The Transformers: The Movie
The Transformers: The Movie is a 1986 animated science fiction action film based on the Transformers television series. It was released in North America on August 8, 1986, and in the United Kingdom on December 12, 1986. The film was co-produced and directed by Nelson Shin, who also produced the original Transformers television series. The screenplay was written by Ron Friedman, who would create The Bionic Six a year later. The movie features the voices of Eric Idle, Judd Nelson, Leonard Nimoy, Casey Kasem, Robert Stack, Lionel Stander, John Moschitta Jr., Peter Cullen and Frank Welker. It also marked the final roles for both Orson Welles, who died the year before its release, and Scatman Crothers, who died months after its release. The film's story takes place in 2005, 20 years after the events of the TV series' second season, and serves to bridge into the third season.
|The Transformers: The Movie|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Nelson Shin|
|Screenplay by||Ron Friedman|
|Based on||The Transformers|
by Hasbro & Takara
|Narrated by||Victor Caroli|
|Music by||Vince DiCola|
|Edited by||David Hankins|
|Distributed by||De Laurentiis Entertainment Group|
|Budget||$6 million or $5 million|
|Box office||$5.8 million (US) or $2.6 million (North America)|
After the death of Optimus Prime during a devastating assault on Autobot City, the Autobots are pursued by Galvatron, the regenerated form of Megatron and servant of Unicron, a planet-devouring Transformer who sets out to consume Cybertron. The soundtrack comprises synthesizer music by Vince DiCola and heavy metal by various groups. The film features several grand battles in which multiple characters meet their end, often in a somewhat brutal fashion. This has led to the film being considered surprisingly dark given its target audience.
In 2005, the evil Decepticons have conquered the Transformers' home planet of Cybertron. The heroic Autobots, operating from Cybertron's two moons, prepare a counter-offensive. Autobot leader Optimus Prime sends a shuttle to Autobot City on Earth for supplies. Decepticons led by Megatron kill the crew and hijack the ship. In Autobot City, Hot Rod, relaxing with human Daniel Witwicky, spots the hijacked shuttle and a battle breaks out, resulting in casualties on both sides. Optimus arrives with reinforcements. He and Megatron engage in brutal combat, leaving both mortally wounded. On his deathbed, Optimus passes the Matrix of Leadership to Ultra Magnus, telling him that its power will light the Autobots' darkest hour.
The Decepticons withdraw from Autobot City. In space, they jettison their wounded, including Megatron, at the hands of his treacherous second-in-command Starscream. Drifting in space, the wounded are found by Unicron, a sentient planet who consumes other worlds. Unicron offers Megatron a new body in exchange for destroying the Matrix, which has the power to destroy Unicron. Megatron reluctantly agrees; Unicron converts him into Galvatron and other wounded Decepticons into his new troops: Cyclonus, Scourge, and the Sweeps. On Cybertron, Galvatron disrupts Starscream's coronation as Decepticon leader and kills him. Retaking command of the Decepticons, Galvatron leads his forces to seek out Ultra Magnus at the ruined Autobot City.
The surviving Autobots escape in separate shuttles, which are shot down by the Decepticons and crash on different planets. Hot Rod and Kup are taken prisoner by the Quintessons, tyrants who hold kangaroo courts, and execute prisoners by feeding them to the Sharkticons. Hot Rod and Kup learn of Unicron from Kranix, a lone survivor of Lithone, a planet devoured by Unicron. After Kranix is executed, Hot Rod and Kup escape, aided by the Dinobots and the small Autobot Wheelie, who helps them find a ship to leave the planet.
The other Autobots land on the Junk Planet. Galvatron kills Ultra Magnus and seizes the Matrix, now intent on using it to control Unicron. The Autobots befriend the local Junkions, led by Wreck-Gar, who rebuild Magnus. Deducing that Galvatron has the Matrix, the Autobots and Junkions fly to Cybertron. Galvatron attempts to threaten Unicron, but cannot activate the Matrix. Unicron transforms into a colossal robot and begins to consume Cyberton. When Galvatron attacks him, Unicron swallows him whole.
The Autobots crash their spaceship through Unicron's eye and become separated. Daniel saves his father Spike from Unicron's digestive system, and the group rescue Jazz, Bumblebee, and Cliffjumper. Galvatron attempts to form an alliance with Hot Rod, but Unicron forces him to attack. Hot Rod obtains the Matrix, and becomes Rodimus Prime, the new Autobot leader. Rodimus tosses Galvatron into space and uses the Matrix's power to destroy Unicron. The Autobots celebrate the war's end as Unicron's severed head orbits Cybertron.
According to director Nelson Shin, the decisions on which characters to include or kill off were made by Hasbro: "They created the story using characters that could best be merchandised for the film. Only with that consideration could I have freedom to change the storyline." According to the screenwriters, Hasbro underestimated the extent to which Prime's death would shock the young audience. Story consultant Flint Dille said: "We didn’t know that he was an icon. It was a toy show. We just thought we were killing off the old product line to replace it with new products."
Transformers: The Movie writer Ron Friedman, who had written for the original Transformers series, advised against killing Prime; he said in a 2013 interview: "To remove Optimus Prime, to physically remove Daddy from the family, that wasn’t going to work. I told Hasbro and their lieutenants they would have to bring him back but they said no and had ‘great things planned'. In other words, they were going to create new, more expensive toys.” Optimus Prime was subsequently revived in the Transformers series.
The film was budgeted at $6 million, six times greater than the budget used to create 90 minutes of the regular cartoon series. Shin's team of almost one hundred personnel normally took three months to make one episode of the series, so, despite the extra budget, faced considerable time constraints in making the film whilst also continuing production on the TV series at the same time. Shin came up with the concept of Prime fading to grey when he died to show "the spirit was gone from the body".
Toei Animation Vice President Kozo Morishita spent one year in the United States during production of the film. Morishita supervised the art direction, insisting the Transformers themselves be given several layers of shading and shadows to give them a more dynamic, detailed appearance.
The Transformers: The Movie was the final film to which Orson Welles contributed before his death. Shortly before he died, he told his biographer, Barbara Leaming, "You know what I did this morning? I played the voice of a toy. I play a planet. I menace somebody called Something-or-other. Then I'm destroyed. My plan to destroy Whoever-it-is is thwarted and I tear myself apart on the screen." However, Shin stated that Welles had originally been pleased to accept the role after reading the script and had expressed an admiration for animated films.
Stan Bush's song "The Touch", which prominently featured in the film, was originally written for the Sylvester Stallone film Cobra. The song later appeared again as remixed version for the 2012 game Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, and in the live action 2018 Transformers film Bumblebee. The film also features other well known songs including "Instruments of Destruction" by NRG, Stan Bush's song "Dare", and also two songs by Spectre General, "Nothin's Gonna Stand in Our Way" and "Hunger". The song “Dare To Be Stupid” by “Weird Al” Yankovic is also used in the film. The Transformers theme song for the film was performed by the band Lion.
The film was released on 990 screens in the United States and grossed $1,778,559 on its opening weekend. It opened in 14th place behind About Last Night, which had been in theaters for five weeks at the time. The film's final box office gross was $5,849,647, which made it the 99th highest-grossing movie of 1986. Hasbro lost US$10 million on the combined poor performance of this, and their previous collaboration with De Laurentiis Entertainment Group (DEG), My Little Pony: The Movie. However, Transformers has become a cult classic. The film has been remastered and re screened at night since.
In 2018, the film was re-released in September for one night only in the United States, screening in 450 (later increased with 300, totalling 750) theaters.
Although the trailer describes the film as "spectacular widescreen action", the film was animated in 4:3 "fullscreen" format. The feature was vertically cropped to widescreen dimensions for theatrical showings and released in fullscreen on home video and DVD. The 20th anniversary DVD released by Sony BMG in 2006 features remastered video, and includes both the fullscreen and widescreen versions of the film.
The UK version, as well as the 1999 Rhino Films VHS release, feature scrolling text and narration at the beginning of the film replacing the cast credits, and an additional closing narration assuring viewers that "Optimus Prime will return."
Metrodome Distribution released an Ultimate Edition of The Transformers: The Movie DVD in June 2007 (a month prior to the release of the live-action Transformers film) in the UK (Region 2). The extras include many of the extras that were contained on the "Remastered" edition of the film on the first disc, with fan commentary serving as the only addition besides a fan-made Transformers trailer. The second disc contains interviews with Peter Cullen and Flint Dille. "Scramble City" is also included as an extra.
The Transformers: The Movie received mixed reviews and currently holds a 58% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes with 23 counted reviews (14 "fresh", 10 "rotten") giving it a "Rotten" rating, with a critics consensus that states "A surprisingly dark, emotional, and almost excessively cynical experience for Transformers fans." The film has an average rating of 5.3 out of 10.
Film historian Leonard Maltin called the picture a "BOMB" (the lowest possible rating in his Movie & Video Guide), and "Little more than an obnoxious, feature-length toy commercial...That deafening rock score certainly doesn't help."
Caryn James of The New York Times described the film by stating, "While all this action may captivate young children, the animation is not spectacular enough to dazzle adults, and the Transformers have few truly human elements to lure parents along, even when their voices are supplied by well-known actors."
"Though a modest film compared with Michael Bay's (2007 Transformers), the original Transformers is the better film," wrote John Swansburg of Slate. "[T]here's nothing even approaching the original's narrative depth."
Gabe Toro of CinemaBlend wrote in 2014: "...Transformers: The Movie otherwise provides the sort of chase-heavy thrills that comes from robots that can become cars. Contrast that with Michael Bay's vision, where the robots basically abandon their transforming skills to have endless, violent punch-outs that annihilate cities. Bay's films show the action as a junkyard orgy. The '86 offering slows down to allow for actors like Leonard Nimoy and, yes, even Orson Welles to give actual performances. Fans of Michael Bay's Transformers movies are free to enjoy them. But they'll never top the gravity and excitement of The Transformers: The Movie."
"[N]ostalgia is a funny thing: for many of us in the 30-and-over Transformers fan club, that first movie was an integral part of our childhood. To hell with what the reviews said — the O.G. Transformers movie rocked our collective worlds," Kashann Kilson of Inverse wrote in 2015: "We still love the original so much today, part of the fun of watching Bay’s explosion-fests is being able to wave our canes at the youngsters and wax poetic about how back in our day, Hollywood knew how to make a real movie about giant, alien robot warriors."
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