August 8th marks the thirtieth anniversary of the release of The Transformers: The Movie! And for that occasion RAC posts his memories of seeing the film and considers its all-reaching influence on subsequent Transformers stories. Keep reading! I was there for the opening weekend with my father in tow. My brother, who was only three at the time, went with my mother to go see The Great Mouse Detective. Smart move, and I expect they had a better time than my dad did. Transformers is not really his style. My parents - who forbade me from watching GI Joe and viewed it as a kind of propaganda that glossed over the cost of war - never tried to stop me from watching Transformers. (I guess it was the "They're just robots" thing.) I never asked them, but I expect that the unexpected violence of TFTM took them by surprise as much as it did me. It's easy to just focus on Optimus Prime, but have you ever tried picturing any of the deaths in the first quarter of the film as happening to people? Can you imagine the rating you would have to give that? In a future world where robots have achieved sentience and equal rights with human beings, Transformers is easily an NC-17 movie. Other than the shocking or traumatic aspects, I... think I enjoyed the film that first time? My original reaction to the movie is more or less lost to me because of the time that has passed. That's an odd feeling, but it's been so long I can only assume that I loved it because of how often I've watched it since. The VHS release of the movie didn't happen for thirteen months after the theatrical release. I do remember how much that felt like forever, and how often we bothered the clerk at the local Erol's Video to see if it was available to rent yet. I watched that tape to death.
The older I get, the more things I find to like about the movie. The soundtrack was a little too metal for a seven year-old, or at least seven year-old me, but it's grown on me year by year. The animation, while rife with errors, is still more attractive, detailed, and fluid than 90% of the TV series - and the key scenes in particular are very well done. Unicron transforming, of course - there's a good reason it was used in industry promo reels to sell the movie. But look at Megatron's face in his "It's over, Prime!" scene sometime. It's smoothly animated and tremendously detailed. The movie is not consistent by any means, but the high points are quite high.
And the look and tone of Transformers: The Movie had a tremendous influence on everything afterwards, for good or ill. Its availability made it the representative of what Transformers was throughout the VHS years and it shows even now. In the live-action films the character of Optimus Prime is based almost solely on his heroic rampage through the Decepticon ranks to the tune of "The Touch," and the brutality of some of the fighting in this movie thoroughly informs the modern films. Most later Transformers stories latched onto the cosmic, mythic qualities added by Unicron, the Matrix of Leadership, and Prime's subsequent resurrection - sometimes to the frustrating exclusion of all else. Comic writer Simon Furman was among the first and most successful to pick up that ball and run with it, but he was far from the last. And that chipped, cracked closeup of Megatron was probably taped to Pat Lee's bedroom ceiling for years. The new characters (or replacement toys if we're feeling honest) have become permanent parts of the lore to be expanded on and highlighted, often to surprising degrees. How many very good and very different interpretations of Ultra Magnus have there been?
Simply put, there is no escaping this movie if you like Transformers. Transformers: The Movie expanded and codified the Transformers' universe - and we will probably never see a future version of Transformers that bears no trace of its influence.
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