I’ve just been to see Transformers: Dark of the Moon. It’s a faintly bizarre experience; a serviceable 90-minute movie that unfortunately lasts for the best part of three hours, much of which doesn’t involve Transformers. In fact, that’s the problem with the whole Michael Bay live action trilogy – it’s not about the Transformers, it’s about robots that turn into cars occasionally while being bossed around by humans, mainly of whom may be CGI.
I’m biased, of course; I’ve been a Transformers fan since I was a kid. Back in the day you were either into Transformers or GI Joe (Action Force in the UK), and I was definitely the former. Don’t ask me why exactly; I don’t think it was anything more complicated that liking toy cars that turned into robots. Then they brought out dinosaurs that turned into robots!
So I owned Ratchet the ambulance, Bumblebee the Volkswagon Beetle, Metroplex the city complex, and Grimlock the T-rex. And I owned the hottest toy of 1984, Optimus Prime. It’s no wonder I turned out to be a big geek.
A lot of this traces back to the cartoon, which got right what Michael Bay got wrong – it focused on the Transformers and actually bothered to give them personalities; lightly sketched personalities, sure, but enough to make you love the characters: Optimus Prime was the noble leader, Starscream was a screeching schemer, Ironhide was a Texan hothead, the Dinobots were tough-but-dumb. There were human characters in the mix but the Transformers were the main event.
Then, in 1986, came Transformers: The Movie, the first film I went to see without my mom. I probably shouldn’t have, because Transformers: The Movie is traumatic. Let’s not kid ourselves, the cartoon was there to sell toys and, in order to launch a bunch of new toys, well, some of the old characters had to go. The movie saw a bunch of my favourites literally blown to pieces, while Optimus Prime’s crowning moment of awesome is quickly followed by his death. I watched it as a ten-year-old, jaw dropped in horror.
The soundtrack is awesome though.
I guess the Marvel UK Transformers series is also partly responsible for me liking superhero comics; the comics took the concept to new heights, fleshing out the characters and back story and making heroes out of characters who barely featured in the cartoon.
I guess all this is a symptom of my second childhood, and I’m actually okay with that. For all its flaws, the Transformers, in all their iterations, hold a special place in the hearts of a generation. Okay, so maybe that generation is simply made up of nostalgia junkies, but I can live with that.
Behind us in the cinema were a group of kids, and they didn’t hide their enthusiasm – they loved it, but I couldn’t help but feel sorry for them. Dark of the Moon was the best they’re going to get, no Dinobots being awesome, no Bumblebee as classic VW Beetle, no Springer saying things like “I’ve got better things to do tonight than die”. Heck, the poor kids had no robots for half the film.
But they enjoyed themselves, and me, I can’t go home again. I love Transformers because they’re a part of my childhood, and while that childhood is far behind me, doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the memories and the feelings again now that I’m an adult.
I might even go watch the cartoon again…