If you are of a certain age, there are certain cartoons that you have a nostalgic fondness for. For myself, it’s Robotech, G.I. Joe, Voltron, He-Man and Transformers. I absolutely loved these as a kid. I had the toys (well, except for Robotech. I’m not sure I had even known there was a toy line until I hit my teens), the bed sheets, books with records and tapes, colouring books. I had a lot of the merchandise.
Now as an adult, watching them now can be a little strange. Robotech still holds up rather well both in animation and in story. Voltron is decent but in many ways, after you’ve seen six episodes, you’ve seen them all. He-Man is probably still good for kids but as an adult, some of the “family values” overtones become a little much (especially in the Christmas special where two kids teach Skeletor about Jesus). Oddly I’ve really gotten into the art of He-Man (there’s a fantastic book published by Dark Horse that covers everything art wise from He-Man). G.I. Joe, surprisingly, is better as an adult than when I was a kid. There’s clear adult jokes thrown in and characters based on real people that I now recognize. There’s even an episode where the Joes and Cobra are chasing after something called the “McGuffin Device”.
And then there is The Transformers.
Transformers is a mixed bag when it comes to the show. As an adult, you can now see how much of a toy commercial it was, especially in the first season. There are new toys… er… characters introduced every episode. You may be thinking that of the previous cartoons I mentioned but in Transformers, it seems much more blatant. So much so that in one of the Japanese episodes (that didn’t air in North America), Blaster gets completely destroyed, is rebuilt with a different colour scheme and when a character calls him by his original name, he scolds them as if to say, “No, I’m a new toy now. See, different colours. Tell your mom she has to buy me”. The writing on Transformers doesn’t seem quite as consistent either until the later seasons. There are good episodes throughout but they seem to get spaced well between a few of the more toy-oriented episodes.
The 1986 movie was better than all of the above. It has plot, it has great animation, and it has swear words! It blew the rest of the show out of the water and was far greater than the G.I. Joe movie that would follow it.
Or at least as a kid it was… could that still hold true now?
Which brings us to the main subject of this review, The Transformers: The Movie 30th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray released by the awesome folks at Shout Factory.
Awesome is definitely the word I would use to describe these folks. Shout Factory (and their horror/sci-fi sister Scream Factory) have been knocking it out of the park on numerous releases for the past few years. Their editions of Escape from New York, Assault on Precinct 13, Army of Darkness, The Shadow and They Live have been absolutely fantastic and I’m glad to say that Transformers is another notch on their belt. From sound and video to extras, this is a release that any Transformers fan should own. (For the sake of comparisons, I will be looking at this new blu-ray as compared to the 20th anniversary DVD set released by Sony Wonder)
Let’s start off with the packaging. I know, it’s kind of a weird thing to critique but Shout Factory are great at giving you options. On a large amount of the anniversary/collector/special edition releases, you tend to get a cardboard slipcover with new artwork and then a paper insert for the actual disc case of which you usually have your choice. There is the same art as is on the slip cover and then if you take it out, it usually has the original theatrical poster art. The same holds true of this release but with a little twist. The flip side to this one contains the art that was used for the Japanese release of the film. While I’m curious why the art from the North American release wasn’t used, quite honestly, I like this poster art better.
As it turns out, the film’s story is still probably one of the best parts of the Transformers animated cannon. Maybe it’s a little nostalgic of me but this movie still invokes a bit of the emotional response I had as a kid. Watching many of my favourite characters die in horrible, horrible ways still has a slight shock to it as does the death of Optimus Prime. The animation is still really solid, especially in this particular version (more on that in a second) as is the all-star celebrity voice cast. So much so that I had to question myself whether those celebrities came back for the remainder of the series (they did not).
The film itself has had been remastered beautifully. When I bought the 20th-anniversary DVD set, I thought that might be as good as it gets. I’m sure you’ve all bought a blu-ray or a DVD and watched it and were kind of underwhelmed at how it looked. Sometimes it’s due to the elements they’ve got. The better the version they are remastering, the better the remaster will look. Shout Factory apparently spared no expense to get this film to look and sound great. I had debated whether buying this version was worth it and for the video quality alone, this was a major step up and worth the upgrade from my older DVD version.Backgrounds are a little less murky, images are sharper and sound quality is pretty awesome.
And as they say on tv infomercials, “But wait, there’s more!”
The extras selection is really solid. There is some new stuff like a rather good documentary that has been made for this release called “Till All Are One” that talks about the film and it’s soundtrack production. This was one of the types of things the last DVD release was missing. And for those of you who liked the extras on the 20th anniversary edition, a large majority of them have been brought back as well, including an excellent commentary track from director Nelson Shin, story consultant Flint Dille and the voice of Arcee, Susan Blu (you find out the real reason there was so much death at the beginning of the film and it might not be why you think).
And for those of you who need it, the blu-ray comes with both the widescreen and full-screen versions of the film.
So with all of these goodies and this restoration detail, what’s missing from this release?
There are a few things but a lot of it is nitpicking. The last DVD release also included the Scramble City OVA which in Japan was an advertisement for some of the new toys and inadvertently acted as a bridge between the previous season of Transformers and the film. Some fans are annoyed at this omission but to be honest, it doesn’t bother me too much since the last version, while containing the animation, just had two fans doing a commentary track over the Japanese dialog with no option to turn it off or have the original soundtrack with English subtitles due to a rights issue with the soundtrack. It was more of a tease than anything and it really doesn’t add much. Also missing is a collection of Transformers toy commercials that in this day of Youtube, are easily found online if you really want to watch them.
Beyond that, the only thing I felt could have added a little something was more participation from Peter Cullen and Frank Welker. Given that the film was the swan song (sort of) for characters they helped make iconic, I had kind of hoped there would be new material to feature the two voice actors. Instead, we just have the previous features from the 20th-anniversary edition. But as I said, that’s a minor nitpick.
Should you buy this?
If you are a Transformers fan, this is a release day pick up for you for the remastering alone. The extras are just really good butter cream icing on an already delicious cake. And for film fans, this is yet another example of the great work Shout Factory has been doing and is making me impatient for their release of John Carpenter’s The Thing, arriving in a few weeks.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!