Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Transformers: The Movie

Few forces are as powerful as nostalgia, and Rhino knows more about the power of nostalgia than just about any company out there. But nostalgia often has little to do with quality, which goes a good way toward explaining why two of the first videos from Rhino's children's imprint are so massively entertaining despite their negligible artistic worth. A beloved mid-'80s children's program targeted toward girls seeking a cheap synthesis of Supergirl and Tiffany, Jem follows the adventures of the title character, a woman who can transform from an unassuming civilian into a pink-haired, lace-wearing singer via a pair of magical Jemstar earrings. In the series, two episodes of which are included on Passport To Rock, Jem and her band The Holograms were constantly at war with the Misfits—not Glenn Danzig's old band, but a trio of evil, greedy punkettes with bowling-alley-tramp wardrobes and the attitude of a '50s female biker gang. The average episode centered on Jem and the Misfits fighting for gigs, a process that usually led to the Misfits committing a major felony (kidnapping, assault, theft of the aforementioned Jemstar earrings) against Jem that would inevitably go unpunished. Each episode also featured at least one "video" from both Jem and the Misfits, with Jem's music emulating Debbie Gibson-esque goody-goody pop, and the Misfits' leaning toward cartoonishly evil new wave. Part of what makes Jem so entertaining—beyond its hilariously dated pastel fashions and godawful music—is its bizarre conception of rock stardom. By cranking up the glamour and competition of the mid-'80s rock world to surreal levels, Jem memorably transforms the life of a pop star into a feverish, comic-book world of dastardly villains and magical damsels in distress. Less immediately entertaining, but still fascinating, is Transformers: The Movie, a 1986 kids' film that's developed something of a cult following, both because it's been out of print for ages and because of its subject's long pop-culture shelf life. Although an incomprehensible and cheaply animated cash-in focusing on the kindly Autobots and the sinister Decepticons' battle to avoid being defeated at the hands of a giant planet-robot (voiced by Orson Welles), Transformers is not without its endearing quirks. Crucial to the film's cult appeal is its fetishization of metal: In its shape-shifting, technophilic embrace of twisting, blazing metal, Transformers owes more to extreme anime and David Cronenberg than other cartoon movies. Powered by an awful soundtrack (including "Touch," a song memorably covered by Mark Wahlberg in Boogie Nights), Transformers isn't quite the mind-blower many Gen-Xers remember, even if it does kill off its most beloved character, Optimus Prime, during its first third, an odd move by any standard. But as an '80s curio and perhaps the only film to feature the voices of both Welles and That Guy From The Micro Machines Ad Who Talks Real Fast, it possesses a kitschy, low-budget charm.


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