From The Archives: 15 years ago, we saw a Transformer on the big screen for the first time

Today (June 28) marks the 15th anniversary of the day the first Transformers live-action movie was released. While the Michael Bay-directed franchise went on to become one of the biggest movie franchise in history, with its six films (and counting) grossing over US$4.8bil at the box office. There’s even a new one coming out in 2023 (Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, directed by Steven Caple Jr.)

Now, it’s a fact that most of the Transformers movies Bay made were not exactly great (almost all of them got negative reactions from movie critics), and the last one he did – Transformers: The Last Knight – was pretty bad (Bay himself recently came out to say that he ‘should have stopped at three’).

But when the first movie came out in 2007, it was a dream come true for many lifelong Transformers fans, this writer included. Sure, it wasn’t exactly Oscar-winning material, but even today, the scene where Optimus Prime transforms for the first time still ranks as one of my greatest movie moments of all time.

Previously published in StarLifestyle (then known as StarTwo) in April 25, 2007, the following story is a recount of a special 20-minute preview I caught before the actual premiere of the film, and my reaction to seeing an actual Transformer transforming on the big screen.

As the special 20-minute preview of the upcoming live-action Transformers movie got underway, I was beside myself in anticipation. Finally, I get to see how my beloved childhood robot heroes look like in a live-action movie!

A minute passed; some soldiers were talking. No Transformers.

Two minutes passed. Said soldiers get to an army base. Still no Transformers.

Three minutes. More talking. Still no Transformers in sight.

By the fourth minute, I was beginning to wonder if I was in the right cinema when the sight of a familiar and menacing-looking helicopter came onscreen.

“Aha! Houston, we have a Transformer,” I thought.

I held my breath in anticipation, and waited. And waited. And waited some more. Then, I heard it – THAT SOUND.

It was the sound I had heard over and over again since I was a kid; the sound that I kept trying to replicate with my voice but always failed to get quite right.

It was the sound of a Transformer transforming.

Then, as if on cue, the helicopter began to transform. The rotors folded back, and a thousand moving mechanical parts moved, and finally, in place of the ordinary-looking helicopter, was a lean, mean, shiny and alien looking-robot, which began blasting the army base to high heaven.

Cue another few minutes of footage of people running away from the carnage, and more excruciatingly fidgety Transformer-less scenes.

We'll never forget the first time we saw Optimus Prime transforming on screen.We’ll never forget the first time we saw Optimus Prime transforming on screen.

Eventually, I found myself fidgeting and wishing that some giant robot foot would just come down from the top of the screen and crush the life out of those pathetic two-legged meat creatures (to borrow a phrase from the great Megatron himself) that kept screaming and running away from all those explosions, and taking up precious screen time.

It was at this point that I began praying that director Michael Bay would not turn the movie into some kind of “humans struggle to survive the attack of the alien robots” movie and try to make us empathise with the human characters.

After all, strictly from a Transformers fan’s point of view, I really could not care less about how we puny humans cope with the Cybertronian war coming to Earth. I just want to see a bunch of giant robots beating the crap out of each other.

But that’s just me.

Truthfully, based on what little I saw during the preview, the Transformers themselves look amazing.

Now, on that note, it has to be said that the Transformers in this movie are vastly different creatures from the ones we were so used to seeing in the cartoon series. Gone are the blocky and surprisingly cuddly humanoid robots with human faces, replaced by mechanical, slick and sometimes knobbly alien-looking robots that even the most avid fan would be hard pressed to recognise as Transformers if it were not for the presence of some familiar names and voices.

It may have been savaged by critics, but Transformers is still one of the most lucrative franchises of all time.It may have been savaged by critics, but Transformers is still one of the most lucrative franchises of all time.

That said, the little Transformer-loving kid in me still got a real kick out of seeing those giant robots on screen; especially when we got to see the Autobot leader Optimus Prime himself strolling about with his fellow Autobots in Sam Witwicky’s (yes, Sam, not Spike; and played by Shia LaBeouf) backyard.

The movie Optimus Prime may look nothing like the cartoon one (heck, he doesn’t even transform into the same type of truck), but still, there was absolutely no doubt that the giant red and blue robot with a face-plate was the Autobot leader himself.

When Prime uttered the words, “Autobots, fall back”, it sent a nostalgic shiver up my spine (which was not surprising, considering that the voice of the original Optimus Prime – Peter Cullen – is the one behind the movie Prime’s vocal chords).

As for the other scenes shown during the preview – Sam Witwicky chatting up a girl with the help of Bumblebee in car mode; and the Decepticon Scorponok wreaking havoc in a Middle Eastern village; they simply did not measure up to the aforementioned scenes, mainly because there were simply not enough giant robots in the scenes.

So is there really more than meets the eye for the Transformers? Will Optimus Prime and Megatron be able to challenge the likes of Captain Jack Sparrow, Spider-man and Shrek for summer box-office supremacy? Well, judging from what I saw in those short four scenes, they certainly have a fighting chance.

Sure, Megatron may not be a gun and Bumblebee may not be a Volkswagen Beetle; but as long as Michael Bay keeps the action going and the robots on screen for as long as possible, the Autobots and Decepticons will be sure to serve up one heck of a nostalgic and butt-kicking joyride when they roll out in June.

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