The year was 1987. I was 10 years old. My family and I were moving to another city. For me this was a life changing event because it meant my whole world was being turned upside down. I’d likely never see my old friends again. I’d have to make new ones. New house, new city, new school. Starting over. Things would never be the same. And I didn’t think I was being overly dramatic at the time: The Goonies (1985) ended with the kids finding enough treasure to prevent a move, and the Jughead #1 comic also depicted a crisis averted when Jughead’s family didn’t end up having to move. But there’d be no such salvation for me. My fate was sealed and out of control. It was a life-lesson that I was learning not only in real life, but also thanks to Transformers: The Movie – a film that to this day, does an excellent job of teaching kids that sometimes irreversibly life changing events happen, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it except carry on, and make the most of the situation.
As viewers, we are first introduced to Lion’s take on the Transformers theme song after monster planet Unicron devours an entire planet of sentient robot life, essentially wiping out an entire race of robots from existence. It begins with a drums-only intro, followed by a reverberating rock guitar riff that slowly but surely rises in prominence (as the Transformers logo approaches from afar), and then we hear the vocals cry out “Transformers!!” and the heavy metal interpretation of the track commences.
I should mention that back in the ’80s, glam rock and heavy metal were considered threatening and decidedly not kid-friendly. Rockers were bad boys (at least in my mind at that time) that sang about satan, drugs, sex, violence, and were dangerous. But just because something was dangerous, that didn’t make it unreal: on the contrary, even at the age of 10, I considered these things very real, and things that adults were actively trying to shelter us from, but for some reason, the Transformers franchise decided to get real with us. Maybe because they figured we the fans were getting older too? Who knows. But in any event, I was enraptured by the fact that almost everything about this film didn’t seem to treat its audience like a silly kid…it asked the viewer to grow up, and to say goodbye to the past, and to embrace the inevitable future.
The Transformers: The Movie was a film that first introduced to my 10 year old mind the concept of “re-shuffling the deck.” Relatively short periods of time … gauntlets if you will, where things on the other side end up drastically and irreversibly different from the point of entry in time. Because at the beginning of Transformers: The Movie, we still have Optimus Prime, Megatron, Starscream, Skywarp, Thundercracker, Ironhide, Prowl and presumably most, if not all the characters we grew up with over Seasons 1 and 2 of the show. Then, by the end of Transformers: The Movie, all the characters I’ve just alluded to are DEAD….and new ones have sprung up in their place, thanks to the machinations of a gigantic force of evil named Unicron, who might as well be the devil himself, since a dying Megatron essentially made a deal with him at the expense of his soul (“you belong to me, now”) and sports horns.
What I love about these “deck reshuffle” moments in fiction (and yes, I do apply them to real life now too) is that in fiction, production values tend to be higher, more epic in scale, and more memorable. Back in the ’80s, you had your regular weekend WWF matches which were predictable. But then you had “deck reshuffle” moments like the Saturday Night Main Event…and during those nights, championship belts might exchange hands, or new rivalries might begin, or major grudges get settled. And in real life, for example in my adolescence, a school dance was a “deck reshuffle” moment, because you might go in single, but then by the end of the night the seeds of a new person to “go steady” with might have been planted. Not to mention higher production values (everyone’s dressed up, there’s make-up and hairspray, etc) at the dance, just like there are bigger budgets for any “deck reshuffle” moment episodes on TV, or at the movies.
That’s what Transformers The Movie represented to me back then, and represents to me now. Like Marvel’s Infinity War, it was an epic-scale event, there was a lot of death depicted, and visually, both films eclipse the entries that come before them in their respective franchises. I will be addressing the similarities between Marvel’s Infinity War and Transformers: The Movie in future posts as well. But going back to Lion’s take on the theme, this feeling of stark, “what did I just watch” sentiment really sank in for me as I listened to the whole song while watching the credits as they scrolled over the severed head of Unicron as it orbited Cybertron. A f*cking severed head. If that doesn’t scream “this is not your every day kids cartoon” then I don’t know what does. And when you read the credits of characters and their voice actors, like with the Infinity War credits, it feels like you are being shown a list of the deceased, since many of those names didn’t make it to the end of the film. It really hits home.
What I also loved about Lion’s “The Transformers (Theme)” was how the song stayed true to the melody of the tv show theme, but added so much more both musically (with its verses and arrangement) and lyrically actually lined up with the narrative of the film. It’s like the producers/songwriters actually respected the Transformers mythology!! (Yes, Michael Bay/Paramount, I’m looking at you lol).
Here are the lyrics in their entirety below:
Something evil’s watching over you
Comin’ from the sky above
And there’s nothing you can do
Prepare to strike
There’ll be no place to run
When your caught within the grip
Of the evil Unicron
More than meets the eye
Robots in Disguise
Strong enough to break the bravest heart
So we have to pull together
We can’t stay worlds apart
To stand divided we will surely fall
Until our darkest hour
When the light will save us all
More than meets the eye
Robots in Disguise
Autobots wage their Battle
To destroy the evil forces
Of the Decepticons
[KILLER INSTRUMENTAL BREAK]
It’s judgment day and now we’ve made our stand
And for now the powers of darkness
Have been driven from our land
The Battle’s over but the war has just begun
And this way it will remain til the day when all are one
More than meets the eye
And with that, check out this BRILLIANTLY edited fan video featuring the song we’re celebrating here. It captures the dark and deliciously delightful cultural artifact that Transformers: The Movie truly is.