"Bumblebee" Movie Callbacks (SPOILER ALERT)
The sixth entry into the live action Transformers movie is a very different movie than previous entries. This time out, the focus is largely on Bumblebee and his battle to save Earth shortly after his arrival. Mixed in is a heartfelt story about his friendship with his human friend, Charlie Watson. This movie also differs from previous films in that it does not seek to heavily reinterpret the source material. Instead, "Bumblebee" leans into its Generation One roots while blending in elements of the live action movie franchise. After a few viewings, I have assembled the list of these callbacks below. Before you proceed, please note that there are SPOILERS AHEAD. I recommend you do not read this list until you have seen the film.
Before we dive into the list, I will provide a bit of SPOILER SPACE by inserting the trailer for the movie below:
The film opens on the planet Cybertron, and its appearance has changed dramatically from the previous films. Instead of a world with hexagon shaped patterns all over its surface or spiked towers rising into the skies, the design has very futuristic looking buildings lit up with tons of windows. Criss crossing across the surface are walk ways. Cybertron's dark surface is lit by light that seems to be coming out from the inside of the planet. These are all details inspired by Cybertron's appearance in the G1 cartoon, making this the most "G1 accurate" Cybertron on the big screen to date.
Even better? When we pan out and see the entire planet you will notice a big chunk missing from the planet at the bottom. This is based on Cybertron's appearance in the G1 cartoon where it was missing a piece towards the bottom!
2. Fall of Cybertron
The opening battle sequence features several characters who are not only inspired by G1 characters, but look like them as well! On the Autobot side we see Ratchet, Wheeljack, Arcee, Brawn, Cliffjumper, Optimus Prime and of course, Bumblebee himself. All their designs are heavily based on the G1 versions of the characters. Wheeljack has the big "ears" on the sides of his head, Arcee has her distinctive round panels on the sides of her "helmet" section and Brawn is stocky with a significant "back pack". The Decepticons are headlined by Shockwave, Soundwave and Starscream along with a pile of Seekers. Among them are Thundercracker and Skywarp along with the "Coneheads". Since the Seeker design is the same basic CG model, the animators were able to reuse it over and over, offering lots of generic troops for the Autobots to destroy. Even better? The Seekers retain their "Tetrajet" forms as see in the G1 cartoon's premier episode "More than Meets the Eye"!
During the opening battle, a lot happens very quickly. Wheeljack was partly chosen to appear because he was one of the first Autobots we met in the G1 premiere "More than Meets the Eye" according to director, Travis Knight. Brawn is (reportedly) destroyed by a blast near his shoulder as a homage to the 1986 movie where that character was killed off. Also, Optimus Prime launches into the air in a tribute to his iconic battle scene at Autobot City in the 1986 film.
When the Autobots make it to the platform to get into their escape pods, we get a very clear shot of Ironhide sitting down into a pod and launching into space, looking very boxy with a window in his chest, just like the G1 animation model. However, one callback escaped my notice all three times I saw the film. According to director, Travis Knight, in the background of that scene is Teletraan-1, based on the computer that was aboard The Ark in the G1 cartoon and comic books. Sadly, that likely means the computer was destroyed in the battle. The live action universe is a rough place, people.
3. Bumblebee's Design
If you are going to name a movie "Bumblebee", then it pays to pack as much character history as you can into his design. When we first meet Bumblebee on Cybertron, his vehicle mode resembles the 2010 "War for Cybertron" Bumblebee, looking like a curved, sleek and futuristic car. Once he arrives on Earth and takes on his Volkswagon Beetle alt-mode, this is of course a reference to the original G1 Bumblebee's vehicle mode.
Bumblebee's head design is clearly based on his previous live action movie appearances, but his "Battle Mask", which slides down over his face during combat (or when he analyzes something) appears to be heavily based on his G1 toy's face. This includes the "Y" shaped clear panel and if his ears are sticking up, he really looks like the G1 toy's head has been brought into the live action world.
Bumblebee retains a couple of elements from his previous live action appearances. His right arm can still transform into a cannon and his car doors wind up as "wings" on his back. Meanwhile in vehicle mode, the steering wheel has an Autobot symbol on it. Of course, by the end of the film he scans and takes on the form of a classic Camaro (in pristine condition) hinting that he retails this form until the 2007 movie.
When the Transformers arrive on Earth in this film, they all come in as a feiry ball crashing into the surface with a bang. We see this early on when Bumblebee arrives (and sends a group of Sector 7 soldiers flying). Shatter, Dropkick and other characters repeat this later on, showing it is the "standard" way for Transformers to arrive on another world. This is the same method used by the Autobots when they arrive on Earth in the 2007 film.
5. Alternate Modes
During the course of this movie we see Bumblebee perform a scan for two different alternate modes (first a Jeep, then a Volkswagon Beetle). Later, we also see Shatter and Dropkick add to their transformations by scanning a jet fighter and helicopter respectively. This method of scanning alternate modes goes all the way back to Generation One when Teletraan-1 sent out a probe to scan Earth vehicles before repairing The Ark's passengers. Over the years this method has been been used a few times (including the Stasis Pods from "Beast Wars").
6. Charlie's Garage
Shortly after finding Bumblebee in Hank's Marine Repair lot, Charlie performs some repairs on the vehicle to get it started. She then brings him home to her garage unaware of the true nature of the vehicle. When a part falls off and she begins to examine the vehicle's inner workings, its true nature shows itself as Bumblebee. This entire sequence is very reminiscent of the way Bumblebee met Buster and Sparkplug Witwicky in the Generation One Marvel Comic Books. There, Bumblebee was wounded in battle and managed to get Buster home to his father's garage in time for his father to perform repairs. Once Bumblebee was able he transformed and revealed himself to the humans. This may have been an unintentional callback, but the parallels are striking.
7. Transformation Sound
For Old Skool Transformers sounds, there is perhaps no sound as distinctive in all of Transformers history as the original Generation One transformation sound. This very distinctive sequence of sounds has been reused in almost every incarnation of Transformers for thirty years. The sound has been used in previous live action films (usually as part of a transformation sequence) and the tradition continues with "Bumblebee". You can hear it very clearly at several points in the film, including when Bumblebee transforms his arm into a cannon.
8. Fall of Cybertron - Part 2
During the second Cybertron flashback sequence, we see Optimus Prime battling Decepticons again but more importantly we get to see Soundwave execute on of his most famous moves: ejecting one of his "cassette force" from his chest! He commands Ravage to eject and the fierce robotic feline (not a dog) attacks Optimus Prime with abandon. You do not have to be a hardcore fan to enjoy this scene. It is a thrilling sequence that serves as a fun action sequence and pays homage to an aspect of Generation One that has permeated pop culture over the past three decades.
9. Sector 7
One of the strongest links between this film and previous live action films is the involvement of Sector 7. This mysterious agency was first introduced in the 2007 live action film. Assuming this film is indeed a prequel and not a reboot, we can infer a lot from Sector 7's existence. First off, this would mean during the events of this movie S7 has Megatron's body frozen and hidden away. This also means they have the Allspark (which is not mentioned at all in "Bumblebee"). Helping to solidify the connection, when we visit the Sector 7 computer control center, the symbol on the floor is modeled after the S7 symbol used for the 2007 film.
In a fun cameo that further solidifies the connection to previous films, we are also introduced to a young Agent Simmons (played by Nick Pilla) who would go on to be both a protagonist and antagonist in future live action Transformers adventures (where he was played by John Turturro).
The "Bumblebee" Movie score is composed by Dario Marianelli but several sections of the music were borrowed from Steve Jablonsky's score for the 2007 movie. From the "Bumblebee" score, "Shutdown" has elements of "Sector 7" from the 2007 score and "A Diving Volunteer" has elements of "Witwicky" from the 2007 score.
Of course, the music cue which will cause the biggest reaction is a brief use of Stan Bush's "The Touch" from the 1986 "Transformers: The Movie" soundtrack! Bumblebee uses a clip from the song when trying to inspire Charlie to meet a challenge and it makes for a fun scene that pays homage to one of the most memorable parts of the 1986 movie.
11. Mighty Robots...GoBots!
In one "blink and you'll miss it" callback to tue 80's, Memo (played by Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) is walking out of his house reading a magazine. He quickly tosses it away when he sees Charlie. The magazine in question has a "GoBots" logo on the cover! In the 80's, GoBots were considered competition for the Transformers toy line. This is funny in two ways. First, it acknowledges that in this world stories are published about robots that turn into vehicles, so the concept is not totally alien to our characters. Second, since the 80's, Hasbro wound up owning the GoBots intellectual property so it shows which line ultimately "won" the competition between the two brands.
12. Help me Bumblebee, you're our only hope
When Charlie is helping Bumblebee with some repairs, she accidentally activates a hologram of Optimus Prime delivering a message. This sequence is very reminiscent of a scene in "Star Wars: A New Hope" where Luke Skywalker is fiddling with a part on R2-D2 when suddenly a hologram of Princess Leia appears appealing for his help. This may have been an unintentional homage, but given the prominence of "Star Wars" in the 80's I would not be surprised if this was deliberate.
13. Robots in Disguise
At one point Charlie is talking to Bumblebee and asks if his Volkswagon Beetle form is some time of "disguise". This is a clear callback to the G1 tag line referring to the Transformers as "Robots in Disguise".
14. Don't you forget about me
While sitting in Charlie's garage, Bumblebee watches "The Breakfast Club", an iconic 1980's film. At the end of the film, actor Judd Nelson pumps a fist into the air as "Don't you (forget about me)" by Simple Minds plays. Bumblebee adopts this fist pump and it makes for a very cute moment. However, there is an Easter Egg in here that is extra fun. Judd Nelson played the character of Hot Rod in the 1986 "Transformers: The Movie" theatrical film. He would go on to play the character again in the "Power of the Primes" cartoon in 2018. This is a fun double reference, calling back to the 80's (when the Transformers brand exploded onto the pop culture scene) and an actor who has a history with the franchise.
While working together with Shatter and Dropkick, Sector 7 develops a way to track Transformers using their "Energon" signature. The term "Energon" goes back to G1 where it was described as the primary power source for Transformers.
16. Alternate Transformation
After trashing Charlie's house and being scolded, Bumblebee is taken back to the garage but his full robot form does not allow him to lumber around. Instead he only partially transforms, taking on a two wheeled form that recalls other Transformers characters such as "Beast Machines" Rattrap, Fixit from "Robots in Disguise" and more recently Sqweeks from "The Last Knight".
17. Memo's Posters
In Memo's room we get to see a few posters on his wall. Among them is one for "Raiders of the Lost Ark". This film was directed by the legendary Steven Spielberg who would go on to be a producer on the first five live action Transformers films. This might have been a tip of the hat to Spielberg as he is not a producer on this film.
On another wall in Memo's room is, what appears to be a poster of the Tom Baker version of Dr. Who. The poster is blurry and they never focus on it, but the character's iconic long scarf is clearly seen along with his distinct hair. So what does this have to do with Transformers? Well, in the Marvel comic books from the 1980's, the character "Death's Head" (a bounty hunter who didn't like to be called one) met a version of the Dr. Who character (specifically the Seventh Doctor). Death's Head would later go on to be involved in adventures with the Transformers, tangling with characters such as Scourge and Cyclonus. I am 99.999% sure this was not an intentional Easter Egg for the film, but it is funny how certain corners of Transformers history come twisting around, isn't it?
18. Dropkick Battle
When Bumblebee takes on Dropkick towards the end of the movie, there is some really amazing fight choreography between the two. Moves are borrowed from different sources but one move in particular goes all the way back to the beginning of Generation One. In one key scene, Bumblebee goes flying in the air in robot mode, transforms in mid-air, lands in vehicle mode, then arcs around. Using the momentum he has built up, he launches himself into the air, transforms and punches Dropkick hard! This is a homage to a scene from the opening credits of Generation One's first season where Skywarp and Jazz wind up performing almost exactly the same moves.
19. Keep on truckin'
At the very end of the film, Bumblebee leaves Charlie to meet up with none other than Optimus Prime himself! However, unlike previous films where Optimus Prime was a long nosed truck of some sort, Optimus' vehicle mode is a Freightliner style truck with a flat front end. Even better? He is pulling along a grey trailer with a distinctive, angled grey stripe running along the middle! This design is based on his appearance in the G1 toy line and animated series. To add a touch of realism (and "disguise"), the Autobot symbol normally seen on the sides of the vehicle do not appear on the CG model.
20. Returning Actors
Several voice actors in this film have been part of Transformers history. Here's a rundown:
- Peter Cullen: The original Generation One Optimus Prime voice actors returns for his sixth live action outing as the iconic Autobot leader.
- David Sobolov: Sobolov was introduced to Transformers fans during "Beast Wars" where he played Depth Charge. Since then he went on to portray Shockwave in "Transformers: Prime". In this film he plays the bombastic Decepticon, Blitzwing.
- Steve Blum: Blum is best remembered in the Transformers universe as Starscream in "Transformers: Prime", delivering a performance that was different from Chris Latta's G1 Starscream but just as memorable. He reprised this role in the "Robots in Disguise" series. Younger Transformers fans may know him as Heatwave from "Rescue Bots".
- John Bailey: Bailey is no stranger to Transformers, having been a long time fan. More recently, he was the voice of Optimus Prime in the "Combiner Wars" cartoon.
While these are the callbacks, references and Easter Eggs I found, there are probably even more! If you know of others, head on over to Facebook to chat about it!