we lived in iowa until i was 6 [almost 7]. across the street lived my best friend, ben. one day we created a game where we were fighting the bad guys, unknowingly played by the cars in the street. we called the game 'red and blue' because 6-year olds are pretty dumb and can't think of better names than that.
the basic objective was to shoot the bad guys [average normal people in their cars] with our guns [to be honest, i don't know if we even had toy guns or if we just used our hands] while keeping ourselves out of danger by hiding behind the bushes in front of the house. it is even harder for me to seperate reality from fantasy at that age: in my memory i see us dramatically diving behind the shrubbery as bullets and lasers fly around us, so who knows what it was really like. i do know that it was about the funnest game we had at the time and that one day ben reasoned there sould be more cars if we got up early in the morning when everyone was going to work. we were up around sunrise and saw only a few cars. it was somewhat of a disappointment.
if your age was in the single digits in the mid-1980's, there was one thing that united all males together: transformers.
they were made of plastic that somehow shrinks over time, as i swear they were much bigger when i was 6. they also must have been made for 7-years olds by 7-year olds [true, i was 6, but i was bright for my age], because i could pull a brand new 'astrotrain' out of the box and instantly know how to transform him into either a train or a space shuttle [the genius of the three-way changing robot was countered by the mediocre name], while my hard-working college educated dad looked on in bafflement.
the transformers were a prototype of mythology that would make joseph campbell proud [not to mention henry ford]. the deceptacons were the villains, led by megatron, the most diabolic fictional character since t.s. elliot's macavity the mystery cat, for megatron defied laws of physics and common sense: he stood at a towering 9', yet when transformed could fit into the hands of another deceptacon. why he would ever want to change is beyond my comprehension even 20 years later, as the pistol barrel was normally a 6' canon attached to his arm. yes, megatron was the diabolic evil mastermind [usually trying to hijack an oil rig, it seemed], but he was the archtypal level-headed villain.
appropriately, he was surrounded with a variety of henchmen: his right-hand man was, as most are, an incompetant and selfish airplane called starscream. nobody liked starscream; you'd buy him as a present if a kid you didn't really like invited you to his birthday party. his voice litterally sounded like nails on a chalkboard [maybe the real reason we don't like that sound], was loyal to no one but himself, and continually tried to betray megatron whenever the occasion arose.
on the other side was soundwave. soundwave was the honor among thieves. able to transform into an 80's style tapeplayer, he could send out little cassette tapes that would transform into a panther, a pteradactyl, or a couple of little humanoid robots. he was of a calm demeanor and was loyal to megatron to the death. as the perfect antithesis to starscream, he had about the coolest voice of anyone, good or evil. [the autobots had their own boombox, a surfer-dude named blaster; we always hoped soundwave would someday join the autobots, but he was too loyal]
there were several other deceptacons, including the radical constructacons: seven or eight construction-related vehicles who could transform together into one giant robot called devastor. he was really cool, albeit somewhat fragile, and i think was a commentary on the corruption of the labor unions.
the transformers are one place where the good guys really are cooler than the evil [perhaps a much-needed theme after the immense awesomeness of darth vader captivated all our impressionable young minds only a year or two before].
the autobots were generally ground based, i think as a tribute to the industrious transportation business of the expansive american continent [afterburn was a very cool jet who later provided some much needed air force]. ironhide was a strong and loyal soldier and some sort of a truck; though a noble robot, he wasn't very interesting. bumblebee was a vw bug, and jazz the porche had sunglasses and attempted to sound cool [he sounded like 'bubs' on h*r].
as time went on and the series needed a shot in the arm, which brought us the dinobots. [remember when the carebears started adding other animals? same sort of thing.] discovered in a closet aboard the ship the transformers came to earth in [on-line articles state otherwise, but that's how i remember it], they were led by grimlock the tyranosaurus. dumb as rocks and twice as strong, they provided comic relief and a whole new series of toys for the marketing department.
but the leader of the autobots was a figure who stands talls in our minds even today: optimus prime. a combination of atticus finch, albus dumbledore and josh devard, he was the model of what a hero should be. he was a semi truck of red, white, and blue, and stood for everything that makes us proud of america. prime always chose the right, even when it was a hard decision. his mantle of leadership was heavy, but his shoulders were strong. his voice was deep and sure, leading like a shepherd. his hands were big and strong, yet gentle enough to rescue a kitten from a tree. i suspect he was modeled from captain moroni, for he was the greatest warrior in battle but fought only when he had to. he offered mercy when he beat megatron, treated each autobot as a friend and an equal, and stood tall at all times and in all places.
when asked what my favorite scene in cinema is, i have a few responses, but one will always be in 'transformers: the movie', where optimus prime reaches the edge of the cliff and sees the deceptacons severely beating autobot city. 'megatron must be stopped,' he declares, transforms [in slow motion, mind you], and proceeds to run down several deceptacons, hit a jump, fly into the air, transform, and pick off several more with his gun as he tumbles through the air.
i can't help but cheering everytime i see it.