DanViews:  TransFormers and Voltron

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Recently I sat down to watch these DVDs having never really seen the Transformers movie before, but having grown up with Voltron. After seeing the post that “Dungeons & Dragons” is coming to DVD, my first impulse was to buy it. But are these franchises really worth revisiting? Or is it best to just have the childhood memories?


As a kid, I’d never really watched Trans-Formers. While the idea of a transforming robot was cool to me, I actually wasn’t too excited by trucks or planes. Unlike most kids I didn’t really get into G.I. Joe or war-related fare. I was the wuss who was still playing with Muppets while everyone else had Star Wars figures. (Of course now I have more star wars toys than most of my friends and I work with muppets for a living, so it worked out).

Anyway, while Trans-Formers didn’t appeal to me enough to earn my devotion, I DID respond very strongly to Voltron — simply because I loved the lions, and the idea that five separate creatures could form one, giant robot. By now I was also a little older and realizing that fights and explosions were indeed pretty damn cool. I so badly wanted the large, die-cast versions of the lions, which were upwards of $100 when I was a child. I’d stare at them in the Sears Catalog and draw circles around them.

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But I ended up saving my own money and spending about $30 on the PLASTIC lions. Still, a neighbor kid had the die-cast versions – and when he brought them to my house I took photos of them in the woods behind my house (this was before video cameras) and made a shot-by-shot film strip of Voltron taking on Godzilla and Rodan. I faithfully watched the Voltron series and it remained one of my favorites. But that was then…

As an adult it’s no secret that I’ve been diving into all sorts of childhood obsessions and re-discovering them. Some months ago Christa (ever a fan) purchased Voltron Season One. She’d had a few bootlegs over the years but we were excited to see the fully restored originals. I’d long mixed up my memories of Voltron with those of Battle of the Planets and was eager to re-familiarize myself with the series.

I sat down to watch a few episodes last night and was strongly disappointed. Most of this is due to the voice acting. I’d actually played two of these characters, Keith and Pidge, on Robot Chicken, but it’d been decades since I’d actually heard them. The performances are so abrasive and broad — most especially Hunk and Sven — the latter sounding as bad a stereotype as humanly possible, and with Hunk as a dim-witted Fred Flintstone. I seriously could not get past them — it was like trying to watch Episode IV with Jar Jar Binks suddenly wedged into every scene.

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The anime style is jittery (but let’s remember these were hand-drawn) but gorgeous, and really made me long to see the original japanese version of this show, with sub-titles. I had hoped this DVD set would treat us to some insight – but what you really get are just the original epsiodes as they aired in America (complete with “Voltron will be right back / And now back to Voltron – EVERY FEW MINUTES) and with seemingly no extras whatsoever.

Battle of the Planets is finally on DVD as well, and as fans know the japanese version of the show was much different than the American series, with it’s 7-ZARK-7 introductions and altered plots. Fortunately, that show has been restored to its original form on DVD. I’m not sure just how different the japanese version of Voltron was from what we saw as children, but as yet I’ve never had the opportunity to find out.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad we can get this series on DVD, presented in remastered form and with a cool tin for each lion (so I guess there were 5 seasons) but I really don’t think I can sit through them. If I’m wrong, if some of you out there know I just need to hang in there and that there is a story arc I’ll appreciate, please respond in a comment to this posting. But for now, I’d say that it’s a series best left in my memories, when a giant robot weilding a sword was enough to peak my imagination.

TRANS-FORMERS THE MOVIE, on the other hand, has a lot more to offer — in both actual content and in the updated DVD release… I spoke to EG Editor Eros Welker while I was watching the film and he laughed, which surprised me (especially since he just posted excitedly about the D&D series coming to DVD).

I’d actually never seen this movie as a kid, but I had friends that were devoted to it. Growing up, I’ve heard people talk about it, and mention the soundtrack album. I never really understood what all the hype was about. Finally Geoff Johns sat me down and put the movie on one night. We only got through half of it due to the late hour, but I was intrigued enough to snatch it the day of its DVD release.

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At the time, the producers and Hasbro were trying to accomplish two things — one, sell toys. Or more specifically a NEW line of Trans-Formers toys. They needed to do away with the characters which had been established on the TV Series and introduce a next generation. Two, they wanted to reach a broader audience and rope in teens as well as the younger kids who were already watching the show.

As a result, the film had a very dark tone, a PG rating, some talented voice actors, and a heavy metal score. Heroes that kids came to love on the TV series were suddenly being GUNNED DOWN in the first ten minutes of the movie (easily the best, and most exciting scenes of the film). Parents were marching their crying kids out of the theater. But for those who stayed, their eyes were saucers and the film has stuck with them ever since.

To maintain the PG rating, one of the characters says, “shit” – which was deleted from subsequent VHS releases but has now been restored. The heavy metal score has some cheesy but memorable songs, which have become cult favorites over the years (see THE TOUCH post by Eros in the EG archives).

And finally, the film is best known as being the last performance of Orson Welles, who provided the voice for the movie’s main villian, a robotic planetoid:

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Supposedly Welles was so weak, the producers had to put a filter on his voice to make the planet sound more threatening. Other key characters were performed by Robert Stack, Leonard Nimoy (as you’ve never heard him) and Judd Nelson, who was a star at the time of this release. Old favorites like Scatman Corothers and Frank Welker did voices as well, but this main cast actually tried to put some strong performance into their roles, which is much more than can be said for Voltron.

There was a lot of care and effort put into this DVD – two tracks of commentary, one by fans (which is the most informative) plus some interviews, deleted scenes and animatics, old toy commercials, etc. Trans-Formers the movie not only features some beautiful hand-drawn anime, it also was something of a milestone for animated films. Similar to (but not nearly as adult as) HEAVY METAL, it was a departure from the Disney fare of the time and tried taking the genre to a darker place, if only to reach a larger toy market.

Interesting to note was that parents rejected so strongly to the deaths of characters in this movie, that changes had to be made to the GI JOE movie, in which the lead character, Duke, was supposed to have died. At the last minute, producers added no new scenes, but an addional line of audio that told kids Duke was gonna pull through. Never underestimate the power of some pissed off moms.

Anyway, if you’re a kid at heart, Transformers The Movie is certainly worth a rental, especially for the opening scenes and the battle between adversaries Optimus Prime and Megatron, which is wonderfully animated. So too is Megatron’s assination of Starscream, his treacherous sidekick. Just fun, great stuff here. If you loved it as a child, you will not be disappointed with another viewing. It’s true that the plot wears thin and there are TONS of gaffes, both in plot and simply in scale, from shot-to-shot. But for a 90 minute toy commercial, there is a lot of talented sweat that went into this film.

There is a gigantic, 15-disc box set of Transformers Season One on DVD — I’m intrigued to get it, but it’s quite expensive and like Voltron I suspect the televison series had less to offer than the film. Again, if there are those out there who know more about these series, please post a comment!

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2 Responses to “DanViews:  TransFormers and Voltron”

  1. Eros Welker says:

    Hey! I take it back, I laughed because I thought you were watching Transformers the tv show, not the movie.  I love the movie! 

    You can win if you DARE!!

  2. MDHuff says:

    Makes me more interested in the upcomming film.  Not sure what to expect, but maybe the Bay will win me over.  After all these years.  Anyway, odd that Voltron didn’t hold up.  It was my fave as a kid.

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