Sunday, August 8, 2021

My Love/Hate Relationship With Transformers: The Movie


We're greeted by twin suns, their fire a beautiful spectacle of cosmic power. From the dark, a figure emerges, massive and menacing. Right off the bat we are aware that its intentions are hostile. The planet Lithone stands it its way, a race of mechanical people. You briefly see them enjoying life until hell rains down upon them. 

"It's Unicron!" One of them shouts.

The planet is devoured by Unicron in an animated sequence that's horrifying and yet beautiful at the same time. 

After this sequence, rock music plays and the title "TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE" comes into view. 

On the thirty-fifth anniversary of Transformers: The Movie, I reflect on how it affected me as a Transformers fan and movie buff and how it molded me as a writer.

The film wasn't very well regarded by critics and even by some fans; Leonard Maltin called it "obnoxious", and even while the film has flaws, one cannot ignore all the hard work and artistry that went into making it. 

Before 1989's "The Little Mermaid", animation in America has never been taken very seriously by mainstream audiences and certainly not taken seriously by most of Hollywood. Walt Disney himself wanted his people to know that they weren't making "cartoons" but films. He got a lot of respect, but I think he didn't get the adoration that he really wanted. He wanted to be seen as a peer among the best of Hollywood.

Animation has often been seen as children only. Pity, for you can literally do anything you like and the only limits is ones imagination. There are some rare examples of 1981's Heavy Metal which rightfully deserves a rated R. But some animation like the Secret of Nimh or the Rankin/Bass Hobbit film of 1978 are appropriate for children but surely smart and entertaining enough for adults. In the animation world where basically there was only Disney, maybe Warner Brothers, maybe Don Bluth, hardly anything else got attention and "cartoons" were only about singing mice and fairy tales. 

Transformers: The Movie was clearly made for fans and fans only, a bridge between seasons two and three. They knew that they weren't going to draw in any non-fans, unless they were the parents accompanying their children. The film has become a cult classic among animation enthusiasts, heavily influence by anime. The only other animation that compares was Robotech.

Everything is amped up to 11, the animation being the most prevalent. Everything on screen is a delight to the eyes, especially to an 11-year-old boy who is a big Transformers fan. We see familiar faces of Autobots and Decepticons larger than life. It gave us something we've never seen before and never since. 

Then...Autobots start dying one by one and it's clear that another element has been ramped up to 11: violence. They got away with the amount of violence because it's just robots getting blown up. Robots don't actually "die", right?

The design of ships/buildings/planets/aliens was brilliant, rivaling the likes of Star Wars. Ralph McQuarrie and others should be proud at what he inspired. I wish they had models or toys of them. Shame. Well, at least I had legos and I could build them! Now granted, all alien live was mechanical in origin but that leads me to another thing I admire about the film: In animation you can do anything, why not push the envelope and really make something unique?

Speaking of Star Wars, it played a major role in much of children's entertainment during the 1980's. 

Hear me out. 

Toy manufacturers saw how popular Kenner's Star Wars toys were and realized that children weren't just playing with an action figure, they were playing with characters from a movie that they love. When you think of it, most 1980's children's television had a toyline to go with it.

Sadly, this is where my biggest pet peeve of Transformers: The Movie comes in. It's rather cynical to think that they killed off most all the 1984 characters just because their toys weren't selling anymore, and they introduced NEW characters because they got new toys to sell.

The death of Optimus Prime is the Old Yeller moment of the 1980s, and even though they already had plans to bring him back, it was still a shock at the time. I should have known that characters don't die in situations like this, I had already learned that with Spock.

"I crushed him with my bare hands!"

"You exaggerate."

Nowadays when a classic character is dies in the story, they not only lose their life, but the spirit of the character is destroyed as well. Justin Hammer put it best:

"You don't just go and try to kill the guy. I think, if I may, you go after his legacy."

At least they treated Optimus Prime with respect, having him die a hero and turning the tide of a terrific battle. Megatron had to cheat to defeat him. You don't see that today. Killing off a character has never been a sin and even though it's bummed me out, I keep in mind that it IS fiction. The greater sin is destroying a characters legacy.

Flint Dille was a story consultant on the film. "We didn't know that he was an icon." He said. 

The producers admitted they went too far. BUT, they also admitted that may have been why the film remains in some people's psyche. I will give it credit for trying to push the envelope. I think they treated their audience of children with respect that we could handle the things happening on screen.

It IS bad enough that many beloved characters died, but at least we did get some new and interesting characters. Kup is one of the best Transformers ever and they got Eric Idle himself to be the amazing Wreck-Gar. The rest of the voice cast is amazing and is one element of its legacy. 

My only two real issues with film is the death count of the classic characters only because their toys weren't selling anymore and focusing too much on the new toys...er...characters. 

Still better than anything from Michael Bay. 

Growing up with a lot of these shows was an eye opener, that one can have a vivid imagination and create things that others can enjoy. That's what I wanted to do when I grew up. The biggest lesson I learned from Transformers and all the other animated properties like HeMan, GI Joe, Thundercats and many others is that one shouldn't look down at their audience. Treat your audience with respect, both their minds and their hearts. 

Modern Hollywood has forgotten this lesson.

Friday, February 5, 2021

RIP Cal

My heart is broken.



Cal, my longtime friend, my BEST friend from Jr. High and High School has died. 


Being a nerd in the 80's and 90's was rough. We were paving the way to a new frontier. We showed the world that the things we liked were indeed cool. But for a lonely nerd, it was good having someone like him around to talk to. 


He drove me to our high school graduation rehearsal which he played a band that he recently discovered. 


"Who is this?" I asked.  


"They Might Be Giants" 


"Who Might Who Be What?"  


I ended up liking their upbeat attitude. It was like Weird Al but without the parody. 

Throughout our 20's we enjoyed many nerdy things like gaming, anime, and other movies and shows. We watched the series finale of Star Trek The Next Generation together.  


He faced some challenges in which I was very impressed how he handled them. There was no way I could have faced them with the same strength.  


Sadly we grew a little distant together in later years. He got married and circumstances lead him to being a single father. Again, a challenge to which he showed great strength. 


He went to my father's funeral, to which he told me "I hope to be half the father your dad was." Well he was a great father, a great friend, a great human being. 


I admired his intelligence, his independence, his devotion to friends and family.  

 

I love you, Cal. And I'll miss you. 

Thursday, July 9, 2020

The Time Has Come

Covid has affected us all, but I had one other element over the past year that I haven't shared online, and that my mother is in a wheelchair. She needed three surgeries over the past year and her muscles have atrophied to the point where she can't walk. She not has trainers coming to her home to work with her. So yeah, this year has beaten me down in more than one way. In a year that has been absolutely insane, there was one thing that kept me going: I'm being published. Our pop culture; whether it be tv, movies, or comics, is in limbo and really doesn't know what to do with itself. We need Morgalla and more works like her; new and fresh. I had moved back from Florida to Michigan in 2000 after I had lost my job at Walt Disney World. It's a shame because I was looking to move up in the company and had a plan with schooling and work. I had a future. So I moved back home and spent a year trying to figure out what to do with my life. Then I remembered that I had this story about a demon girl who falls in love with a human, all the while evil forces conspire to invade Earth. This was the groundwork for "Diary of a Lonely Demon", which would turn into a trilogy. Sadly, no publisher or agent was listening. I went with self-publishing in 2009. I sold a few books and made some fans. I was honored. Sadly, one fan (for reasons that are her own) decided to try and destroy my career. She spent seven years doing so. I went on and self-published two more books. While I was in the middle of writing "WAR of the Dark One", my dad told me how proud he was of me for moving forward even though I had been through so much. My only regret is that my father isn't alive to see this day. A few years ago I started writing a prequel to my series, exploring Morgalla when she was younger and a tad naive in the ways of the world and of Hell. I had also grown weary of love stories. I was twenty years old when I invented Morgalla and was a hopeless romantic. It's changed a lot but the spirit and soul is still the same: love conquers all. Two years ago BHC Press picked up Morgalla and agreed to publish all four books. It's my honor and privilege to be partnered with them. I present to you the first of the Morgalla Chronicles: The Savage Peak.

https://www.bhcpress.com/Author_Jon_David.html

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Morgalla Inspiration: Battle Angel Alita & Other Animes

During the early 90's my brothers and I watched a lot of anime. Bear in mind this is before it was popular and in the mainstream. What most people knew about anime came from Voltron or Robotech.

We preferred subtitles to English dub. Heck, I knew a guy who taught himself Japanese through watching subtitled anime. We watched all we could: Project AKO, Devil Hunter Yohko, Kiki's Delivery Service, Vampire Hunter D, Devilman.

Hmm...I'm sensing a pattern with some animes.

We even saw AKIRA, the crowning jewel of animation, at the Detroit Institute of Art. It was awesome seeing a film like that on the big screen.

Anime was so different than anything shown on American television. Sure, there was Speedracer, G-Force, and Voltron which were all kid-friendly, but Robotech was very mature for the most part and even had characters DIE which was strange to see on American television intended for kids.

Among all these great (and many times weird) stories was one that really caught my attention: Battle Angel. It's the story of Gally, a cyborg girl who is found by Ido, barely alive and functioning. He rebuilds her body and she learns to survive in a savage city filled with killer cyborgs.

There's this huge and dangerous world above and all around her and she has to learn to survive in it. Her innocence and vulnerability draws you in. She's sweet and kind, you end up LIKING her:


But there are times where you don't want to mess with her.


Gally is just a young woman trying to survive in a dangerous world. She's not a violent person, but will be when the lives of herself and loved ones are in danger. Her story has heart and brains and it's a shame that anime never continued her story.

When I heard they were making a film adaptation I was 100% against it. Hollywood doesn't have the best track record with anime. Thankfully I was proven wrong. The Robert Rodriguez-directed adaptation is a great film and really captures the spirit. Let's hope for a sequel.

Alita/Gally, Battle Angel, whatever you name her, is Morgalla's greatest inspiration. She rocks.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Morgalla Turns 20!!!


2015 will mark the year that Morgalla turns 20. No, not in the literal sense, in the books she's in her early 20's already, but that I created Morgalla in 1995. Above is the oldest surviving drawing of her. 

As you can see, a lot as changed:


It was a little idea that turned into something else, growing into a trilogy (and possibly more) that I wanted to share with the world.

It started off as a short story, told mostly from the point of view of the male protagonist's point of view, in this case, Jasper. It was a romance where a human finds out his new girlfriend is actually a demon. Hilarity ensues, originally being a black comedy of sorts inspired by the writings of John Landis and Phil Foglio.

I went to work for Disney for a while and I did nothing of a creative nature and Morgalla remained "on the shelf", as it were. When Florida didn't work out, I found myself asking the question I think a lot of us have in our lives: "What now?"

Well, I remembered the little story I had. I converted it to a screenplay, then back to a short story, but it needed more. I continued to add and Morgalla grew into a trilogy: a story of a young woman wanting a normal life which is kinda tough when she has horns half the time.

The overall theme and Morgalla herself hasn't changed that much: A woman who is trapped between two worlds, who longs to smile and has a short of a dry, quirky personality but often has to hide it and force herself to put on a false face, both on Earth and in Hell. When one sees Morgalla smiling and even acting silly, that's her true persona emerging.

Another element that has not changed is romance. She falls in love with a human, a man who finds an inner strength that he never knew he possessed. He's the diamond in the rough who is forced to be brave. They become the ultimate power couple.

Morgalla's inspirations primarily came from some elements of comics and anime. Some anime and comics titles were filled with shallow versions of women who were no more than just window dressing or mindless t&a. I wanted Morgalla to be a bit more. Back in 1995, there were hardly any examples of this in the mainstream to her number one inspiration over all was what I wasn't seeing in all elements of our pop culture. I, on purpose, made Morgalla different from everything that mainstream audiences saw...at the time, anyway.

Which brings us to modern audiences and characters. Had Morgalla been picked up when I started my trilogy, she would be seen as a leader of the trend but now she's seen as a follower. In 1995, Morgalla was ahead of her time and in many ways, she still is.

I'd say she's aged well and will continue to do so.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Spock

Thanks for all the years of awesome work, in front of and behind the camera. Thanks for being a genuine spirit. You will be missed by all of us, Leonard. I have been and always shall be...your fan.