“Michael Bay, you’ve destroyed my childhood!”. It’s a common phrase (or something far worse that I’m not willing to repeat here) that’s seen online every couple of years each time a new live-action Transformers movie is released, either cinematically or when it makes its way onto home video. There’s no getting away from the fact that his movies are controversial with fandom being split regarding the merits of this branch of the franchise that started a decade ago, but does Michael Bay really deserve all the fan hatred that is hurled in his direction?
We can’t get away from the fact that Transformers fandom is a diverse place. It encompasses fans of all ages, and thanks to the ever-changing nature of the franchise itself right from its early days even the appeal of Transformers and the lure of the Robots In Disguise is different for everyone. For many older fans, its undeniably G1 that drew them towards Transformers. Getting toys wrapped up under the Christmas tree, watching the cartoon every morning on television during school holidays and reading the Marvel UK comics – those are memories that will last a lifetime. However, we have to appreciate the fact that these are not the only Transformers that exist.
Some came to the franchise later in life, whose first encounter was Beast Wars and for them it’s not Optimus Prime who was their inspirational leader but Optimus Primal. That was certainly the case for me. My early life was one of Star Trek, Star Wars and video games. When I left school it was spent saving money for trips to the coast for the arcades and to play the game of Bingo and relive childhood memories spent with my family. Transformers didn’t factor into it at all until the late 1990s.
Others came to Transformers even later, being brought up with the Unicron Trilogy or even more recent incarnations. While some of these younger fans embraced G1 with open arms (as older fans have embraced the newer aspects of the franchise), that hasn’t always been the case. It’s clear that every fan has their own personal Transformers show.
Love them or loathe them, that even applies to the Michael Bay helmed live action movies. There’s a reason why these movies have been so popular. They’ve managed to tap into a brand new audience that has found the films fresh and exciting, has been drawn to the characters for the first time. Kids who love the toys, adults who love the action and the humour and the box office and DVD/blu ray takings have only highlighted their popularity. There are adults who have been drawn to the movies having lost interest in Transformers from their childhood but are now returning because of the movies and some are now starting to explore other aspects of the franchise as a result.
It’s the very existence of the movies that has many fans up in arms though. Many are not just upset but borderline furious because they are not G1. In the eyes of many, Michael Bay has become a parriah simply because his vision of Transformers differs to that which they grew up with. Bumblebee’s role has changed, the films are more human centric and are more action-oriented, the character designs are more complex and some simply object to the way some look (or are even coloured)… the list goes on. Those who are critical of the movies target Bay specifically not just because of what the movies are and how they are crafted but for one reason in particular… the point I made at the very beginning. That he has ruined the childhood of Transformers fans everywhere.
Now, let’s look at this closely. Each new generation of Transformers is created specifically to appeal to a contemporary audience and most importantly to attract as many viewers, comic readers and generate as many toy sales as possible. Let’s face it, the point behind all of the creative material we consume is ultimately to sell product to consumers. Television shows are there to sell toys first and entertain second and that’s a reality that has been in place since 1984 and is unlikely to change any time soon. While it would be wonderful to believe that these shows are intended to entertain us, the fans, that’s simply not the case no matter how great the storytelling may be. The televised incarnation of G1 existed to sell toys to 1980s kids in 25 minute segments and as kids we lapped it up. To us, all we saw was Optimus Prime beating on Megatron week after week and then pestered our parents for toys of the characters that we didn’t own. It was advertising but we still loved it.
But that was 30 years ago. The G1 cartoon was a product of the 1980s – our childhood. The Michael Bay movies are a product of a completely different era, a completely different millennia and they’re aimed at a different audience. They’re not made for the children that we were back in 1984. They’re made for the adults and children who want fun action movies now. Has Michael Bay ruined our childhood in making these movies? Of course he hasn’t. Regardless of what happens in his films and the changes that are made to the G1 that we know and love, our childhood is still the same. Our memories of watching Transformers in 1984 are intact and nothing is any different since the movies came along. Unless he has found a way to manipulate time and space during his career, found a way back to 1984 and changed everything associated with G1, then our childhood memories will be safe as long as we want them to be.