by Rob Markman
Call them "cult classics." "Guilty pleasures." "Comfort movies." We all have a mental rolodex of flicks that may not be terribly popular but, for one reason or another, they resonate in a very special way. Maybe you saw it at the right moment. Maybe you just see gold where everyone else sees feces. Whatever the case, these are the special favorites that you keep stashed away for sick days. These are some of ours.
What an amazingly cruel way to leave an impression on a child: take their most invincible hero, put him on the grandest stage possible and murder him before your young eyes. It wasn’t even an hour into the film when he met his demise, but when the closing credits rolled 84 minutes later, reality sunk in: Optimus Prime was dead and “Transformers: The Movie” was the greatest animated experience for ’80’s babies everywhere.
It was the summer of 1986 when the animated-gem was released in theaters and 25 years later the original "Transformers" movie remains the greatest adaptation (sorry Michael Bay). There was nothing that would prepare my six-year old self for what I was about to see. There was, however, a persistent rumor started by some kids in my neighborhood who got their kicks spreading persistent rumors (you know, the same kids who claimed to own a Super Famicon, the highly-coveted Japanese version of Super Nintendo).
Supposedly the Kenmore movie theater in Flatbush, Brooklyn, was giving away free Transformers toys to all kids who made the first showing, and not just any toy: the planet-eating Unicron (voiced by Orson Welles). So, I begged my 16-year old brother who never took me anywhere to take me to the theater on Church avenue, just blocks away from our home.
We made our way into the Kenmore; there were no action figures, but I wasn’t too disappointed. I only half-believed the rumor anyway (I was six, but I wasn’t a moron). Seeing my favorite television cartoon characters on the big screen was thrilling enough. It started off fine: the Autobots were enjoying life in peaceful Autobot City on Earth, and of course the Decepticons were plotting. The good guys always won; this was normal.
This time though, things were different. The Autobots were taking a serious ass-kicking: Ratchet, Ironhide, Wheeljack, Prowl were all murdered. "It’ll be okay," I thought. "Optimus will save the day." During his fateful battle scene with Megatron, Stan Bush’ “The Touch” even played in the background, and everyone knows that’s like the most heroic song ever recorded in life. It’ll be okay.
Boy, was I wrong. Three laser blasts to the chest would be all it took to shatter all that my young mind believed in. It was during that 1986 summer that I would learn, bad things could happen to good people — or robots.
“One day an Autobot shall rise from our ranks and use the power of the Matrix to light our darkest hour,” Optimus said from his death bed as he removed his robot-like heart from his chest. “Until the day ‘til all are one.” Then his body turned from a bright red, to a dull blue and finally a deathly grey.
I dropped a tear — screw it, the truth is, I cried. Right there in the Kenmore, I cried. It’s one of those moments that my older brother still teases me about to this day. But I’m not ashamed. I still get choked up every time I fire up the Blu-ray player to watch the greatest animated movie of all-time.
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