Autobots. Transform, and sell out.

Kids like Ben 10. Before that they liked Digimon. Then Pokemon (bit of a Jamaican flavour to that era) so on and so forth. In my era it was all about the Transformers. The cartoon was concocted to cynically market the toys, but I knew little of those machinations at the time. I just knew I had to have Optimus Prime. Had to. If the Internet was around then, I would have put my little sister on eBay to raise the funds. Eventually I got my wish. My mum bought it for me for Christmas, but she did so in October because they were so scarce. On a couple of occasions, I was allowed to play with him while he was still in the box. I was that pleased with him.

Optimus prime is an icon. Everyone knew who he was. He had the highest Tech Specs in almost every respect. Tech Specs were a jagged graph, printed onto the back of the cardboard boxes, next to the barcode and underneath a vista of various robots doing battle. You could distinguish the purple peaks and troughs through the pinkish grid if you wanted to, but why do that when you could use your decoder. A piece of red acetate endowed with magical properties. Pop that in front of the graph and hey presto. Those toys were the dictionary definition of awesome. So awesome that I have spent nearly a paragraph talking about a bit of packaging. They even had heat stickers, entirely pointless but wonderful badges that would only show the robots allegiance when rubbed or blown on. They were pointless because each figure had at least 4 or 5 Autobot or Decepticon badges so the need for subterfuge on one particular badge was never adequately (or at all) explained. I still have my transformers, and their Tech Specs. They are currently on loan, being exhibited to some lucky mice in my mum's loft.

So without really having to make much sense, the toys were great. The early ones in particular were incredibly well made. Chunky, metal and solid. Although anyone of my age who did not break or lose most of Megatron is either a liar, or didn't have Megatron. There was something abut the gadget-centric 80s that made transformers such a perfect fit. Ghetto blasters, Walkmen and Lamborghinis were all beautifully rendered. But in all honesty, the cartoons themselves do not bear up to close inspection today. All plots were the same. A bunch of planes tear across the Atlantic looking for Energon (Glowing, urine-coloured sugar cubes) pursued by a bunch of cars and trucks, who battle and randomly change into robots and back. (I think there was a contractual obligation to demonstrate both toy modes several times per episode) The evil ones (Decepticons) were always duffed up and sent packing. Occasionally a luckless human got a black eye. But it was all harmless fun. That was until the movie.

I was lucky enough to be in Disney World at 8 years old. Did I want to go on rides? No. Did I want to be molested by Mickey Mouse? Not particularly. I knew that we were in the states at the time that the Transformers movie had been released. In the 80's, it used to take roughly 20 years for movies that had opened in the states to appear in Britain, for some hitherto unexplained reason. So I whined, complained bitterly and basically just behaved like the spoilt bastard that I am until my Dad relented and took me to see the movie. There are 3 peculiarities about the movie, looking back on it. 1) it was well animated and had a plot that made some sense. 2) Leonard Nimoy and Orson Welles! lent their voices to it. 3) They killed Optimus Prime. They actually killed Optimus Prime and that was that. He was dead. I kept thinking that his resurrection would be forthcoming but it wasn't. Optimus was dead and the new Autobot leader was a knobend.

It takes real bravery to kill an icon like that. Especially with no real fanfare or advanced warning. In actual fact, I later learned that most of the old toyline was killed, to encourage us to buy the newer toys. They weren't sent to Swansea on a peace-keeping mission or something, they were all killed, on screen. Half of them were ripped to pieces. The replacement toys were bigger, noisier, but more plasticy and a lot less charming. The golden era of Transformers was over, and Transformers slowly went the way of other fads. I kept buying the comic in the UK all the way to it's bitter end, when it had been forced to print mostly in black and white. About 6 people noticed its demise. Optimus Prime had been bought back in the late '80's as a bigger and much uglier incarnation, and he couldn't arrest the decline. Then a garish relaunch of the old toys failed. Then they started fannying around with monkeys and dinosaurs.

In the intervening decade things were quiet. There were still Transformer toys and cartoons being made, and some of them weren't bad, but they were now considered niche instead of all-conquering. So I greeted the news of a new live action Transformers with cautious optimism. The old characters would be in it. I knew that CG could now beautifully render the old forms I knew so well. And then my initial optimism turned to sheer dread when I realised that Michael Bay had been appointed to helm the picture. What a disaster. That's Michael Bay the awful director, not some hitherto unknown Michael Bay who was not an awful director. Then the first character models emerged. I obviously doubted their authenticity at first, given how bad they were. But then the movie drew ever closer and I realised that they were the actual designs. I still had enough curiosity to see the movie, but I had to wait until I could see it gratis. I have a policy (If it's Michael Bay, don't pay) that has served me well in life.

I eventually got to see the Transformers movie, and Bay's reputation for ruining everything didn't disappoint. I was greeted with approximately 2 hours of insectoid, Picasso-inspired automatons clanging into each other in either so slow a speed that I dozed off, or so fast that for approximately a third of the movie I had no idea who was fighting who, where they were and what for. To say it was a crushing disappointment was an understatement. A fairly decent cast (including John Turturro for some reason - hope he sacked his agent) plus Megan fox gamely tried to paper over the quadruple chasms of infantile script, woeful direction, dreadful character design and excessive slow motion, but could do little to arrest the picture from stunning mediocrity.

Why am I writing about this now, you may ask, not very topical is it. Transformers was donkeys years ago. But no. If you remember my aforementioned rule regarding Michael Bay, I must never part ways with any money when watching his films. So last week, I was stuck in a room with a telly equipped with an 'On Demand' service and the choice was either wrist-slittingly depressing daytime TV or the Transformers sequel, Revenge Of The Fallen. Despite a million alarm bells going off in my head, I watched Revenge Of the Fallen. Could Bay and the production team arrest the myriad issues with the first movie? Of course not. In fact there are several reasons why Revenge Of The Fallen is even worse than its' predecessor. Even poorer plot. More confusing. Uglier robots. More silly little robots. More silly big robots (why does a stealth bomber need a walking stick, and where does it conceal it when in plane mode?) Shia LeBoeuf more irritating than before. Optimus Prime dies, and is promptly resurrected.

That last point is what prompted me to write this, so you can't blame me for wasting your time. Blame the heathens who chanelled the awful script via Satan's fiery ringpiece. At least in the original cartoon movie, there existed the kind of ruthless mentality to actually kill a hero and not pretty much instantly bring them back. It may have been for cynical reasons but then you're not relying on cheap tricks as a plot device. You can have a death scene that actually invokes emotion, rather than a death which you know will be followed up by a resurrection before the credits roll. So Prime is bought back to life by virtue of a shard of something being stuck into his chest, and then the aforementioned pensioner robot, Jetfire, kind of rips himself to pieces and sticks bits onto Optimus. That somehow does the trick and then Megatron, who in his latest incarnation resembles a turd wrapped in scrunched-up tinfoil, is vanquished.

Now that the inevitable sequel is in the works, who knows where this franchise will end. Despite the terrible reaction to the 2nd movie (kudos for that, critics) another film is now guaranteed. Michael Bay, a man constructed entirely of  Teflon, the narcissistic, ill-equipped and talentless hack, will direct again. This is despite the fact that even Megan Fox (whose sole contribution in the first 2 installments was removing and putting on clothing very slowly whilst pouting) has realised that Bay is an utter arse, opened her gob and has been kicked off the film. She allegedly compared him to Hitler. Now I'm no fan, but I think that is a bit over the top. Sure, Adolf was evil incarnate, but he never ruined Transformers.

1 comment:

  1. You have officially lost the plot!!!!!