Instruments of destruction/ Tools of foul play/ It’s a vile interruption/ Existence drifts away; or “Oh shit, what are we gonna do now!?”Posted: August 8, 2016
On August 10, 1986, I saw Transformers: The Movie. It immediately had an impact, but over the years, judging from its position in pop culture, I think it was a more profound experience than what I remember. Here is my brief recollection.
During the last week of July and the first week of August of 1986, I found myself in Florida. It was a family vacation. I was nine. I was really into certain cartoons, television shows, movies, video games, etc. Now, of course, at this age, most kids are probably into this kind of stuff, but when I say I was really into things, I was REALLY into things. If I’m into something, it’s never casual. I really try to know as much as I can about whatever it may be. This has been by M.O. ever since I can remember. Anyway, enough of this shit.
The trip took us from the Atlantic coast (to some goddamn real estate pyramid scheme thing — more on this later) to Orlando (gee, I wonder why) and, finally, to the Gulf coast. Overall, the trip was memorable. My family is pretty fucked up, but in a good way. I hear so many people say this about their families. Then, after meeting these proclaimed crazy-ass, eccentric families, I’m completely disappointed; they always come across as fairly bland and not funny in the least, much like a family that would be in one of those goddamn fake documentary sitcoms. Lame. People tend to think they are more odd, strange, and fucked up than they really are. It kind of pisses me off. Okay, once again, enough of this shit. Let’s get back on track.
We got two free nights in a hotel if my parents attended some conference about buying real estate and investing in some company. My mom and dad’s combined income was probably around $30,000 per year. They didn’t play the goddamned stock market, and they sure as hell didn’t have enough to buy a fuckin’ condo. It was a total scam anyway. My parents went to the meeting, and we got the two nights in the hotel. They weren’t falling for this shit. The Atlantic side, in my opinion, sucked. I wasn’t feeling it, and moreover, my mind was definitely on other things to come.
The next stop was Orlando. We did the Disney World thing. I remember it as being kind of fun, but I thought the amusement parks we had back in Ohio — Cedar Point and King’s Island — were superior (way better rides). Disney World had far too many cheesy performances from various high school kids across the county. Other than the parents of those involved, no one gave a shit about any of this, and there was way too much of it. I did leave the park with a Randotti skull, so that was something. However, once again, I was preoccupied and was not fully enjoying the moment (fuck, who am I kidding — preoccupied or not, I’ve never been able to be in the moment).
The Gulf side was far better than the Atlantic. The water seemed cleaner. It was less crowded, more relaxed/laid back, and, at least, during the mid ‘80s, seemingly more working class. As a family, it was a better fit for us. We somehow got a good deal renting this hotel room that was much larger than my current apartment. A private beach was just yards away. Long walks admiring aquatic wildlife were taken, elaborate sand structures were built, blue crabs were caught, stingrays were almost stepped on, and my dad’s swimming trunks split in half and flew off into the abyss while on one those high-speed waterslides, leaving him entirely nude at some waterpark near Tampa. I enjoyed this part of the trip more than the other two, but I still couldn’t wait to get back home. Why?
Yes, that’s right. On August 8th, Transformers: The Movie was going to be released. For some reason, I was worried I was not going to be able to see it if we didn’t make it back home by that date (like they didn’t have movie theaters in Florida). I don’t understand why I thought this, but I did. My theory is, up until that point, the only movie theater I ever been to was the Wheelersburg Cinema, so for some sort of psychological comfort or something, I needed to see it there. I kept on reminding both parents that we needed to get back home. They told me not to worry. We were going to be leaving and would be back home on the 9th. In my head, I was all “fuck you, that’s not opening night” but outwardly I was all “then, we are seeing it Sunday, right?” I was assured that Sunday would be the day. I was far more excited to see this film than going to Disney World.
The trip back home was met with all kinds of complications. I-75 near Atlanta was congested and took about two hours to get through. My brother had to piss, but there were no exits for miles; he pissed into a large empty Wendy’s cup, overfilling it and causing a mess. We stayed at a motel in Cleveland, TN that had bloodstains on the sheets, and I think a human turd was found under the bed. The next day there was a three-hour delay just miles into Kentucky from Tennessee. Once returning to Ohio, I went directly to bed. Tomorrow needed to come as soon as possible.
The next morning, my parents, my brother, the neighbor kid, and myself were off to see a matinee. We weren’t a religious family, so Sundays were almost always reserved for going to the theater. Sunday mornings also seemed to be the only time my parents had the same time off of work. Anyway, I can’t recall if this was the one o’clock or three o’clock showing. I’m fairly certain it was the one o’clock screening. Why is this important? It isn’t. Not at all. Fuck it.
My brother and the neighbor kid were not into The Transformers as much as I was. They were casuals and — for the lack of a better term — normal about this kind of shit. Both of them didn’t seem to get into anything with the same fervor that I did. (Looking back, I don’t think they gave a fuck about seeing it at all.) We got our tickets. My parents went to see Top Gun, which had been playing at this theater since May. I swear that Top Gun’s run at the Wheelersburg Cinema may have been a record holder. Our screens were on the opposite sides of the theater; we parted ways.
For the next hour and a half, my mind was blown. I wasn’t quite prepared for what I just saw. It fucked me up good and proper. Death was suddenly in the forefront of my mind. It wasn’t like I never thought about before, but this forced me to think about it. Before I go there, however, I’m going to discuss some other things (it will be brief — I just don’t have the time to write these things like I used to).
The movie took chances that I don’t ever think will happen again for an IP aimed at children. Let’s start with the music; none of it was recognizable. They didn’t use any of the orchestral pieces heard in the television show. Instead, we got a bunch metal songs, two Stan Bush songs, a “Weird Al” song, and a great prog rock score from Vince DiCola. Not what I was expecting. Other than the metal version of the theme song, there wasn’t a single note that was familiar. Pretty bold.
Another thing I noticed was the quality of animation was definitely a step above the show. There were some scenes that really stood out. For example, the opening scene where Unicorn devours the planet. That looked good. Really good. However, it seemed like they were running out of money and time toward the end of the film. Some of that looked bad. Really bad. That said, I’ve always thought the G1 designs were the best. I still do. Also, I miss hand-drawn animation so fuckin’ bad.
The voice performances were also a step above the series, particularly on the Decepticon side. Frank Welker plays Megatron as a genuine threat, a force to be reckoned with. Chris Latta gives us the definitive Starscream. Leonard Nimoy was also very good as Galvatron. These performances were definitely aided by some good writing. I felt that was the film’s secret weapon.
The screenplay was scary good, and I’ll argue this with anyone. Ron Friedman — I believe he currently teaches screenwriting somewhere in California — wrote the script. It’s so tight. Seriously, there’s no filler. It keeps moving at a satisfying pace, hitting all of the story beats with accurate precision. If you want to learn the three-act structure of screenwriting, I think this is one of the best examples (the other being Robocop).
The movie is so bleak for a children’s film. They could have easily kept the old characters alive and simply shifted focus to the new ones, but no, they killed them off — almost all of them. The first death that really hurt was when I saw Wheeljack’s dead body for a second of two. Here was a major character that didn’t even get a death scene. He was just dead. Pretty ballsy. Again, to have death and grieving as a main theme of a children’s film in such an unapologetic way was just crazy.
The Prime/Megatron fight was handled very well. The scene really felt urgent and tense; there was a lot at stake. Having Megatron essentially win the fight by cheating was such a nice touch. It was true to the character. Also, seeing the Deceptions regroup after the fight was also great. Never unified, various loyalties begin to reach their tipping points. When Megatron begs Soundwave not to leave him, that was gold. The subsequent scene as Soundwave carries Megatron’s severely wounded body with Rumble close behind, struggling to carry Megatron’s fusion cannon was quite touching and an animation cel that I would love to own.
The television spots foreshadowed Prime’s death, but I just thought it was marketing. There’s no way they would kill off Prime. Boy, was I fucking wrong? There has been a lot of good articles written about this, so I’m not going to go into it much. Instead of analyzing the scene, I’m going to be blunt and to the point: it fucked me up. I was not alone. Optimus Prime was a father figure for millions of kids (and no, this is not an exaggeration — just perform a Google search on the topic). Ultimately, though, the death of Optimus Prime had some positive effects. It put me in touch with the darker side of existence and helped me prepare and cope with every form of death.
About year and half later, in December of ’87, at age ten, I had a complete breakdown — a little young for such a thing. I can’t say for certain, but I think Transformers: The Movie may have had something to do with it. If it did, I’m all the better for it. It prepared me for the hard realities of things yet to come and shaped my taste in art and pop culture. For example, in ’88, I saw Robocop for the first time, shortly followed by Taxi Driver. The darker the subject matter, the more I liked it. This continued throughout my life. As a teenager, I always thought of myself as a living, breathing Nine Inch Nails’ song (fuck, I still think of myself as this). As an adult, I live in a constant state of disappointment — a disappointment, not only concerning myself, but with the world in general. I don’t read, watch, play, or listen to things to escape real life; instead, I engage in those things hoping to learn something about real life. Even in my fantasy, I prefer a healthy dose of horribly reality. I just can’t escape that.
I suppose the most important thing about the film is that it didn’t sugarcoat things. People die and you have to deal with it. My fictional dad died August 8, 1986. I wasn’t prepared for it. If fucked me up. My real dad died June 4, 1992. I was prepared for it. It fucked me up less. My grandmother (dad’s mom) died on November 29, 1985. She was arrogant, boring, creepy, shitty, bossy, sucky, actually just list every negative adjective in the English language and call it a day. It didn’t fuck me up all. I didn’t give a shit. See, I’m pretty dark, right? But, seriously, that death meant nothing to me. A cartoon robot meant more to me than my own grandmother. If that makes me a terrible human being, I’ll own it.