In August of 1986, my mother took me and my cousin, Brad, to see Transformers: The Movie. I’d already seen what I considered to be some pretty amazing movies by that time in my life. I’d seen the Star Wars movies, Ghostbusters, Superman I and II, and Back to the Future (Hey, leave me alone. I still love BttF.) At that point I still watched cartoons, although I’m pretty sure I downplayed how much I liked them as to not look silly in front of older kids. I went into the theater on that hot summer afternoon expecting to see an hour and a half long episode of the daily cartoon show.
I couldn’t have been more surprised.
From the very first scene when Unicron violently devours Planet Lithone as the inhabitants screamed in terror, I knew I was watching something very different. Just a few short scenes later, I watched in horror as Megatron and his army overtook the Autobot shuttle, and systematically killed Brawn, Prowl, and Ratchet. And then, in a shocking display of sadism, Megatron strolled cooly over to an injured Ironhide, commented “Such heroic nonsense” at Ironhide’s tenacious attempt to continue fighting, and then fired his arm cannon directly into Ironhide’s face, killing him.
And then there was this scene:
When I saw that in the theater I wondered why Optimus never took care of business like that in the cartoon.
I would have found the scene where Optimus Prime actually dies and then passes the Autobot Matrix of Leadership on to Ultra Magnus, but truthfully, I didn’t feel like crying tonight. I did that day in the theater though. Cry that is. And even then, in the back of my mind I knew it was ridiculous to be crying at the “death” of a cartoon character, but hey, we’re talking about Optimus Prime here.
I’d also never heard of Orson Welles at that age, but I did recognize brilliance when I heard it. On rewatches it’s so painfully obvious that Welles was a level far above the likes of the other voice actors in the movie… well, excluding Peter Cullen. But in the theater in the summer of ’86, all I knew was that Unicron’s voice scared the absolute hell out of me. The line, “Proceed…on your way to oblivion” still makes me cringe. Watch Unicron in his coolest scene in the movie:
I’m aware the movie isn’t a masterpiece. The scenes with Wheelie rival any of the Jar-Jar jackassery in the Star Wars prequels, and could they possibly have found a whinier crybaby than Judd Nelson to voice Hot Rod? Seriously, he’s worse than Dante in Clerks. In spite of its faults, my cousin and I left the theater completely blown away.
We’re going to see the new live action Transformers movie tomorrow, and I know it won’t happen, but I’d love to feel the amazement I felt that day in 1986. Again, I’m not stupid. I know I won’t. The cynicism of adulthood pretty much guarantees I’ll never experience that starry-eyed bewilderment that I did when I was a kid. I’m reasonably sure that my ability to be bewildered began to shrink proportionally with my understanding of how to file taxes.
Also, Michael Bay directed it. Micheal Bay couldn’t bewilder me if he sat in my living room and physically transformed himself into James Cameron.