2009 marks the 25th anniversary of Hasbro’s Transformers line. They’re celebrating with a TON of new toys all marked with special commemorative packaging in the Transformers Universe line. The Universe will feature the already established updates of beloved G1 characters, but also branched out into the Beast era by the end of the first quarter. This year we’ll also see a sequel to the 2007 blockbuster Transformers movie and a new season of Cartoon Network’s Transformers Animated. With Hasbro pulling out all the stops, we here at Panels on Pages thought it was only appropriate to pay our respects with a look back at every era of Transformers history. So Lee went nuts and did this. For 2 weeks, he’ll be looking at the good, the bad, and the ugly of both the TV shows and toys and even the comics that we’ve been eating up for two and half decades. It wasn’t always great, but it was always Transformers. So strap in and roll out!
Day 8 – Transformers (2007)
After long-standing rumors, the Transformers finally made the jump to live-action in 2007. The buildup was tremendous and thanks to the internet, no aspect of the production was left unscrutinized. The second designs started leaking online, the fan community had a field day. The designs were very different from what they were used to, with the characters taking on a more slender alien look that’s almost skeletal on some of the characters. I could bore you with details about the designs, but after over $700 million at the box office worldwide, odds are that if you’re reading this, you’ve seen it. Suffice to say it was different, and if there’s one thing fanboys hate, it’s different. Everything from the designs to the choice of explosion master Michael Bay as director to the casting was torn apart by fans every step of the way.
Then on July 3rd, 2007, something magical happened; they shut up (mostly). The movie was a huge success, surpassing everyone’s expectations. Even the nonfans were instantly wowed. The movie is set in its own continuity, but there are plenty of homages to the G1 days and the All Spark was originally a Beast Machines concept. The plot follows Sam Witwicky and the Autobots as they race for the AllSpark, the source of life and ultimate power for the Transformers, and along the way the Decepticons are looking to revive the long lost Megatron from his frozen slumber so that he can use the Allspark to become a universal tyrant and wipe out humanity. Sure, it wasn’t perfect and it had its share of plot holes, but it was fun. Some fans complained about the heavy focus on the human characters and again the designs. Others thought that some of the action was hard to follow because the edits were so fast. So the movie wasn’t without its criticisms, but you can’t please everybody (lookin’ at you, Kerouac and Knize!). And sure, it’s not perfect, but even mainstream movie critics gave the flick generally favorable reviews on popcorn value alone if nothing else.
And boy, was there ever popcorn value. The special effects created by ILM were spectacular and the sound was devastating. The movie was such a spectacle that it was rereleased after its initial run in IMAX with a few minutes of additional footage, though none of it contained any Transformers. With the eventual Blu-Ray release, it looks and sounds even better at home.
One detail that received nearly universal acclaim was the return of voice actor Peter Cullen as the voice of Optimus Prime, the character he gave life to decades prior. Frank Welker, the original voice of Megatron (and the hardest working man in show business) was originally considered to reprise his role as well, but director Michael Bay opted for the Matrix’s Hugo Weaving instead, even though his voice was electronically distorted beyond recognition. Oddly enough, Welker would voice the character in the tie-in video game based on the movie.
Hasbro and Dreamworks cashed in on this thing with a vengeance. There were Transformers EVERYWHERE in the summer of 2007. There were bath towels, lunch boxes, sheet sets, plushes, cups, plates, lions and tigers and bears, oh my! You could get Optimus Prime’s face on everything short of a condom (and I wouldn’t rule that one out for the sequel, “Roll on and roll out!”). And of course, there was a toyline, perhaps the most ambitious one to date. The toys did a surprisingly good job at capturing the complex design of the characters in both robot mode and as fully licensed reproductions of the GM and other various vehicles featured in the movie. The results were some of the most intricate transformations in the deluxe scale ever and the advent of “Automorph” technology wherein one piece would shift another piece or trigger a spring-loaded feature during transformation.
Scale was all over the place within the classes and several characters saw release in multiple classes in multiple decos and paint schemes at multiple price points (like we said, they were milking it). Each version of the characters offered its own strengths and weaknesses. The Voyager class Optimus Prime, for example, is a pretty decent representation of the character in both modes, but it cheats to do so. The truck mode has some extraneous ridge to accommodate the details of Optimus’s legs behind the cab, but the main offender is the robot form. Yes, it does indeed looks a lot like the CGI model, but that’s because the transformation is completely different and he ends up wearing most of the truck cab like a backpack. The Leader class Prime, on the other hand, sports a much more accurate truck mode with a very nice paint job, but the transformation is nothing like the CGI model. The result is some extra kibble and bits hanging off of the figure and some odd lumbering proportions. He ends up looking a little stumpy. The new Leader figure from the sequel is amazing and probably as close to the CGI model as is physically possible. In all fairness, they were working with un-finalized sketches for a lot of these figures whereas the new ones have the finished models to go off of. Keep an eye for a review on them later.
Truth be told, the complex nature of the designs makes it impossible for the toys to get it 100% right, but there are a few that come close. Deluxe Bonecrusher and Voyagers Ironhide and Ratchet are pretty spot-on. The rest of the line was hit and miss, but overall the quality was high and fans were impressed at the level of detail and work that went into them. All of the core figures would be rereleased in strange new color schemes as “AllSpark Powered” and again as “Premiums” with more accurate tooling and paint schemes. Why? Because why sell one figure when you can three?
In addition to the core cast of both Autobots and Decepticons, the movie line featured several characters that were not in the movie at all, but were still clearly inspire by the movie designs like the extremely cool-looking Wreckage. Wreckage would later be included in the in-universe prequel comics published by IDW. Other non-movie toys like Swindle and Dreadwing would be used in the comics and video games as drone soldiers. It’s also worth mentioning that the deluxe figure of Scorponok has a robot mode, despite never transforming in the movie. Then again, he’s in the sequel, so maybe we’ll see it there.
Aside from the “main line,” the movie line also introduced several sublines such as the Cyber Slammers and Fast Action Battlers that were aimed at younger kids. The Cyber Slammers were nothing more than windup cars that had a robot body flip up once they hit a surface. That’s right. They wanted to sell Transformers to your pre-schoolers. Optimus Prime and Bumblebee were made into Cyber Stompin’ Robots, another kiddie “line” that was nontransforming and full of lights and sounds that danced and played music. They were adorable… I guess. Another nontransformable line was the Robot Replicas. These guys were more or less straight-up action figures. They adhered pretty close to the CGI models, but again, since they didn’t transform, it was easy to pull it off. These figures are also worth mentioning because they make use of the revolutionary Revoltech joint system, alloying for an extreme range of poseability. Another neat subline was the Real Gear Robots, a line of nearly life-sized household objects that could transform into small robots reminiscent of Frenzy from the movie. Lastly, in addition to ALL of these toys, there was a ton of other role-playing toys like a voice changer helmet (that’s actually pretty cool) and a few different blasters and such as well as alarm clocks, flashlights and countless other Transformers toys for the kiddies.
Before we move on, I have to bring up the biggest and most expensive toy from the Transformers movie toy line. Ultimate Bumblebee cost a whopping $90 and was bigger than Unicron from the Armada series. That’s right. You, too, can own a Bumblebee figure bigger than a planet. Bumblebee is the first and only figure in the “Ultimate Class.” This guy was loaded up with all sorts of gimmicks and gadgets. His wings, arms, and head moved. He even had an auto-firing missile. He had lights and sounds coming out the wazoo and that’s just robot mode. The concept Camaro mode had its own bells and whistles. When you start it, it makes a sound like an engine starting. When you roll it on the floor, you hear the engine rev louder depending on the speed and the brakes will even screech to a halt if you stop suddenly. It played music and more sounds and responded to actions and sounds (or lack thereof).
But does it matter? Who cares? Who is thing for? Is it a kid’s toy? Is it for adult collectors? No one really knows for sure. The truth is that as a Transformer, it’s not that great. The transformation uses a lot of cheats to get the job done, and it’s a real pain maneuvering around all the robotics. Speaking of the robotics, they hinder the articulation immensely. Since the arms are motorized, you can’t move them yourself. Bumblebee has to move them for you, same as the head. He’s something of a kibbly mess with all these parts hanging off of him and the ginormous battery pack on his ass makes it hard to really pose him or anything. On top of all that, he doesn’t really look that great in robot mode. There are smaller and much less expensive figures that do a better job of capturing Bumblebee’s movie look.
So you really can’t play with him too much and he’s actually pretty tough to transform. Coupled with the huge price tag, he’s not really too terribly kid friendly… But he has all sorts of lights and sounds and kids LOVE lights and sounds, right? Maybe he is for kids. He’s not faithful to the design of the movie and he’s full of lights and sounds, so he’s not meant for collectors since they don’t care about that stuff too much… But he’s crazy expensive and collectors apparently LOVE expensive Transformers (see Masterpieces later)… But he’s so big. Collectors are also big into scale… Bottom line, I don’t know who this guy was targeted towards. What I do know is they sold a ton of them. This guy was a big ticket item for the 2007 holiday season and was never seen again. What does that mean?… I really don’t know. Ultimate Bumblebee is weird. And they’re doing him again for the sequel! Yay!
So that was the movie phenomenon. It was by all accounts a smashing success. Dreamworks and Hasbro immediately launched into working on the sequel, currently slated for release June 24th of this year (just days away!). Most of the original human cast is returning and we’re promised tons more robot on robot action, including an appearance from the Constructicon combiner Devastator. You’d better believe we’ll be all over that when the time comes. With the movie done, attention turned to the roots of the dynasty, with a brand new cartoon.
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