Originally released in the summer of 1986, Transformers: The Movie was a critical and financial failure. But as far as transforming robot flicks go, it’s pure genius. Looking back, the reason why it failed is pretty simpleparents would rather not shell out bucks for a longer version of what kids could see for free on TV. And so the film was largely forgotten in this country, save for a select few diehard fans. Cut to present daykids of the ’80s are now grown up, have plenty of disposable income and pangs of nostalgia when they reminisce about their robot pals. Seizing the opportunity, Rhino Home Video releases several waves of Transformers episodes on VHS. They sell enough to interest Rhino to bring the movie back to video, unedited, and onto DVD. Fans everywhere were excited about the film’s transfer to DVD, but this release hardly lives up to the expectations.
The plot of Transformers deals with the continuing battle between the heroic Autobots and the always evil Decepticons. However, this time they both face a new enemy, the planet eating Unicron (basically a rip-off of Galactus from Marvel Comics). Unicron, (inexplicably voiced by
Orson Welles), seeks to destroy the Autobot Matrix of Leadership, the source of Autobot strength that causes Stan Bush’s “The Touch” to be played whenever it appears onscreen. After Autobot leader Optimus Prime is killed in battle with his enemy Megatron, the Matrix is passed on the utterly inept Ultra Magnus (voiced by a pre-"Unsolved Mysteries" Robert Stack). Meanwhile, Unicron has found Megatron near death floating in space and he offers him an ultimatum, help him destroy the Autobot Matrix of Leadership in return for a new body. Soon Megatron is reborn as Galvatron (available for a ridiculously marked up price to cash in on your nostalgia at a local collectibles shop near you). Galvatron now possesses the menacing voice of Leonard Nimoy,and he basically sounds like a pissed off Spock. From here on, the movie essentially becomes a series of battle scenes in which young Hot Rod, (voiced by then white hot star Judd Nelson!), discovers his true destiny as once and future leader of the Autobots when the loser Ultra Magnus gets put out of commission. Hot Rod utilizes the powers of the Matrix, fulfilling his destiny to become Rodimus Prime. The Decepticons and Unicron are defeated. Having defeated the primary villain of the show, the post movie season of the Transformers cartoon was a pretty aimless affair, and it soon lost steam and ended.
A film like this is criticproof in that the audience is either interested in transforming robots, or they aren’t. We aren’t talking Citizen Kane here, even though Welles was involved. Much of what is featured in movie is derivative of other films, the Star Wars Trilogy in particular. The film goes so far with their homage/rip off of the trilogy to include a fight scene featuring a device that looks so similar to a lightsaber, it’s amazing lawyers didn’t get called. In fact, an alternate version of the film opens with a Star Wars-esque scroll detailing the events of the television series. However, you can overlook this if your only hopes are to see a somewhat exciting film, with decent action and cheesy entertainment. The obvious point of the film is to sell toys. This doesn’t mean that the film was poorly made. It features first rate animation and impressive voice over work, with the cast also featuring Scatman Crothers, Eric Idle, Casey Kasem, Clive Revill & Lionel Stander. The film also features a rather high body count, which makes it all the more appealing for anime fans who have come to expect Akira scale violence in their films.
So, how bad is the DVD? It is a marked improvement of the original Canadian release by Seville, which was marred by dull colors and poor sound. However, this DVD is nowhere as good as it should be. Rhino was unable to procure a widescreen version of the film for its DVD release, so instead we are left with a full frame rendition. The film has been completely restored, and looks and sounds fantastic. The animated scene selections look fine, but the troublesome question remainswhere are all the extra features? The few extras included are hardly worth mentioning. Viewers only get a few storyboards from more boring portions of the film, as well as an interview with composer Vince Dicola, who spends way too much time mentioning his work on the Rocky IV soundtrack. Where are the trailers? Where are more storyboards? How about some toy commercials? How about the alternate shots from the film that appeared in the Japanese Transformers: Hero video release? Where is “The Touch” music video by Stan Bush? (A song that was brilliantly parodied in Boogie Nights). Why couldn’t they get a widescreen version of the film How about a documentary about the enduring appeal of Transformers? I suspect the answers to some of these questions lies in yet another DVD release, so suckers like myself can purchase the movie for a third time. Some credit should be given to Rhino for at least releasing the original theatrical version of the film, which is rather quaint in that it uses the word “shit”, and that is was controversial at the time. This DVD is the first in a series of planned Transformers releases. And with the import of the Japanese Transformers: Car Robots series in the fall, an entire new generation will discover the charms of robot based fun. Hopefully, future DVD releases will give fans some of the extra features that they clamor for. Watching this film again one thing was very obvious, the phenomenon may be silly, but you have to admit that it is more than meets the eye.