The film that ruined a lot of childhoods, The Transformers: The Movie was a massive cultural event in its day, at least for those of us at a certain age […]
The film that ruined a lot of childhoods, The Transformers: The Movie was a massive cultural event in its day, at least for those of us at a certain age in 1986.
Spoilers will follow, by the way.
We open on a very dark note for a kids movie, with planet-sized, planet-eating Unicron somewhat nonchalantly but graphically eating a populated planet and then moving on; we roll credits over an 80s hair metal version of the Transformers theme. It’s very cool.
You can see why parents and critics were utterly bemused by this film: we go from there straight to a massive battle on Cybertron, which would have been completely baffling for anyone without prior knowledge of the characters (despite an opening narration which does its best to explain what the hell is going on) and this proves fatal for a surprising number of fan favourite characters. Though this was a somewhat cynical ploy to introduce a new generation of characters and therefore sell many, many more toys, it’s pretty well done and the fact that we lose Optimus Prime so early on shows that they really aren’t messing around. I think that kids expected him to be heroically resurrected by the end of the film – but nope, here at least he stays dead. It’s a pretty ballsy move in all honesty.
The film does suffer a bit once past that point; it feels a bit like a series of vignettes rather than a properly flowing story, with an awful lot of different environments and characters thrown into the mix, one after the other. The climax is pretty effective, however, no doubt helped along by the excellent soundtrack. Famous for being the last movie appearance of Orson Welles, he’s far from the only big hitter amongst the cast – with Eric Idle, 80s heart throb Judd Nelson at the peak of his Brat Pack popularity (releasing the same year as the iconic The Breakfast Club – which is also referenced in the only decent live action Transformers film: Bumblebee) and Leonard Nimoy all appearing, for example.
You can’t talk about the unwieldily titled The Transformers: The Movie without talking about its soundtrack, which is a weirdly enduring pop culture milestone. Though it was forgotten for a while, Stan Bush’s cheesy, classic 80s rock track The Touch has become undeniably iconic, helped along by its hilarious use in Boogie Nights, as well as the rise of the internet and – in particular – YouTube, which keeps these relatively ancient pop culture moments alive way beyond what we could have previously expected.
It’s been used in the closing credits of the finest Transformers video game in history – Fall of Cybertron – as well as in the aforementioned Bumblebee. The Cybertronic Spree, a cosplaying band of Transformers fans whose costumes are all based on characters from the 1986 movie, give their rendition here:
And just to prove its relevance and power, here’s a recent edit of the Avengers: Endgame scene with Cap lifting Thor’s hammer, set to The Touch:
It’s not all about The Touch, of course. Weird Al Yankovic gets a track in there, with the Devo-influenced Dare to be Stupid, and the synth-led score by Vince DiCola is brilliantly effective (particularly in the opening scene).
It may not be the best movie out there – nor is it a particularly great one, for a large chunk of its running time – but when it works, it really works. You can see, in these moments – the opening scene, Prime’s death, some of the character dialogue (“One shall stand, one shall fall” seems to be another moment that’s endlessly referenced in Transformers media and elsewhere) – why it remains such a popular movie, 33 years later. It’s one of those films that seems to provoke instant nostalgia, as well as flashbacks to the trauma of witnessing one of your major childhood heroes dying before your very eyes – and I love it.
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