TV Review: The Transformers – Original Miniseries & Seasons 1 & 2 (1984-1986)

Also known as: Transformers: Generation 1, Transformers G1 (informal titles)
Release Date: September 17th, 1984 – January 9th, 1986
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Transformers by Hasbro and Takara Tomy
Music by: Johnny Douglas, Robert J. Walsh
Cast (voices): Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, Chris Latta, Michael Bell, Corey Burton, John Stephenson, Jack Angel, Casey Kasem, Scatman Crothers, Charlie Adler

Hasbro, Sunbow Productions, Marvel, Toei, AKOM, Claster Television, 65 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

“Sometimes even the wisest of man or machine can make an error.” – Optimus Prime

*Written in 2015.

The original Transformers television series, simply called The Transformers and now commonly referred to as Transformers G1 (for Generation One) was a sister show to Marvel/SunBow’s G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.

It had the same art style, the same producers and directors and the voice cast of both shows were pretty much identical. It was also obvious to kids at the time but we didn’t care that Starscream and Cobra Commander had the same voice. All we cared about is that this show was just as badass as G.I. Joe.

Also, like G.I. Joe, this animated series was used as a vehicle to sell a tie-in toy line produced by Hasbro. It worked well, as the Transformers characters were some of the best-selling toys of all-time. In fact, after Star Wars, Hasbro’s G.I. Joe and Transformers lines have to be the hottest selling toys of the ’80s for boys.

In regards to the show, there were great multi-part episodes and many stand alone episodes. This was the typical format of male action cartoons of the era. We were treated to great stories, a rich mythos and interesting characters. The show was well executed and was one of the highlights of 1980s pop culture.

It has gone on to spin-off a bunch of other animated series, as well as live-action films (those are atrocious though), video games, comic books and thousands of toys. The franchise, born from this animated series, is still one of the most lucrative of all-time and continues to try and reinvent itself every few years.

In the end though, there has never been an incarnation of Transformers that has been as iconic and near perfect as the original animated series. And while people consider this era, the original miniseries and the first two seasons, which take place before the animated feature film, as the peak in Transformers entertainment, I am one of the weirdos that actually prefers the show after the film.

The reason why I wanted to single out the two halves with different reviews is that the second half, after the movie, is darker and has a slew of new characters and situations. The movie changed everything and it significantly altered the show’s tone. I will review the second half of this series at a later date.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: The other Marvel/Sunbow Transformers and G.I. Joe stuff.

Film Review: Mars Attacks! (1996)

Release Date: December 12th, 1996 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Jonathan Gems
Based on: Mars Attacks by Topps
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan, Danny DeVito, Martin Short, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michael J. Fox, Rod Steiger, Tom Jones, Lukas Haas, Natalie Portman, Jim Brown, Lisa Marie, Sylvia Sidney, Jack Black, Christina Applegate, Pam Grier, Paul Winfield, Joe Don Baker, O-Lan Jones, Ray J, Frank Welker (voice)

Tim Burton Productions, Warner Bros., 107 Minutes

Review:

“They blew up Congress! Ha ha ha ha!” – Grandma Florence Norris

While this isn’t one of Tim Burton’s most popular films, it is one of my favorites and I feel like it missed its mark because it’s not the type of film that would resonate with most people.

Mars Attacks! came out in late 1996, not too long after Independence Day ruled American culture that same summer. Maybe people were confused that this was a ripoff of it or that one big alien invasion movie was enough to digest but either way, I don’t think people realized that this was vastly different and sort of a parody of the genre while also being an incredible live action adaptation of the Mars Attacks trading cards that Topps put out in the 1960s. It’s like those who were kids in the ’60s no longer cared and the teens of the ’90s didn’t know the reference.

Still, this is a hilarious romp starring dozens of top notch celebrities where not a single one of them is actually safe. I mean, these Martians murder Congress, the President and even try to crush a troop of Cub Scouts with the Washington Monument. They are sick, sadistic and really, just friggin’ awesome. They are also voiced by Frank Welker, the guy who gave life to Megatron from the original and still greatest Transformers cartoon.

By the star power that this movie has, it’s clear that Hollywood got the joke and appreciated it even if audiences didn’t flock to see this. Still, it wasn’t a massive failure, by any means. It did fairly well but not as well as what Warner Bros. was probably hoping for with Tim Burton being a mega earner for the studio. While it took some time, the film did earn back the $100 million that was put into it. It was considered a box office bomb in the United States but it fared much better internationally.

This is one of the most hysterical films of the ’90s put out by a major studio. The humor is perfect, the tone is great and it pokes fun at so many different facets of Americana that it almost feels like it was written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

The special effects look dated but they looked sort of cheesy in the mid ’90s. The film was supposed to have a hokey, old school vibe to it though. Really, the effects are great and they work for what this picture is. It’s not Independence Day and didn’t need to take itself as seriously in the visual effects department.

From a stylistic standpoint, the film really has a timeless feel to it. It merges modern style with ’50s and ’60s style in a seamless way that gives this film a magical quality.

Additionally, this picture boasts one of my favorite Danny Elfman scores of all-time. The theme is powerful and perfect and really fits that old school Elfman sound. Frankly, watching this film makes me appreciate and miss the quality of Burton and Elfman’s old school collaborations.

What really resonates with me is how this film balances comedy with how dark it actually is. It’s an absurd picture in the best way possible and shows that Tim Burton really has a dark sense of humor. Well, Beetlejuice was really effective in showing that aspect of Burton as well.

Mars Attacks! was underappreciated when it came out in 1996. It is still underappreciated today, as people that like to list out their favorite Tim Burton films always have this near the bottom of the list. Like I said, it isn’t for everyone but Burton fans, who understand Burton’s influences, should really love this picture.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, Joe Dante’s Matinee and alien invasion B-movies of the ’50s.

Film Review: The Shadow (1994)

Release Date: July 1st, 1994
Directed by: Russell Mulcahy
Written by: David Koepp
Based on: The Shadow by Walter B. Gibson
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Alec Baldwin, Penelope Ann Miller, John Lone, Peter Boyle, Ian McKellen, Jonathan Winters, Tim Curry, James Hong, Al Leong, Frank Welker (voice)

Bregman/Baer Productions, Universal Pictures, 108 Minutes

Review:

“I’ll be there… around every corner… in every empty room… as inevitable as your guilty conscience…” – The Shadow

The Shadow wasn’t shy about what it was trying to be. It was Universal’s answer to Warner Bros. massive success with Batman and Disney’s pretty popular Dick Tracy. It is almost like a blend of the two and I guess The Shadow was the right property to adapt at the time, if you wanted to marry both of those other franchises into one thing. Granted, it also throws in some Asian mysticism but ninjas and Oriental magic were pretty popular back then too.

I wouldn’t call the finished product a big success though. This film pretty much bombed, critics didn’t like it and it felt like it was trying too hard to be those other things that it wasn’t. It’s sad because The Shadow could have actually been a really great movie. It has so many things working for it that you almost have to try to make it not work.

Granted, this film is far from terrible and I like it quite a bit more than I dislike it. It’s just that those bad elements really held this motion picture back.

For starters, Alec Baldwin was boring as hell as the Shadow. He was dry, tried to come off as overly manly and sexy and it just felt silly. His Bela Lugosi illuminated eye trick when he was using his psychic shtick just didn’t work and I’m a huge fan of that method when used correctly. But maybe that only worked well in old black and white Universal Monsters pictures. His weird facial prosthetics also didn’t work for me and just made him look strange.

I also didn’t like John Lone as the villain, who is essentially a resurrected Genghis Khan. At least I think he was, his explanation was kind of weird and confusing. He kind of sounded like Tommy Wiseau with a little Asian flourish to his accent.

I did like the rest of the cast. Penelope Ann Miller was alluring as hell, Ian McKellen was delightful and Tim Curry stole the show, as he always does.

I also liked the score by Jerry Goldsmith. It was made to sound a lot like Danny Elfman’s scores for Batman and Dick Tracy but it wasn’t a total ripoff, it had a very strong Goldsmith vibe to it.

The look of the film was nice but it really was just an amalgamation of Tim Burton’s Gotham City and The City from Dick Tracy. It was actually New York and had the iconic landmarks but the night shots used sweeping cameras weaving around building’s ala Burton’s Batman and featured gargoyles with waterfalls coming out of their mouths and other things that didn’t seem very 1930s New York.

The film did its best to be exciting but it just wasn’t. It was as bland as Baldwin’s performance and to be honest, unlike similar films of the era, I never had the urge to go back and watch this until now. I have seen Batman and Dick Tracy and even The Rocketeer a few dozen times.

Although watching it now, I really liked the sequence during the final showdown in the hall of mirrors. It was a bit hokey but it still looked beautiful and was the best visual moment in the picture.

The Shadow isn’t a complete waste of a film. It’s less than two hours and is a decent time killer, especially if you’ve never seen it and are a fan of similar pictures and 1930s style.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: The two films it borrows heavily from: 1989’s Batman and 1990’s Dick Tracy.

Film Review: The Original ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ Film Series (1990-2007)

*written in 2014.

With the upcoming release of the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film, which is a reboot, I wanted to revisit the original film series. I hadn’t seen these movies since the 90s and I hadn’t seen the 2007 CGI sequel at all. I remember really liking the first two and finding the third one to be pretty boring. Maybe it was because it was missing their main antagonist, Shredder. Regardless of all that, here’s what I felt about these films now.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990):

Release Date: March 30th, 1990
Directed by: Steve Barron
Written by: Todd W. Langen, Bobby Herbeck
Based on: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird
Music by: John Du Prez
Cast: Judith Hoag, Elias Koteas, Robbie Rist, Brian Tochi, Corey Feldman, Kevin Clash, Sam Rockwell

Golden Harvest, Limelight Entertainment, 888 Productions, Mirage Enterprises, Northshore Investments, New Line Cinema, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Damn.” – Raphael

This first film in the series was the best of the original trilogy. It was gritty, it was fun, it was action packed and it embodied everything that made the TMNT franchise unique and awesome. Seeing this in the theater as a 5th grader, blew my damn mind.

The turtle costumes were phenomenal, the facial animatronics were outstanding and the range of movement the martial artists had inside the suits was uncanny. The acting in this film, considering what it is, wasn’t bad. Elias Koteas as Casey Jones and Judith Hoag as April O’Neil were both really good. I cared about their characters and even their romance.

My favorite part in the whole film though, had to be Shredder. For a live-action movie based on a comic book, especially for the era, he looked fantastic and menacing. I can’t even imagine a better looking Shredder in a real world sense.

Splinter was also pretty great and Kevin Clash (most famous for playing Sesame Street‘s Elmo) provided him with a good voice that gave a sense of authority and respect to a character that is really just an animatronic rat.

The movie never stops once it gets going. It actually flies by pretty quickly and is well-paced. Props to the writers who made a really good script and to the director, who orchestrated how it all went down.

Look for a very young Sam Rockwell playing a thug in a few scenes.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991):

Release Date: March 22nd, 1991
Directed by: Michael Pressman
Written by: Todd W. Langen
Based on: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird
Music by: John Du Prez
Cast: Paige Turco, David Warner, Ernie Reyes Jr., Kevin Nash, Vanilla Ice, Robbie Rist, Brian Tochi, Kevin Clash, Frank Welker

Golden Harvest, Mirage Enterprises, Northshore Investments, New Line Cinema, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Go, ninja! Go, ninja! Go!” – Vanilla Ice

It didn’t take long for Golden Harvest and New Line Cinema to pop out a sequel. This movie came out less than a year before its predecessor. While it still turned out pretty well, you can feel that it is lacking in quality from the first film and that they didn’t prepare for it as well.

Also, the turtles use their weapons a lot less than the first movie because busybody assholes thought that the darker and more violent tone of the previous film was too much for kids to handle. The lack of darker tone, hurt this movie.

Unfortunately, neither Judith Hoag or Elias Koteas returned for this film. I’m not sure why but due to the film being rushed out, one could assume that it had to do with scheduling conflicts. The April O’Neil character is still in the film but was recast with Paige Turco.

I do still like this movie but I miss the atmosphere of the first one. These aren’t films that you should take too seriously, but this one got a bit too campy and the script just wasn’t as good.

The edition of David Warner to the cast, an actor I have always enjoyed, as well as Ernie Reyes Jr., who is still the best kid martial artist I have ever seen, was a treat. Vanilla Ice also shows up to give us the greatest ninja-themed rap song of all-time.

Shredder was better looking in this film, as they retrofitted his helmet and made the sharp edges on it look like bad ass buzzsaw blades. However, when he became Super Shredder, he was just ridiculous and completely pointless as he killed himself in about ten seconds. Although it was cool that wrestling legend Kevin Nash was the guy in the Super Shredder suit.

The evil mutants that they made to combat the Turtles, were horrible. They should’ve done what kids were familiar with and gave us the famous Turtle villains Bebop and Rocksteady. Instead, we got Tokka and Rahzar. Stupid names for stupid characters.

All bullshit aside, I still really enjoy this film for what it is but it lacks in a lot of areas compared to the first.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993):

Release Date: March 19th, 1993
Directed by: Stuart Gillard
Written by: Stuart Gillard
Based on: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird
Music by: John Du Prez
Cast: Paige Turco, Elias Koteas, Vivian Wu, Sab Shimono, Stuart Wilson, Brian Tochi, Robbie Rist, Corey Feldman

Golden Harvest, Clearwater Holdings, New Line Cinema, 96 Minutes

Review:

“I think I swallowed a frog. I hope it wasn’t an ancestor.” – Donatello

Some people call this film Turtles In Time but that was the name of a TMNT video game. This film plot-wise, is completely unrelated to that game but they do share a time travel element.

I remember watching this just once as a kid and that was on video, as I didn’t even bother to see it in the theater. I just found the idea of the Turtles traveling back to feudal Japan to not be a story worthy enough to carry a film. It seemed like a bad one-off episode of the cartoon and at least those episodes are just twenty minutes.

Watching it now, over twenty years later, I still don’t like the film. It is boring, soulless and flat. There is really nothing interesting or redeeming about the film. Elias Koteas shows back up, after skipping out on the second film, but he is essentially wasted.

The villain is some evil British guy who comes off like an unfunny poor man’s version of Rik Mayall. Had he actually been played by Rik Mayall and humorously, the film may have been a tad bit better. But even Rik Mayall couldn’t have saved it.

The Turtles were also redesigned for this movie and they look like shit. They added a bunch of spots to them, gave them bigger eyes that looked incredibly fake and their animatronics were clunky at best.

After all that time to heal and accept this for what it is, I still hate this film.

TMNT (2007):

Release Date: March 17th, 2007 (Grauman’s Chinese Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Kevin Munroe
Written by: Kevin Munroe
Based on: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird
Music by: Klaus Badelt
Cast: Chris Evans, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mako, Kevin Smith, Patrick Stewart, Ziyi Zhang, Laurence Fishburne

Imagi Animation Studios, Warner Bros., 87 Minutes

Review:

“Duuuude.” – Michelangelo

This film is considered the fourth in the series and takes place quite some time after the others. It is also the first (and only) to be CGI instead of live-action.

This movie is pretty good. There is a lot story-wise that makes this one the best written of the series. There is a whole subplot about Raphael being a masked vigilante hero on a motorcycle, which would be great as its own standalone movie.

Also, Casey Jones is back in a much more expanded role, as he teams up with Raphael on their vigilante adventures. Although I wish Elias Koteas would’ve voiced Casey Jones, Chris Evans did a solid job.

There is another cool subplot about Leonardo living and training in solitude in Central America, which added a lot of depth to his character and his struggle as a leader.

As for the CGI, it was very well done. It wasn’t Pixar or DreamWorks level but it held its own and it was fluid and worked great with the action sequences of the film. The only thing that seemed off was that the voices were different. For instance, Splinter seemed like an entirely different character and this kind of gets in the way of consistency with the live action films. However, the Laurence Fishburne narration was fantastic.

Having now watched the original trilogy again and this film, I’d rank this as second behind the original.