Part 1: The Transformers and Me
This is my dorkiest article yet. Coming from an ostensibly grown-ass man who has written on such “revered” topics as Scooby Doo’s little known cousin Dumper Scoots, the Clifford the Big Red Dog Wikipedia article, and gorilla dick proportions… that’s a pretty damn sad admission. But one thing I’ll never be too proud to admit is that as a kid, The Transformers were my thing.
You all remember Transformers, those loveable robots in disguise. Not the subsequent series that spawned throughout the years of which I admittedly know next to nothing about, but the originals back from 1984; the old school or Generation 1 (a retronym conceived by super nerds) gang.
Although one’s first presumption is that the G1 cartoon was produced in some shoddy, dimly lit sweatshop by several scragglyfaced and emaciated Asian animators forced to scrabble furiously at gunpoint, (“You draw Optimus Prime good NAO or brains go boom out back of head, OK?”) the show was actually:
- Essentially produced by Sunbow Productions (Of GI Joe and My Little Pony fame) and Marvel. (So the sweatshop lighting was actually pretty good).
- Based on the Hasbro Transformers toy line, which was in turn based on the Japanese Takara toy lines, Microman and Diaclone, respectively.
- Impressively animated, notwithstanding the occasional blunder. (Discolorations, characters killed off appearing inexplicably later on in the episode, robots with goatees and fu-manchu mustaches. Wait, those last two are actually intentional).
When I wasn’t mashing the toys of their namesake together like two rival bighorned rams whilst imagining wars of galaxy scaled proportions or coddling them next to me in bed like precious plasticized infants, I was setting my alarm clock for eight o’clock every Saturday morning so I could race excitedly to the TV room in a fit of ghoulish shrieks and watch, with eyes wider than dinner plates, these enormous alien automatons go from robots to jet planes to race cars to outsized weaponry and back again, all while beating the absolute trash out of each other. To my five year old psyche the show was unadulterated gold; the equivalent of what might one day become the most obscene and filthy porn a decade before I knew what lay underneath a woman’s brassiere or what my penis was for besides sprinkling errant piss rivulets all over the toilet seat. Hell, there’s even a video of my spry, youthful self dancing and singing along like a little goddamned idiot to the original Transformers theme song in Autobot insignia laden pajamas, pulling off the most abberant of barrel rolls, cartwheels, and enfeebled mule kicks. (I have since burned my mother’s cherished VHS collection.)
Everything about the show fascinated me: the incredible designs, that indelible transforming noise, (the written words for which can never be properly expressed, onomatopeically or otherwise. Chu-neep-nerp-chukka… fuck it, you try), the dichotomy of goals and beliefs which the Autobots and Decepticons held and the diverse cast of characters of which they were comprised, and all of their idiosyncrasies, particularly prevalent through the unique alternate forms they could take on. (Tape decks, cassettes, animals, insects, you name it). Hell, even the little insignias they all had on their shoulders to differentiate good guy from bad had me slackjawed with wonder. As if I were some emergent archaeologist in the discovery of some strange set of heiroglyphics or Paleolithic cave paintings, there they were, the red and purple icons staring at me, silently taunting me to contemplate their inscrutable ways.
Here are just a few of my most cherished moments from the G1 show (Read the following with the childlike excitement of a dorky little kid infused within yourself):
- The voices! Who could forget: the electronic timbre of Soundwave and the harpythroated Starscream and the gruff monotone sentence fragments of Omega Supreme and the gravel voiced Megatron and of course Optimus Prime: part John Wayne, part reserved badass, whom the voice actor Peter Cullen said was inspired by both observing and through the advice of his Vietnam war veteran brother: “Peter, don’t be a Hollywood hero, be a real hero. Real heroes don’t yell and act tough; they are tough enough to be gentle, so control yourself.”
- The first time I watched six separate robots combine into one huge one (Devastator) or saw fucking robot dinosaurs. (The Dinobots).
- My childhood hero, Optimus Prime further reinforcing himself as the Autobot equivalent of Michael Jordan, not just by being the greatest of all time and single handedly turning the tide of every battle, but by literally dunking on one hundred foot high basketball hoops when he wasn’t savagely murdering Decepticons.
- The Autobots writhing in pain like POWs being subjected to water torture when hearing a few simple guitar riffs:
“I’ll tell you what, Megatron. Why don’t we take all these bricks you’ve been layin’ and build a shelter for the Cybertronian homeless, so maybe your mother will have a place to stay? Now allow me to dunk on your black ass.”
So I would watch the Transformers each week, become immersed in their ongoing war, watch Autobots and Decepticons skirmish over Earth’s natural resources and see Megatron’s zany, convoluted world takeover plans foiled week after week. Like inexplicably energizing boulders (yes, I’m at a loss too) or capturing Village People rejects, as seen here:
… And then along came Transformers: The Movie. Right away, I could tell shit was getting real. Just prior to an 80s metal version of the Transformers theme song I watched a world not unlike the Transformers’ home planet of Cyberton completely ravaged; its inhabitants skittering around as they tried in vain to escape being sucked into an enormous and ravenous, robotic maw.
That wasn’t the only thing that had changed. I had been plucked from my isolated little niche of gumdrops and rainbows and Energon cubes and cast headlong into a brutal war. A war with casualties. All of a sudden this ongoing battle between Autobots and Decepticons, which had up to this point been little more than a series of quasi-comedic skirmishes, took on newfound gravity; laser blasts that had once simply stunned or disoriented were now the cause of harrowing devastation. It would be like if the Union and Confederates had decided 3/4ths of the way through the American Civil War to switch from rubber bullets to the real thing.
Makes sure you watch until at least 0:40 in and tell me that’s not some mind blowing shit for a six year old. The robot’s eyes drained of their iconic blue color, and from which billows incessant rags of dark smoke, the body keeling over lifeless. Weren’t these guys just frolicking around with Optimus a few weeks ago, playfully tussling with Megatron and grappling with invigorated boulders? Sweet Jesus, what the hell was going on here? And to those of you who think I am being melodramatic… well yeah, I’m talking about a cartoon. But just imagine your favorite sitcoms growing up as a kid. Imagine Steve Urkel being shot dead in cold blood through the head by Carl Winslow after an attempted rape on Laura Winslow. Or the entire cast of Full House being burned alive when Michelle accidentally lit a match near Uncle Jesse’s grease mantled coif? That was what this was like.
Of course, the creators were just making room for new characters (and concordantly, new toys to be bought up by the kids) and though I still watched the series after the shock from the movie had subsided and the changes were decent ideas overall in regards to preventing stagnation, a little bit of me always yearned for the simpler G1 days.
For a time there were no Transformers in my life. I was busy with school, sports, and embarrassing myself in front of the opposite sex. Sure, I watched a few episodes of the commendable Beast Wars series, and popped the animated movie in from time to time, but nothing could really incite my excitement as the originals had. Chalk it up to a boy just growing up, leaving his childhood fancies behind, like a bizarre version of Andy from Toy Story.
The battle cry of Transformers’ enthusiasts across the world upon hearing Michael Bay was the director for the live action movies: “Please don’t rape my childhood.” (Okay, so it was more like pathetic blubbering than battle crying).
Then in 2005, rumors started swirling around about a Transformers live-action movie with Michael Bay at the helm. I was both ecstatic and skeptical; ecstatic because I knew the movie would make a killing at the box office, set the loins of advertisers atingle, and feature more explosions than my distended, bleeding anus after a bad night of (insert ethnic food here.) But would Bay hold true to the qualities of the original show that made it so very endearing to me? Keep reading to find out.