On August 8, 1986, the original Transformers lit up the silver screen for the first time in The Transformers: The Movie. On September 27, 2018 — just 32 years, 1 month, 20 days later — it screened once more in theaters across the country courtesy of Fathom Events. I had the privilege of seeing it both in 1986 and a few days ago (and about a hundred times in between on VHS and DVD).
I’m told there were five other “Transformers” movies made in the interim. Pfft. They’ve got nothing on this flick, with some of the first prominent cartoon deaths shown to American audience, a soaring ’80s rock soundtrack, and a pace that doesn’t let up in its whole 84 minutes.
I remember eight-year-old me being shocked and breathless in the theater, having to process a darker and grittier take on the Transformers than I was used to from the after-school TV show. At most, Hound might get konked in the head and need Ratchet or Wheeljack to take a look at him, or the characters getting shot seemed to merely weaken them, but never show visible damage or death. Not so in the movie. In the first few minutes, you see a planet full of machines eaten by the dastardly Unicron and a shuttle assault that leaves Brawn, Prowl, Ironhide, and Ratchet punctured, shattered, and blown apart at the hands of Megatron, Starscream, and the Constructicons. A couple of scenes later, other Generation One staples like Wheeljack and Windcharger are shown deceased. A couple scenes after that, perhaps the most iconic and traumatic sequence of the movie occurs — the death of seemingly unassailable Optimus Prime at the hands of treacherous Megatron (and Hot Rod taking the lion’s share of the blame for his role in that moment, too), a decision made by Hasbro as way of phasing out the earlier toys to make room for new characters and products. The fan base outcry against this move was so loud that in the TV show season following the movie, a three-part series aired surrounding the return of Optimus Prime.
I also remember leaving the theater in 1986 confident my parents would never buy me the toy iteration of the monstrous Unicron, if they ever made one (they eventually did), if not for cost, for the sheer size of the character — he is literally a planet, and our basement probably wasn’t big enough to contain him.
The lead-in to the 2018 airing was behind-the-scenes and trailer info for Bumblebee, the next live-action Transformers movie slated for release in late 2018. Despite resenting Michael Bay’s handling of the Transformers property, now that it’s in other hands and clearly seeing some Gen One character designs in the trailers, I’m actually looking forward to seeing this. I know this screening of the 1986 classic was a trojan horse to generate hype for Bumblebee, but I don’t care — it worked on me.
The film itself looked good on the screen, at moments really strutting its stuff having the benefit of multiple remasters and high-definition upgrades of the the last three decades. This is the best the movie is probably ever going to look. The edges were clean, the colors were vibrant, and this was definitely the most complete version out there, showing the once-disconcerting blood-like fluid leaking from Megatron’s face after his final battle with Optimus, as well as the controversial swear word used when Moon Base 2 falls to Unicron, both items that had been edited out over the years. I assume that as the fan base for the film grew older, the call for restoration of these touchy elements became less of a concern, except now I have to consider whether it’s what I want my own kids seeing.
After the credits rolled, there were some new interview segments with Stan Bush, writer/performer of “The Touch,” and co-writer/performer of “Dare” (with Vince DiCola), two of the most memorable and popular songs from the film that helped popularize the musicians as well as tie the songs to the film and inspire a generation for years to come.
As a bonus, mini-posters were handed out to attendees of the redesigned Blu-ray cover from two years ago. The original movie poster featured only brand new characters appearing for the first time here, such as Ultra Magnus, Kup, Blurr, Arcee, Springer, Galvatron, Cyclonus, Wheelie, and Hot Rod/Rodimus Prime. The redesign puts Optimus, Hot Rod, and The Matrix of Leadership front and center, as well as before-and-after flanking visages of the Decepticons cast aside as fodder that Unicron rebuilt into new warriors. It better portrays the transition that the movie has come to represent between the original toy line and the characters featured in the later seasons, though putting Optimus and Hot Rod together like that opens old wounds, and the design is suspiciously lacking of any of the new Autobots introduced in the movie. One thing it got me to realize for the first time in 32 years with The Matrix in the foreground and Unicron in the background almost aligned…they kind of look like one another. Weird I never noticed that before. Almost summons simultaneously an Alpha and Omega sense of gravity with a David and Goliath contrast of scale, as [spoiler alert] the tiny Matrix is the only thing that can stop Unicron, unleashing its power whereas Unicron seeks only to consume more power.
All in all, it was a fun event and well worth attending, just as my previous Fathom Events experiences with Sharknado and Godzilla. They were showing Transformers on two screens at the theater I attended, and apparently sold out at the next closest theater to me, so attendance was pretty solid, proof that I’m not alone in my fandom for the originals in the face of whatever the live-action films have tried to do. I’m just saying, if you Google “Transformers RiffTrax,” you won’t find this movie being made fun of.