Happy Weekend, 3.5 readers.
Welcome to my new column, “Could They Make It Today?” in which I go back in time, take a look at the pop culture of my Gen X youth (we did exist though we seem to have been forgotten early) and discuss how movies and/or TV shows from the past couldn’t be made in the present (at least not without an extensive tuneup).
First up, Transformers: The Movie (1986).
Now, if you’re a member of Generation X, and again, millennials, I swear we existed…we are the Baby Boomers’ kids and you just know more about the Baby Boomers because they are hanging on for a really long time thanks to advances in science and medicine and shit.
Let me try again. If you are are a member of Generation X, then you probably remember where you were when Optimus Prime died.
The year was 1986. Transformers were a popular line of children’s toys that combined a childish love of vehicles and robots by having robots turn into vehicles. Two toys in one.
There was a corresponding TV show in which Optimus Prime, a tractor trailer with a John Wayne style voice, commanded the Autobots in their war against the villainous Deceptions, lead by the evil Megatron.
So, after several years of a show where robots fired lasers at each other and missed, thus giving children a sense of excitement without burdening their young minds with thoughts of death, some dumb ass or collection of dumb asses got it in their heads to completely rewrite the direction of the series with a major motion film.
I went to it. I was a little kid. Had my popcorn. Had my Transformer. Had my seat. I was ready to have a good time and then boom…literally every character I loved dies.
Seriously. What the shit? Who thought this was a good idea?
Optimus Prime and Megatron clash on the field of battle. Megatron gets the upper hand and takes down Optimus.
OK. That was sad. I don’t think it was a great move for studio execs to kill off a beloved children’s character, especially the main one who carries the series.
But then it gets worse. There’s a scene where the main contingent of Autobots (i.e. Ratchet and Ironhide, etc.), characters who had been with the series since the start, are flying a shuttle back to…I don’t know, Autobot Town, I’m an adult now so I don’t give as many shits as I used to.
Long story short, Megatron and his lackies break down the door and totally Wild Bunch the shit out of the Autobots. I’m serious. After years of lasers that never hit anyone, Megatron’s lasers hit everyone with great precision.
And it’s not just like, “Boom! You’re dead!” We see the lights in the Autobots’ eyes flicker and go out. Smoke comes out of their mouths. Holes rip up their chassis. It’s total carnage and mayhem.
Death has been a part of kids movies since the beginning of animation. When Bambi’s mother dies, it introduces kids to concept they yeah, one day your grandparents are going to croak, then your parents, then pretty much everyone else you know until you end up all alone and the grim reaper puts his icy hand on your shoulder.
Personally, I didn’t even think it was cool for Disney to kill of Bambi’s mother but ok. There’s a difference between Bambi’s mother dying and the stone cold political/ideological assassination that takes place in the Transformers movie.
By the end of the film, new Autobots take over. “Rodimus Prime” takes Optimus’ place and as a kid, it’s basically the equivalent of your how you feel when your mom kicks dad out of the house and starts dating some new guy and wants you to call him “Dad.”
RODIMUS PRIME: Autobots, roll out!
1980s’ Kids: F%*k you! Only Optimus can say that! You’re not my real Autobot leader!
Like many cartoon shows, Transformers was a vehicle to sell toys. Kids bond with the characters on TV, look at them as if they are friends, and then want their parents to buy them a friend they can play with in the form of toys.
But some young 1980s Baby Boomer screwed the pooch because kids were highly displeased, so much so that Optimus Prime is brought back to life by the end of the series.
The whole movie was intended to reset the series and bring it to a futuristic 2005 (which, sadly, is now in the past) with the robots turning into sleeker, more futuristic robots.
Clearly, the assumption in the board room was that they’ll kill off all the main characters (even Megatron and company get converted into new characters) and then the kids will throw away all their old toys and buy these new toys.
Just as clearly, these people did not know kids. Have you ever tried to pry a beloved toy out of a kid’s hand? Good luck. Kids kept playing with their old transformers. In the battles that played out on living room furniture, Optimus and friends were still alive. T
The new replacements were seen as wannabe step-dads trying to buy our love with ice cream and thus, the series didn’t last much longer after that. The movie pretty much blew up the whole enterprise.
The idea went over like a lead balloon and was so widely rejected by kids that a GI Joe movie that came out around the same time was quickly rewritten to prevent Duke from dying. Those suits were totally gunning for Duke and he was only saved because Optimus’ death went over so poorly.
Could they make it today? Well, they do make it today. Now the Transformers films have become these grand scale Michael Bay action/disaster movies with plenty of action and very little plot. And yes, occasionally a Transformer will buy the farm in these movies but the millennials didn’t grow up with them and Generation X is still too old to care.
Although personally, I was sad when Jazz gets ripped apart in one of the new films.
I think the film taught the toy/cartoon industry complex a valuable lesson. You don’t have to kill off characters just to introduce new toys/characters. There was no reason why the Autobots couldn’t have lived and still made friends with new characters/toys that could be sold at parental wallet draining prices.
This is what frustrates me with the millennials. They think the baby boomers are mean and greedy and hey, I feel your pain. I’ve been feeling it ever since some Gordon Gecko-esque fancy suit wearing 1980s baby boomer prick decided that subjecting my young self to a scene where all my favorite toy characters suffer from political assassination was a good idea.
In conclusion, Generation X exists, and while Transformers movies continue to go on strong, the powers that be have learned to not kill off beloved children’s characters all willy-nilly.