Of all of the gems of pop culture from my childhood, the animated Transformers Movie is the one that really stuck with me. I joined Daniel and Arcee when they cried over the dead (and for no apparent reason, black) body of Optimus Prime. I high-fived my imaginary friends when Hot Rod belatedly grew a set of nuts and assumed leadership of the Autobots. And I threw up my lunch in venomous disgust when that mongoloid Ultra Magnus just up and surrendered the Matrix to Galvatron like a bitch.
It was Flaubert who once mused that “exuberance is better than taste”. But he couldn’t possibly have known that Michael Bay would be in his position of power some 120 years after his death, so we shouldn’t hold that against him. The Bay adaptations started out mediocre and got worse from there. Exponentially so. Screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman did an admirable job in writing an interesting story for the first film while at the same time managing what would add up to stupid costs for CGI robot rendering. When it was last checked around Hollywood, the general estimate for the price to render a fully transformed Optimus Prime sat at around sixty five bajillion dollars and one healthy human child. This was problematic for the producers as a bajillion dollars is an imaginary unit of measurement and not all of them have kids.
That said though, Bay took what was a very commendable first film and aspired to make it “bigger and better”, by making the action scenes twice as difficult to understand, keeping Megatron looking like he transformed into a set of expensive silverware, and cranking up the Sam’s mom humor that a total of three pot heads enjoyed in the first film. He also felt that the addition of racial stereotype transformers would improve things. They did not. Ditto for metal testicles on Devastator.
Let us compare the original 1986 masterpiece; Transformers: The Animated Movie and Michael Bay’s modern day trilogy; Transformers, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and Transformers: Dark of the Moon
The main character in the animated Transformers Movie was Hot Rod, who was annoying and also a colossal fuck up. He single-handedly causes the demise of the most iconic Autbot in the species’ history and then spends the rest of the movie making fun of an old war hero and complicitly playing second fiddle to the only Transformer more worthless and inept than he is – Ultra fucking Magnus.
However, what we do experience in this movie (that it should be pointed out is aimed at children), is genuine character development. Hot Rod begins the movie as a tempestuous rebel who spends his days fishing with Daniel and disrespecting Kup’s construction projects. But over the course of the film he learns about responsibility and by the end he assumes leadership of the splintered Autobots and fulfills his destiny by unlocking the Matrix. It’s one of the most basic and oft-seen character arcs in literature but that doesn’t make it any less real or fulfilling to watch play out.
The same cannot be said for Shia LaBeouf’s Sam Witwicky character whose only real internal change from the beginning of the trilogy to the end is that he has prefers chicks with British accents to American ones. He is still irresponsible, he still sasses his parents, he is still selfish. And he still doesn’t respect authority. Not parental authority, mind you, but legitimate, top level military and legal authority. Sam still doesn’t give a shit. He has a degree by the end of Dark of the Moon, and a job, and a girlfriend with a British accent, but there is no growth as a character at all. He learns no lessons. Over the course of three two hour long films, he learns not one lesson.
Every film he defies the wishes of the government and gets away with it. In Revenge of the Fallen he flat out cheats on Mikaela in his first week away from home. And gets caught in the act. And when his new, way too hot for him girlfriend in Dark of the Moon begs him to please not get himself involved in a civil war between 20 foot alien robots he says too bad and does it anyway. And within a half hour of any of this these girls are back in love with him. In fact in Revenge of the Fallen, I don’t think Mikaela takes more than five minutes before she forgets about the fact her boyfriend just made out with some chick behind her back. It’s like watching the same shit play out over and over again with this guy. The writers don’t achieve in three movies what the animated Transformers movie did in one.
Saying the animated Transformers Movie had good eye candy is like saying Dungeons and Dragons is a good way to pick up chicks. I guess if you’re a sentient machine, the sight of Arcee and her Princess Leia buns might get you off but even then she’s pretty annoying and achieves basically nothing throughout what is essentially the most pivotal war in Transformers history. Also I’m not a sentient machine so who cares.
Megan Fox on the other hand, can give a corpse an erection. Rose Huntington-Whitely might have come in to round the trilogy off but this is Fox’s franchise. It was hers since she opened the hood of that car and solidified when a million nerds made animated gifs out of her straddling a motorcycle. And Michael Bay might direct action scenes like he’s jacked up on methamphetamines and there’s a Motley Crue video playing in his head, but if there’s one thing he can do it is objectify the female form. I’m quite frankly shocked that he didn’t have her deliver all of her lines while suggestively eating bananas.
AWESOME FUCK YEAH MOMENT
Scientists in labs have done specific research and concluded that there is literally no greater “Fuck Yeah” moment in the history of film, than when in the animated Transformers Movie, Prime stands awkwardly in front of the Autobot shuttle and states:
“Megatron must be stopped, no matter the cost”
And then goes on a rampage, laying waste to everything in sight as if he was Mel Gibson at a homosexual’s Bah Mitzvah. All of this culminating in the iconic final fight to the death between himself and Megs. Rocky could have beaten Apollo Creed, Ivan Drago, Mr. T and Third World Poverty with a single southpaw hook and it would have paled in comparison. Whenever I watched this scene as a kid my imagination got a boner.
Of course all of Prime’s good work is undone by Hot Rod, who watches Prime decimate every Decepticon within a ten mile radius without so much as breaking a sweat, and then for some reason decides that an unarmed Megatron who is on his knees with Prime’s ten foot cannon pointed at his head, might be a problem. A problem that is, that can be remedied by jumping in front of Megs like a human shield and allowing him to pick up a gun of his own to blast away at Prime with until he verges upon death. Real fucking smooth Hot Rod. You can pay a hardened Navy Seal a million dollars to watch this scene and not put his head in his hands and shake his head and he will not be able to do it.
Prime is the most iconic figure in the Transformers mythos. There were those that were arguably more influential throughout the canon but none that caught the imagination of a kid (or twenty-something year old nerd) like he did. And the 1986 animated Transformers movie captured that perfectly. It’s easy to forget that he’s only in the film for about twenty minutes. He gets killed off by Megatron pretty early on. But within that span of time, he avenges about half of the Autobot population, shows up with the Dinobots to prevent leaving a thousand brothers hanging, single-handedly decimates some of the more renowned Decepticons (by pretty much just driving into them) and then in his coup de grace breaks his foot off in Megatron’s ass to a Stan Bush track. His legacy then lingers over the rest of the movie as some try to reconcile and move on from his death, while others do their best to accept the destiny he had in mind for them.
Not quite the case with Michael Bay’s films, which make him look like an idiot who is capable at times of slight heroism. But mostly the idiot thing. Let’s get this straight right off the bat: in the Bay films, Prime gets beaten like an erection by every major villain he comes across. He gets his ass handed to him in three straight films. In the first film Sam has to save him with the cube of convenient screen-writing, in the second he is torn to pieces and literally killed, and in the third it takes an act of massive back-stabbery from Megatron to eliminate the threat that he was COMPLETELY powerless to stop. He also gets to bungle around Sam’s back garden like a roofied sorority sister after her first kegger.
No need to address the flames on Prime’s paint job.
It is a long held theory in film that an action film can only be as good as its primary villain. It’s why The Dark Knight was so great. And why the scene where Hans Gruber pretended to be American was so important in Die Hard. So let’s look at what we’re dealing with in this regard for both films.
It could be argued that in Michael Bay’s Transformers films, the primary villain is Michael Bay. That guy is a disaster. The Decepticons do their best to give us exciting action scenes but Bay can’t help but direct them like his camera is mounted on a bouncy castle during a ten year old’s birthday party. The final battle scene in the city is shot like Bay wrapped the camera in a rig made out of honey, yelled action, and then tossed it to a couple of bears he had brought in from the zoo. You can’t make out a god damn thing. I’ve seen Japanese tentacle rape porn with better framing. Hugo Weaving does great work voicing Megatron, but by the end of the third movie he is relegated to playing puppet master and then fantastically being tricked by Sam’s girlfriend. A good indicator of the esteem Megs held by the end of the franchise is that when finally, the Autobots are being laid to waste and planet Earth colonized by the Cybertronian starships, he is sat on his ass, missing an arm, in an alley.
Everyone knows that the 1986 animated Transformers movie can be pretty cleanly split between the first third and second two thirds. In the first part Unicron lingers in the background and Megatron is the primary villain. And he is awesome. Perfect. Any time Megs is talking is considered downtime for him. Otherwise he is tearing ass. He enters the movie by blowing a hole through an Autobot shuttle and then decimating the crew, making Ratchet bleed smoke from his eyes and then in his crescendo he destroys a pleading Ironhide without a second thought. It is not shown but over the rest of the journey, as they travel to Earth, Megatron kills at least fifteen Decepticons just because he is antsy and that kind of mass carnage is the only way to settle his nerves.
After the battle with Prime, Soundwave commits what is even for him, an epic act of brown-nosing by carrying Megatron’s limp carcass in retreat to safety. Once in space, Astrotrain proclaims that they must jettison some weight because the dearth of Decepticons in his implausibly and suddenly large chassis is too heavy. In the weightlessness of deep space. In the weightlessness of deep space they have too much weight. Many a science lesson was undone that day. Anyway, Megs gets the shaft and this leads to him becoming Galvatron, who is like Megatron except with a more interesting colour palette a little more gusto, and infinitely better troops. Some of them have mustaches.
And then still lingering in the background is Unicron, who is what Tom Cruise is in Tom Cruise’s mind. He inadvertently unites cultures. He eats planets. He is the most powerful being in the galaxy. Interestingly, there have been several reports following the production of the animated Transformers Movie that the legendary Orson Welles, who voiced Unicron, didn’t give a shit about the film. He recorded the voice work in a day and described the experience as “doing voiceover work for some cartoon where toys beat up other toys”. Ironically, he ended up doing some absolutely stellar work, providing one of the most sinister and ominous villain voices in the history of film. So basically, fuck him and fuck Citizen Kane.
US Special Forces and gypsy bare knuckle boxers all agree that if you don’t beat the shit out of someone to Stan Bush’s “Dare” then you are a pussy. It is actually in the Guinness Book of World Records for “Most Awesome Song of All Time”. If a girl listens to it ten times in a row she is automatically pregnant. These are just some of the facts about “Dare”. It is a masterpiece. Jean Claude Van Damme had it play at his wedding. Standing within twelve feet of a jukebox that carries the song is actually in violation of most celibacy pacts.
And there is also “The Touch”, which is also by Stan Bush and accompanies Optimus Prime’s rape buffet. Many of you will remember Mark Wahlberg’s character bending the song over and abusing it from behind in PT Anderson’s seminal Boogie Nights.
Fun fact! This song was actually originally written for the Stallone flick, Cobra.
What should also not be overlooked are Lion’s incredible metal Transformers theme from the opening credits, and the ingenious use of Weird Al’s “Dare to be Stupid” on Planet Junkion.
Before getting to Michael Bay’s abominable MTV soundtrack in the modern trilogy it is important to note that the immortal Stan Bush, in between deflowering virgins and drinking unicorn blood, took the time out of that busy schedule to record songs for Bay’s Transformers including a reworking of “The Touch”, and a new track called “Till All Are One”. He did that shit on spec. No one asked him for it, he just went and did it as a kind gesture. Bay neglected to use either
I don’t actually know how, as Michael Bay, you recover from that. There might be a way, I’m just saying I don’t know what it is. It definitely isn’t putting Sam’s parents in matching tracksuits though. So the questions are still out there on that one. But he went for a collection of Linkin Park, Goo Goo Dolls, and whoever else his assistant told him was “hot” that particular week. I have nothing against the Goo Goo Dolls. Saying I liked “Iris” got girls to think I was sensitive when I was in high school, just like it did every other guy I know, but at the end of the day we’re comparing those guys to Stan Bush, whose voice is a combination of peak heavy metal, a chorus of Angels, and the whispers of Jesus.
I’ve rambled on for over two thousands words about Transformers now and I’m not sure what that says about me as a person, what this will make you think about coming back to Ashley’s site, or whether I will ever have sex again, but I feel pretty confident that I have made my point for why the new Michael Bay movies are a horrible representation of what a movie about Transformers should look like.
But then again…