Next Tuesday, on September 13th, Shout! Factory releases the 30th Anniversary Edition of Transformers: The Movie. Brilliantly restored in high definition from a brand-new 4K transfer, the classic animated film will be available as both a standard release ($24.93) and limited edition Steelbook edition ($28.99). The movie can also be purchased digitally through iTunes.
To find out more about this movie milestone, we chatted with Shout! Factory’s Brian Ward. Read on to see how the 4K transfer was made possible, discover the person behind the Blu-ray’s new cover art, and experience a moment of reflection over the death of Optimus Prime…
FIGURES.COM: 30 years… has it been that long already? Shout! Factory’s 30th anniversary edition for Transformers: The Movie has been a long time coming. What is your position at Shout! Factory and what were your responsibilities in preparing this release of Transformers: The Movie?
BRIAN WARD: I know. I don’t like thinking about having been alive long enough to remember anything from 30 years ago and, yet, I was right there when this movie was released in theatres and remember it fondly. Now, I’m the Senior Director of Video Production and Digital Media at Shout! Factory. Honestly, I may have the greatest job ever, which is to find the right master elements, oversee any restoration, hire folks to assemble the menus and author the discs and – of course, my favorite part of the job – I get to create bonus features.
What are you most proud about with the 30th anniversary edition?
I produced the G1 “Matrix of Leadership” Edition for Shout! Factory in 2009 and, since then, our Senior VP of Kids and Family Marketing – Melissa Boag – and I have spearheaded the campaign to get the movie. It’s taken seven years. So I’d say my proudest moment was simply getting to work on this movie at all. But beyond that, it was the day we found a near-pristine 35mm IP to work with. I knew the Blu-ray was going to be special when we were presented with that one element.
High-def Blu-ray is a far cry from the film’s original VHS home video days. What was the biggest challenge making Transformers: The Movie ready for modern 4K viewing?
Again, I’d say it was simply finding that one 35mm IP element. Until then, we really only had whatever elements or masters others had used before. And, having looked at a lot of them, I didn’t think anything was going to cut it. This is the first time the movie’s ever been made available on Blu-ray in the United States and, with that in mind, we had to make sure it looked amazing. So hurdle number one was to find the right master.
Once we came across the IP, we turned it over to the folks at Fotokem and their report found that it was in excellent condition and was ideal for a 4K scan. It’s The Transformers. When presented with that kind of opportunity, we absolutely had to do it. And they were right. It looks amazing. And, in some cases, maybe even too amazing. For instance, there are moments as you watch the Blu-ray, where you may think you’re seeing dirt or the occasional scratch on the film element. But the truth is that, most of the time, you’re looking at dust or smudges that were on the actual acetate when the animation cel was shot! The level of detail this 4K scan gives us is uncanny.
I really like the new cover art for this edition of Transformers: The Movie. Who was responsible and how was the decision made to go with something bold and new as opposed to recycling the original movie poster art?
I’ve been a HUGE fan of The Transformers since I was a kid and this movie was always a big deal to me, so having the right art was important. In the retail world, art is practically everything. How does it look on that shelf to people passing by? And does it look just like an old release and, therefore, maybe a little confusing to people who may think they already own it? That’s really why we didn’t go with the original poster art. It’s been used a lot, in a lot of different ways: from the original soundtrack cassette and CD to the cover for the VHS and, later, the original DVD… We’d seen it. And we’d also seen it reinterpreted over the years. We wanted this cover to be fresh and special. Not just a retread of stuff we’d seen before.
So we discussed it in-house and, eventually, our VP of the art department – Karrie Stouffer – and I went to Livio Ramondelli, a popular Transformers comic book artist for IDW. His art style is really different, almost based in this concept art-like feel. And he treats the Autobots and Decepticons like they’re real beings that are made of metal. Their bodies really show off the wear and tear of the centuries-long war in which they’ve been engaged. That kind of look was important for us, because this movie is heavy. It’s not just another episode of the animated series. There are real stakes here and the movie’s director, Nelson Shin, made sure there were additional details and shading all over the animation cels. So we wanted to carry that same gravitas over to the cover art. Livio is perfect for that. Plus, we knew very early on that we’d be partnering up with Steelbook to create special packaging for this Blu-ray and Livio has printed a lot of his work on metal sheets that he sells at his table at comic conventions all over the world. Those metal prints are gorgeous.
So since we knew we were going to be offering Steelbook and since we’d seen how his art looks on metal, it was really a no-brainer. And he knocked it out of the park. I love the cover. It has everything you need to say “this is The Transformers: The Movie;” Optimus Prime, Hot Rod, Megatron, Galvatron (even though they’re the same guy…), Unicron and the Matrix of Leadership. It plays with the two different generations, old and new. A lot is said in that cover.
Like remembering your first kiss or owning your first car, witnessing the death of Optimus Prime was a powerful moment most kids in 1986 never forgot. Do you feel that the studio went too far with that scene (in what was essentially a children’s cartoon), or do you think studios today have grown too soft?
There’s no arguing the fact that his death is a very vivid memory for a lot of kids that grew up with The Transformers in the ‘80s. And, while I don’t speak for everyone, I don’t think the studio went too far. I mean, we’re still talking about his death and its impact today. Without it, it would’ve been a very different movie.
I grew up in a military family and saw a lot of war films and television shows. For me, Optimus Prime’s death was the animated equivalent of John Wayne’s demise in The Cowboys. When that movie was released, Bruce Dern received death threats because his character killed John Wayne’s character. Malcolm McDowell was eviscerated for his character killing Captain James T. Kirk in Star Trek: Generations. And during the creation of the new documentary for this Blu-ray, (story consultant) Flint Dille told me that, for him, it was The Alamo.
It all represents that one moment where you, as a child, are confronted with the death of a beloved icon for the first time. For some, it was too much. But it helped me understand, as a nine-year-old, just how important the movie was. And I always appreciated that someone was willing to go that far to tell a story that was, ostensibly, for kids without pandering to us.
And, let’s be fair, Optimus Prime goes out in a spectacular fashion. It turns the tide of the battle. It has weight. The emotion that follows isn’t unearned. And as a result of his loss, because Prime isn’t there to guide the Autobots – or us – through the plot, the movie becomes a coming-of-age story for the young Autobot, Hot Rod.
The movie has been criticized, at times, for having a plot that’s all over the map. Maybe I’m looking too deeply into it, but I think that’s part of the point. The characters and plot lines become scattered, once Optimus Prime dies. There’s no one there to hold them all together. And the guy Prime picks to be his successor isn’t the right guy for the job. In fact, Ultra Magnus spreads them even further. It’s really not until Hot Rod (spoiler alert!) becomes Rodimus Prime that the stories all come back together and, for the first time since Prime’s death, we have a genuine sense of ‘things are actually going to be okay.’ The “turbo-revving young punk” in the beginning of the movie has matured. That’s why you cast Judd Nelson, a member of the Brat Pack, in that role. Because you know that’s exactly what that character needs. He doesn’t know if he’s ready. Neither do we. But we’re all going to move on from the movie right into the third season of the animated series to find out together.
Can you tell I have opinions about this movie?
While I don’t collect many Transformers today, I still have my beloved G1 Soundwave. Did you/ do you collect any of the Transformers toys? Preference for the Autobots or Decepticons? Favorite character?
My original G1 Optimus Prime is still sitting proudly on my office shelf (pictured above). He’s clearly been through his fair share of battles, as he’s missing both of his arms. Doesn’t make him any less of a hero.
I had a lot of the toys growing up. My very first one was Huffer. I was visiting my grandmother’s house when I got it. I’ll never forget it. And I’ll never forget the wave of excitement that would rush over me, taking a new one out of its box for the very first time and learning how to transform it. The Transformers were puzzles. Whether you liked the mythology or not, you couldn’t help but appreciate the act of transforming them. Or the superiority you felt, when you taught your parents how to transform them!
I always leaned Autobot, for some reason. I find villains often have the best characters, but for some reason, when it came to G1, the Autobots had my affection. And Hot Rod was eventually my favorite. His design was just too cool. Not gonna lie, though; I wouldn’t have minded if he’d kept his awesome vehicle form for a bit longer. The camper did nothing for me.
For now, the 30th anniversary release of Transformers: The Movie is the definitive edition. Can we expect a 40th anniversary edition of Transformers: The Movie from Shout! Factory in 2026, perhaps in Virtual Reality?
Well, you can now. In fact, I’m making it my personal mission!
But, honestly, who knows? Technology has come so far since videotape. And they’re teasing us with more and more everyday. This certainly won’t be the last time fans will get to celebrate The Transformers: The Movie. In what form it takes next is up in the air. Who knows? I’d love to experience it in Virtual Reality for its 40th anniversary. Maybe you get in the way, instead of Hot Rod, this time! That’d be cool.
Thank you for your time and for all you hard work in bringing back this classic animation for a new generation to enjoy!
It’s been one of the great joys of my career at Shout! Factory. These folks really know the importance of pop culture and fandom, so I truly appreciate that they let me revisit the stuff I loved as a child every single day.
A huge “Thank You!” to Brian Ward and Shout! Factory for making this interview possible. Keep up the amazing work!
Interview by: Jeff Saylor