Tag Archives: Optimus Prime

My Love/Hate Relationship with Transformers: The Movie

In honor of the 30th anniversary of Transformers: The Movie, which premiered in U.S. theatres in August of 1986, I thought I would comment on what was simultaneously one of the fanboy landmarks of my childhood AND perhaps the movie that scarred me the most as a kid. No really, the emotional scar tissue is still there. First world problems, yeah?


I mean, what’s the worst that could happen?

If you’ve been with me on this blog for any length of time, you know that I love Gen 1 Transformers. It is both my favorite toy line of all time as well as my favorite ‘80s cartoon. Of course, the cynical adult side of me sees the cartoon for what it was: a half-hour commercial designed to sell more toys. But there’s also the kid in me that remembers when I could come home from school to be greeted by Prime, Bumblebee, Jazz, Hound, Prowl, and the irascible Ironhide. They were friends of mine, and in my mind’s eye I rode shotgun with them through a hundred adventures.

I remember well when I first saw the teasers for Transformers: The Movie. It looked incredible, with some of the slickest animation Sunbow has ever produced. “Two years in the making,” the TV spots proclaimed, “an incredible adventure and spectacular wide-screen animation with an original story that will shock and surprise you!”

Boy, did they have that right.

Before we get to the crying-so-hard-I-had-to-be-taken-out-of-the-theatre part, there are some things I genuinely love about this movie. Let me spell those out first.


I may or may not have a replica of this sitting on my writing desk.

1.) The Lore – In the comics, the Matrix of Leadership was just a computer program in Prime’s head. The movie is where we first see the iconic, semi-mystical talisman, and find that the one who carries it is the anointed Prime, AND that it has a will and power of its own. Throw on top of that the Universal Greeting (say it with me: Bah-weep-grah-na-weep-ninni-bong), Unicron the Chaosbringer, Autobot City, and the saying ‘Till All Are One! We meet the Quintessons for the first time, along with the Junkions and the ill-fated Lithonians. The Transformers universe expanded well out of its TV cartoon roots with this movie.



2.) The Soundtrack/ScoreYou got the Touch! You got the Pow-wwwwer! Yeaaah! From the mindblowing hard-rock reimagining of the main theme by Lion, to both of Stan Bush’s classic TF anthems (The Touch and Dare), this soundtrack is great throughout every track. At times it almost gives the movie a kind of Heavy Metal feel to it. That’s Heavy Metal in a ‘one-way ticket to midnight’ kind of way with rock paired with animation. There’s also Nothin’s Gonna Stand in Our Way, Hunger, and Instrument of Destruction. And did I mention that Weird Al Yankovic has a spot on this album? That’s right, Dare to be Stupid. And my hat’s off to Vince DiCola on his scoring the movie itself. It really added some emotional weight to a certain scene I’ve yet to discuss.


The man himself.

3.) The Voice Cast – I met Peter Cullen once at a convention. It was less than a minute, and I was just one fan out of a hundred waiting to get something signed. Even though it was only a few seconds of my life, I will remember it always. Always. These names, now so familiar, like: Scatman Crothers, Jack Angel, Chris Latta, Frank Welker, and many others, are the ones who really brought the characters to life with their voice work. This dream team of actors was then joined by the likes of Eric Idle, Robert Stack, Susan Blue, Leonard Nimoy, and friggin’ Orson Welles as the voice of Unicron. I think even the much-maligned Judd Nelson did a fine job as Hot Rod and Rodimus. All those talents under one roof…it’s amazing.


Gorgeous. Simply Gorgeous.

4.) The Animation – Once again, this is some of the most beautiful animation that Sunbow ever created. The coloration, the cell-shading, the grace with which characters move through the frame, all of it is beautiful. The characters seem to take on a new life and vitality, and look better here than just about anywhere outside of Transformers: Retribution.

And here are the parts that left their mark on me as a child:


Pretty much the look on my face, too.

1.) The Casual Deaths of Supporting Characters – The first scene, the destruction and subsequent consumption of Lithone, really set the tone for the movie. But then we get the credits sequence, and we’re back to the Autobots that we know and love. Previously, we’ve seen the Autobots get hurt or shot up, but they were all better by the end of the episode. The one ‘perma-death’ they had in the cartoon, Skyfire, was later undone by Wheeljack and an ice jackhammer.

I still remember the battle on the Autobot starship. Prowl, one of my favorite characters, takes a direct hit in the opening shots. Fire comes out of his eyes and mouth, and he falls over dead.

Let me say that again: Fire came out of his eyes and mouth.

I remember trying to explain why I was so upset by this to my mom and she didn’t get it. She thought that was just one of his special features or powers, like he had fire breath or heat-ray eyes or something. Nope, that was the Autobot version of blood coming out of his mouth before he died.



But it didn’t stop there. In a scene that takes less than a minute of screen time, we see Ratchet riddled with holes and die, Ironhide is given a contemptuous coup de grace by Megatron, and Brawn charge the Decepticons only to take a hit in the shoulder and fall, presumably finished off afterwards (though he does make an appearance in Season Three, so perhaps not all was lost.) In a word: Brutal.

Then we get to Autobot City. We see RC dragging the corpse of Windcharger, which she dumps next to poor old Wheeljack. We don’t even know how they died. We don’t see them make some heroic sacrifice or stand their ground against impossible odds. We just see their dead bodies, discarded and sad. By this point in the movie, Kid-Matt was mighty uncomfortable with how things were going in that movie theatre in Athens, Texas. But none of those deaths prepared me for the emotional gut-punch of what was to come.

Death of Prime

Worst. Marketing. Decision. EVER.

2.)  The Death of Optimus Prime – Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, shall we? Remember those TV spots I mentioned? Well, as an adjunct, there was a Transformers toy commercial tie-in. It featured Frank Welker in his Megatron voice introducing the heinous Galvatron toy, and Peter Cullen’s Prime introducing Ultra Magnus. At the end, there’s a movie tag that shows Optimus being shot up pretty badly and the announcer asks “Does Prime die?” I remember watching that in my grandfather’s living room and thinking, “Naah, they’d never kill off Optimus Prime.”


But, as Kid-Matt watched several of his favorite bots terminated with extreme prejudice, a gnawing suspicion began to dawn that his favorite of favorite characters was about to go down. We get the glorious fight with Megatron, Prime at his fighting best, and then the idiot Hot Rod gets in the way. Way to go. Perhaps just saying “Hey, watch out! He’s reaching for a gun! Shoot him!” would have been better, yeah?


Way to go, Hot Rod. Tool.

But with one final, mighty uppercut, Prime ends Megatron’s reign of tyranny before collapsing. As Kup says, he turned the tide in the deadliest battle us little’uns had ever seen these characters fight. Not content with that, the sadistic bastards making this movie make us watch as Prime slowly slips away on life support to a musical score that STILL hurts to listen to. He gives the Matrix to Ultra Magnus, tells us not to grieve, and then the bright blue light fades from his eyes. And in case that wasn’t enough to show us that Prime is finally, irrevocably dead, we see his iconic red and blue color drain away to a grey-black, and then his head lolls to the side.


😥 *buckets*

At this point, my godmother had to take me into the hall because I was crying so hard. Like snot-coming- out-of-my-nose-with-my-bottom-lip-quivering-uncontrollably kind of crying. I missed the next 10 minutes of the movie, and didn’t see that part until a few years later when I chanced to watch it again on VHS.

So, seeing my favorite childhood character die hurt pretty bad, but what hurt worse was when I learned the real reason that had Prime died. Hasbro wasn’t going to sell the Optimus toy the next season. They were clearing the way for new characters to sit on the shelves, and killing them off in the story was the perfect way to get them out of the way and explain their absence at the storefront.




Even as a kid, I knew that the cartoon was just a way to promote sales, but I was okay with it because I was already sold on the toys. But to cynically kill off a fan favorite just because he wasn’t being sold anymore? What. The. Hell? Worse, this set the precedent for Prime dying in other interpretations of the character. Revenge of the Fallen, anyone? Transformers: Prime?

But in a twist of what I guess is karma, I wasn’t the only kid who had a freakout moment in the theatre. Lots of parents complained, and there was so much fan outrage over Prime’s death that Hasbro brought him back six months later in the two-part episode aptly named The Return of Optimus Prime. Of course, that was right as Transformers as a cartoon was sinking into the morass of “Seasons” 4 & 5, but at least Hasbro did the right thing in the end.

But the scars remain. #thankshasbro

3.) A Whole New Cast – Take a look at the official movie poster. Go ahead, take a look.


Despite it all, I have this framed.

Notice anything? If you aren’t familiar with the characters, here’s a hint: All of them are new. Every character displayed here, with the exception of what might be Laserbeak in the background, is first introduced to American audiences in this movie. I remember seeing this poster hanging in the lobby of the movie theatre and wondering why Bumblebee, Prime, Jazz, Prowl, and the others weren’t on it. Sure, these new guys looked cool, but who were they?

So, if you had been watching the cartoon for two years, and then went into the movie thinking the main story would revolve around those guys (as I naturally assumed it would), that’s a negatory, Ghostrider. Only the Dinobots play any significant role, and live. Old characters die and are replaced, or are reborn as other characters, complete with new voice actors. It’s a bit of a cinematic bait-and-switch when you think about it, like going into the next Avengers movie to find that all the main heroes have been replaced with Squadron Supreme. Nothing against Squadron Supreme, but that wasn’t exactly what I thought I was getting.


Eh, not so much.

4.) Rodimus Prime – To be fair, Optimus Prime is a tough act to follow. But since Prime dies, the Powers-That-Be apparently had to have another Prime. Instead of picking Ultra Magnus, who shares a lot in common with Prime, including a fancy name made up of superlatives, and an identical base toy, the Matrix instead goes for the punk kid, Hot Rod. Because…reasons. There is an admittedly cool transformation scene where we see Rodimus grow in size and the ghostly voice of Optimus saying, “Arise, Rodimus Prime.” He quickly kicks Galvatron’s butt and goes on to declare an end to the Great War. Roll credits.

But then we get Season 3 of the cartoon, now with the new guys in lead roles, with little of the old guard remaining. Rodimus is now the Autobot Supreme Commander, and it’s clear that he’s no Optimus Prime, either in the strength of his leadership abilities, his ability to inspire others, or his lackluster combat skills (especially compared to Galvatron who seems waaaaay more powerful by comparison). Worse yet, Rodimus knows he’s not nearly the leader that Optimus was. And he’s right, he isn’t. So it goes.


I much prefer this version, even if it’s a tad misleading. I also have this one framed.


As you can see there’s a lot to love and hate about this movie. In only 86 minutes, it embodies both the best and worst of what Transformers had to offer in the 1980s: callous disregard for what fans wanted based off of changes in a toy line, mixed with incredible jumps forward in the universe of Transformers, given to us with animation that looks like visual candy.

So, when it comes to the cinematic vomit/explosion orgy offered up in the new series of Transformers movies, I honestly can’t say that Michael Bay is stepping all over my childhood. Transformers: The Movie did that during my childhood. And yet, there’s still a part of me that can’t help but smile when I hear Stan Bush belt out The Touch.

An Open Letter to Michael Bay From a Humble Fanboy:

[My blog has been on semi-hiatus the last few months as I finish up on one novel and begin another. This Fourth of July weekend I saw Transformers: Age of Extinction, which prompted me to reopen my blog for this letter.]

Dear Mr. Bay,

First off, let me congratulate you on an incredible opening weekend for your recent film, Transformers: Age of Extinction. In less than a week, the movie has made over $128 million dollars. I’d say you’re on target to shatter all manner of box office records and sit astride the top-earning slot of this year’s summer blockbuster season.

Which is why we’ve really got to talk.

Now, this isn’t an angry letter. No, sir. Anger implies a burning rage, and a fiery lack of rational understanding. No, after watching TF:AOE, I’m cold. Oh so cold.

Before I get into the nuts and bolts of this letter, I must first make an admission: Your movies are my guilty pleasure. Say what you will about their plot, story, and intrinsic artistic value – your visuals are spectacular. You constantly push the envelope of movie-making technology to produce films that are breathtaking. No one can make explosions looks as beautiful as you on screen. I mean that. Truly.


I can say without hesitation, and greatest conviction, that TF:AOE is your worst film to date. Perhaps my criticisms (to follow) are better suited to one of the other Executive Producers of the film, or perhaps the screenwriter, or indeed anyone involved with the movie’s creative direction, but seeing as how you are the Director, the proverbial Captain of this ship, the responsibility is ultimately yours.

Simply put, I’m a fan of Transformers, and have been since my childhood. I could elaborate on the various expressions of this fandom, but in the interests of brevity let me say that it will be hard for you to find a person who loves this property more than I do. When I heard back in 2006 that you were helming the first Transformers film, I was cautiously optimistic about it. You are, after all, on the short-list of action directors capable of turning out a blockbuster of this magnitude. Since my first brush with your take on the franchise, however, there have been some trouble spots.

I suffered through Bumblebee urinating on John Turturro in the first installment. I gritted my teeth in the second movie as we saw that Devastator was anatomically correct. I even kept my composure during the barren cinematic landscape of Dark of the Moon. And yet, call me sentimental, but there were shining moments in that trilogy that gave me hope, that kept bringing me back into the theatre in 2009 and 2011, like an abusive relationship that hurts you again and again, but that you cannot quite bring yourself to break off.

After seeing TF:AOE, I’m afraid my little fanboy heart cannot stand it anymore. It’s just been broken too many times, and most recently by you. (Spoilers Ahead! You have been warned.) I do not enjoy seeing characters from previous movies, even CGI ones, brutally murdered while on their knees, begging for their lives, and decrying, “Wait! What are you doing — I’m one of your friends!” Nor do I appreciate characters who have proven themselves competent in the past suddenly losing their temper, acting like spoiled children, and endangering themselves and the lives of others in the process. The same goes for the amount of collateral damage and indiscriminate destruction that so-called “Autobots” wreaked in Bejing. But the butcher’s bill of misfires made here, every plothole covered with glorious, glorious special effects, the casual and unending objectification of women, the uncomfortable racial and cultural stereotypes, the tissue-thin depth of the characters – all of it – pales before the final straw that broke the back of my fandom. (I mean, all those tropes are at least part of your regular schtick, right?)

The final sin, the place this movie went that the others at their worst avoided, is Optimus Prime. You turned him into an angry, embittered maniac who is as ineffectual as a warrior as he is a leader. He kills people, humans, in this movie. It’s bad enough that I had to see Superman snap General Zod’s neck in Man of Steel, but now Optimus Prime, paragon of wisdom and virtue, just executes a guy. No attempt to have him answer for his crimes, or see that justice is done, just point and fire with as much emotional response to the killing as a mafia hitman (meaning no disrespect to any mafia hitmen who might read this). After that, it came as no surprise that his final coup d’grace was stabbing the bad guy in the back.

But it’s worse than even that. What really drives white-hot pokers into my soul is that Optimus gives up on us. Despite all his talk in the original trilogy that “freedom is the right of all sentient beings” and that “they are a young race, capable of great compassion” he is more than willing to turn his back on us when we are, as the name of the movie implies, facing extinction, and Mark Wahlberg has to give Optimus the pep talk about why he should continue to fight, not the other way around. There is a direct quote from the end of Dark of the Moon, spoken by Prime: “There will be days when we lose faith, days when our allies turn against us, but the day will never come when we forsake the planet and its peoples.” What happened to that Prime? Can we get him back in the next movie?

In casting him in this light, this movie did what I thought was an impossibility…it made me hate Optimus Prime. Me. I realize that you don’t know me, or the deep significance that this character holds for me, but let us just say that I still tear up a bit when I see Optimus die in the 1986 animated movie. Scarred for life, I was. Prime may very well be my favorite character in all of fiction, and I despised him by the end of this movie. That, Mr. Bay, I can never forgive.

Let me take a step back at this point, breathe and count to ten. There, better now. Allow me to throw a few facts your way. At the time of this writing, TF:AOE has earned itself 17% on Rotten Tomatoes. That is on par with Showgirls (also at 17%), which is widely regarded as one of the worst movies ever made. This movie ranks lower than the huge disaster Battleship, which was a blatant rip-off of the Transformers movie franchise, as well as your own distinctive visual style. By comparison, it sits at 34%. Battleship! You’ve been outdone by one of your weakest imitators.

Good God, man…Battleship!

The disconnect between the quality of the story and its undeniable commercial success worldwide tells me that you have labored to produce the cinematic equivalent of Twilight, the book not the movie. Perhaps that doesn’t matter to you. Perhaps you’re content, even satisfied, with how TF:AOE came out. Or perhaps it was just a job and/or an enormous payday to you. I can’t speak for your reasoning, but I can tell you that I’m embarrassed for you. There is more heart and soul in the merest fraction of your Lionel Richie video documentary (a fine musician and artist, I hasten to add) than can be found in the entirety of this soulless (sparkless?), joyless movie.

Now, I write these words in the knowledge that you will likely never read them. In truth, this is more a catharsis for me than a critique for you. But assuming you do read this, and you’ve made it this far, I might as well go the whole nine yards. To that end, allow me to illustrate for you what it was like to sit through all three hours of this movie, in a convenient bullet-point format:

  • This movie was akin to sitting in the basement of a Porta Potty, looking up, while it is being used on an unseasonably warm State Fair Day
  • Watching this movie weakened my faith in humanity, when it had previously survived the onslaughts of Jersey Shore, Toddlers and Tiaras, and Honey Boo Boo
  • Seeing this movie made me feel like how a trash dump full of zombies and old socks smells
  • It was tantamount to seeing a school bus full of puppies fall into a volcano, when the volcano also eats souls
  • Exactly like watching the worst movie I’ve ever seen, where cherished characters from my childhood are criminally misunderstood, with staggering amounts of unnecessary scenes, plot holes Optimus himself could drive through, worn-out clichés, placeholder dialogue, and amateur-hour characterization, making me wonder how something so singularly god-awful was ever released in the first place

And while we are on the subject, allow me to elaborate the things I would rather do than watch this movie ever again:

  • Watch Star Wars: Attack of Clones twelve straight times, back-to-back, including all the footage of Jar-Jar from the entire prequel trilogy
  • Take college algebra again.
  • Throw a punch at Mike Tyson, before or after insulting his significant other
  • Die. Just die
  • Awaken Great Cthulhu from his dark and terrible slumber. (Though, to be honest, any of the Great Old Ones would suffice in His place)

Okay, so I’m taking a few liberties here, but again – catharsis, remember? Despite the fact that I must part ways with you for the crimes of this movie, let me leave you with this thought.

I want to help you.

While I understand that these movies are most definitely not made with the fans of Transformers in mind, perhaps I can save you some whining from heartbroken souls such as myself in the future. Story is cheap. It’s words on a page. With a $210 million dollar budget, the story of a movie like this has to be the cheapest part of your production costs, and the easiest to change. Again, your special effects are incredible, to the point that I can see the minute details of Hound’s bushy beard. Why can’t that level of detail, thought, and attention go into the base story itself? Honestly, as a fan, is that too much to ask?

So, I am offering my services to you, Mr. Bay. Next time you go to visit the Transformers universe, call me. You need someone on your team who loves this franchise, since it is clear from this offering you are lacking such a someone. I will be stupidly happy (like a live-action role-player at a renaissance festival) to help you avoid making another movie like this one, and you will find that my fee will be a paltry, practically insignificant sum next to whatever you’re paying your screenwriter.

Just food for thought.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


-Matt Carson

P.S. – Despite all of this, I enjoyed your cameo in Mystery Men.

My Origin Story

So, how did it all start for me? What’s my origin story? Sadly it does not involve radioactive spiders or being launched from Krypton as it exploded. At least, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t.

The following is a look at how I became a storyteller. Note that I use the word ‘storyteller’ instead of ‘author.’ As you’ll see, I was telling stories before I ever started writing them down. Parts of this are shamelessly cannibalized from the ‘About’ section of my website and this blog.

So, I grew up in a pretty small town rural Texas. I often describe it as being a lot like The Dukes of Hazzard, though with far fewer car chases. I was an only child. Though I had plenty of cousins who were like brothers and sisters (and still are to this day), I was often in need of ways to entertain myself. Television of the ’80s played a big part of my childhood. Sure, many of the shows like The A-Team and Knight Rider really don’t hold up all that well when you watch them now (even if they have very hummable theme songs), but they were fertile soil for my young imagination. It also sowed the seeds of my eventual fanboy-dom.


Try to be in a bad mood while humming it.
Go on, try it.

Both of my parents were big fans of Star Trek. Some of my earliest memories of watching TV include scenes of Kirk, Spock, and Scotty arrayed in their bright ’60s uniforms. I think the Enterprise (1701) started me on my life-long love of ships. I was pretty young when I started creating stories in my head. Sure, most kids make up stories at that age, but I found that I built up a repertoire of stories that I could recite consistently and on command. And, well, I never really stopped after that.

Many of those early forays included cartoon characters from the ’80s teaming up to go on adventures together. (The tale of Optimus Prime and Rick Hunter teaming up to defeat the mechanized legions of Mumm-Ra springs to mind.)


Mumm-Ra must be stopped…no matter the cost.

I also found my love of reading at an early age, which was the gateway drug into writing stories. In 2nd Grade, I wrote a story in the form of a Twilight Zone episode entitled “Identity Crisis.” When I read it to the class I did my best impression of Rod Serling speaking the intro, complete with the intense eyebrows.


Not bad for a total n00b.

Even back then, I knew that the fantastical side of fiction was what really called to me. It wasn’t that I found real life boring. No, it was largely the creative canvas that fiction afforded me. If I wanted the colors of the rainbow arranged in a different order than they appeared in the sky, no problem. Say I wanted the Pacific War fought with dragons launched from giant turtles instead of aircraft carriers. Done. Not even the sky was the limit. I could take reality and reshape it as I saw fit.

Since that time, the thrill I get from creating worlds and writing fiction has never left me.

Sure, I could go into my years at school, which led to college, and my eventual writing career, but all of that is mundane, the kind of stuff they skip in the comics or at the beginning of a movie.

Without a doubt, those early influences put my life on its current trajectory. While I didn’t uncover a powerful alien artifact or find that I’m a latent telepath, I did discover a deep and abiding love of stories, characters, and far away horizons.

That love is a big part of who I am today.

True story.