I’ve been helping out at Crowemag Toys in Raleigh recently, and that’s given me a new appreciation for the Transformers.

The store deals in used toys, and the biggest seller, by far, are Transformers.  People pay HUNDREDS for “Generation One” stuff from the 1980s, fan-created “third party” figures, convention exclusives, and more.

(As this place gives me money, should mention: There’s a complete 1980s Scorponok for $300 and Fortress Maximus in the box non-sealed for $1700.  Contact through website for info.)

This has inspired me to think back to the day my innocence ended: When Optimus Prime and Megatron killed each other.

The story is now well-known: In 1986’s TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE, the goal was to clear out many of the existing robots and introduce new toys, um characters.

The result traumatized kids so badly that Optimus Prime, leader of the heroic Autobots, later got resurrected.  I blame this also in part for his follow-up, Rodimus Prime, being kind of boring.

The idea was, they’re toys, who will care?  Well, Prime and his excellent voicing by Peter Cullen had a weird sort of resonance with kids.  He was the toy truck that would come to life and be your friend.  He was the caring, heroic father figure, a knight in shining armor for the post-STAR WARS age.

That said, I was rooting for Megatron.

Why?  It was simple: Bad guys ALWAYS lost.

On cartoons, FCC regulations not only meant bad guys always lost, but they were never allowed to be that threatening.  There were rarely any stakes for the heroes to beat them, other than it was their gig.

Well, Megatron wanted to drain the Earth of its resources and conquer the universe, but the consequences of this weren’t adequately depicted for me.

I dug the Decepticons.  They turned into planes.  They had Soundwave, the cool, emotionless tape-recorder-bot filled with dangerous tape friends.  They had Starscream, the whiny, covetous second-in-command (who also had the same voice as Cobra Commander, the late Chris Latta).  And they had Megatron, with his military-like appearance, cold, raspy voice, and oh yeah, THE GIANT GUN ON HIS ARM.

Megatron never, ever won, so yeah, when there was a fight to the death, I had mixed fellings.

Let’s set the scene: It’s the near-future and the Decepticons are raiding the Autobots’ headquarters.  A number of minor characters get slaughtered, something I didn’t grasp in my younger years.

So Prime is all, “Megatron must be stopped, no matter the cost…”

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…and we hear the immortal tune, “The Touch” by Stan Bush.  Yes, the one that Mark Wahllberg also sang in BOOGIE NIGHTS.  If he doesn’t sing it in TRANSFORMERS 4, that movie is going to be an even bigger ripoff than anticipated.

As much as I love that song and this sequence, they don’t exactly go together.  It works a lot better when it’s reprised at the end of the film.  Though it does create a thematic linkage or something.

I also like that shot of Prime.  Very iconic and imposing.  I wish they’d hold on it during his entire line of “Megatron must be stopped,” which is one of many editing problems I see with the final film.  I don’t know if this was due to budget limitations or just studio cuts.

Anyway, Prime transforms and rolls out, and Megatron’s on the dead run, yo!

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And the other Decepticons are all….

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…and with good reason, because…

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…and they’re about to go…

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And after MOWING DOWN ENEMY AFTER ENEMY IN THE FORM OF A MACK TRUCK, Prime transforms and SHARP-SHOOTS A HALF-DOZEN DECEPTICONS IN MID-AIR WHILE DOING A BACK-FLIP….

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,,,AND THEN LANDS ON HIS FEET AND CONTINUES BLASTING AWAY.

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I’m sorry, but even if you hate the Transformers, you have to admit — PRIME IS BALLER.  That is probably the most bad-ass a good guy got to be in the 1980s.

Oddly, only one Decepticon, Frenzy, thinks to just FLY out of the way and avoid getting mowed down, which is odd as most of the other Decepticons turn into actual jets.  Perhaps they were just startled, or damaged, or low on Energon?

…I hate myself now.

So then Prime comes face-to-face with Megatron and is all, “one shall stand, one shall fall!” and Megatron is all, “Why throw away your life so recklessly?”  and Prime is all, “That’s a question you should ask yourself, Megatron!”

This is why I love this conflict: Unlike many 1980s good-guy/bad-guy conflicts, where FCC restrictions made the conflict seem more like a rivalry, even frenemy-type deals, it was pretty damn clear that Prime and Megatron EFFING HATED EACH OTHER.

And with the freedom of a PG rating and the desire to introduce a bunch of new toys, they get to unleash that hatred big-time.

MEGATRON TACKLES PRIME!

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Prime hurls Megatron into a wall, but Megatron hurles a spike and prison-shanks him, Decepticon-style!

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Why did Megatron never just throw a sharp object before?  Because it was a G-rated kids’ show.

Also, this is the far-flung future of 2005, and presumably Prime and Megatron are running somewhat less efficiently, despite both of them being millions of years old. …I hate myself again.

Prime sees he’s been shanked, but still dodges a Megatron-blast and does the TIGER UPPERCUT!

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Again; The improved animation on this really shows.  The characters are allowed to just get BRUTAL, and you can practically hear Megs’ head crunching like a beer can…or would if “The Touch” wasn’t still playing.

But Megs ain’t out yet.

Even though his arm-cannon has been knocked off…for what, the 50th time in the series?…there’s a perfectly good laser-sword just lying on the ground.  How convenient!

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Prime manages to get slashed IN THE SAME PLACE WHERE HE GOT SHANKED BEFORE.  He would make a terrible boxer.

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And in pretty much the most epic shot of this, Megatron leaps up for the kill-blow…

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…AND LANDS ON PRIME’S FIST.

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Prime tries to cyber-stomp Megs, but Megatron literally bounces back….

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IN THE FACE!

“I’ll rip out your optics!” he screams, only to get hurled on his butt.  “Finish him!” cries an Autobot.

This part I love — Prime just wordlessly goes over and picks up his laser rifle, then heads over to put Megatron down, like, “Yeller’s my dog.  I’ll do it.”

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There’s a certain workman-like quality to that, i.e. it’s a dirty job, he’s the one who’s got to do it.

And there’s something a little edgy and unnerving about this for a kid.  The good guy is prepared to straight-up kill the bad guy to end his reign of terror.

But Megatron sees a discarded laser pistol….

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…and here’s the bit I like: Megatron pretends to beg for his life, but Prime doesn’t waver.  “You, who are without mercy, now plead for it?”

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How many times has there been this scene, where the bad guy begs like a coward?  The thing I dig is that Megatron genuinely doesn’t mean it, and Prime knows he doesn’t mean it.

Anyway, Hot Rod shows up to tackle Megatron before he can grab the gun.  This is SUPPOSED to be a bit where Hot Rod inadvertently contributes to Prime’s demise, but I don’t buy it.  Megatron would have just shot Prime anyway, and his hostage-grab of Hot Rod is too rushed to generate much suspense.   Had they drawn it out, it would have been a much more dramatic moment — Prime can’t let one of his own get killed to stop his arch-enemy, and that winds up causing his own demise.  Instead, it just feels like a cop-out to say Prime WOULD have won.

Rather, he gets capped.  Repeatedly.

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You even have Megatron screaming “FALL!  FALL!”  which is pretty damn baller for an ’80s cartoon villain.

So Prime winds up with a gun to his head…

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…and another baller Megatron line: “I would have waited an eternity for this!  It’s over, Prime!”

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Again, lovely animation detailing.  Prime’s injuries looked genuinely painful…for a robot truck…and now Megatron looks on his last legs.  But still smirking.

Is Prime gonna take this lying down?

“NEVER!”

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And Megatron goes down!

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This was a pretty excellent final confrontation, because neither party kept the upper hand for long.

They both gave it their all, and both were ruthless with the other.  It was afternoon cartoons with the kid gloves off.

Also, it’s weirdly satisfying to me, because TECHNICALLY Megatron won — Prime died, and Megatron was still alive when he was drifting in space and got turned into Galvatron.

Well, technically Prime came back.  But still…

It’s funny to watch this now.  As a kid, I didn’t know Prime would come back.  I was freaked out, traumatized like everyone else.

And yet, I was grinning, because the bad guy finally got to be EVIL, and in a way, got a win.

I was never as big on Galvatron, the upgraded version of Megatron.  Yes, once the series picked up again, he was also voiced by Frank Welker, but I missed the rasp.  He was more of a psychotic, though his episodes hold up much better.  He’s like a robot Prince Joffrey from GAME OF THRONES.

Never really cared for the Michael Bay films.  It’s funny — they’re actual films with giant, giant budgets, and yet I never came to care for those toy-selling robots the way I did for the ones back in the 1980s.

In a way, those shows were sort of the mythology that my generation grew up with, and it’s probably why we haven’t moved on from them that well.  They had a weird sense of history and story, and the promise of that unlimited potential you get in your imagination with each new action figures.

Plus, transforming robots are just cool, duh.

I wonder how many will sell at the toy shop this week?

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