20 years after its theatrical release, Transformers the Movie is available on DVD. This is indeed a treat for all Transformers fans, since the VHS version of the movie has apparently been out of print for several years.
This 2-Disc set is a significant upgrade from the VHS version, boasting a remastered image, commentary tracks, and tons of extras.
In order to properly understand how this movie fits into the saga of The Transformers, we must go back to 1984, when the s…ow debuted on American TV.
The Transformers are sentient robots from another planet who have the ability to transform into other objects, typically cars and planes. The Transformers fall into two camps: The Autobots and the Decepticons. The Autobots are the good guys, guided by their mighty leader, Optimus Prime. The Decepticons are the bad guys, driven by the power-hungry Megatron. During an intense space battle between the two warring parties, both of their ships crash to earth.
Over the years, the Autobots develop strong friendships with the humans and work with them to develop methods of harnessing energon, the life-giving fuel of Transformers. The Decepticons, on the other hand, spend most of their time trying to find ways to steal energon cubes, deplete the Earth’s resources, and destroy the Autobots.
And this general storyline goes on throughout the first two seasons of the Transformers television series. Transformers the Movie takes place approximately 20 years later, in the distant year 2005.
The Decepticons have left Earth and conquered the Autobots’ home planet, Cybertron. The Autobots are mounting a counter attack from Cybertron’s two moons, but they are in short supply of energon. Optimus Prime sends a supply ship to Earth to meet with two new Autobots, Ultra Magnus (voiced by Robert Stack) and Hot Rod (voiced by 1984 celebrity Judd Nelson). Alas, Megatron and his Decepticon thugs hijack the supply ship before they reach Earth and execute all the Autobots aboard.
When Megatron reaches Earth, the new Autobots send a distress signal to Optimus Prime, who has remained in orbit around Cybertron. Optimus Prime comes to Earth and dukes it out with Megatron in a very cool fight scene. Just as Optimus Prime is about to land the final blow, Hot Rod inadvertently gets in the way, and Megatron takes advantage of the situation by blasting Optimus Prime. The battle has left Megatron in dire need of repair, and Optimus Prime in near shutdown. Before dying, Optimus Prime transfers his Matrix of Leadership to Ultra Magnus, who becomes the reluctant leader of the Autobots.
Meanwhile, in another part of the galaxy, a planet-sized entity named Unicron (voiced by Orson Welles) is devouring worlds to feed his cavernous need for power, and he is heading towards Cybertron. Since Unicron is only vulnerable to the Autobot Matrix of Leadership, he recruits the battered Megatron to destroy Ultra Magnus and the Matrix. To sweeten the deal, Unicron reincarnates Megatron into a new, more powerful form: Galvatron (voiced by Leonard Nimoy).
And so marks the end of the first generation of Transformers. Throughout the movie, the new characters are further developed. Ultimately, the rambunctious speedster Hot Rod assumes the Matrix and becomes the rightful leader of the Autobots, as Rodimus Prime. Rodimus Prime demonstrates his strength by destroying Unicron and saving the universe – for now!
When fans of the TV show first saw this movie 20 years ago, they were understandably upset when they saw almost all of the most popular characters killed off in the first 30 minutes of the movie. After all, they had been really looking forward to a movie starring Optimus Prime and Megatron, not Hot Rod and Galvatron, who were unknown to fans at that time. Of course, this was a necessary evil so that toy manufacturers could retire their old line of toys and introduce a whole new set of Transformers, just in time for Christmas 1986! After the movie, the TV series had some more seasons with the new Transformers, but many fans never followed the TV show past season two. Since then, there have been many reincarnations of Transformers in various situations and formats, proving the durability and plain fun of the Transformers.
The movie is sometimes silly, but offers some genuinely well-acted moments as well as impressive characters and space battles. Fans of the various TV series will enjoy this film. Those who have not yet had any exposure to Transformers will likely find that the movie does not seem to drive to any particular point. As such, Transformers the Movie does not have a storyline that stands well on it’s own. Enjoyable, but not exactly a great piece of cinema.
The set comes with both 16×9 widescreen and fullscreen versions (one on each disc). The image has been remastered and color-corrected. The result is a huge improvement in quality over the previous VHS version. The image is much cleaner, the colors are brighter, and the lines are sharper. Although improved, the picture is still not perfect. There remains some print damage and defects throughout the film. The remastering also appears to have introduced a significant amount of jagged lines. None of these image problems are very distracting, but just don’t expect the “remastered” image to be perfect.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital track is only okay. The sound is uneven, with dialog occasionally overpowered by the sound effects. The 80’s rock soundtrack is fun but would have more impact if the bass was more pronounced. Dialog is pretty clear, but some portions were affected by slight hissing or humming. The rear speakers get no workout on this track.
The 2-Disc set features lots of cool extras:
- Autobots Matrix of Knowledge: When viewing the movie with this feature activated, fun facts about the movie, characters, and cast pop up throughout the film.
- Audio commentaries: Two commentaries are available. The first is by Director Nelson Shin, Writer Flint Dille, and voice actor Susan Blu. Dilles’s comments are interesting and informative, while Blu’s comments are pretty fluffy. Shins’ comments are just plain bizarre, and difficult to understand. The second commentary is a fan commentary; although they spend most of their time pointing out all the mistakes in the movie, they also provide some interesting facts and opinions about the movie.
- Original theatrical trailer & TV spots
- Cinex & credit test: A strange collection of color tests.
- Photo gallery: Concept drawings of characters and weapons.
- Scramble City: Full episode which stages the events prior to the movie. Since this episode was only aired in Japan, it does not have an English language track. Therefore, the sound is muted and fans provide commentary instead. The picture quality is okay, but not nearly as good as the movie’s.
- Live action movie featurette: A short behind the scenes look on filming of the upcoming live action Transformers movie, including comments by Executive Producer Steven Spielberg. Unfortunately, there is no footage of the Transformers themselves.
- Live action movie trailer: A teaser for the upcoming live action movie.
- Next-Gen Game Trailer: A trailer for Dark Kingdom, a Sony video game that has nothing to do with Transformers.
- Special Edition DVD trailer: An ad for the 2 disc set reviewed herein.
- G1 TV Servies DVD trailer: Spot for the Generation One TV series on DVD
- Remaster side-by-side comparison: A scene from the movie is shown in split screen, comparing the original image quality to the remastered image.
- Featurettes: Three featurettes with interviews of director Flint Dille, producers Tom Griffin & Joe Bacal, writer Flint Dille, and voice actor Susan Blu. In one segment, the producers admit that in retrospect, it was probably not a good idea to kill Optimus Prime, due to massive fan backlash.
- Deleted / Alternative footage: A strange and confusing collection of footage. There is a commentary included to explain what you are looking at.
- Toy Commercials: A collection of about 20 commercials for various Transformers toys. Some are in English, but most are Japanese. Additional Japanese commercials are hidden in an Easter egg on disc one. Many of the commercials appear to have been lifted off of VHS recordings from a TV broadcast. One commercial even has the word ‘Play’ show up in the top corner at the beginning.
- Animated storyboards: Four movie scenes presented in storyboard mode, overlayed with the actual movie soundtrack.
The menus look very good and are intuitive. They are scored and feature scrolling artwork. Ironically, many of the characters portrayed in the menus are killed in the first five minutes of the movie.
Although Transformers the Movie is already 20 years old, the characters still seem fresh while simultaneously being nostalgic. The remastered image gives the movie a modern look, and the set comes packed with tons of good features. Definitely worth checking out.
Special Features List
- Sneak Peek at the 2007 live action movie including trailer and Spielberg/Bay Interviews
- Multiple Audio Commentaries
- All-new, exclusive interviews with key creative talent
- Original toy commercials, Deleted Footage, test footage, storyboards, and trailers
- Episode from the original series with commentary