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8 items from 2016


Transformers: the great toy massacre of 1986

10 June 2016 6:27 AM, PDT | Den of Geek | See recent Den of Geek news »

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Thirty years ago, Transformers: The Movie traumatised a generation of kids with a string of startling deaths. Ryan looks back...

Nb: The following contains spoilers for Transformers: The Movie.

When parents took their kids to see Transformers: The Movie in 1986, they probably weren’t expecting quite as much death and mayhem. But in the feature-length spin-off from the hit Hasbro toy-line and accompanying TV show, the spectre of death was everywhere; one early scene alone saw the evil Decepticons hijack an Autobot space shuttle and execute all the heroes inside.

It’s worth bearing in mind, first of all, that the Transformers TV series, which had been running for two years by that point, had never killed off any of its characters - even though they often engaged in protracted brawls and laser battles. In Transformers: The Movie, a number of much-loved characters were not only shot and killed, but occasionally died in surprisingly graphic fashion.

On a personal note, I still recall seeing the film at the age of about nine, and being slightly stunned at the sight of Prowl - he was the one who could transform into a police car - being shot in the chest, causing a gout of fire and smoke to issue from his eyes and mouth. “Wow,” I thought. “This film isn’t messing around.” 

Other Transformers who met their demise in Transformers: The Movie included Brawn, Ironhide and his ambulance doppelganger Ratchet, Windcharger and Wheeljack. Even the Decepticons didn’t walk away unscathed; Megatron and two of his fellow villains were mortally wounded and magically changed into the new, more futuristic-looking Galvatron, Scourge and Cyclonus. The duplicitous Starscream, who’d planned to usurp Megatron for years, eventually got his comeuppance: he was repeatedly blasted until his body turned to ash.

It was fairly strong stuff for an animated movie at the time. But it was as nothing - nothing - compared to the shock of what happened to Optimus Prime. In the midst of a pitched battle which saw Autobots struck down left and right, Prime engaged in a brutal fight with Megatron. At first, it looked like the kind of confrontation we’d seen in the TV series a dozen times; lots of cool-sounding mottos (“One shall stand, one shall fall!”), punches and stray laser blasts. But as the fight wore on, there were odd signs that things were about to get nasty: Prime is stabbed in the abdominal area first with what appears to be a huge piece of shrapnel, and then a laser sword. But then something shocking happened: Megatron shot Prime repeatedly in the chest.

By the end of the fight, Megatron and Prime are both left in a crumpled heap on the floor. But Prime pulls through, right? Wrong. In a scene that no doubt left its mark on entire theatres full of wide-eyed kids, Prime died on an operating table, the Matrix of Leadership falling from his hands and his once vivid red paint fading to a sullen grey. 

From toy maker Hasbro’s standpoint, killing off all these characters came down to simple economics: Prime, Ratchet, Prowl and their compatriots were all part of the original 1984 Generation One line, and Hasbro wanted to replace them with shiny new toys like Kup, Blurr and Rodimus Prime. What better way to do it than in the Transformers’ big, expensive debut movie?

For kids who loved Optimus Prime, however, the Transformers robot massacre was akin to, say, Walt Disney shooting Mickey Mouse to death in the middle of Fantasia. In fact, Hasbro had completely failed to predict how kids - not to mention their exhausted parents - would react to Prime’s shock death. In a brief documentary on Transformers: The Movie’s 20th anniversary DVD, story consultant Flint Dille expresses his surprise at the level of grief the event provoked.

“We didn’t know that he was an icon,” Dille says, still seemingly baffled by the response. “It was a toy show. We just thought we were killing off the old product line to replace it with new products.” 

If Hasbro - and the film’s makers - thought kids would rush out of the cinema in search of the nearest toy shop, they were sorely mistaken.

“Kids were crying in the theatres,” Dille recalls. “We heard about people leaving the movie. We were getting a lot of nasty notes about it. There was some kid who locked himself in his bedroom for two weeks.”

There was, however, one person working on Transformers: The Movie who apparently tried to avert Prime’s death: screenwriter Ron Friedman. Already the writer of GI Joe and the Transformers TV episodes, he was given the task of writing the Transformers movie script. Realising that Prime was the heroic father figure in the Autobot family, he advised Hasbro against killing the character off.

“I recognised that I needed to assign family identities to characters in order to create the recognition factor that young people need," Friedman explained in a 2013 interview with Todd Matthy. “They cannot verbalise this; it’s beneath the surface. To remove Optimus Prime, to physically remove Daddy from the family, that wasn’t going to work. I told Hasbro and their lieutenants they would have to bring him back but they said no and had ‘great things planned.’ In other words they were going to create new more expensive toys.”

While some movie-goers reeled at Prime’s death, they should at least be grateful that Transformers: The Movie was rather less violent than initially planned. One sequence in the script describes new Autobot leader Ultra Magnus being torn apart by Galvatron’s flying henchmen, the Sweeps:

Galvatron

Sweeps, quarter him!

Angle On The Sweeps - Tracking

Four rope-like rays shoot out of them and...

On Ultra Magnus

wrap around his arms and legs.

Angle On Ultra Magnus And The Sweeps

His arms and legs caught by the four ropes, he knows he's just about had it.

He struggles for one last moment, then...

Angle On The Sweeps And Ultra Magnus

Pulling their rays taut, the Sweeps fly in four separate directions, effectively drawing and quartering the Autobot leader...

On Ultra Magnus

As all of his limbs are separated from his body and scattered in the distance, he Screams In Horror.

Ouch. The sequence remained in contention long enough to reach the storyboarding stage, and the Marvel comic book adaptation of Transformers: The Movie also saw Ultra Magnus meet the same undignified end. You can see how it might have looked in the following video:

Clearly realising that drawing and quartering a toy robot’s a bit much for a family film, the scene was changed so that Ultra Magnus is simply cornered and shot to death by ruthless Decepticons.

Younger viewers may also have been mildly traumatised for another scene that was planned but ultimately never created: a battle in which a group of Autobots, hopelessly outnumbered and out-gunned, charges directly into an army of Decepticons.

“[The scene] basically wiped out the entire 84 product line in one massive ‘charge of the light brigade’” Flint Dille recalls. “So, whoever wasn't discontinued, stumbled to the end. That scene didn't make it into the finished movie. But if you think kids were locking themselves in the bedroom over Optimus Prime, basically in that scene they would've seen their entire toy collection wiped out.”

As it was, the backlash against Prime’s death was so fierce that the creators of the movie and TV series eventually had to relent and bring the character back from the dead in early 1987. 

The great irony of Optimus Prime’s death - and the rest of the Transformers who were killed in the great massacre of 1986 - is that, while those deaths were a business decision, they resulted in a film that was something more than a glorified toy commercial. Transformers: The Movie wasn’t a particularly big success at the time, but it retains a cult following - and, of course, the death of the Autobot leader is still talked about today. Ron Friedman, who tried and failed to prevent Hasbro from killing the Autobots’ father figure, is even calling his memoir I Killed Optimus Prime.

After Transformers: The Movie, Optimus Prime was killed and brought back from the dead so many times in various TV shows, comic books and even Michael Bay’s live-action movies that listing them would take up an article in itself. For a generation of Transformers fans, though, it was that first death in 1986 that sticks in the mind. Prime and dozens of other robot compatriots may have died for business purposes, but their deaths provoked an emotional response that even Hasbro hadn’t predicted.

See related  The strange story of Jetfire, and other Transformers toys The unrealised potential of the Transformers movies Movies Feature Ryan Lambie Transformers 13 Jun 2016 - 06:29 Transformers: The Movie Optimus Prime death movies »

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Willis Pyle Dies: ‘Pinocchio’, ‘Fantasia’ & ‘Bambi’ Animator Was 101

8 June 2016 9:58 AM, PDT | Deadline TV | See recent Deadline TV news »

Animator Willis Pyle, whose long career saw him working on the Disney classics Pinocchio, Bambi and Fantasia as well as on the cartoon series Mr. Magoo, died June 2 in his New York Home. He was 101; his family made the news public. Born in 1914 in Lebanon, Ks, Pyle studied art at the University of Colorado, afterward moving to Los Angeles where in 1937 he found work as an office boy delivering supplies to animators at Disney. By 1940 he had moved up to assistant animator… »

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Willis Pyle Dies: ‘Pinocchio’, ‘Fantasia’ & ‘Bambi’ Animator Was 101

8 June 2016 9:58 AM, PDT | Deadline | See recent Deadline news »

Animator Willis Pyle, whose long career saw him working on the Disney classics Pinocchio, Bambi and Fantasia as well as on the cartoon series Mr. Magoo, died June 2 in his New York Home. He was 101; his family made the news public. Born in 1914 in Lebanon, Ks, Pyle studied art at the University of Colorado, afterward moving to Los Angeles where in 1937 he found work as an office boy delivering supplies to animators at Disney. By 1940 he had moved up to assistant animator… »

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The Simpsons Get the Disney Treatment in This Week's Opener

22 April 2016 1:55 PM, PDT | PEOPLE.com | See recent PEOPLE.com news »

[Youtube "9qcY2ERwmaU"] Oh, the things this orange couch has seen! For this Sunday's episode of The Simpsons, the beloved animated family is paying homage to Disney classics during their signature orange couch opener. Veteran animator Eric Goldberg, who worked on multiple classic Disney flicks, gave each iconic yellow character different Disney makeover - including their pets. Lisa gets a chance to step into Cinderella's glass slippers and take a ride in a pumpkin carriage; Marge takes on the role [and chores] of Snow White and Homer gets to play the role of Baloo from The Jungle Book. Then there's baby Maggie, who plays »

- Brittany King

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The Simpsons' Disney Homage Couch Gag From Eric Goldberg Is Too Good

22 April 2016 7:32 AM, PDT | E! Online | See recent E! Online news »

The Simpsons is paying tribute to Disney characters in the past way ever. Veteran animator Eric Goldberg, known for his work on classic Disney flicks such as Aladdin, Pocahontas and Hercules, animated The Simpsons' couch gag for the Sunday, April 24 episode. In the opening sequence, Homer, Marge, Lisa, Bart and Maggie all take on various Disney characters. Homer has a Jungle Book inspired look, Marge is straight out of Snow White, Lisa is Cinderella, Maggie is the classic Mickey Mouse and Bart takes on Fantasia Mickey. There's classic Disney whimsy while sticking with the Simpsons style viewers have come to know and love. Goldberg's other credits include Fantasia 2000, The Emperor's New Groove, »

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Who Is Gloria Vanderbilt? The Extraordinary Life of Anderson Cooper's Heiress Mother

30 March 2016 8:00 AM, PDT | PEOPLE.com | See recent PEOPLE.com news »

Anderson Cooper has become famous the world-over for his hard-hitting reporting and tough questions on CNN. But his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, has been famous since she was born. Her father, Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt, was from one of the richest families in U.S. history. Her great-grandfather Cornelius Vanderbilt built the New York Central Railroad. After Reginald married his second wife, Gloria Morgan, the couple welcomed Gloria Vanderbilt in 1924. Her birth made headlines. But just 18 months later, her father died of cirrhosis of the liver and she was left in the care of her 19-year-old mother. "She wanted to have fun. »

- Emily Strohm, @emablonde

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Who Is Gloria Vanderbilt? The Extraordinary Life of Anderson Cooper's Heiress Mother

30 March 2016 8:00 AM, PDT | PEOPLE.com | See recent PEOPLE.com news »

Anderson Cooper has become famous the world-over for his hard-hitting reporting and tough questions on CNN. But his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, has been famous since she was born. Her father, Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt, was from one of the richest families in U.S. history. Her great-grandfather Cornelius Vanderbilt built the New York Central Railroad. After Reginald married his second wife, Gloria Morgan, the couple welcomed Gloria Vanderbilt in 1924. Her birth made headlines. But just 18 months later, her father died of cirrhosis of the liver and she was left in the care of her 19-year-old mother. "She wanted to have fun. »

- Emily Strohm, @emablonde

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Best Classical Albums 2015, Part One

6 January 2016 12:29 AM, PST | www.culturecatch.com | See recent CultureCatch news »

As I struggled, as every year, to get my end-of-year lists finished in a reasonably timely fashion, it occurred to me that I could publish half of the classical list earlier if I could find a reasonable way to split it into categories. Thus the non-contemporary/contemporary divide this year. The newer composers' work requires more listening; that's the only reason the older repertoire comes first.

1. Ivan Moravec Twelfth Night Recital Prague 1987 (Supraphon)   Supposedly this release of a previously unissued concert recording was approved by the pianist shortly before his passing in July 2015. Certainly it's hard to hear anything of significance that he wouldn't have liked about it, because it is a magnificent testament to everything that made him one of the greatest pianists who ever lived: one of the most beautiful piano tones ever heard, allied to liquid phrasing that gave him one of the greatest legato touches ever recorded. »

- SteveHoltje

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2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2006 | 2004 | 2001

8 items from 2016


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