Movies: "The Transformers: The Movie" 1986 35th Anniversary Retrospective


August 8, 2021 represents the 35th Anniversary of The Transformers: The Movie feature film debuting in theaters.  Aside from making me feel tremendously ancient, this anniversary also has me in a reflective mood and I thought I would take a walk down memory lane.

My first exposure to The Transformers: The Movie  was a table set up at a Creation Convention in Anaheim, CA in June of 1986 (you can read an old article about this con here).  Upon walking into the dealer's room, one of the first tables I came across was a (rather bored looking) gentleman with a small TV set up on his table just playing the trailer for the film on repeat.  In front of him were small xerox copies of the movie poster (I recall taking at least two).  What I did not understand at the time is that the trailer being shown was not exactly representative of what I would see in the film.  The trailer he was playing was the early trailer which featured animation not used in the film including a huge shot of Metroplex in "battle station" mode and Ultra Magnus in his Diaclone colors (who we call Delta Magnus nowadays).  For the uninitiated you can see the trailer below (via The Spacebridge on Youtube):

As you can imagine, my young brain exploded repeatedly watching this trailer.  I had no idea who some of the characters were, but they looked cool.  And watching Lithone get devoured, I thought I was seeing the destruction of Cybertron.  I even asked the rep "Is that Cybertron?!" and he nodded in a very nonchalant way.  I also freaked out over seeing Metroplex transforming and Slammer making an appearance.  I easily stood there watching the trailer at least four times before my mother dragged me away.
Theatrical Release
For the next couple of months you can imagine I was dying to see the film.  However, when the time finally came for the film's release, none of the adults in my life would take me to see it.  When my Uncle and his girlfriend at the time offered to take me to see a movie, I begged to see Transformers but instead they took me to see AliensTransformers was playing at the same theater and I have a very distinct memory of looking into the theater playing it and seeing the end credits (with Unicron's head in clear view) playing.  I remember a very distinct feeling of sadness at that moment.
Weeks later however I finally got my chance.  At the time I lived in Brooklyn, NY and the Marboro Theater was still in operation and playing the film!  A group of my friends and I went to see the film weeks after its release, and as so many fans experienced at the time, my mind was completely blown.  While years later I would understand the production realities behind this film, at the time I found myself wondering where the likes of Omega Supreme and Superion were as I watched Autobot city get completely thrashed by the Deceptions (inversely I wondered why they didn't bring Bruticus or Menasor with them).  The idea of Unicron "reformatting" (not a term at the time in TF lore) Megatron and co. into Galvatron and his warriors was also revolutionary and began a process of making me rethink how Transformers stories work.  This process continues to this day with each new reboot (or alt universe) telling of Transformers lore. 
The Transformers The Movie (1986) Poster
It was also quite the challenge to suddenly reorient my focus character-wise.  My mainstays of Optimus Prime, Megatron, Bumblebee and gang were no longer the focus of the tale.  Instead, it was a whole new generation of characters.  Nowadays this is old hat, with many new Transformers stories bringing the focus on characters other than Optimus Prime and Megatron, but back then this was a huge change and it was one that admittedly took me years to get used to.
Comic Books
The movie theater was not the only way to experience the film however.  In time I would pick up a comic book adaptation of the film by Marvel Comics.  While this was released in three parts in the United States, my first exposure to it was actually a combined edition from the UK (cover image below from the Transformers Wiki):
Many film adaptations (be they comic books or novelizations) are often based on earlier version of the script than what we see on screen in theaters.  The result of this timing is that sometimes adaptations give you a peek into what was meant to be but changed before final production.  When it comes to Transformers: The Movie, some of these changes really stood out for me.  While the film seems to point towards Autobot City being Metroplex (especially with the appearance of Slammer), the adaptation names the city "Fortress Maximus", a name which would later be used for the Headmaster Autobot City.  Other differences included the Matrix being a green, crystal/rock like ball (instead of the ball with handles) and the Kranix being able to transform into a vehicle instead of getting into one as he does in the film.  While the G1 Marvel Comic book was set in a different continuity than the cartoon, I always found these differences significant as they were meant to represent the same story.

Home Release
In September of 1987 the film was released on home video by F.H.E.  Unlike nowadays, home releases of movies were not inexpensive back then, and while I do not recall the actual price I know it was well out of range of what my younger self could afford.  A friend of mine wound up making a bootleg of his own copy and it became my most played VHS tape at the time.  No kidding, for several months not one day went by where I did not play the movie at least once!   There are perhaps only a handful of films that I have seen as many times as this one thanks to this old bootleg copy.
Fast forward a couple decades and I would have the privilege of having worked on the 20th Anniversary release of the film on DVD (you can read an Orlando Sentinel review of it here).  Through connections at Hasbro, Sony found their way to me and I attended several calls discussing the discs and their contents.  The two things I'm most proud of are the Unicron graphic on the discs (where his maw is the hold at the center of the DVD) and the "Autobot Matrix of Knowledge" which showed factoids about the movie "Pop Up Video" style.  I have fond memories of creating a spreadsheet with time stamps of the film and the factoids that would pop up in those parts.  Sadly that spreadsheet was lost years ago but you can find the results on the DVD set.  It should be noted that other fans including Karl Hartman and Rik Alvarez also contributed to this set.  It was a true group effort.
After our work on the discs were done, Sony was kind enough to put together autographed plaques for us!  These included autographs from folks who worked on the film and a kind thank you message.  It is one of my most treasured Transformers artifacts.  You can see it hanging on my wall below:
In a related note, I would be remiss if I did not link to the scans I recently posted of a Press Kit for the 1986 film.  I purchased this off ebay and now the materials are available for all to see right here!
Now during its 35th Anniversary the power of this film cannot be denied.  To many fans it still represents a major turning point in their Transformers experience and a must see.  This year is seeing a new 4K release of the film and several characters from the film have been integrated into the Studio Series toy line including the amazing Voyager Class Hot Rod.  To this day, Transformers: The Movie remains one of my most cherished aspects of my Transformers experience.