Remember The Transformers? Of course you do, especially if you are a boy; but if you’re a girl you at least remember those 7-year-old boys tripping on their spittle trying to imitate the toys’ mechanical sounds. It has been twenty years since The Transformers: The Movie (1986) came out in theaters, and to remind you of the inevitable aging process, the movie is back, re-released on DVD for a 20th Anniversary Special Edition.
Though it has been two decades, the mechanical, multi-form figures have not changed. “Optimus Prime” and “Megatron” are still the metallic, boxy figures we remember, but the strange thing about watching them in twenty-year retrospect is that they look nothing like the futuristic beings they are supposed to be. The movie takes place in the year 2005, and though it’s strange enough to know life has already surpassed “the future,” the film looks a heck of a lot more like the 1980s.
The film is like one long action sequence of metal work and mechanics that churn cogs, wheels, and axles, with archaic references to toaster ovens, boom-boxes and cassette tapes. The animation is done painstakingly by hand and intricate sequences highlight important technological objects of the era (screen refresh lines on computer monitors is one example) but the animation also creates strobe effects and light reflecting off of the characters’ metallic surfaces. There is a spooky depth to the imagery that strikes a balance somewhere among the styles of The Jetsons (1962), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Apocalypse Now (1979).
The Transformers: The Movie will find its fans quickly. It’s those boys, and maybe a few girls, who came of the fifth-grade age in the mid-80s and early 90s; it’s an audience who owned (or wanted to own) every make and model of Transformers available on the Kay-Bee shelves. To them I say: enjoy. For those who never knew or cared about the robotic toy phenomenon, if it wasn’t for the intricacies of the analogue animation, there just isn’t more than meets the eye to The Transformers: The Movie.
The Transformers: The Movie: 20th Anniversary Special Edition, is a double-disk set with widescreen and full screen versions (each on either disk), with over a dozen extras including original television toy commercials for the U.S. and Japan, deleted/alternative footage, trailers, plus a trailer for the upcoming live action movie, Transformers (2007), directed by Michael Bay.
For fans that can’t get enough of the movie itself, there are three different commentary tracks to keep you busy. One track runs the movie (in its entirety) with pop-up bubbles filled with facts about The Transformers. Another track with commentary from the director, story consultant an actor. Finally, there is another track for the full-length movie (yet again) with commentary from fans. The latter commentary track is the best by virtue of its snark and smart remarks. Four “comic book guys” riff on each other’s esoteric knowledge of the movie’s inconsistencies, ranging from technical malfunctions (the Transformers never transform into their alter egos the same way twice), plot bungles (characters reappear that are already dead in the television series), to spatial inaccuracies, where there is no consistent scale for size—a problem that one commentator sums up in a sentence, “If you’re talking about proportions related to anything Transformers, you may as well throw it out the window.”
All of the plot holes and irregularities mentioned in the former commentary track, however, are indirectly explained in the director, Nelson Shin’s, and story consultant, Flint Dille’s commentary. Shin tells us there were over 400 animators that contributed to the movie’s production. That’s a lot of people and leaves plenty of room for script error. That, in conjunction with Dille’s declaration that the movie was conceived as a platform solely to push out the ’84 Transformers product line, proves that the film was more of a marketing maneuver than an inspired extension of the TV series. More likely, though, none of those discrepancies matter. Generation Y’s sentiment for The Transformers triumphs over any incongruities in the movie, but make no mistake, there sure are a lot.