With big screen production Transformers 3D hitting the cinema this week, let’s take it back to where it all began…
Picture the scene. A school assembly circa 1986. One sentence is whispered across the hall.
“Megatron is dead.”
You are joking.
But how? He’s too powerful! It CAN’T be true.
But it was true. Megatron, evil leader of the Decepticons, had finally been defeated by his nemesis Optimus Prime.*
In the world of Transformers, this was like JR getting shot, Dirty Den divorcing Angie or Simon Groom leaving Blue Peter. In other words, it was MASSIVE.
Transformers were amazing.
Remember the boardroom scene in Big when Tom Hanks comes up with the idea of a robot that turns into a giant bug? Somewhere, sometime in the Eighties, in some Hasbro office in California, that happened for real. Some genius came up with an idea so devastatingly simple, it changed toys forever:
Kids like robots. Kids like cars. SO WHAT ABOUT A ROBOT THAT IS ALSO A CAR?
It’s probably the best idea of all time. Better than the egg cup, better than chocolate covered pretzels and much better than boring rubbish like Action Man (not a robot, couldn’t change into a car) and Star Wars figures. (Some robots, no cars).
And so in 1984 Transformers were born. Plastic cars that with a flick of the thumb would become robotic warriors from the planet Cybertron. What kid wouldn’t want to play with that? Okay, so while the vehicles looked alright, you’d usually end up with a slightly dodgy looking robot with a tyre for a head and a hubcab for an arm. That didn’t matter though. The sheer concept of a robot that was also a car was so brilliant that it was hard to believe such a thing could really exist.
But now they did exist and you could buy them for less than a tenner.
While Megatron had by far the best name of all the Transformers, he had the worst transformation. He transformed into a gun. Bear in mind that Megatron could fire lasers out of his hands when in robot form, but he still chose to bizarrely transform into a gigantic Walther P38 pistol. (In the cartoon, the gun would magically shrink so one of the other transformers (who could also shoot lasers anyway!!!) could hold it.)
So basically Megatron was completely useless, but that didn’t matter cos as well as cars and robots, kids also liked playing with toy guns.
The Autobots had leader Optimus Prime, a big red truck, and his buddy Bumblebee, a little yellow Beetle. The Decepticons had Megatron of course, and others like StarScream (a jet) and Soundwave (a cassette tape (below). YES YOU READ THAT RIGHT - A CASSETTE TAPE. He wasn’t so fun to play with as the big gun). However, showing the popularity of the show still to this day, a few years ago Hasbro reissued Soundwave in an updated Mp3 player version!
The idea was that they could wage their war in secret by disguising themselves as ‘earth vehicles’. Except they were transforming pretty much all the time into giant massive robots and beating the crap out of each other.
Once the cartoon spin-off started on telly, Transformers was all anyone ever talked about ever. It was the only TV show ever where the opening titles seemed longer than the actual cartoon itself. In it, the robots constantly shot lasers at each other for a good two minutes while a scary robot sings the theme tune. It’s like a horrible Haribo-induced nightmare and must have terrified parents across the country.
Of course now, 25 odd years later, we have the big budget live action films that have already grossed 27 billion dollars, and a new load of Transformer toys.
It just goes to prove that good ideas last.
*Don’t panic robot fans – it turned out Megatron didn’t actually die, he was merely ‘upgraded’ into the equally evil Galvatron by the all-powerful Unicorn. Phew!
By Luke Chilton