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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Transformers: The Movie (1986) review

Overall verdict: 8.5/10

The Good: a truly status quo changing story, extremely smooth animation, high level of art detail, excellent voice acting, goes beyond anything seen in the TV series, likable characters, decent character development, brisk narrative, some well written comic relief.

The Bad: requires familiarity with the characters, some minor animation errors in the theatrical cut,


The problem with so many anime movies that are spun off from a TV series is that the movie looks, feels and essentially IS, just an extra long episode of the TV series. Transformers: The Movie does none of that. Not content on just making a 84 minute long episode, the producers decided to up the show's ante and shatter the status quo, taking its action, animation, story and characters to new heights of excellence.
A word of caution: viewers unfamiliar with Transformers characters should go and watch the original TV series before watching this movie. If you cannot tell the difference between Starscream and Skywarp, go refresh your memory before watching this. There is little introduction to the characters as we jump straight into the thick of the action even before the opening credits flash across the screen.

Deep in the void of space, a monstrous machine planet is devouring world after world and is now making a beeline for the Transformers' home world of Cybertron. After years of stalemate, the evil Decepticons have taken over Cybertron and now launch a titanic offensive against the last Autobot city on earth. Although the Autobots manage to turn the tide of the battle, the death toll is catastrophic. Among them, the faction leaders, Optimus Prime and Megatron, lose their lives after what is easily the most brutal duel in Transformers animation history. As both factions try to bounce back from their loss, old foes return stronger than ever and ancient mysteries resurface. Amidst the end of one war the the start of another, a young Autobot named Hot Rod must come to terms with a destiny that he never desired.

In its time, Transformers: The Movie was both famous and infamous for its graphic portrayal of mass slaughter. A rarity among animated shows of the 80s was deaths of main characters. And in the tradition of this movie taking what "was" to a whole new level, the deaths are actually quite graphic and violent despite the characters being robots. There is one scene which could be the robotic equivalent of coughing up blood.




Know that prior to this, "injuries" were only temporary, no one ever died in the Tv series and if they were ever "deactivated" they were usually done so quickly and even off-screen. The deaths would hit harder if one were already familiar with the characters, hence why familiarity with the original TV series is recommended.
The story in the movie, however, is upgraded from the down to earth TV series style to an intense, action packed, sprawling space epic. The threat is larger than anything the Transformers have ever faced(literally). Sure it may share some elements of Star Wars but it is a huge notch up from the TV series it is based. One of the most epic stories in an animated movie based on a cartoon series.
As usual of Transformers, the characters are the main stars. The new characters introduced are extremely likable from their very first uttered line, thanks to a great mix of an engaging script and professional acting. A good measure of Character development, which usually takes at least a couple of episodes in the TV series, is present here and is very well handled with none of the characters coming across as bland or uninteresting. The script is as emotionally charged as ever, and its characters portrayed as humanly as possible, that its tragic climax would bring a tear to any one's eye.
The most obvious jump in quality would be in the art and animation department. Battle damage, metallic sheen, complex shadows, vivid colours and other little details make this movie very spectacular to look at.

Such art details stand the test of time and would even be able to measure up to the art standards of today's anime movies. Despite the sky high levels of the art detail, the animation does not suffer one bit. Every scene is fluid with hardly any short cuts used, characters are always in motion and so are some of the backgrounds; again a rarity among anime TV-series-to-movie films. The fight scenes are superbly storyboarded utilizing all the right shot angles, close-ups or wide pans, and lighting effects to add to the impact and cinematic feel of each battle. Unfortunately there are a number of animation goofs here and there; minor instances of wrong coloring in the background. Those mistakes however are not easily spotted until repeated viewings. They are not jarring and does not distract from the film at all.

To top it all off, there is the roaring electric guitar and rock soundtrack. It is a huge improvement over the bland musical cues of the original series and really complements each scene very well; truly the icing on a great tasting cake.The vocal soundtrack, however, is really up to personal preference, featuring a number of songs by Stan Bush, NRG and other big 80s names.
On a whole, this movie is a real treat for all transformers fans, and an entertaining watch for the casual anime fan as long as one is able to keep up with the various characters. The plot never slows down, yet never acts an excuse to tie on action scene to the next. Both a major turning point in the ongoing Transformers storyline, and an important milestone in animation, Transformers: The Movie is a timeless classic which introduced a new level of maturity into what was once solely a children's toy franchise.

*****************************Review End******************

Go For it: if you want to see what many consider the highest point of excellent in over 25 years of Transformers animation history.
Avoid it: if you have absolutely no idea who Optimus Prime or Megatron is

Entertainment: A
Story: B+
Characters: A
Animation: A-
Art: A-
Voice work (English): A
Voice work (Japanese): A-
Voice work (chinese): C
Replay Value: A
"Brains": C+

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