Transformers sequel Revenge Of The Fallen is about to invade our cinemas with another round of Bayhemic 'bot carnage.
So we're taking a stroll down Cybertron’s memory lane (just off the corner of Circuit Avenue and Byte Street) to look back at just how Transformers has grown from kids' toy to behemothic movie franchise.
1. Proud Parents
Transformers, as you likely know, began life as a toy line. But did you know that they didn’t spring into existence fully formed?
Those robots in disguise got their start from two sources, neither of which was the Allspark.
Back in the mid ‘70s and early ‘80s, Japanese toy company Takara (you might know them as TOMY) brought out a line of toys featuring robots and other creations known as Microman and Diaclone.
Their strengths were interchangeable parts and the fact that some of them could transform into other things.
US company Hasbro bought the rights to both lines and began to develop what is now called Transformers.
Hasbro then hired American comic writers Jim Shooter and Dennis O’Neil to start building a backstory for the characters, with O’Neil giving Optimus Prime – heroic leader of the Autobots – his name.
In 1984, Marvel published a comic based on the Transformers which featured superhero mainstays like Spider-Man and Nick Fury cropping up for cameos.
It was here that Marvel's comic writer Bob Budiansky created and named the vast majority of the 'bot personalities that survive to this day.
But the fictional origin story was more open to re-interpretation. In the comics, it saw Optimus, evil Decepticon chief Megatron and their various supporters crash-landing on prehistoric Earth before slumbering until they awaken in the ‘80s and take the form of various vehicles, believing them to be the dominant race.
On TV, the tale was a little more fluid...
Next: TV Time...
2. ‘Toon Titans
Around the same time that the comic book was created, a cartoon TV show was developed based on the newly minted toys.
The series’ premise shifted several plot elements about Cybertron and the Transformers’ arrival on Earth, with the Autobots searching for new energy sources and crashing on our planet after a serious Decepticon attack.
The series also introduced human friends for the Autobots in the form of Spike Witwicky, whose younger brother Buster would befriend the ‘bots in the comic series and was originally intended to replace him, before Spike’s introduction forced continuity changes.
Spike’s father was Sparkplug Witwicky – and the surname has carried through several incarnations of the TF stories, all the way through to the current blockbusters.
The cartoon series would be the launching point for the Transformers’ first assault on cinema screens.
But who could the filmmakers possibly approach to do the masterful, booming voice of the bad guy?
Brian Blessed! No...
Next: ’Toon Cinema...
3. Cartoon Cinema
In 1986, the successful ‘toon series birthed a cinematic spin-off, in the awkwardly titled The Transformers: The Movie.
The story takes place in 2005 (ah, remember those heady days of giant robot battles on Earth? No? You must’ve been asleep or something...), 20 years after the events of the show’s second season.
Intended to bridge the gap between the second and third seasons, the film ups the danger ante with the introduction of god-like artificial planet-'bot Unicron, voiced by legendary auteur/thesp Orson Welles in his final film role.
It’s a psychedelic, sloppily plotted affair, crammed full of cheese and aching of ‘80s standbys (it launched ‘The Touch’, performed by Stan Bush, which you can enjoy above and has been lovingly recreated for the new film).
Oh, and 'Baa Weep Granah Weep Ninny Bong!'
What, you don’t recognise the Transformers' universal greeting? Shame on you.
The main plot issue in the movie is the death of Optimus Prime, which kind of shocked the kiddie audience.
Luckily, he got better in the cartoon’s third series.
And that wasn’t the end of their ‘toon adventures…
Next: Through The Generations...
4. A Generational Thing
Clearly unwilling to let their cash cow stop mooing, the Transformers’ rights holders kept the ‘toon series going for at least three more seasons after the movie.
And there were other comic books and novels. 'Generation One' spanned from the toys’ inception in 1984 to 1992.
'Generation Two' launched in 1992, with Marvel using a GI Joe spin-off to kick off a new arc of the story, including talk of the ‘bots breeding.
Yes, breeding. Asexually, in case you were wondering...
The next toy line to launch was 'Beast Wars: Transformers' (above), which had its own accompanying TV series, set 300 years after the great war between the forces of good and evil.
Based around descendants of the original teams, the Maximals (Autobots) and Predacons (Decepticons) battle it out on a planet with a high level of Energon, which results in the robots assuming animal shapes to protect their robot forms from Energon poisoning.
Also arriving in the later '90s were new takes on the comic-book stories that blended the first-generation cartoon plots, and IDW Publishing’s comic, which rebooted everything with a new origin story.
The ‘toon series' and comics kept flowing, and it was only a matter of time before the big screen called again…
Next: Live Action?
5. Development Deal
Back in 2003, producer Don Murphy was working with Hasbro to get GI Joe onto the big screen.
But with a messy war raging in Iraq, toy makers Hasbro – which were partnering on the Joe movie – suggested switching tracks to Transformers instead.
Murphy brought producer Tom DeSanto on board, who cranked out a treatment based on the first generation of ‘bot warriors.
When asked why he wanted to work on a TF movie, DeSanto admitted it could lead to compelling cinema: "In all the years of movie-making, I don't think the image of a truck transforming into a twenty-foot tall robot has ever been captured on screen.
"I also want to make a film that's a homage to '80s movies and gets back to the sense of wonder that Hollywood has lost over the years.
"It will have those Spielbergian moments where you have the push-in on the wide-eyed kid and you feel like you're ten years old even if you're thirty-five."
Talking of Steven Spielberg, the man himself became attached as producer in 2004, around the time that The Core writer John Rogers penned a first draft that saw four Autobots taking on four Decepticons and featured the Ark spaceship that brought the robots to Earth.
Spielberg preferred the idea that the focus should be on the human level, with “a boy and his car” as the driving force.
Writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (above) were brought in to craft new drafts for Spielberg.
The script went through various transformations of its own – with the robots silent in one draft (the producers feared talking robots would be silly, while the writers argued it was necessary).
On 30th July 2005, Spielberg hired a director to take on the job.
His name? Michael Bay. His response? “I told Steven it was a stupid toy movie”.
Next: Bring The Bayhem!
6. Bay Gets Busy
Despite his initial reaction, Michael Bay signed on to bring the Transformers film to fruition, mostly because he wanted to work with the man who made ET.
But Bay naturally brought his own worldview to the movie, ditching the early drafts of the script as too kiddie-orientated and pushing for a harder, more militaristic edge.
With a script finally in place, featuring a selection of classic robot characters (including Optimus, Megatron, Bumblebee and Starscream, who survived every draft), the film was ready to shoot.
To save money for the production, Bay reduced his usual fee by 30%.
He planned an 83-day shooting schedule, maintaining the required pace by doing more camera set-ups per day than usual.
Principal photography began on April 22 at Holloman Air Force Base, standing in for Qatar.
Given his close working relationship with the military, Bay was able to get the US armed forces to sign on to help, despite the fact that most of the villains transformed into armoured vehicles.
With the crew shooting fast and loose, the marketing campaign started to gather speed.
Cue the teaser…
Next: Bay's 'bots Revealed...
7. Teasers & Trailers
The first Transformers teaser trailer arrived in June 2006, with zero actual footage from the film.
Sample Youtube comment: “lol when i saw this i was like, this films gonna be good, then i saw the transformers sign GAY!!!!!!!!!”
Then, in December 2006, came the proper trailer...
This one showed off plenty of Bay-flavoured destruction (or should that be destructicon?)...
Giant robots, Shia LaBeouf looking wide-eyed, more giant robots...
And who was that girl?… Megan somebodyorother...
Reaction was mixed, but the countdown was ticking to 4th July weekend and the film’s opening…
8. Autobots (And Decepticons) Roll Out!
Despite posters and trailers claiming it would hit on July 4th (traditionally a big release window for movies across the pond), the pic jumped the gun and arrived on July 2nd.
Reviews were mixed, stretching from “better than sex” to “the most spectacularly stupid film ever made” and everything in between.
But it was a huge launch, with more than $70 million trousered in its first weekend.
LaBeouf’s career was kicked up a notch and Megan Fox suddenly went from who-she? to international sex vixen.
Oh, and people liked the robots, too. Which, after all, hogged most of the characterisation.
Bay's ILM team bagged plenty of awards for their work – all the mechanical characters were amazing feats of intricate CG animation, with Ironhide’s guns alone made up of 10,000 individual parts.
Bay could add another 'Box-Office Total' poster to his office walls (yes, he does have them) and the 's' word began to heat up.
The Transformers' return was inevitable...
Next: Out For Revenge
9. Bay Gets Busier - And Bigger
In September 2007, Paramount, hungry to keep the Transformers momentum moving, announced that a follow-up film would launch in 2009.
Michael Bay initially said that he might not return for the second outing, or that he’d try to squeeze in a smaller film between the two movies.
But he agreed to come back because, as he says, “You have your baby and you don't want someone else to take it.” Oh, and because the studio backed the Optimus Prime truck up to his office loaded with money.
Also hesitant to return – though more because they were legitimately busy – the original's screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman declined to return, but the studio execs wooed them back after interviewing other writers.
The Ring writer Ehren Kruger was recruited to share the writing load, partly because he’s an old mucker of the other keyboard bashers and partly because he’s a big Transformers nerd.
After the writers’ strike scuppered script development, the three bashed out a treatment that Bay began to develop.
Once the union battle was over, Bay responded by locking his writers in two hotel rooms and having them crank out drafts.
The new story would up the robot count (around 42 according to the released pics, though ILM’s Scott Farrar says the number is closer to 60) and planned to spread the focus between robots and humans more evenly.
Shooting began in May last year under the same code name as the original – Prime Directive (doubly ironic given Orci and Kurtzman’s involvement in the Star Trek reboot).
And soon, it was teaser/trailer time again…
Next: Revenge Is Coming...
10. Fallen Idols
Revenge Of The Fallen, the second Transformers movie hits cinemas this week.
But it’s already enjoyed two trailers and a teaser.
As for the plot? Despite Bay’s endless claims that Megatron was gone for good after his defeat at the end of the first movie, he returns. But he isn’t the biggest threat in the film...
That honour goes jointly to The Fallen, an ancient, very powerful robot based on the Lucifer mythology (hence the name) and Devastator, the ginormous uber-‘bot made up of the evil Constructicons.
Everything is bigger this time around – the budget (up $50 million to $200 million), the scope and the ‘bot count.
But is it better? Read our review, then go decide for yourself on Friday…
Oh - one more thing...
Shia's slip yesterday about Indy V could have implications for Transformers 3.
If, as seems likely, the two movies' shooting schedules clash, Shia might have to choose between world-saving 'bot-battler and world-saving whippersnapper whip-cracker...
Like This? Then try...
- 42 Amazing Transformers Illustrations
- Trailer Breakdown: Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen teaser
- Transformers 2 Concept Art online
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