Remembering characters from the 80s

Remembering characters from the 80s

June 1st, 2009 in Blogsfirstperson

G. I. Joe and Transformers were both '80s television series specifically made to sell their toy lines, a slightly different path from the comics-turned-movies like "X-men," "Spiderman," "Hulk" and that ilk. The characters these TV shows built -- Duke, Optimus Prime, Cobra Commander, Megatron -- were designed to drum up sales.

They were the people we all wanted to be, or wanted to hate. Almost every one of the boys in my generation grew up watching them, playing with their toys and trying to emulate them. We knew each of our heroes and villains from these shows better than we later knew our first girlfriends. And some of us still know them better than we know our spouses or children. They were our gods, the pantheon of our youth, and we hold everything we know up against them as our models.

These new movies have to walk a hard and thin line in order to succeed against the expectations and the memories we have for our heroes and villains. It's a very ephemeral thing, hard to describe. We expect to see our characters thrown into a situation where the stakes are higher than ever before and the world so realistic it could be in the town across the bay. The failed He-man movie from 1987, "Masters of the Universe," is a proof negative. Either we weren't ready to see our hero on the big screen, or the writing or effects didn't do our heroes justice.

Personally, I think all the movies have tried to hide character changes and out of character remarks or actions by sweeping them under the rug of high-budget, action-movie special effects. While this makes for great trash action movies, they don't change your life the way the original characters did in our youth. What will really show if Michael Bay got the balance right will be the box-office showing of the second film.

Don't get me wrong, I liked the films, but it wasn't "my" Transformers that I saw on screen. Dolph Lundgren wasn't "my" He-Man any more than Shia LaBeouf was "my" Spike. And, oh god, where did Sparkplug go? They turned him into a BMW driving yuppie when he's supposed to be a grease monkey. I'm not nearly as excited to go see the second Transformers as I was the first because it's not "my" Transformers that I'll be seeing on screen, and I know that, now.

No, I still prefer (and regularly watch) "Transformers: The Movie" from 1986. All of "my" Transformers were in that one. They were in character, and the stakes were higher than ever before. Sure, a lot of them died, but they died the way I always envisioned them dying, with honor, with panache, and with the perfect death for their character.

I can't wait to see what the live-action movie for "Jem and the Holograms" will be like. There are just as many women in my generation as men. Where's their movie? I wanna be a Misfit: "Our songs are better!"

- Sam Rushing, 31, grew up in Chattanooga now lives in Atlanta.