The Transformers Project – More Than Meets the Eye, Part One

Transfomers Season 1INTRODUCTION: This is a thing I probably would have started a year ago on the old site if I had any sort of motivation at the time. You see, back in the day, when I was about two feet shorter and a couple hundred pounds lighter, the Transformers were my thing. I had Transformers toys, I had Transformers stickers, I had Transformers trading cards, I had Transformers comic books, and if such a thing had existed, I would have had the goddamn Transformers mouthwash. And needless to say, the highlight of every weekday of my early life was getting home from school by 3:30 in the P.M. to see the cartoon on Channel 15, or to watch the VHS version, in times when they had flip-flopped it with G.I. Joe, and it would be over by the time I got home. And even after the show’s run ended and I was much too old to do such a thing, every so often, I would bust out the couple tapes with the couple episodes we hadn’t taped over, watching them over and over, remembering other episodes I had seen, and wishing I had those too.
And after a couple years of wondering how I could scrape up the hundred bucks or so to buy someone’s collection of the tapes off Ebay, the DVDs finally hit. But  at like 40 bucks a season, I couldn’t afford those any more than I could the bootleg VHS version, so I had to pass, until the damn things seemed to always go out of print five minutes after they were released. But finally in 2009, someone who knew what they were doing re-re-released them all at a time when I had way more disposable cash and a full season of something cost about half of what it used to, so in the words of Abraham Lincoln, that shit was ON. And now, at long last, the time has come to finally do a thing that I’m sure at least seventy people on the World Wide Web haven’t already done: I’m going to watch it all and tell you about it.


Optimus Prime vs. Megatron“I know it was you, Prime. You broke my heart.”

We start our journey into a world of giant, exploding robots with a three-part miniseries, that I’m pretty sure also served as the pilot. And man, there’s the thing right there. It’s the origin story. And origin stories almost always suck, especially in a kid’s cartoon, because there’s way more “origin” than “story,” so you’ve got thirty (or ninety, in this case) minutes of “okay, we have to mention everyone by name, and if they have a particular special ability or job, we have to mention it at least once.” I swear, it seemed like any time two Transformers would talk to each other, they’d have to call the other one by his full name, even if they had already done so in the sentence right before that. So man, even someone with my superhuman powers of nostalgia can get a little bit annoyed with how this episode played sometimes.

Anyway, for a brief summary of the episode: Autobots and Decepticons live on the planet Cybertron, where the Decepticons are all about killing them some Autobots. They’ve been warring their asses off for literally millions of years, so the planet’s pretty much been sucked dry of its resources, so the Autobots go looking for more. The Decepticons chase them, they fight, and both space ships end up crashing on Earth, where EVERYONE DIES. Eventually, a volcano erupts, which wakes up the space ship four million years after the crash, and the fancy computers on board rebuild everybody on the ship into ROBOTS IN DISGUISE.  The Decepticons start wrecking shit to steal all the Earth’s energy, so they can get back to Cybertron and rule the universe, and the Autobots must stop them. Along the way, they save a couple of Earth dudes, who decide that the Autobots are totally chillin’, and they hang out with them for basically the rest of their lives. Then, the episode ends.

FOUR MILLION YEARS LATERNOTES: (some even made on actual paper, like  real people used to do)

– The series opens with narration by Victor Caroli, which is the best kind of narration there is. Like seriously, if they had used him as the Official Movie Trailer Guy when the “In a world…” guy died, I might actually have started going to movies sometimes.

– In the flashback parts showing the Transformers back on Cybertron, they couldn’t exactly show them looking like a bunch of Volkswagens and F-18s, and the results are pretty dumb. They all turn into futuristic spaced-out vehicles, that just happen to have all the elements of their later Earth modes visible somewhere. Like Bumblebee (who, of course, lives out in space where THERE ARE NO FUCKING BUMBLE BEES) turns into this crazy space-car thing, who just happens to have the same roof as a VW Bug, and his feet end up shaped just like the hood of one. Yeah. Also, Wheeljack got  totally gypped on his future space car mode, and looks like some weird cross between one of those boxy Star Trek shuttle craft things, and some creepy guy’s rape van.

“One megamile to go.” To make it sound like these are dudes from space with different measures of time and distance, they use words like this, and it’s so dumb.

– When the Autobots and Decepticons get all hand-to-hand combatty on the space ship, Ironhide straight drop-kicks a dude, like he’s Bret “The Hitman” Hart or something. Leave it to the one overtly southern Transformer to assemble his fighting style from rasslin’ moves.

“My time will come, Megatron.” Starscream has to be the worst usurper in the history of usurpation. Instead of using cunning and charisma to undermine his leader, which is the way I’ve always done it, he’ll just roll up in Megatron’s face and be like “I’m gonna kill you and take over someday, yo.” But then again, with how many times Megatron –  allegedly the ruthless brutal tyrant of the sort who would just crush any uprising –  just sort of threatens him but otherwise lets that crap slide, can you blame him? If I was Megatron, I would have killed Starscream so hard, man.

– JESUS CHRIST, THIS CARTOON SERIES OPENS UP WITH EVERYONE DYING. That is rawer than Emmett Otter’s Jug Band Christmas, even. I know, granted, the ship eventually rebuilds them all with shiny new Earth modes, but holy crap, to the still-forming mind of a five year old, getting all excited about a new cartoon about your favorite toys and then seeing them all ripped to pieces like ten minutes in had to be the kind of thing that created at least a couple serial killers. Also, not get ahead of myself here, but in Transformers: The Movie, they spend a good fifty percent of the movie just killing off anyone and everyone who had a toy released in 1984 or 1985. My question is that if the Autobot space shuttle that’s crashed into the volcano is there there and still operational, why not just load all those dudes up in there and let it rebuild them again? But perhaps I’m overthinking things a bit. Also, when Optimus Prime gets resurrected, he immediately stands up and yells “Thanks!” at the computer, and that was just silly as hell.

OH NO SOMETHING HAS STARTLED ME SO HARD THAT MY HARD HAT FLEW RIGHT OFF– To the Japanese folks who made this show, all Americans work in the oil or construction indistries, and they all wear the exact same outfit, complete with hard hats, tool belts, big yellow rubber boots, and buttoned-down 1970s butterfly collars. Also, whoever wrote this episode has no real concept of a manual labor job, because at one point, Spike (one of the humans that ends up chilling with the Autobots for the next twenty years) tells Sparkplug (his dad), “I’ll go get the baler,” as though a baler is a tool than you can go grab, and not a stationary piece of machinery that weighs thousands of pounds and is of little use on an off shore oil platform.

– The Autobot named Grapple shows up for like five seconds, and has no lines, but they totally call him by the name “Hauler,” for some reason. It really bothers me that I both noticed this and also felt it necessary to tell you people about it.

what the hell– When Skywarp uses the Decepticon dudes that turn into a camera to spy on the Autobots, the camera-dude really spits out an actual Polaroid damn photo. I know, this was made before the digital camera was a thing, but really? Really?

tiny megatronTIMES THIS EPISODE PISSED IN THE FACE OF SCIENCE: ONE – This was an astoundingly low number compared to what I thought there would be, but it was still there, when Megatron transforms into a handgun and suddenly goes from being the biggest dude on his side to being small enough to held, like a… uh… handgun. I’m going to try to resist the urge to mention every single times this happens in every single episode, but between Megatron’s gun mode and Soundwave’s boom box mode, this happens in every single episode. It boggles my mind to wonder how many hours of deep, intensive thinking that the writers could have saved the Aspergers-riddled Transformers online fanbase if they had just come up with any kind of explanation to the size-changing thing, the “their weapons literally appear in their hands out of thin air” thing, and the question of where Prime’s trailer goes when he’s in robot mode.

megatron enjoys killingPROBABLE REALISTIC HUMAN CASUALTIES: 119, give or take a few – This is the most disturbing part of watching an old action-based cartoon, because once you’re an adult and actually think about the consequences of things, it becomes pretty apparent that a war between two small armies of giant robots would constantly be murdering humans all over the place. So here’s what we’ve got:
Ravage pounces the shit out of two construction worker guys about halfway in, and while they do hop in their truck and escape, realistically, these guys would have been utterly screwed had it just been a regular panther, and screwed ten thousand fold against a giant robotic panther. So those two guys are dead right there. Later, Spike and Sparkplug get straight assaulted by Rumble, and while Rumble is a little dude by Transformer standards, he’s still have a few feet, a couple tons of weight, and several thousand pounds per square inch of punching power over the average human. So that’s two more bodies on the pile. Of course, this is happening while the Decepticons launch a full-scale assault on an offshore drilling platform, which ends up utterly exploded and destroyed by the end of the fight, and with that many missiles and laser beams hitting that much flammable material, it’s pretty safe to assume that the rig would be a total loss, workers included. And the internet tells me that a drilling platform usually has between 90 and 140 workers at any given time, so split the difference, and there’s another 115 charred, broken corpses. Transformers is the rawest show of all time.

NEXT TIME: “More Than Meets the Eye, Part Two,” wherein we get the first appearance of POWER CRYSTALS.