Saturday Movie Review – “Transformers: The Movie (1986)”

Another 1980s childhood nostalgia title is making a comeback.

Cast and Crew

Scatman Crothers as Jazz
Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime and Ironhide
Eric Idle as Wreck-Gar
Casey Kasem as Cliffjumper
Judd Nelson as Hot Rod / Rodimus Prime
Leonard Nimoy as Galvatron
Robert Stack as Ultra Magnus
Lionel Stander as Kup
Frank Welker as Megatron, Soundwave, Rumble, Frenzy, Laserbeak, Wheelie and the Junkions
Orson Welles as Unicron

Written by Ron Friedman.
Directed by Nelson Shin.

Complete information is available from this IMDB page.

Buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.ca.

Premise

The war for Cybertron has tipped in favour of the Decepticons, who ambush the few remaining Autobots. A handful of heroes must protect their homeworld from the normal Decepticons as well as a set of Decepticons upgraded by the planet-eating Unicron.

High Point

Having the guts to push forward major changes. A number of characters do not survive the movie, some of whom are very significant.

Low Point

Almost no attempt is made to introduce most of the characters. This is a giant fight scene with rare calm points designed to link together two dramatically different seasons of the animated series.

The Scores

This is a bit original in terms of the magnitude of change the writers were willing to make. Very few series or movies aimed at children would kill off this many characters this quickly. Apart from that element, it’s a giant fight. I give it 4 out of 6.

The animation could get a little choppy, but when you look at the complexity of characters and backgrounds, you realize this was a huge undertaking for their time and resources. I give it 4 out of 6.

The story is minimal. There is little or no attempt to properly introduce or reintroduce the characters. Hot Rod gets a little bit of development, but the rest of the team barely has their names revealed. This was about jamming characters on screen and shooting at each other more than anything else. I give it 3 out of 6.

The voice acting was well done, due in large part to hiring so many quality actors to fill the roles. With a cast as solid as this, it’s hard to go wrong, even with the varied and distinctive dialects and speech patterns some of these robots have. I give it 5 out of 6.

The production is decent, but not spectacular. The emphasis is definitely on giving each of the toys its own chance to shine in an action sequence involving a transformation, and really pushing forward Hot Rod / Rodimus Prime. In other words, it looks more like a 90 minute commercial than a movie. I give it 3 out of 6.

The emotional response is not as strong for me as it might be for other readers. I didn’t get the chance to see this during the run of the original series, so I don’t have the nostalgia for the title others might. Watching it now, I get somewhat involved in the action, but since they never take the time to establish who these characters are, or why we should care about them, it would be a bland first exposure for most. I give it 3 out of 6.

Overall, this would be enjoyable in the context of the television series, but as a stand alone work, it doesn’t hold up. I give it 3 out of 6.

It total, Transformers: The Movie receives 25 out of 42.

10 replies on “Saturday Movie Review – “Transformers: The Movie (1986)””

  1. Dave says:

    introductions? meh.

    Almost no attempt is made to introduce most of the characters. This is a giant fight scene with rare calm points designed to link together two dramatically different seasons of the animated series.

    Having seen the movie more than a few times, owned many of the toys, growing up with the TV series, I can assure you most of the characters never had much personality to begin with, relatively speaking. Brawn was a bad-ass, Bumblebee was the one everyone underestimated, Megatron was an over-the-top villain, Starscream was the shallow power-hungry one, and so on. Pretty much one-notes all around.

    The comic books had quite a bit more development, but that’s not we’re reviewing this week, is it? :)

    Given that this was the mid-80s, and a show designed more than anything as a merchandising vehicle (you see what I did there?) for toys, character development was never at the top of the list of priorities anyway.

    Ultimately, the relatively novel notion of killing off most of the main characters in the first act sorta backfired anyway. Lots and LOTS of children were upset, and I remember being more than a little shocked at the death of Optimus Prime. Hey, I was nine at the time. The producers apparently expected only to sell more toys, thinking kids would quickly rally behind all the exciting new characters, not realizing kids can take their cartoons awfully seriously. Over the next couple seasons, many of the characters who "died" were subsequently repaired or revived anyway.

    • nkuzmik says:

      Re: introductions? meh.

      Lots and LOTS of children were upset, and I remember being more than a little shocked at the death of Optimus Prime. Hey, I was nine at the time.

      Do we really need spoilers for a movie that came out 20 years ago?

      • Dave says:

        Re: introductions? meh.

        Lots and LOTS of children were upset, and I remember being more than a little shocked at the death of Optimus Prime. Hey, I was nine at the time.

        Do we really need spoilers for a movie that came out 20 years ago?

        I’m trying to protect my fragile psyche from reliving those painful memories.

      • roseblood says:

        Re: introductions? meh.

        Lots and LOTS of children were upset, and I remember being more than a little shocked at the death of Optimus Prime. Hey, I was nine at the time.

        Do we really need spoilers for a movie that came out 20 years ago?

        You know that movie The Passion? Some one went and spoiled the ending on that one for me in a different forum. I’ll tell you I was really irked. Who would have figured that the guy would get tortured, executed, and would end up coming back from the dead, and not have a desire to consume brains!

        • nkuzmik says:

          Re: introductions? meh.

          Lots and LOTS of children were upset, and I remember being more than a little shocked at the death of Optimus Prime. Hey, I was nine at the time.

          Do we really need spoilers for a movie that came out 20 years ago?

          You know that movie The Passion? Some one went and spoiled the ending on that one for me in a different forum. I’ll tell you I was really irked. Who would have figured that the guy would get tortured, executed, and would end up coming back from the dead, and not have a desire to consume brains!

          Or what was that other movie… the one with the really big boat? It had Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, and Celine Dion did the main title… How does that one end?

      • iamlegion says:

        Re: introductions? meh.
        Heh. A friend of mine, whenever asked about some new book or movie, always replies with "They all die". She’s been using that one on my daughter for awhile now, since she (my daughter) got into the Harry Potter series.

        Now, with the final book due out, and "they all die" being an entirely valid possibility, she can’t use that line anymore… :-)

  2. Abednigo says:

    Not as good as it was 20 years ago
    I watched this movie dozens of times as a kid. I was 12 when the movie came out and was a huge Transformers fan, so I loved it. Wanting to relive some of that I borrowed the movie from a friend a few years ago. I wish I hadn’t. The memories of the movie were far better than the movie itself. The robots dancing to Weird Al’s "Dare to be Stupid" on the Junk Planet just destroyed it for me. I’m sure it was the most awesome thing in the world for a 12 year old. But for an adult, I was disappointed. If you grew up with it, it does not age well.

    Since then, I have avoided watching movies or TV shows that I loved as a kid. For example, I refuse (despite how much I want to) to watch the Voltron DVDs. I loved the show in middle school, and I refuse to destroy those fond memories.

    • octa says:

      Re: Not as good as it was 20 years ago
      I had a similar experience watching the new Transformers: Robots in Disguise show out of Japan that had the firetruck Optimus. Wow did that suck, but I knew it was pretty formulaic and was almost exactly like the original show. I could only stomach 5 episodes before I stopped.

      I feel old :(

      On a positive note I thought Transformers: Beast Wars was an excellent show and spun off a great videogame with the same title.

  3. valen1260 says:

    dammit
    Let’s not forget the gratuitous swearing, added to get a PG rating. That’s a big deal for a 7-year-old.

    • fiziko says:

      Re: dammit

      Let’s not forget the gratuitous swearing, added to get a PG rating. That’s a big deal for a 7-year-old.

      Ah, yes, the one lone profanity. That chapter of the DVD title is even called "Swear Word," just to emphasize the fact that it’s the most important part of that scene.

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