The Film: 4/5
It possible to extract rousing entertainment from a fundamentally cynical premise. The Transformers: The Movie was made for no clear creative reason other than to promote a new line of toy robots that can change into toy vehicles. Yet it remains a ton of goofy, candy-colored fun that hasn’t lost its power to amaze and amuse after three decades, at least not for children of the 1980’s such as I who grew up addicted to the Transformers franchise. We bought the toys, devoured the Marvel comic books, and treated every new episode of the syndicated animated series as a religious experience worthy of our undivided attention.
Plot-wise, it’s strictly business as usual. The noble Autobots, bravely led by that tough mother trucker Optimus Prime (voiced by the great Peter Cullen), are still waging their battle to destroy the evil forces of the Decepticons, led by the odious Megatron (voiced by Frank Welker, one of the faces on the Mount Rushmore of cartoon voiceover personalities, if one ever existed). This time though, the Decepticons aren’t fucking around, because this ain’t no afternoon TV cartoon…. this is a full-blown motion picture event. RATED PG! Parental guidance is more than suggested, it’s mandatory for the moment where (SPOILER ALER…. oh for Christ’s sake, this was 30 years ago!) Optimus Prime gets taken down in glorious battle with Megatron, but not before he uses his dying energy to inflict mortal wounds on his greatest adversary and pass on the Autobot Matrix of Leadership to his friend Ultra Magnus (voiced by Robert Stack).
This all occurs by the 26-minute mark, leaving nearly an hour left for things to get really crazy. As the classic theme song goes, there’s more than meets the eye with this story. Traitorous Decepticon Starscream (voiced by Chris Latta) kicks the wounded Megatron out into the cold darkness of space and assumes command, but Megatron is soon rescued by the world-devouring machine planet Unicron (voiced by Orson Welles) and offered a brand new body (COMES WITH EVERYTHING YOU SEE HERE!!!) in exchange for destroying the one thing that can bring about Unicron’s doom – the Matrix of Leadership. Megatron is reborn as Galvatron (voiced by Leonard Nimoy), and with a team of badass new Decepticons in town he sets out to reclaim his title as A-Number-One of the villainous alien robots and destroy the Autobots once and for all. It’s up to Optimus’ loyal surviving followers, including Hot Rod (voiced by Judd Nelson) and war-weary elder Kup (voiced by Lionel Stander) to defend the Matrix and their peaceful home planet Cybertron from becoming Unicron’s bedtime snack and combine their forces for one final confrontation with their destructive foes.
A movie was the obviously logical next step for the Transformers franchise, and with a budget three times what it normally cost to produce three episodes of the popular television series at their disposal, the makers of 1986’s Transformers: The Movie were determined to bring the Autobots and Decepticons to the silver screen with first class treatment – improved animation, celebrity guest stars, a soundtrack ready-made for the record store shelves, and so on. It is definitely an ambitious endeavor and one that doesn’t waste any time hurling the audience into the thick of battle without the benefit of some expositional catch-up outside of a brief opening narration.
Ron Friedman, a veteran writer and producer for television who had worked on the Transformers cartoon series as well as shows like G.I. Joe and Fantasy Island, was tasking with writing the feature screenplay (with creative input from story consultant Flint Dille, who also worked on the Transformers and G.I. Joe series and wrote the script for the classic videogame The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay). He did a tradesman’s job of creating a narrative that hits the ground running before the opening credits and rarely lets up but never overwhelms the viewer with chaotic action and incidents unconnected to the plot. The dialogue might occasionally come across as silly, but the heavily robot cast of characters give it weight and conviction.
The work by the animation team far surpasses what we saw every day on the series, with the level of detail that went into the design of certain characters and mechanized planets honestly stunning and worthy of being considered art. Transformers: The Movie wears its decade proudly on its sleeve via the presence of its astoundingly cheesy synthesizer score by Rocky IV composer Vince DiCola and soundtrack featuring upbeat power tunes by acts such as Spectre General (who cover “Nothing’s Gonna Stand in Our Way”, originally performed by John Farnham for the soundtrack to 1984’s Savage Streets) and Stan Bush – the latter being responsible for “The Touch”, the track that Dirk Diggler tried to springboard into rock stardom by haphazardly covering in Boogie Nights. The Transformers theme song was remade by the band Lion, whose “Love is a Lie” provided the background accompaniment for Crispin Glover’s GIF-worthy spastic dance in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter.
The voice cast, much like the rest of the behind-the-scenes crew, takes the material seriously and invest the proper amount of gravitas and epic grandeur to help the film rise about being a mere feature-length action figure advertising campaign. Newcomers Leonard Nimoy (who would also voice a treasonous Autobot in the live-action Transformers: Dark of the Moon), Judd Nelson, Lionel Stander, and Robert Stack acquit themselves well in their spotlight roles, and the late Orson Welles – aided by a synthesizer to work wonders with the filmmaking legend’s weakened voice – makes Unicorn seductively rumble and growl with ancient menace. But the real stars are franchise stalwarts like Peter Cullen (who is sorely missed once Optimus departs) and Frank Welker (ditto with Megatron), whose warring relationship could have used more time to really tear up the screen when they come to fatal blows before the end of the first act.
The Transformers: The Movie was scanned and restored in 4K resolution and presented in two separate aspect ratios for this Blu-ray release. On the first disc we have the intended 1.33:1 full frame ratio in which the film was originally animated, which explains why this format contains no loss of visual information, while the 1.85:1 theatrical widescreen version can be found on the second disc. The full screen animation conforms to the wider aspect ratio just fine without appearing stretched and distorted. This is a top-notch restoration, with the colors looking their brightest and most vibrant since the film was first shown on the big screen. Print damage is nowhere to be found and a fine layer of grain has been preserved in order to give the image a rich filmic texture and not make the restored visuals look squeaky clean. English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 tracks have been provided and both options perform excellently, but the 5.1 track packs a slightly bigger punch when it comes to the crisp, uncluttered presentation of the soundtrack which is multi-layered but never succumbs to overlap or distortion. The 2.0 track does a terrific job of replicating the original theatrical Dolby sound mix. English and Spanish subtitles have also been included.
The majority of the bonus features on this release were retained from Shout! Factory’s 2006 Region 1 20th Anniversary Edition DVD, but exclusive to the film’s Blu-ray debut is the new retrospective documentary “’Til All Are One” (46 minutes), in which a generous assembly of the creative talent and voice actors has been brought in to share their memories. The basics are covered, from the public reception to the death of Optimus Prime to working with veteran actors such as Leonard Nimoy and Orson Welles.
Also new to this edition is “Transformers: The Restoration” (7 minutes), a featurette extensively detailing the process that went into making the film look and sound better than ever before, and “Rolling Out the New Cover” (5 minutes), an interview with artist Livio Ramondelli about the new cover he created for the Blu-ray.
The supplements held over from the 2006 DVD kick off with an audio commentary featuring director Nelson Shin, voice actor Susan Blu (“Arcee”), and story consultant Flint Dille. The three participants were recorded together and the track strikes a very warm, conversational tone early on as they discuss the production of the film as best as they can remember it. Dille has the most to say and also acts as a moderator, often having to prod Shin to offer his recollections. All in all, this a good commentary to please fans and newcomers alike.
trio of short retrospective featurettes - “The Death of Optimus Prime” (5 minutes), “The Cast & Characters” (10 minutes), and “Transformers Q&A” (13 minutes). Some of the information revealed here overlaps with the newer documentary, but they each have their merits. Next are three animated storyboard sequences – “Fishing Scene” (2 minutes), “Battle” (5 minutes), and “One Shall Stand, One Shall Fall” (5 minutes). The latter contains deleted shots. Closing the extras out are two theatrical trailers (3 minutes) and eight television spots (6 minutes) including a sweepstakes promotion and tie-in toy commercial. Too cool.
It should be noted that not every bonus feature from the 2006 DVD made the cut for this Blu-ray, and the features for the first disc containing the full-frame are exactly the same as what can be found on the second with the widescreen version.
Though it’s far from a definitive edition with regards to the supplements, which are good but lacking, Shout! Factory’s 30th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray release of The Transformers: The Movie is easily worth a purchase for the entertaining main feature – stunningly restored in high-definition – alone. This disc will go great with a bowl of your favorite sugary breakfast cereal. Blu-ray player sold separately.