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With Michael Bay’s latest entry in the billion dollar franchise a few weeks away from Cinemas, I figured my first blog entry would be about defending the action auteurs questionable body of work. Instead I spent more time considering why I find the concept of warring transforming robots so appealing in the first place.

I saw Transformers the animated movie for the first time on Christmas Day morning 1987 when I was 6 years old. For me it was something akin to the apes touching the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. My little impressionable brain took a quantum leap forward that morning into a deep obsession with genre-based pop culture. I’ve seen it easily a hundred times since that day, and almost everything I love can be directly traced back to it.

The plot is relatively simple, heroic Autobot’s war with Evil¬†Decepticon’s in the distant Earth Future of 2005. Uber-baddie¬†Unicron (a Jupiter-sized Transformer that eats other planets) threatens
the Autobot’s home planet of Cybetron, and a space adventure follows. Many new robots are introduced to sell new toys and the heroes utilise the super MacGuffin ‘matrix of leadership’ to fufill a prophecy and save the universe.

It was my first introduction to a host of different genres… It’s high Science-Fiction. The film opens with Unicron devouring a smaller planet of sentient machines. It’s a war movie. It’s incredibly violent, lead characters are killed in graphic detail and wild abandon. One death in particular at the beginning taught me my first lesson about life, death and consequence.

It’s a buddy comedy. It’s an underdog story. It’s a beautifully animated anime under the direction of Nelson Shin for TOEI studios. There’s imagination bursting through every second of it’s lean 85 minute run-time.

There’s a crazy roster of talent giving the cast of Robots soul. Judd Nelson of The Breakfast Club takes the lead as the aforementioned underdog Autobot ‘Hot-Rod’, Leonard Nimoy, Scatman Cruthers, Eric Idle, Robert Stack and weirdest of all… Orson Welles as Unicron make up the rest.

Most of all… I’ve always considered Transformers in my heart to be an out and out musical. Vince DiCola’s (composer of the iconic Rocky IV soundtrack) thumping score is turned up to 11 at all times. It’s easily one of the noisiest movies ever made. 80’s Synth-pop collides with hair metal and drives the action at all times. Dialogue and action choreography weave seamlessly around the music. The effect is akin to watching a stadium rock laser-show fronted by a team of graceful mechanical ballet dancers. Some research revealed that this was the intention the whole time. Vince DiCola provided the score first and the movie was story-boarded and animated AROUND the music. The results were ridiculously kinetic, injecting a huge amount of adrenaline into the proceedings. Catchy songs by Stan Bush, Spectre General and Weird Al Yankovic punctured all the major action beats. Highlight song ‘You’ve got the Touch’ was famously covered by Dirk Diggler in Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Boogie Nights’.

The seeds of my passion for Comics, Sci-Fi, pop and metal were sewn in this movie and it’s informed almost everything I’ve enjoyed since. I’ve spent years evangelising it to anyone who will listen. If you haven’t seen it already, you may be surprised at how much fun you have.

I look forward to Transformers: Age of Extinction, but do so realising that it’s nostalgia that’s propelling my interest for the most part. Because even when you strip away all the bells and whistles they’ll always be a 6 year old part of me that knows robots fighting robots is inherently cool.

But nothing will ever match the grand scale and awesome rock-opera of the original Transformers movie.

Mark Bartlett