Movies

Moist Goes Hollywood

Last night, I re-watched the original 1986 animated movie, aptly-titled The Transformers: The Movie. You may have seen me live-tweeting about it, in which case I apologize.

Prowl dies.

Nightmare fuel! Step right up and get your nightmare fuel here!

This movie is the first one I ever saw in a theater, way back when I was a tender four years of age. I can’t say how I felt back then when all my favorite Transformers – including Optimus Prime and Wheeljack – were slaughtered in often-gruesome fashion to make way for the next wave of toys characters. But beyond that underlying trauma was a terrible film. It was mercurial and nonsensical and childish. Beloved comrades died, and then there was fishing and hijinks. Civilization was threatened, and then there was dancing. Blurr and Wheelie, two of the most irritating Transformers in history were introduced, and the Dinobots began their steep slide from insubordinate brutes to dopey children. Optimus and Megatron’s final showdown was undermined by one of the most questionable soundtrack choices ever made, but I guess if the movie succeeded at anything (other than scarring young Transformers fans for life) it was as a showcase of 1980s hair metal bands.

I went out in search of other opinions on this movie that I had once loved along with the rest of G1 canon, and found that I was fairly alone in my loathing. In fact, the overriding sentiment was that this was what Michael Bay should have modeled his movies after. This is what Transformers was at its very best.

Okay…

To that I say, if The Transformers: The Movie was the peak of Transformers storytelling, then the Michael Bay movies hold up spectacularly well.

Michael Bay's Optimus Prime

Lead me to the one you call Megan Fox!

Like the original, the Bay films fixate on battles and explosions and death far more than they do character. Human idiocy aside, none of the Transformers has much of a personality. We get a careful dose of Optimus Prime’s heroism and a mere whiff of Starscream’s treachery, but the robots are all pretty much interchangeable, things that shoot each other and blow stuff up real good. There are a few good emotionally-charged moments with the bots. Revenge of the Fallen’s four-way battle in the forest between Prime, Megatron, Starscream, and Helicopter-That-Isn’t-Blackout somehow manages to be not only a great battle, but a good character moment for Prime…just before he dies. Again. But overall, the Transformers are barely more than super-animate props to get ‘sploded, just like in 1986.

Skids and Mudflap

Morons. I’ve got morons on my team.

And the humor is just as awkward and off-putting. Granted, most of the “humor” in the Bay films comes from Sam Witwicky and his human friends’ ridiculous exploits, but Bay somehow manages to craft even more annoying (and possibly racist!) robots than Blurr and Wheelie. That, and the “humor” is haphazardly juxtaposed with the world-ending seriousness of the situation, making it even more bizarre. True, there are no robot dance scenes in the Bay films, but Bumblebee does “piss” on someone…and Devastator has gigantic balls.

Sentinel Prime

Hey look, it’s Alpha Trion…or Sentinel Prime…or…well…Spock?

Then there’s death. Bay’s films don’t come anywhere close to the body count in the original film, but by the end of his trilogy, Jazz, Ironhide, Megatron, Starscream, Shockwave, Jetfire, Soundwave, Devastator, Ravage, Arcee, Laserbeak, and Sentinel Prime are all dead, and a few “movie exclusive” bots have joined them. So few are left standing, especially on the Decepticon side, that it’s hard to figure out what exactly Bay will do in his fourth film. Hell, he even destroyed Cybertron after reusing the plot from the G1 episode “The Ultimate Doom”, so there’s nothing for Unicron to eat.

As an aside, if there’s one thing I do like a lot about the Bay films it’s that Optimus Prime is an absolute badass. He still spouts the occasional stilted lines about honor and freedom, but when ‘Cons need killin’, Prime gets to killin’. His final exchange with Megatron in Dark of the Moon may well eclipse “One shall stand…” in terms of sheer awesome.

Megatron: “Who would you be without me, Prime?!”

Prime: “Time to find out.”

Then he blasts Megatron to scrap.

But overall, spastic, ridiculous spectacle describes both the 1986 movie and Bay’s live-action trilogy. Both were short on character and long on violence, both featured obnoxiousness in place of wit, and both showcased meandering, disjointed plots riddled with holes. Hell, both even use Leonard Nimoy’s voice for a villain. So, honestly, if The Transformers: The Movie is your golden standard for the Transformers Universe, then Bay’s movies more than fit the bill.

6 thoughts on “Moist Goes Hollywood

  1. Look, I like The Transformers: The Movie, on the whole. But I admit it’s a love fueled by nostalgia and giant robots fighting each other. I can’t hold it up as a five-star film. Without the nostalgia factor, I don’t think it would be a four-star film. The film definitely has its flaws, and you do a pretty good job of outlining them. But there is something about it that most of Bay’s films lack, and that’s a sense of scope. When Unicron is chomping on planets, he feels like a planetary threat. When Megatron is hunting for a tiny object in the first Bay movie, or when the Fallen is hunting for a tiny object in the second Bay movie… well, it loses something. The third film at least delivered on that front, making it seem like this was a battle where the cause measured up to the fighting.

    But no, I don’t think the Bay films needed to have emulated the animated movie, at least not to the letter. The idealized version that fans have built in their heads? Yeah, I think it would be OK to ask that of Hollywood. Because if they’re not going to do better, is there really any point?

    • Yeah, it’s become very idealized, is the problem. As great as Transformers was when we were kids, it was a totally flawed show and even more flawed movie. People have built up this mythology around it that it was this incredibly meaningful and brilliant thing and no other version could EVER be better.

      Bay’s films are far from better, but I think the 1986 movie was a huge step back from the actual series, and that it and the Bay films have far more in common than most Transformers fans would care to admit.

  2. The original film was great, when we were kids of varying ages (I was not quite 10). Looking back, it’s pretty bad as a film, but it was great at capturing our hearts and imaginations. Bots died. Not until the end of the show, when they were magically brought back, but they were toast. For good. I’d never seen anything like that in a cartoon I watched all the time. That’s what I wanted Bay’s films to do: capture me, awe me, make me feel 10 again. Instead, they made me feel like a schmuck for shelling out $10 to see it in the theater (I watched the second on dvd, and have yet to endure part 3). I guess that’s where Bay failed, and the G1 producers didn’t- they got emotion out of the viewer.

    • The Bay films, for me, have definitely suffered in subsequent viewings. But in the theater? When Optimus Prime started kicking Decepticon ass? I definitely felt like that little kid again. There is a lot of shit to wade through, I’ll admit. But seeing Prime trash-talking Megatron and Screamer in the woods while beating the shit out of them, completely owning The Fallen and Megs, or the final showdown with Sentinel Prime and Megs was almost worth the other couple hours worth of Shia Lebeouf stammering and screaming.

      Naturally, I wish it had all been done better, but Prime’s Big Damn Hero moments were pretty damn big.

    • All the Bay films lose a lot when they’re taken out of the theatre; the spectacle factor is a big part of them. I will say that overall the third film isn’t as bad as the second, though. Maybe not any deeper, but at least you don’t have to stare at John Turturro’s ass.

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