of this one is Unicron, a planet-sized evil and powerful character who gets most of the good lines.

Inside and outside Unicron. The movie employed a substantially higher number of rounded shapes and glowing things than the TV series.

Unicron eats planets for energy, or at least to keep the plot going. Here it eats Cradix's planet (Cradix shows up much later, briefly, as a prisoner of the Quintessons). Some of the images used here also appeared in the Nintendo game "Life Force," though it may have been coincidence.

I think the decorated cylinder thing must have been public-licensed stock footage or something. Something almost identical appears in "Wierd Science," during one of the computer scenes. The recurring motif in the tunnel was the symbol for a transistor -- a circle with three lines and one arrow entering and exiting. At this stage an 80s-rock remake of the Transformers Theme Song is playing -- unlike the TV show, the movie had something of a music-production budget.

Two, Zero