How do you bring a beloved television show successfully to the big screen? Not so long ago, I reviewed the best example of this in Batman: The Movie and discussed in detail how to do it right. Now, we have The Transformers: The Movie on the other side of the spectrum. Based on the Transformers series, the film takes place twenty years after the end of season 2, which puts us in 2005.
Under the leadership of Megatron (Frank Welker), the Decepticons are about the overrun and annihilate Optimus Prime and Autobot City once and for all. In turn, Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) is preparing his forces to cripple Megatron. But, unfortunately, the Decepticon leader is fully aware of the attack, foils the plan, and kills Optimus Prime.
In a twist of fate, leadership is transferred to Ultra Magnus (Robert Stack), who mortally wounds Megatron. Starscream and the fleeing Decepticons throw him out of the ship. Floating in space, Megatron is rescued by the evil planet destroying Unicron (Orson Welles). Intent on consuming Autobot City, Unicron offers to repair and transform Megatron into Galvatron (Leonard Nimoy). In return, Galvatron must hunt down and destroy the only obstacle in his way for universal dominance, the Autobot Matrix.
“…the Decepticon leader is fully aware of the attack, foils the plan, and kills Optimus Prime.”
I’ll start by saying the story is not bad, but as a full-fledged feature with a run in theaters, The Transformers: The Movie made several critical mistakes that doomed the project from the start. The first problem was its flagrant use of stunt casting. Second, the movie dishonored the legacy of the original series by killing off Optimus Prime and Megatron (along with original actors Peter Cullen and Frank Welker) and replacing them with 1980s A-list talent in Robert Stack and Leonard Nimoy (not bad replacements, though). The celebrity parade continues with Eric Idle, Judd Nelson, and Orson Welles. To me, it represents a lack of faith in the original ice actors and their “inability” to draw an audience and recoup the money not spent improving the overall quality (see next point).
The second big mistake was the studio making zero attempts to improve the animation for the theatrical run. If you’re going to make your fans shell out money to see your show in a theater, don’t just present a 90-minute television episode. Do something other than hire well-known actors to replace your beloved stars. I understand having to take shortcuts to produce a weekly animated series, but such things are unforgivable in a feature film. I’m willing to bet this is the reason why The Transformers: The Movie failed at the box office. It’s pure economics: we give you money, and in return, you give us back something of value worth what we gave you.
My other quibble with The Transformers: The Movie was the money spent on a steady non-stop stream of subpar ’80s hairband music. Props, though, need to go to Weird Al’s single Dare To Be Stupid. This is yet another example of the Big Studio pushing out a film for the sole reason that they own the intellectual property and believe that we, like sheep, will see it because… well, we’ll see anything because we’re desperate for content. For decades to follow, the studios will die behind the mantra of “it’s more important to make a movie than make a good one.”
"…props, though, need to go to Weird Al's single Dare To Be Stupid."