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TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE IS GREAT

03 July 2010

I saw Transformers: The Movie about a week ago, as you will know if you read the thrilling report of my tingling lips last time. There’s a few things I’d like say about this movie, because after all this time it remains such a great work, though you’d never in a million years have expected that from it.

What it does correctly right from the outset is that it’s empathically not just a longer episode of the show. This is a trap that so many adapted series fall into, from McGyver to Firefly to Reno 911 to just about any show (using the same cast and people behind it, not remakes). Even Transformer’s brother movie based on the GI Joe franchise didn’t manage it, while it was made according to exactly the same standards and principles, audience and purpose. No, Transformers is a Real Movie, rare and authentic. So why is that?

The biggest, most fantastic in-your-face thing it does is break the status quo. The status quo that necessarily dominated any cartoon in the 80s and 90s. The movie uses the chance to clean house good. From the first minutes to the very last, Transformers is a killing field. Characters that had been with us for seasons where casually shot down by the same Megatron that had up until then come no further than utter ‘Decepticons, retreat!’ after the first return shots were fired. But finishing some minor characters was peanuts compared to the balls-out things the movie was really planning. They killed off the majors. Optimus. Megatron. Even Starscream. A cynic might say that was to clear the field to launch a new toy line, as was the not-so-hidden purpose of many cartoons of the era, but that’s certainly not how it felt to the viewers and that’s certainly going by the incredibleness of it. It’s just unheard of. Name one other series that does something similar on this scale? My friends, if ever a status quo was unquo’d, it was here.

The second reason why Transformers is so grand is that the characters are no longer the caricatures from the series, but have been given often compelling, dramatic arcs and conflicts. It is obvious from especially the characters that the writers of the film had ambition and were certainly not content making a cheap spin-off. And this is some truly stellar stuff! Look at the complexities of Galvatron. Here’s a character who has never had to take orders from anyone, suddenly shackled and enslaved by an all-powerful entity. Throughout the movie he struggles with this plight. He has his own evil designs, but is just as much victim as aggressor, the slave to his creator, the man to his god, struggling to get free. The movie develops these themes through elements as betrayal, torture, impotence and resignation to your fate, all showing a deep understanding of the human condition.

Other characters shine too. Newcomers Hot Rod and Kup take a leaf from the buddy cop formula: the young rebel with something to prove teamed with the cantankerous curmudgeon, recounting his glory days. The setup and execution of their archetypes is so effortlessly worked into the plot you’d think writing this stuff is easy. Even Ultra Magnus (now there’s an embodiment of impotence if ever I saw one!), loathsome a character he is, manages to fascinate precisely because of it: he is the leader-who-couldn’t, the fall guy, the one who buckles under the stress to make Rodimus Prime’s rise to the occasion all the more impressive.

The audacity to make real changes to the world, to put the needs of the story before the needs of any one character, coupled with great writing throughout, characters that really grow and mature, crumble and wither, rise and fall, live and die... that’s why Transformers: The Movie is not only a great movie, it’s also one of the only spin-off movies that managed to blow people’s minds 100%.

And it’s still incredible, incredible fun.

Roderick