Transforming Transformers

By: Mark

When I was growing up, it seemed like there were countless kids television shows and franchises: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Power Rangers, and Gargoyles, just to name a few. Everybody seems to have their own favorite grouping of series. Although it wasn’t the show I liked the most, there is still one group of robots in disguise that I loved as a kid, the Transformers. I would watch each week as the good Autobots would stop the evil Decepticons evil plans of…well…evil. For young kids ( and some older ones, too) the Transformers were cool! For a little while, the popular culture also thought Transformers were cool, although it didn’t last very long. How would today’s pop-culture look at the Transformers of the past?

So here we have a trailer for “The Transformers” movie from the ’80s.

Pretty awesome, yes? The narrator did say it was the “ultimate rock n’ roll adventure!” What more could you want? Some people in today’s culture might find the ridiculousness of the trailer appealing (I know I do!), but as a whole I don’t think a movie like this would get much notoriety. First of all, it’s an animated movie. For the most part, people view animation and cartoons as childish. Although shows like the Simpsons and Family Guy break that stereotype, the fact that the movie is a cartoon movie minimizes the overall viewing audience to Children and their parents or die-hard Transformer fans. With an audience like that, Transformers doesn’t seem to have the ability to take a large stance in pop-culture. If someone did want to make Transformers more notable, how would they go about doing that?

Very ominous, yes? This version of Transformers isn’t quite the same “rock n’ roll adventure”, it’s an entirely different beast. Let’s look at this trailer the same way we looked at the last one. The first difference I notice is that this movie is live action. The fact that there are live actors widens the overall demographic for this movie. Secondly, the actors in the movie are, for the most part, well known and good looking actors/actresses. This also widens the demographic. This trailer tells the basic story more than its predecessor, hinting at some sort of human/transformer war, so that gives the trailer a bit more appeal. Even if you weren’t a big fan of Transformers, this movie is very accessible.

As you may already be aware, the new version of Transformers has taken a huge stance in pop-culture. The first Transformer movie grossed around $320,000,000 in the US alone. (That’s right. That many zeros means that the total is three hundred and twenty million dollars.) That’s just the first movie! The second movie, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, grossed around $400,000,000 in the US. Transformers is also popular around the world. I could go into the ridiculous large amount of money that these two movies have made around the world, but I think the point is clear. Also keep in mind that the figures I’m showing are just for movie ticket sales, not merchandise, DVDs, and anything else with the name “Transformers” written on it.

I’m not going to go into whether the newer or older version is better than the other, but I will take a look at what sets the two apart. I went into some of these aspects already; live-action, notable actors, and such. Most of the movies success did come from attaching things that were already popular to a marginally popular thing, thereby raise its level of popularity. The actors aren’t the only pieces of cool added. Most of the cars that the Transformers transform into are expensive and flashy cars. (If I remember correctly, the Transformer with the main human hero is a Ford Mustang.) The overall story is the same in both movies, basically the good Autobots versus the evil Decepticons, but who is in the story and its core features are very different.

For one thing, the newer Transformers movie is almost entirely centered around the humans. You can get a sense of who the movie focuses on just by looking at the two trailers. In the first trailer the only time you see a human is one scene where some guy is flying on something that looks like a hover board. The second trailer shows humans from the very beginning and only shows the Transformers a couple of times. (I understand that the Transformers are not shown fully to make you interested in what they look as well as making the bad Transformers more frightening, but if you watch the movie it’s pretty much just people.)

With the addition of humans, the story changes from a standard action beat-em-up movie to a standard action beat-em-up movie, with some small human drama parts. However small those parts of the movie are, it does make a difference in the eyes of pop-culture if they are included or not. Also, the US Army has a bigger part in the new movie. The reason for this might be to gain the support of those who already like the army, which is a fairly popular ideal, but it may also serve to make the humans more responsible for defending themselves from the evil robots, rather than being a sort of pet for the Transformers. (I think it’s more likely the first one, but I can see both sides.)

The miraculous rise to popularity that Transformers made isn’t quite so miraculous when you look at it’s characteristics. Using the popularity of others to raise the popularity of Transformers is pretty logical. Also, the newer version of Transformers is much more commercial, which is funny considering that the original television show was created to help sell the Transformers toys. Even though there is some not-so-subtle marketing apparent in both new and old Transformers, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them.

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