Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Transformers – The Movie

Transformers - The Movie. The REAL One.

Transformers: The Movie (1986)

Directed by: Nelson Shin

Starring: Judd Nelson, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Stack, Orson Welles

Written by: Ron Friedman

I held out for as long as I could. When Michael Bay released his update on the robotic heroes of my youth, I expected the worst. The Bruckheimer/Bay school of filmmaking has always been high on shit blowing up, vapid dames, and bad puns. While this formula produces some winners – I’m the only person I know who consistently defends Con-Air as hilariously cool – the average is dumbed down action film self-parody, malformed Rambo spawn. And when the average drops out, we get truly wretched cinema like Armageddon. So when I, a person who owns every single episode of the original Transformers cartoon, heard that Mr. Armageddon was at the helm, I imagined a highly erotic scene in which Optimus Prime paraded animal crackers along Megatron’s exposed midriff. And so I avoided modernity like the plague.

It’s all Mike Nelson’s fault. These days, the Mystery Science Theater 3000 star is doing, well, pretty much the same thing as he did on that show. But as opposed to the old-school skewering of obscure cinema, Nelson’s enterprise, titled RiffTrax, takes a larger aim at Hollywood blockbusters, savaging them alone or with guests including the old MST3K crew and Neil Patrick Harris. Obviously, the studios which produce such wonderful films as Roadhouse and Batman and Robin probably aren’t too keen on some wiseass selling their movies, much less providing them with overdubbed mockery. To get around this, Nelson only provides the commentary, and leaves it to the viewer to supply the movie. Sync the two together (or find an already synced up file), and magic!

One of these movies was the updated, super-cool, Michael Bay Transformers flick. Though I remained fearful of the sure bastardization of my old champions, I figured that if I was going to watch it at all, taking on the ordeal with the RiffTrax choir at my back would be the best way to do it. And being drunk.

Nothing helped. Transformers was a flaming piece of shit, as bad as my worst fears.

Where do I even begin? With the tweeked-out military dudes who kick more ass than the robots? With the cadre of sassy government-appropriated hackers, which of course includes a sultry blonde Australian? Bernie Mac as a scummy used car salesman? Shia LeBeouf as the hope of the universe, albeit one who owns a drugged up Chihuahua? How about the midriff queen who serves as his overtanned love interest? Why be choosy? They’re all assholes. There is no human in this movie that I didn’t want turned into robot hamburger.

Including this fine piece of cinematic cyanide.

The androids aren’t much better. Say what you will about kids’ cartoons designed to pump out toy lines – their characters at least tend to have some shred of personality, traits which set them apart from the rest of the line. The Transformers cartoon mastered this maxim. Among the ranks featured a methodical tape deck, a quixotic UFO, and dim-witted robot dinosaurs. Michael Bay had an evil cop car, an evil helicopter, a token black guy robot (who of course is the token casualty), and an evil ninjabot whom nobody could apparently see, even in plain view. Whoopee. Starscream, a villain on par with the great Skeletor, is reduced from Machiavellian opportunist to one more of the all-grey legion. If the robot isn’t the heroic Optimus Prime, the evil Megatron, or Shia LeBeouf’s Camaro, it’s disposable, and that goes against the spirit of the entire cartoon. Oh, they crash into things, and the violence is all very impressive, but Transformers it ain’t.

So (once again), fuck Michael Bay and his hip fucking movie.

I present an alternative. Straight from the golden age of toy-marketing cartoons, it’s Transformers: The Movie – the original animated one, where the robots have personalities and the humans know their roles and stay out of the main plot. The original cast is far superior. John Bender from The Breakfast Club teams up with Mr. Unsolved Mysteries to take down Mr. Spock and Citizen Kane? A Citizen Kane who is, in fact, a robot planet which devours other planets for sustenance? Hell yes! The story? Everyone dies! In this rare case, the toy marketing demands of the cartoon offered an opportunity to break from the sitcom formula and leap into a drastically new direction. So Optimus Prime gets blown away, and children weep. Gravitas!

Why thousands of kids in the 80s cried themselves to sleep.

And in the course of determining the new order, this movie lays down some musical gold. “The Touch” is a horribly wonderful “Eye of the Tiger” wannabe that later found its way into Mark Wahlberg’s singing repertoire during Boogie Nights. And Weird Al’s greatest song ever, the Devo-robbing “Dare to be Stupid,” accompanies a robotic breakdance-fest on a junkyard planet. The movie could have ended right here, and it would have been perfect.

So that’s it! The old Transformers movie is better than the new one. Bah-weep-granna-wheep-ni-ni-bong, motherfuckers!

This is how it's fucking done.

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