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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The first TRANSFORMERS I've bought in 20 years!

My "inner geek" is starting to have a really positive feeling about Transformers, the upcoming movie based on the classic toys. I was 10 when these things first hit America and to say that they had a huge impact on our young lives would be a massive understatement. So I've got a little fondness for the concept. Guess if you wanted to peg me on the map so far as where my sympathies lie for which "canon", I'd have to say that I'm a fan of the Generation 1 Marvel Comics continuity (I still have a copy of Transformers #1 in pretty good condition, too!). But I was also a faithful viewer of the cartoon series with the voices of Peter Cullen (who will return as Optimus Prime in the live-action movie), Frank Welker (the hardest working man in show business, bar none), Chris Latta (great talent, he is very much still missed), "Scatman" Crothers (I've always had the hardest time watching The Shining because I keep thinking "hey that's Jazz!"), Casey Kasem (who quit the show in the aftermath of the "Carbombya" fiasco)...

Okay, so I'm letting that "inner geek" come across as a bit of a nerd also... I don't care :-)

Anyway, the toys for the Transformers movie (toys based on a movie based on toys... how about that) came out a week or so ago. And this past Sunday night, still feeling great from all the good things that happened over the weekend, I went to the local Wal-Mart and did what I had decided to do if I felt that I'd done well on the Praxis: I treated myself to a new Transformer toy. The first one that I would have bought in over 20 years!

And I knew which one that I wanted too: Bumblebee. Of all the Transformers, he was my favorite (with Brawn running a very close second). He's a rather different character in the movie than his original incarnation though: instead of a yellow Volkswagen Beetle, live-action Bumblebee will transform into a 1974 yellow Chevrolet Camaro. I've also heard that the movie's Bumblebee is supposed to be much stronger/more capable a warrior than the classic version (in the prequel comic he apparently hurt Megatron... yowza!!). Anyhoo, I knew that I wanted to get the new Bumblebee, so I brought him home (after paying 'course).

I still hadn't gotten him out of the package to play around with ('cuz all Transformers need a little bit of loving play) come Monday afternoon, and by that time I had to head off to the month's school board meeting. As I said early yesterday, that didn't go very well. Overcome with frustration, and since it was so late that I didn't want to cook a meal from scratch, I stopped by Wal-Mart after the meeting and got a frozen pizza. And partly because good-guy Autobot Bumblebee needed a foil, but also because I wanted to feel a little good about something that night, I went back to the toy aisle and got Barricade: the Decepticon who turns into a Saleen S281 Ford Mustang police car.

And tonight, I finally got them out of the packaging and started playing with them...

Here are Bumblebee and Barricade side-by-side, still in their packaging. Note how Bumblebee has the Autobot insignia in red on the upper-right part of his card and Barricade has the Decepticon logo (also red) in the same place on his.

And mostly so you can see their mondo-bizarro mugs (which are unlike anything we saw in old-school Transformers) but also to show more of the detail in car mode, here is a close-up of Bumblebee:

And Barricade:

You can't tell very well from the pics, but on the side of Barricade in his police car mode instead of "To protect and serve..." there is the phrase "To punish and enslave..." along with the Decepticon symbol incorporated in a stylized police department logo. Pretty wicked!

Here are Bumblebee and Barricade, still in car modes, but now able to roll out wild and free...

Now we get to the fun part: transforming them! Bumblebee - the 2007 model from the movie - is much more intricate and complicated than how he was when he was the Beetle circa 1984. The very first Bumblebee toy, you could literally have transformed in less than five seconds. I think it actually took me five minutes to fully transform the 2007 edition. There's a "concealed" button on top of the hood that you have to push in order to really free-up the transformation, and I kept pushing as hard as I thought might reasonably be expected from your average child. Finally I had to press down hard, and the thing finally started to open up. I can imagine that this is going to frustrate most kids who get this toy. After the button was pushed and the front of the car could swing down, that liberated the arms to swing out toward the side. Then the back of the car has to be separated into halves down the middle to form the legs: again, some difficulty because of the weird way Bumblebee's calves and feet are hinged. But finally I got him in full robot mode and standing.

Barricade was considerably harder to transform. The first thing you do is swing the front of the car down so that the grille pops out... which transforms into the Decepticon Frenzy (more about this in a sec). Then you swing the arms out, the torso down and the legs apart, and you basically have your robot. Simple, right? But putting him back into car mode was an exercise in agony. I spent probably ten minutes, if not more, trying to make him a police car again. The problem was the legs/rear half of the car: they kept not fitting quite right. Again, I can envision lots of kiddies taking Barricade to their fathers and saying "Daddy can you make him a car again, please???"

Here are both of them half-transformed...

And here are Bumblebee and Barricade (and Frenzy, sigh...) in full robot modes...

One thing in the favorable column: these Transformers are much sturdier than anything that I ever played with in my youth. For one thing, the entire robot is meant to be one piece (how many of the original Transformers did we lose pieces to because we had to attach hands, heads even etc.?) They are also much less likely to break: the original Megatron's arms were very flimsily attached to the body: no telling how many kids had to get his arms Krazy-glued back to his shoulder... if they were lucky. When I was transforming Barricade back into car mode, his "feet" kept snapping off... but since just about every joint on these toys is either a sturdy hinge or a ball-and-pivot, it was a very simple matter of "popping" them back on! I can definitely say that the design/manufacturing process for these toys has drastically improved over what it was two decades ago.

On the negative side of things: I do not like "Frenzy" one bit. I'm sorry, but that is not Frenzy: not the Frenzy that we grew up with, anyway. The original Frenzy (pictured at right) was one of the "tapes": a Decepticon who transformed into a cassette tape and got to ride around inside Soundwave's chest, along with Ravage and Laserbeak and Frenzy's brother Rumble. He was one of the smallest Decepticons, but he could cause a lot of trouble. This... thing... called "Frenzy" in the 2007 Transformers movie looks like he transforms into one of those piles of wire coat-hangers that always seem to accumulate on the floor of your closet. Here's a picture of what he'll look like in the movie at the Transformers Wiki. I've no idea what he changes into for the movie, but I'm not too impressed with either how he looks or that he pops-out of Barricade's chest like a second-rate Soundwave deployment.

But those quibbles aside, getting to examine the movie's toys have raised my hopes for the movie itself. And that's partly why I wanted to play with them to begin with: so that I could report on my blog about how this thing is "feeling" now less than a month before the film's release. So far, so good. I'm sensing the same kind of vibe that I had when I bought the alien action figure from Independence Day back in '96. And I got two new props to pose atop my computer! These will probably be the only toys from Transformers that I get though. I'm definitely not getting the Optimus Prime voice-changing helmet... especially after reading what Harry Knowles does with his ("it's fantastic for what...?!?).


qemuel said...

My favorite Transformer was always GEARS. He was a bit of a curmudgeon, and I empathized with him completely.

Chris Knight said...

Gears was awesome! I also have Transformers #3 from the Marvel Comics: the one where Spider-Man comes to investigate and the first Autobot he meets is Gears.

They made for quite a tag-team :-)

qemuel said...

I loved that issue! I was so upset when Gears let go of Spidey's web and fell from that cliff to save Sparkplug...sniff, sniff.

qemuel said...

Heh. Don't know HOW I missed the wire coat-hanger transformation quip the first time around. Funny.

Anonymous said...

You have the deluxe version they have a normal version for kids that is easier to transform. http://www.scifi.com/sfw/cool/sfw16000.html

Anonymous said...

If there's any chance you plan on getting the best version of the movie Optimus Prime, could you post pictures or maybe even a video of how it transforms? For the life of me I can't figure out how it transforms.

I can't figure out the 20th anniversary Prime just by looking at the box either. I'm tempted to buy him on eBay just to see how he transforms.

When I was a kid, I could transform Transformers without any instructions, but these "new-fangled" ones look so much more complicated. It makes me feel old.