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Silver Screen Streak List #15: 04.The Transformers: The Movie (1986)

Silver Screen Streak List #15: 04.The Transformers: The Movie (1986)

Directed by Nelson Shin
Written by dorrk
23 March 2021


I missed the Transformers TV craze by a few years, being well out of cartoon-watching by the time I was 14. That was the type of thing that my 8-years-younger brother was into; I had moved on to exploitation cinema. I can’t actually recall intentionally watching a TV-based cartoon past the age of 10. Even then, the closest show on my schedule to the science-fiction action of The Transformers was the short-lived Thundarr the Barbarian. I not only have no nostalgia or personal affinity for the Transformers franchise, I don’t speak its language. I’ve seen the first two of the Michael Bay movies, with varying results. I have otherwise absorbed some trivia about this movie from decades of references — I knew, for example, that Orson Welles voiced a character just before passing away, and that a major character dies, and that this movie was the source of a hilariousawful song performed in Boogie Nights — but came out of watching it this month with no greater understanding of what makes this popular or entertaining or meaningful or coherent to its fans.

Somewhere in space and/or Earth in a future which is now the past, some robots shoot some other robots. Sometimes these robots turn into cars or trucks or boomboxes with no apparent advantage or reason. A robot goes fishing with a little human boy. Things explode and there is often hair metal on the soundtrack while robots fly around. Sometimes the robots fly in spaceships and sometimes they just fly on their own. A robot dies and a human boy cries. Robots punch each other. There are dinosaur robots, and underwater there are fish robots. A robot goes underwater and turns into a car and drives on the ocean floor. A robot squid attacks a robot. All of the robots want a powerful glowing ball.

There is also a bad robot that looks like a planet with a glowing butthole. I think this robot also appears as a carousel of different faces and has a henchman who looks like a xenomorph from Alien with a robot body. The big robot (or a different robot?) turns into a robot with wings and eats another robot and then smaller robots turn into cars and fly out of the big robot’s eyeholes. That was kind of cool. (I also liked the part where some robots have a dance party and dance to “Weird” Al Yankovic's “Dare to be Stupid,” because WTF?) Then a bunch of stuff explodes and robots fly around and there’s more hair metal music and then the movie is over.

Never at any point did I understand anything about these robots, or was I able to differentiate their personalities or care about what they were doing or the stakes of what was happening. I never understood why they turn into cars and trucks sometimes when being able to fly is pretty much always better — except for one time when a robot turns from a car into a robot and another robot starts to strangle him, I thought, “Now would be the perfect time to turn into a car, because cars are harder to strangle as they don’t have throats…” be he didn't turn into a car this time — or why some robots were dinosaurs or fish and maybe birds, or how one of the robots was able to grow a mustache and beard.

I kind of admire the ambition of The Transformers: The Movie, which has a pretty impressive cast, including not only Welles, but peak-Judd Nelson, and Scatman Crothers, and Monty Python’s Eric Idle, and Leonard Nimoy, and insipid kid actor David Mendenhall (Over the Top), and even veteran hard-ass Robert Stack (what does someone with a no-nonsense tough-guy persona like Robert Stack think to himself when he gets a script like The Transformers: The Movie? Does he understand it, or does he just cash the check?), but none of this talent makes a difference when a movie makes no sense and features nothing that is interesting, insightful, valuable, engaging, exciting, or provocative. I also kind of appreciated that, for a kids cartoon, The Transformers: The Movie is kind of a bloodbath — robots don’t have blood, but a lot of robots die in ways that might have been gruesome if I cared what happens to robots or understood why it mattered. I suppose the movie’s animation is impressive and more detailed compared to that of the TV series, even though to me it looks just like the same non-fluid, non-expressive factory-produced pseudo-anime style that I associate with all 1980s TV cartoons when I stopped watching cartoons. The one nice thing I'll say about Michael Bay's 2007 live-action Transformers movie is that it felt like it was made for humans; this feels like it was made to be watched by other robots in a simulation of human entertainment that doesn't quite grasp its purpose or nuances.

At the very least, The Transformers: The Movie features the Stan Bush song “The Touch,” which somehow makes the rest of it barely tolerable — and the whole thing really does pass much more quickly than I expected — so I wouldn’t say that watching The Transformers: The Movie was a complete waste of time, but I hope to never watch it or anything like it ever again, ever.

Silver Screen Streak List #15: 04.The Transformers: The Movie (1986)



Reliably, The Transformers: The Movie (1986) ends my initial streak through David Anderson’s list of Flickchart’s top-ranking "Space Adventure Movies of the 1980s." It ranks at a very generous #4237 (16.99%) on my Flickchart. With a FREE PASS in his pocket, I will return to it for at least one more movie in Round Two. And so I move on to the next list, and one which I have to say seems perceptively tailored by Greg Dean Schmitz to what I think of as my preferences: Flickchart's top-ranked movies from the 'New Hollywood' filter, which consists of films from indie-leaning directors between 1966-1982. Overview coming soon.