Scene from Transformers: The Movie
In 1986 I was seven years old and Transformers was my favorite show on television. My family lived in St. Catherines, Ontario and we got FOX 29, a station from down in the USA, I think Rochester NY. It had all sorts of great Saturday morning cartoons with new episodes of transformers each week. The show began broadcasting in 1984 and I had started watching it young growing very attached to several characters. My favorite was Ironhide the tough old-school cargo-van sort of truck who always talked tough. Ironhide was big and red like Optimus Prime but worked with everyone instead of being a leader. He acted like a second in command often keeping the other Autobots on task, he also always had something to say about kicking bad guys in the butt. I had truck wallpaper on my wall as a kid and would imagine which trucks were the different transformers. In my head, the red truck that was close to my pillow on the wall was Ironhide. I would look at the red truck each night and imagine adventures as I fell to sleep.
When “The Transformers: The Movie” was announced early that year, I was begging my parents to let me go see it. I would say, “if it comes to the drive-in, can we go?” At this time movie theatres were far more expensive than the drive-in and we owned a station wagon. My brother Jake (Age 4) and I would lay in the back and watch double features while my parents would talk or smoke and hang out with their friends outside. My brother and I would never make it through both films and pass out waking up later when my father carried us into our house in the middle of the night. Movies were a big part of our young lives and the drive-in was where all the best stuff happened.
Summer came and the movie was released at the same time as my mother taking my brother and I to visit her family in Vancouver. This trip was planned for a while with the intentions of meeting members of her side of the family, some of which we were meeting for the first time. While in Vancouver, I got to go to the movie theatre with my brother, mother and uncle. The level of anticipation I had to see this film was like nothing you can understand. I was literally shaking from excitement as we bought popcorn and sat in our seats. I remember going to the washroom to pee even though I didn’t have to go yet. I just didn’t want to miss any of the movie, for a seven year old, this is a sign of emphasized importance. I kept looking at my brother with a huge smile excited about how this was going to be so good.
The film opens with a brutal scene of Unicron, the robotic planet that eats other planets, devouring a population of robot scientists, children and families. It’s really scary as it shows children running and playing then Unicron hitting the planet like a shark attacking a whale. The scientists run to their ships abandoning the families and fleeing. Unicron eats the entire planet and some of the ships are sucked into its giant open mouth failing to escape. At this time I thought; “they will all be saved later, they couldn’t really be dead.” I turned to my brother and said something equivalent to “The autobots are gonna kick this guys butt” which was more for me even though I was trying to be a “cool” big brother. I then made it through the first 4 minutes and 30 seconds of the film before I was dragged out of the theatre kicking and screaming…
“The Transformers: The Movie” had a rating of PG 13 but this was because of profanity used in some dialogue. Censors did not flag the violence within the film as a cartoon depicting robots being destroyed was not showing blood or death and therefore did not require an R rating. Transformers as a children’s television program was really a huge promotion for the Transformers toy line and to keep making new toys meant that they needed a never ending series of new characters. The owners of the transformers franchise, Hasbro had decided to get rid of many of the existing characters to make room for new ones leading to scenes in the beginning of the film where many of the existing characters are horrible “killed” on screen. To the makers of the film, robots were not alive and therefore they could not be “killed”. The promotions for the film were directed at Transformer’s target market; children. There was no warning of the level of violence that was going to be within the film.
3 minutes from the beginning of the movie, the leader of the Decepticons mounts an attack on an autobot spaceship with four of my favorite autobot’s piloting. They were Brawn, Prowl, Ratchet and of course, Ironhide all traveling to earth on an important mission. Before departing, Ironhide had said something witty like “Your days are numbered “Decepticreeps” a classic Ironhide line as he often made empty threats as part of their never ending battle between good and evil. Autobots vs. Decepticons.
Megatron abruptly tears the side of the ship open with bad guys pouring inside the space vehicle as heavy metal music begins to loudly play. Brawn rushes towards them and yells “Megatron, Decepticons!”, and Megatron yells “Die Autobots!” turning into a large hand-gun which is then used by Decepticon, Starscream to shoot at the Autobots. Brawn is hit in the shoulder exploding through and out his back immediately crashing to the ground. Panic hits me like a the tide pushing me backwards but my body cannot move and the seat stops me from flowing with it. Megatron has always turned into a gun but has never said “Die” to anyone before. The violence is at a higher level than I can understand and it fills me with fear and confusion.
Prowl stands and shoots once at the decepticons missing and hitting the ceiling. He is then shot in the chest blowing through his back with fire. A close up of Prowl’s face shows the lights in his eyes fade out and smoke start pouring out of his mouth. I start crying. Tears pouring down my face even though I cannot look away. Ironhide and Ratchet stand from their pilot seats drawing guns in each hand firing into at decepticons repeatedly. My hopes rise watching my heros trying to fight to save their friends. A volley of return fire hits them both multiple times in the chest knocking them to the ground.
I scream. “NOOOOO!!!!” tears exploding from my eyes as I shake and convulse. My mother and uncle try to calm me down as I have started thrashing around uncontrollably. On the screen Megatron and Starscream say something about attacking autobot city and Optimus Prime gloating while walking over the dead bodies of my favorite heros. As they say this Ironhide grabs Megatron’s leg weakly saying “no”. Ironhide is alive! I stop and stare at the screen. Megatron looks down and says “Such Heroic Nonsense” then shoots Ironhide in the head at point blank range…
I don’t remember what happened.
Everyone says I just snapped.
They say I just screamed and screamed. A man sitting in front of me turned around to get involved and I apparently attacked him. I have no memory of this but I ripped at his face yelling “No! No! No!” over and over again. I was told that I hurt him ripping at his face which escalated the situation with many theatre staff rushing in to see what was happening. Looking back, I obviously had a major psychotic breakdown. The staff of the theatre with my mother and uncle dragged me from the theatre as I violently lashed out at anyone near me. We were thrown out of the building, I remember my uncle was upset that he had to miss the rest of the movie. I don’t want to characterize my brother during this because I have no idea how he responded. To this day he says he has no memory of these events.
Several years later I watched Transformers, the Movie at home and cried in multiple places. When Ironhide says “no” I cry uncontrollably. The rest of the movie is even more brutal filled with many scenes as horrific as the one that broke me. The film killed off many of the main characters in a variety of horrible ways including Optimus Prime which has a prolonged death sequence. The overarching story of the film is about the new characters taking leadership over the Autobots after the majority of existing characters are killed. The new Autobots fight against tyranny (Unicron) unifying many people against a common foe.
Today, my younger friends make jokes about me growing up in the 80’s talking about how badass things were at that time or at least how people talk about the 80’s now. From that point on in my childhood, I became a badass and grew tough leading into the 1990’s but not like the cartoon version of Ironhide, instead I became cold like Megatron. I stopped caring about other people and started asserting myself to get what I wanted. I was arrested for the first time in grade 5 for stealing minor explosives from a parked train car and trying to blow up my teacher’s Chrysler by taping them to his muffler. In highschool I was involved in fighting, selling drugs and crimes, stealing mostly. All the time I projected the bullshit outward facing bravado that comes with teenage male posturing of the 1980’s and 90’s while on the inside was a small boy still crying as my childhood had been killed in front of me.
I cleaned up my life when my first child was born, I was 18 years old. I got a job, went back to school and started contributing heavily to the lives of my friends and to the many communities I work with. As much as it sounds bizarre, “The Transformers: The Movie” is one of my favorite films today. I know that when I watch; it will make me cry. My children watch the film with me knowing that I will cry. They watch me more than the film and laugh a bit as they are hyper-aware of how I get when I relive my childhood… I get sad, not violent.
As an adult, this film represents my childhood ending and my adolescence beginning. An adolescence that in place of toys and robots came real world violence, drugs and crime. I still find it really strange that one of the most impactful events of my entire life was caused by the toy company Hasbro and their ill conceived choice to destroy the dreams of millions of children in the 1980’s just to make money.
When I watch that film today, I think more about the younger version of myself than the actual plot of the film. I think about everything I lost in that moment in Vancouver. I think about that seven year old little boy and remember crying in my bed for weeks looking at the red truck beside my pillow and thinking about how he was gone and all my adventures had come to an end.