Friday, August 14, 2015

Transformers: The Movie

In 1986, Hasbro released Transformers: The Movie.  This is obviously an entirely separate entity from the recent Michael Bay summer blockbusters, and I bristle a little bit any time I have to differentiate between the two.

Anyhow, I love this movie.  I remember how, before everything was available via Netflix, YouTube, or Amazon, the only way to relive this film was to rent it from the local video rental store (where I would later find employment).  I'm sure I had the record for the most rentals for that particular item.

The Plot

In the distant year of 2005 (I know, right?!), the Decepticons (bad guys, if you've not been paying attention) have taken over Cybertron, the Transformers' home world. The Autobots (Good guys. Pay attention!) are trying to get it back. A battle ensues, and Optimus Prime dies (more on that later), and Megatron gets roughed up pretty badly. Enter, Unicron, a Transformer god in the form of a giant planet, that eats other planets.  Unicron recruits the Decepticons to steal the Autobot Matrix of Leadership, the only thing that can destroy him. The Decepticons chase after a new crew of Autobots, but eventually, the sworn enemies team up (sort of) to defeat Unicron. Hot Rod, a young Autobot opens the Matrix and becomes Rodimus Prime, and in the process destroys Unicron.  The end.

Here is why I love this movie:

The Sound Track

This movie had a hilariously appropriate sound track.  At the height of the hair band craze, this movie featured Lion, N.R.G., and Spectre General. Add to that Weird Al Yankovich in his heyday and the beloved Stan Bush, whose hit, "The Touch" is forever (as well as he himself) linked with the Transformers. Also, this genius cameo in Boogie Nights:

"Take Seven."

I saw it in an actual theater. 

This was the first of the 80s toy commercials/cartoons to have a theatrical release. I saw this movie at the Broadway Theatre in my hometown; It still stands to this day.  Although I went on dates there, held hands there, and did things that make me cringe to this day there, the memory that sticks out the most is sitting with my mom and seeing all of my heroes on the big screen.

Swear word. 

It was both thrilling and terrifying. Spike, the Autobots' human friend, upon realizing he and Bumblebee's fate, utters the dreaded S-word.

Did I mention I was sitting next to my mother?

Did you catch it? A cuss word. In a cartoon! Some interesting trivia regarding this. For a "kids" movie, this one boasts a lot of violence. This includes point-blank executions, mass casualties, and of course the death of several beloved characters. The producers were a little concerned about a G rating, so they inserted this, and one other swear word purposefully in order to obtain a PG rating from the Motion Picture Association of America. Whatever the reason however, hearing these normally wholesome characters swear, definitely made you feel as though this was a high stakes plot.


What can be said about a Transformer the size of a planet? Add to that, the voice work of the legendary, Orson Welles (who was apparently not very impressed by this particular gig). Unicron added a whole galactic scale to the Transformers story.  He didn't just feed on Cybertron, but other metalic planets. Who knew there were such things? One scene close to the end shows him standing atop Cybertron, evoking a level of absurd proportions rivaling King Kong and the Empire State Building.

"You know what I did this morning? I played the voice of a toy. Some terrible robot toys from Japan that changed from one thing to another. The Japanese have funded a full-length animated cartoon about the doings of these toys, which is all bad outer-space stuff. I play a planet. I menace somebody called Something-or-other. Then I'm destroyed. My plan to destroy Whoever-it-is is thwarted and I tear myself apart on the screen." - Orson Welles1


For many movie goers, this may have been their first experience with death. And with none other than Optimus Prime, the gentle, peace-loving leader of the Autobots. Prime wasn't the only one. The death toll include most of the 1984 cast.  Really, the whole movie had the cynical task of clearing out an old line of toys to make room for the new one. There must have been some other way to do this, though, right?  Nevertheless, it was all of the death and loss that gave this movie a lot of gravity, and added significantly to the mythos in ways that other franchises have seldom reached. This was a story with real significance.

If I go for a couple of years without watching this scene, it still gives me chills. The music, the emotion in the onlookers' faces, the way Prime turns black.  My son still makes me fast-forward past it.  I'm okay with that. Interestingly enough, nearly every Transformers story since, has had some moment where Optimus Prime dies. Isn't there a song lyric about killing your inspiration? Singing about your grief?

The Matrix

The Autobot Matrix of Leadership; a magical orb inside a metal casing. Over the years it has been said to create new life, to hold the accumulated wisdom of the ages, to be the essence of the Transformers' creator, Primus, and of course, the one thing that could light the Autobot's darkest hour. It is a symbol of leadership that is passed down to each new Prime, making them the official figurehead of the Autobots. Of course, nobody had heard about this all-important artifact until the movie. It apparently had been residing inside of Prime's chest all the way through seasons 1 and 2, but apparently no one cared. Also, apparently every Autobot is walking around with a giant hole in their torso, just in case. Really, it was a MacGuffin-style device that helped to move the plot along. As a result of the movie though, the Matrix has become the most important artifact in the Transformers Mythos.

Failure and redemption

The protagonist of the movie is Hot Rod.  Voiced by Breakfast Club star Judd Nelson (I know), he makes an early attempt to help Optimus, but is coopted as a living shield by Megatron who deals the final blow to Prime.  Fortunately, Hot Rod proves his worth by resting a stolen Matrix back from Galvatron, and destroying the monster, Unicron. Hot Rod was vilified by a lot of fans for his role in Prime's death. And really, did Hasbro expect us to embrace a new leader who was arguably responsible for their favorite character's demise?

Behold: The flame-chested one. 
The idea of Hot Rod/Rodimus has always spoken to me though.  For one, the death, the matrix, the ascension of a new prime, it all added to the mythos in a way that nothing else had, and Hot Rod was there at the center of it.  All of these events still carry weight in nearly every story since. Also, he transformed into a giant Winnebago.

It exists!
So again, all of this was calculated to sell toys. But, the writers, producers, animators and voice actors, hit so many right notes in this movie, that it stands the test of time. I would still put it on before almost anything else.

Did someone order a Lion? Purrrr.

1Orson Welles: A Biography, p 522. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Commercial Break

Let's take a commercial break. First, I apologize for the lag between posts here. I know the two or three of you that keep up with this blog were having a rough time:)

Please take a moment to leave a comment. Whether you find something interesting, or want another venue through which to mock me.

Other ideas: Add this blog as a widget on your phone, so you know when updates happen. Add this blog to your RSS feed reader.  Tell your friends (or frenemies)!

While we are on the subject of commercials, let me say that, in general, I hate commercials.  However, I LOVE classic Transformers commercials. I loved the great animation.  I was so jealous of the kids who got to play on the amazing sets, and whose faces turned into robots.


Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Great Haul

The Haul: It could be a successful fishing trip or a clearance sale at the shoe store. The kind of haul that I'm talking about happens at yard sales, thrift stores, Christmas mornings, and birthdays. They are those seminal moments in one's collecting history that you relive like Jeff Lebowski listening to a bowling match.

They are memories that are so clear in your head that you can still smell the plastic off-gassing as your treasure comes out of the blister package. You remember those contradictory emotions of, "I can't believe I found this!" and "This is mine; It has always been mine!"

There was my hall from BotCon 2006, where I accumulated enough treasures to fill a small suitcase (modest by most standards). I remember on the final day, looking longingly at the vendor hall when my wife (then 8 months pregnant), put her arm around me and said "Let's go have a baby!" It was the only thing that could have pulled me out of there.

The most amazing haul that I ever experienced though, the one that catapulted my collection from a slightly embarrassing fancy to a diagnosable disorder, was THE GREAT CRAIGSLIST HAUL OF 2007. The ad read: "One container of transformers. $40. What you see is what you get. Arlington, VA." I loaded up the car with my wife, my visiting sister-in-law, our 6-month-old baby and I think even the dog was there for some reason. 

What was he thinking? Not much, I promise you.

Resisting the urge to run every red light, I drove them all few miles up to a McMansion where I met a man with two large tubs filled with his son's toys. Were I of any scruples in these matters, I would have refused to pay $40, for in these two tubs was the mother of all Transformers loads, with an actual value likely exceeded $1,000. I remember bringing all of it home, and piecing together all of these amazing figures I never would have had the cash to find on eBay. What a thrill!

These are just a few. Whatever this man did to piss off his father,
I thank him dearly.
In the great 2000 film, High Fidelity, starring John Cusack, his character, Rob Gordon, makes an art of  organizing or reorganizing his record collection on a regular basis. Alphabetically (by artist or by album), chronologically, etc. His greatest achievement though, is when he decides to sort his records autobiographically.

I love this idea of one piece of a collection moving you from one moment in your life to another. For instance, to think of how I completed my Generation 1 Galvatron, I have to remember that I bought the body at the now defunct "Earth Toy Mall" in Cincinnati, but that I didn't have his translucent, speckled cannon until it was given to me by my friend Rich in Virginia, some ten years later. 

Or, I can look at my Armada Smokescreen and easily forget that I originally owned him in 2002, sold him in 2009, then bought him again at a vintage toy store in Chicago for my son's birthday.


The great hauls of my collecting past are fun moments that still give me a giddy feeling when I remember them. Moreover, they link together the complete collection by acting as markers- chapters in a book.

Now get going; Find your next haul!

The Big Lebowski, Copyright, 1998 Polygram, All rights reserved. 
High Fidelitym Copyright Touchstone Pictures 2000, all rights reserved. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


I figured it was time to get back to the bread and butter of what I set out to do with this blog, namely, embarrassingly in-depth reviews of action figures. So, what better way to do that than with the action figure I've been waiting for my entire life:

Really, if they had just made this 30 years
ago, I would be normal. 

This is the Autobot, Arcee. She is pink. She is curvy. She is every Transformers fan's ideal female, err, fembot.

Arcee made her appearance in the 1986 animated feature film Transformers: The Movie (more on that earth-shattering event in a future post). In the movie, she was touted as a "forceful female warrior," but, save a couple of moments of bad-assery, was mostly relegated to being torn between the affections of Springer and Hot Rod (more on that in a future post as well, the name implications alone could fuel a dissertation). Arcee seemed to fill in the token girl element of the movie story.  Cartoon designer Floro Dery is quoted as saying she was in fact "the naked mechanical equivalent of Princess Leia of Star Wars" complete with bilateral hair buns.


While this wasn't the first time we had a seen a Transformer in a female configuration, she would become the most fleshed out of that variety. The very presence of a female race in the Transformers universe is compelling, as the canon states that Transformers are normally built or forged, not conceived.  I'll spare going into this any further, as I've listened to Transformers fans debate robots and procreation before, and well, it's not a pretty thing to listen to. That being said, a few writers have taken a crack at this.  My personal favorite was Simon Furman's recent take on Arcee.  In this retelling, her gender was a cruel joke by the Decepticon mad scientist Jiaxhus, who disassembled a (gender neutral) robot and reconfigured her in a female form, making her the only one of her kind. I thought this added a great deal of weight to her story, as well as a better explanation for genders among robots.  But alas, fanboys revolted, and that history has since been jettisoned.

This one's for all the ladies out there!

Arcee has made other appearences, some in name only, but nearly always keeping her characteristic pink and white deco.  She landed an action figure in Beast Wars, a bit part in Transformers: Energon, a central player in the storyline of Transformers: Animated, and finally a principle role in the recent Transformers: Prime series, where she traded in her Barbie coup for a blue street bike. She has proven herself an indespensible character in the mythos, I dare say to the likes of Prime and Megatron.

She can also be emotional. 

That is why it is remarkable that it took nearly thirty years for her to finally receive an action figure version of her original 1986 incarnation. It hasn't been for lack of wanting. Nearly every Hasbro press panel has featured a cry from fans to include their favorite fembot in the next year's toy lineup.  And really, for all of the talk of pink aisle/blue aisle in recent years, you would think that a toy company would have jumped at the chance to diversify their lineup, and their potential customers. But "boys don't play with girl action figures" was always the conventional wisdom. Hooey, I say. Do they not know the pain of having a complete cast from your favorite movie on a shelf for decades, but absent one of the central characters?! Cue nerd tears.

So it should come as no surprise really, that with this latest release, Arcee is sold out nearly everywhere. Like, nowhere to be found. She is, to be plain, action figure gold. And it's not just the pent up demand. This is an absolutely perfect figure.

Perfectly captured in package. 

Arcee features a pitch-perfect representation of her sporty convertible coup.  The lines are all correct, right down to the trunk mounted antenna.  The pink color is right on, with delightful blue highlights on the grill and headlights. The details are all there, right down to the two white seats.

Eat your heart out, Ken.

Her robot mode is, in a word, beautiful.  The designers made a robot that captured all of the best in this character. Even better, they did so in a way that was honest to real female proportions, and in no way gratuitous (said, the man).

Like this.  I hate this kind of shit. 

Arcee features two blasters that harken back to the 86 movie, each able to clip on to her legs (Hell. Yes.).  The colors are spot-on, and the face sculpt presents a neutral, yet pleasant smile with lightpiping that makes her eyes come alive.

She also comes with two energon swords that are more befitting her current comic appearance of a slightly homicidal, and ultimately vicious warrior. She is highly posable (stop it), with no balance issues.

I find this figure looks great next to either newer figures or the classic Generation 1 crew from which she has been missing for 28 years.  This is a great move for Hasbro.  The last year has seen an amazing degree of love on the part of the designers to revisit these core characters, and bring them to life with faithfulness to their original designs, with enough upgrades to highlight their timelessness. I've said it before, but there is something special about what started as a toy commercial.  Even in what may have been a cynical bid to insert a generic female character, the amount of attention Arcee has gotten over the decades speaks to something special about (her).

We can all breathe now. Welcome home, friend.

*I found all but the action figure pictures on the internet, and claim no rights to them.