Flashback to 1985. Six executives sit around a table in the Hasbro, Inc. boardroom.
Executive #1: "Okay, now that we're all sufficiently coked-up enough to disguise the fact that most of our marriages are failing and that we are among the most evil beings upon the planet, let's market some toys shall we?"
Executive #3: "Well, I saw a guy flogging a horse the other day, it wasn't quite dead but it was getting a flogging nonetheless, and it gave me a capital idea..."
Executive #6: "I think I know what you're getting at here. Ladies and gentlemen, we all know that Transformers have given us a bigger retirement fund than any of us could have possibly imagined, but, like our wives continue to remind us, it could always be bigger. I think it's time to push this product into a new hemisphere. You bought the figures, you saw the TV series..."
Executive #3 & 4: "...now go and see the movie!"
Executive #4: "It'll be great! We can make it like one long toy commercial. Like a checklist for the kids to make sure they buy every single one featured in the film."
Executive #5: "But what about Optimus Prime? He was our biggest seller, although nobody seems to be interested any more."
Executive #4: "Kill him off! Not only will it mean that kids will rush out and buy him, but naturally they will have to buy his successor too!"
Executive #2: "While you're at it, why not kill off Megatron as well? Then we can double the sales by introducing a completely new character in his place. No, wait... in fact, why not an entirely new line of figures?!"
Executive #1: "Sheer genius people, sheer genius! It's times like these that I wish I wasn't planning to fire you all to make up for my impotence."
Well, maybe it didn't go quite like that, but despite the tremendous amount of nostalgia one feels upon revisiting Transformers, no one can deny that it's just a big commercial. It truly does play out like a giant checklist, with literally every character in the known Transformers universe making an appearance, and in a manner that simply demands the purchase of their plastic doppelgangers. That's 90-minutes of marketing right there. Parents accompanying their children to the screening must have been horrified. In an instant, it would have turned from an innocent family outing into what could potentially be years of deep financial muck.
But then again, almost everything's a commercial these days. If films aren't marketing toys, then it's clothing, soundtracks or cars. But the question remains, how does Transformers stand up as a film almost 20 years on? In general, it certainly packs in enough action and drama to provide an enjoyable night's viewing. Things heat up pretty quickly with a monumental battle between the Autobots and the Decepticons, all the while the intriguing premise of the planet-eater known as Unicron develops in the background. Of course, the fact that Orson Welles voices said planet-eater gives the film a certain level of hammy cred, as does the inclusion of Eric Idle, Judd Nelson and Leonard Nimoy. Hell, they even managed to fit a true-blue, honest to goodness swear into the film. Most importantly though, there are plenty of action scenes that give our heroes and villains ample opportunity to flaunt their transforming abilities, even despite the fact that many of them are gratuitous and entirely unnecessary. Like, who ever heard of a rocket-powered space train?
However, all the plot in the world can't make up for the memories that flood in for those that are re-watching this film as an adult. Almost all the senses can recall, in an instant, what it was to play with these figures, and therein lies the reason that most will consider picking up this title. But this isn't the be all and end all of its appeal. There is certainly an air of kitsch about the whole thing that ought to sit nicely with collectors of all things cult, too.
Yes, it's damn cheesy, but then again, that's half the appeal. You have to give credit where it's due. At the very least, they went to the effort of making 90-minutes of toy-spotting entertaining.
It gets a little difficult here. Although it's obvious that the film has gone through some extensive remastering, it has also aged poorly. The major problems here can mostly be attributed to sloppy and outdated animation and/or colouring techniques, however there are a few after effects that pop-up as well. A significant number of film artefacts are one such problem, and appear fairly often throughout the feature, however they are all tiny white specks and should go largely unnoticed by the average user. Some instances of telecine wobble and general instability in the print are also present, although again this is something most users won't notice, aside from fairly minor fluxes in brightness and contrast.
Interestingly, grain isn't as much of a problem here as one would have thought. It is certainly there, but remastering has cleaned up most of it.
Despite these problems, the overall presentation of the film is as satisfying as most could have hoped for in its transition to DVD. Though appearing a tad faded from time to time, colour levels are alarmingly solid throughout and the overall image detail is more than generous. One caveat, of course, is that this is a full-frame transfer. Although one can't imagine a widescreen presentation adding that much more to what is essentially a swift trip back to the schoolyard.
Okay, so the good news is that we now have Transformers in Dolby Digital 5.1, and when you get down to it, those patented transformations simply demand such a treatment. But for all the work that has gone into separating the channels and remixing them into 5.1, the actual fidelity of the soundtrack seems to have remained relatively untouched. At times, there is some awesome presence occurring, just check out any of Orson Welles' Unicron scenes for earth-rumbling proof. But moments like these are, unfortunately, too few and far between. A large portion of the soundtrack still sounds quite tinny, despite the presence of surround effects and subwoofer activity.
Although the quality of the soundtrack is a little disappointing, the efforts in remixing the soundtrack certainly weren't in vain. None of the fidelity problems ever really detract from the viewing experience, and that's what counts.