Transformers: The Movie
I'd been meaning to watch this anime for a while, since after all it didn't actually belong to me. However it took moving to another state to actually put a deadline on it, and also mean there was some gap between viewing and reviewing. How ever since this isn't a massively complex title I don't think it will matter too much.
I'd like to thank J. Lyons and B. Beyer for posting some follow up information. Both questioned whether the film actually counts as anime, since it has heavy American involvement (especially in script) although it is a Japanese (Toei animation) production. I'm going to leave the review up, but it could be argued either way. Mr Lyons also dredged through some childhood memories to recall that the transformers were "reconstructed" on earth, which explains (at least a little bit) why they are patterned on earthly machinery.
Somewhere in space, although clearly not all that far from earth, there exists a race of intelligent robots with surprising powers. Being creatures of metal and logic they of course form an ideal society of peace and order... not. In fact these particular robots are prone to every human emotion including greed and the hunger for power of all sorts. The most obvious focus being energon cubes, which power the society. But one group, the decepticons, are just as much into more traditional forms of power and dominance including betrayal, murder and militarism. Fighting them, and currently losing, are the autobots.
The essence of this story is the latest skirmish between these two factions. The autobots are gathering their resources for a new offensive, but the decepticons have every intention of striking a first, and fatal, blow. What neither realise is that an immensely powerful entity, who we watch pulverize and consume an entire planet in the series opening, is on his way.
The central problem with any transformers material is that the central premise is really, really silly. A race of alien robots is not too bad, but there really is no logic in them actually having biological forms. Why would a robot be built to match a humanoid anatomy? Although, that is the easy one, having to explain why there is a robot in the shape of a Tyrannasaurus Rex or a Pterodactyl quickly hits the absurd. Perhaps the backstory of transformers has some explanation, but that's not going to help if this movie is the first thing you see.
Then of course there's the fact that transformers... well, transform. Alien intelligent robots, with organic forms, who transform into mundane earth machinery such as cars. It doesn't make a lot of sense, either conceptually or visually. The transformation sequences are painful to watch. And in a lot of cases the forms are pretty useless. When you're a giant robot with a high energy beam weapon fighting a brutal civil war being able to turn into a fire-engine, or a radio, isn't really that useful at all. This title works hard to make the alternate forms seem helpful, but often at the cost of immersion as the sheer silliness of the concept overwhelms any interest in story and character.
So if you can overcome that challenge what does the title have to offer? The answer is a lot of robot carnage. The movie is structured very much as a serious war movie and both sides take heavy losses amongst their anonymous extras. Nor are the named characters completely exempt with several well known transformers hitting the dirt. It is honestly rather brutal at times which might seem odd for a movie aimed at quite young people, but perhaps it's actually a good reading of their target demographic.
As the movie continues the civil war recedes as Unicron, the eater of worlds, starts to intrude. He doesn't just come in and kill everyone of course, that would be a little bit dull (not to mention short), instead he is forced to meddle in politics in order to disarm the one force that can stop him. This progression is actually somewhat weak. The "item" in question doesn't seem to fit into the story that well, it loses the momentum of the "war" and the final fight sequence is odd and not that dramatic. Even without the magical Unicron destructo device he seems to be losing as soon as he makes the mistake of doing a transform of his own.
In addition there is a section on the junk planet which really damages the films atmosphere. This is largely because it has been scripted as a comedy section. This includes a voice over by Eric Idle, who is damn near incomprehensible and completely out of keeping with the movies tone, not that the script gives him much to work with. The choice of weird al Jankovic's "dare to be stupid" acting as a weird confirmation of how daft this section, and it's adaption to English, actually was. Although it might have been stupid in the original Japanese too... that's assuming this movie isn't just a cut and paste job for the American market.
So in summary the premise is totally illogical and the story wanders quite a bit. However it does have sufficient character moments and critical situations, nicely amplified by some good voice work from other celebrity names, to keep you watching. Something that is almost certainly more addictive if you know the history of the characters being represented. Certainly the movie doesn't really have time to flesh out the rather large cast. It is no classic though, and probably only recommended if you like the transformers before you start.
The production is not really a factor in the films favor. The transformers are relatively complex objects, in an environment which is likewise festooned with machinery. The end result being that the animation has a tough time coloring and animating the damn things. This is especially true where there is complex interaction between the background and transformers, such as driving down an incline. The transformers are also bound by their heritage, the need for the toy to transform gives them shapes and designs that don't look logical with the degree of movement needed. In short not that pleasant to watch, the quality of the animation being relatively average and insufficient to overcome the challenges it is confronted with. The voices range from decent, with the definite exception of Mr. Idle, to good for some of the other celebrity voice actors. However the music can not make the same claim. The producers paid for an awful piece of light rock (light is not expressive enough, call it "froth" rock) which is overused. Not that the other ambient music is any better (although I'm still shaking my head over the weird Al one)).
A bunch of gruff talking robots, with odd and illogical designs forced upon them by their toy heritage, get down to the serious business of finishing off the brutal civil war that's plagued their race. It's robot carnage and death.. until an even bigger threat, the planet eating Unicron, enters the picture. A relative somber and serious film, barring one bazaar comedy section, but plagued by a silly foundation and animation that can't meet the demands placed upon it.